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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't Let Today Be Routine

It is easy to fall into a routine. "Let's see," we say to ourselves, "what do we do on Wednesdays?" We do those things week in and week out without much thought. Eventually, we have lived our lives without many incidents we can remember. Most of these are tragedies.

Does it have to be that way? Can't we live our lives each day with an expectation of adventure? Does today have to mundane? Can it become the first day of your exciting life? Of course, but not by making it routine.

You may think that I am telling you to make a "bucket list." You know, a list of things you should do before you die. You could start on that list today. You could do some of those things. In a way I am. However, I don't think it will be the things that you must do that are going to make the big difference in your life. I think that it will be the things that you do for others that will make your life meaningful. It will change who you are more than completing a self-centered bucket list.

What could you do today that will make a difference in someone's life? Could you buy a card for your spouse and fill the whole left side of the card with things you admire about him/her? Could you call an old friend and say that you thought of him/her today and just wanted to call? Could you take one of your children out for something special without it being a special occasion? There are so many possibilities of how we can make this day special that I can't list them all.

You may think that it won't make any difference. Let me relay a story which will prove you wrong:

In The Effective Father, Gordon MacDonald wrote: "It is said of Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson, that he often referred to a special day in his childhood when his father took him fishing. The day was fixed in his mind, and he often reflected upon many things his father had taught him in the course of their fishing experience together.
"After having heard of that particular excursion so often, it occurred to someone much later to check the journal that Boswell's father kept and determine what had been said about the fishing trip from the parental perspective. Turning to that date, the reader found only one sentence entered: 'Gone fishing today with my son; a day wasted.' "

Don't let today be routine. Make it special for your sake and for the sake of someone else.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)
11  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Success Comes from the Outside

It has been said that there are two tragedies in life. One is that you will not reach your goals. The other is that you will reach those goals.

It is easy to see our lives as meaningless if we never reach our goals. Think of all the people who are die young. They may have never married, had children or even graduated from anything. They may have had great minds and great potential for enhancing our world but they never got the opportunity. They never reached their goals. Truly, this is a tragedy.

But also think of the people who have no goals left. They have done everything they have set out to do. They have won the Nobel prize, written the great novels, been awarded the highest awards possible and don't know what to do next. They have no reason for living longer. They now exist without purpose. This, too, is a tragedy.

These are tragedies when success comes from the inside. We will fear both reaching and not reaching our goals if these goals come from the inside. Our lives must have more meaning than something we have generated within ourselves. Our lives must have an infusion of purpose that ends with life. Our lives must depend upon Someone who gives us that purpose from the outside rather than being generated from the inside. We will all eventually get to some point where the next hill is either too hard for us to climb or it is the highest hill left to climb and we will not have anything left to do. There must be a transcendent purpose which keeps us going to the very end.

Jesus knelt in a garden, knowing what He had to do. He had to be arrested that night. He knew He would be beaten severely. He knew that He would endure pain as no one had before. He would die within the next twenty-four hours. But His purpose did not exist within His own goals. It was given to Him by His Father. He prayed that this purpose would pass Him by. He asked for this fervently. The stress of this prayer caused His sweat to drop like blood.

So, Jesus said, "Yet, not my will but Yours be done." His success would come from the outside. It would be completed as it was intended at the very end.

Real success comes from the outside. It is given to us from One who knows us. He knows what we can do. He knows what we will do with Him. This success neither comes early nor does it leave us wanting for more time to accomplish it. It is our calling. It is our life.

John 19:28-30 (NIV)
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Failure Comes from Within

A failure is a predetermined goal which was not reached in the allotted time.

Everyone eventually fails at something. Most failures don't hurt us. Some failures help us. Each one should have some level of disappointment but they should never determine our future. Failures don't make us failures. We make ourselves into failures from the inside.

We are failures when we designate ourselves as failures. Failure becomes our future because we predict failure for ourselves. We believe that every endeavor will fail so we do not try anything. It is a guaranteed way to fail. Failure is no possibility of success. There is no possibility for success without trying something that can succeed. You must set goals to be a winner.

We are failures when we think that we can't do anything about our situation. We get into ruts. Ruts are graves with the ends kicked out. We believe we must stay in our rut. It takes a lot less energy to stay in our ruts. You can always do something about your situation. You can ask for help. You can quit what you are doing. You can look forward to getting to the other side of your failure. You can always do something. Doing nothing is a great way to be a failure.

We are failures when we think the failure is final. So, you didn't win the national championship in your senior year. You didn't think your life was over if you won, did you? Surely, you knew that there would be lots more challenges in life after winning the national championship. Why would you believe your life is over when you didn't win the national championship? Neither winning or losing is final. Living in your past will make you a failure regardless of the accomplishment or failure.

Telling yourself that you are a failure will make you one. Words have an incredible affect on us. We will become what others tell us if we will repeat those words to ourselves. There are always a number of people who will tell you that you are a failure. There are some coaches, teachers and parents who are failures themselves who will tell you that you are a failure. Negative people share the infection of failure with others. You must not give into this disease and repeat what they have said to you. Failures always tell themselves that they are failures.

You will be a failure if you stop trying to win. A failure concedes every challenge. You cannot win without a challenge. Failures may start by drawing the line on challenges but failure has a way of slowly eroding all challenges. The failure to seek a promotion will be followed by the failure to learn a new skill. The failure to learn a new skill will be followed by an attempt to make all things routine. The routine will keep you from standing up for yourself because you would fail at that too. Eventually, all failures stop living even though they may continue to trudge through life for many more years.

You do not have to be a failure. Yes, you may be failing at this very moment but that is just because you tried to do something better. Failures don't try to do something better. Your trying proves you are not a failure.

God does not make failures. People make themselves into failures. They work against what God wants to do in their lives and try to live apart from Him. They think this is winning but it is the ultimate loss. Their lives will be meaningless and they will eventually know this.

It is not the circumstances or the times you have failed that make you a failure. All failures are self made.

Romans 8:37 (NKJV)
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old Age Prepares Us for Our Next Life

My Jack Russell Terrier is only ten years old. Apparently, she has arthritis. She has a hard time getting up in the morning. She starts break dancing again soon after we give her arthritis medicine. This medicine has started to have less effect as she gets older. She sleeps most of the day. She acts like a very old dog.

I have several friends who have gotten slower as they age. Their health problems have started consuming their days. Trips to the doctor, the pharmacy and the hospital are now routine. Medical procedures and tests take up more and more of each week. I wonder if this is what they thought of as "golden years."

I believe that old age is a part of God's plan to bring us home to Himself. It is a tragedy when a young person is ripped from this life. They never got the opportunity to do much of what they had planned. Maybe God takes some of them because He is protecting them from a horrible future. I know that some of them are responsible for their own deaths. Others have had evil take their lives. The people who murder little children are of the devil. The devil hates life and wants to snuff it out as quickly as possible.

Many people naturally get older and progress to the end of their lives. Eventually, everything quits working. I have been in the room with several people when they expired. I have talked with them minutes before they left this world. I have watched them accept the ticket to the next life. There comes a point when going on is much better than staying here. They can be with their Lord or stay here in their misery. Eventually, they choose the Lord.

We would continue to hang on to this life forever if we could stay healthy and spry all of our lives. Aging takes our hair, muscles and health. It wrinkles our skin and causes our organs to fail. It stops fighting diseases and welcomes new pains. It makes our teeth start to wiggle and prevents our feet from moving so fast. It takes our eyesight and our hearing. Even our desire for eating eventually leaves us. Nothing in this world is left for us.

So, we make the trip. We take the hand of the one who is sent to retrieve us from this world and walk with him (just a term) to our eternity.

I'll miss these friends whom the Lord will take to be with Him. I had a dream about one of them a couple of years ago. I was officiating at his funeral. I got to the podium and cried. That was all I did.

However, I won't miss any of them forever. I, too, shall make that glorious trip someday. Then, I shall be with them and Him forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 (NIV)
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18  Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Knowing God Is Like Speaking Another Language

I grew up in Texas. You might say I speak "Texan" though I have done my best to adapt wherever I am. I still use terms which puzzle others. I remember the first time I said, "Looks like we are going to get a norther," when I lived in east Tennessee. I was informed that Tennessee gets "fronts" not northers. Yet, I can still communicate with most American, non-Texans.

That has not been true when I have preached in other countries. I have had to have a translator in every other country with the exception of Canada and England. Usually my translator and I would go over the sermons in advance so that he would understand my sermon before the service began. I have trusted that they preached a better sermon than I did by refining it before it arrived for the congregation.

Now to my point today.

I get several comments and emails from writing this blog. I only publish those that I think are helpful. Some people think they can put ads for their products on my blog by writing a comment. I reject every ad. I might also reject a comment if it tells so much information about the person that it could be harmful to them if his or her identity is discovered. I don't want anyone to be hurt.

However many people who comment on this blog don't understand the message, at all. It is as if I have spoken to them in a language which is foreign to them. They respond in ways that reveal the lack of a connection. I have wondered how to speak to these people but I realize that I no matter how careful I am to translate the message of God in a language they will understand, eventually I will have to use terms they are unfamiliar with.

On the other hand, these people think I am speaking gibberish. My communication is not like any they normally hear. They communicate with a variety of people who speak their language. They can communicate with each other. They all agree that the language that I speak and others like me speak must be gibberish. It doesn't fit into any other language they know.

I have spoken to a number of these people through the years who suddenly understood. At one moment they stood on the outside without understanding; the next my words started to make sense. It is quite like the "translators" worn on the people in Star Trek. The language becomes their language. There isn't even an accent.

It seems a translator came to interpret the language. It is a spiritual language. It is not like the mumbo-jumbo of some of the new age spiritualists thinking of today. Understanding that language means you must lose all touch with reality. You have to think of God as being you and the table and the computer you are reading. I must admit this is a language I cannot understand.

This translator makes my language make sense to me as it does to you. He gives us the insight for understanding the things in the Bible. He helps us "hear" God when there is no one speaking. This translator changes values held down deep within us. This translator changes our lives. He is a presence which walks within us.

I suppose I should not be surprised that many people don't understand what I am saying. They can't understand. I am speaking another language. They have no translator and I can't be their translator. Many of the terms do not translate clearly from one language to another.

Some of you reading this blog understand completely. Others will think this is gibberish.

Those who understand this language also need to understand something else. Those who can't understand our language are not doing so because they wish to be obstinate (though they may act very obstinate). They can't understand. We will need to be patient if we ever hope to "speak" with them.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Does God Order Your Day?

I don't like to think I'm superstitious.

I normally ride a bicycle to work. I got up this morning, dressed, packed my backpack and opened the garage door to the pouring rain. I do not ride in the rain if I can help it. I closed the garage door.

Since I was going to take my car anyway, I might as well pack my Macbook. I'm afraid to take it when I ride the bicycle. I'm afraid I will have an accident and it will be damaged. (On the other hand, I keep hoping that the PC will stop a bullet someday and therefore re-establish a usefulness for the PC.) I, also, might as well get the paper out of the driveway. I like to read it at lunch.

It was no longer raining as I retrieved the paper. Okay, I can ride the bicycle. I put the paper and the Macbook aside, get my backpack and go into the garage. There is a flat on my back tire of my bicycle. I think, "I can fix this now or drive the car." Fixing it will take too much time. I want to get to work. Both of the people who read this blog will be waiting for me to publish it. Therefore, I air up the tire, listen carefully for obvious leaks, put a spare tube in my backpack so I can fix the tire at lunch and open the garage door. It is pouring rain!

So, I'm back to taking the car. My wife's vehicle is parked behind mine so I get her keys, move the car, pack up my backpack and Macbook and start to work. If I am going to take the car and I will get to work sooner because I am not riding my bicycle, then what else can I take to my office? I would like some orange juice that I can stock in the little refrigerator I keep in my office. I turn toward Walmart.

As if by magic, the gas gauge suddenly goes to the other side of empty. The low fuel light comes on. I know I don't have enough gas to make it to Walmart and the gas station where I normally fill up. I turn back toward work at the next intersection.

The travel is uneventful until I stop at a yellow light. Other cars whiz past me; some even run the light. They know something that I don't. I am now out of sequence for getting a long series of green lights. I stop at nearly all the lights on the way to get gas.

If I stop at Sam's Club which is beyond my normal filling station, I can get gas and orange juice. I continue on to Sam's. I get my gas, my orange juice and make my way to work.

I start up the PC on my desk (and read War and Peace twice while it boots up). I log into my blog and complete the blog. The blog disappears when I tell it to publish. The PC has lost the connection to the internet while I was typing. The other employees still have an internet connection. The PC just will not connect.

I remember that I have my Macbook with me. I have a way to publish this blog today even though my PC is not working. I boot up the Mac in about three seconds, go to blogger to find that the only thing saved was the title of this blog. I re-write the whole thing.

Did God order my steps today? Did He prevent me from having an accident? I have been hit once with a glancing blow and narrowly missed at least one time each week as I ride a bicycle. Did He want me to take the Macbook so that this could be published? Does He have a purpose for me today? Is He ordering my steps?

On the other hand, maybe I'm just being superstitious.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NIV)
If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

There Is No Such Thing as a Godless World

At one time many scientist believed in God. They realized that Genesis told the story of a God who took Chaos and mad Cosmos. He took disorder and made order. They saw their scientific experiments as efforts to discover God's order of things. They believed that things acted in a certain way because order had been forced upon disorder. They reported what they observed.

I don't believe much has changed even though many scientist say that they do not believe in God today. I believe they have simply made themselves a new god in whom they believe.

A belief system is a set of predetermined principles which cannot be refuted. Observations will not be the final measure of what you say is true. You will say what is true and fit your observations into that truth.
This is true of today's world. Let's used global warming as an example. So many stories have flown around of scientists who hid evidence that refuted their claims of global warming. Why would they have to do such a think if they were simply reporting their observations? Because they had a belief system which they wanted to support. Doesn't this sound like some of the things the church has been accused of? Hasn't the church refused to report many things which didn't support the belief system she espoused?

A belief system makes accommodations when something cannot be refuted or hidden. Therefore, the cold winter we have just had is evidence of global warming because global warming will cause huge fluctuations in temperatures. Therefore, any observation fits into the global warming belief system. It sounds a lot like, "Whether God heals or not; it is for the best because God always loves you." Therefore, a belief in God's love supersedes all observations just as the belief in global warming explains all contradictory climate observations.

A belief system has a force of evil and good. Evil has a cause which can be fought if the righteous will stand.Thus, we have evil oil companies causing carbon emissions which are warming our earth. Good will prevail if the righteous will stand so that the people will repent of this evil. Global warming provides a generous helping of guilt in which many people naturally gravitate toward.

The new god created by those who want to think of themselves as godless is benevolent. He or she (for this god is, indeed, sexless) provides for those who have nothing. It is the duty of those who follow this god to provide for those who have less than they. They can extract that from the unrighteous who believe that those who do not work should not eat. They can do so in the name of their righteous god.

This new god has the power of life and death. She (I might as well call this god she. I am not trying to slam women.) can create life (cloning) and take away life (abortion) at will. She can do so because she is god and righteous in whatever she does. We simply lack understanding when we think any action appears unrighteous. Blessed be her name!

This god has a genesis story. In the beginning there was a bang. Somehow that answers the question of the beginning for there is no "before the bang" story. It takes faith to believe in a period without time. Time must begin or there is no explanation of how we can get to now.

I am amused with those who claim that they have no faith. What they are really saying is that their faith does not match my faith. I agree with them on this matter. I do not believe in their god. I do not worship at her altar. I believe she is a creation rather than the creator. I believe that someday everyone will know the truth. Until that time some people will create new gods to worship.

But it will never be a godless world.

Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You Gotta Swallow Your Pride If You Want to Eat at God's Table

You've gone to church and heard the preacher say that God loves you. 

"Amen!" is your hearty reply.

He says that God has great plans for you.

"Amen! Amen!" you repeat.

He tells you that God has blessings for you.

"Where's mine?" you ask in anguish.

Many Christians are being attacked by the devil right now. He has asked God for permission to test and try them. They have been faithfully serving the Lord but seem to be forgotten by Him. They live the story of Job in a modern day setting.

However, this is not the reason that the majority of Christians are missing God's blessings. They have something which gets in the way of the life that God wants to pour into them. This obstruction is the same thing that got God's greatest angel thrown out of heaven. It is the same thing that caused Nebuchadnezzar to build a golden statue of himself. He would see himself as more majestic than God and be driven out of his palace by a madness which would cause him to act like an animal.

This nasty trait which hardly anyone recognizes in themselves is pride. It keeps more blessings from God's people than anything else. 

God does not leave the proud alone. He opposes the proud. The proud claim their own greatness. They have an expectation of what life should be which honors them. They believe that they can do things themselves without help. They believe others should recognize who they are. They believe that others should tell them how good they are.  And heaven forbid when anyone doesn't meet these expectations. 

Yet, God remains unimpressed. He does not share His glory with anyone. He is the Almighty and there is none other like Him. His blessings are reserved for the humble.

Some people will respond to God's discipline. (I don't believe He bothers to discipline those who are so obstinate that they will not be changed. I don't believe He saves those who will not receive Him. It takes humility to be saved.) So, out of His great love, He brings those whom He loves to humility. He humbles them so that He can bless them for as long as they are full of themselves, they cannot be full of Him.

You may be in the middle of a humbling time in your life. You may be without a job and worried about your financial future. You may be at the end of your rope in many other areas of your life. You will not receive the blessings that God has for you as long as you hang onto your pride.

Humility says that you need help. It says that you can't do it alone. It says that God is your Lord and you will be obedient. It says that you will trust in Him. Humility takes the pressure off. Pride puts all the pressure on you. 

Wouldn't you rather live in God's blessings rather than your own earnings?

Daniel 4:34-37 (ESV)
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me.
37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

God Is Forgotten in Prosperity

America was started on a shoestring determined to survive and held deep religious beliefs. She printed money but made sure that she didn't depend upon her money by placing "In God We Trust" prominently on its face. She kept prayer as a means of beginning her governing bodies in line with what was right. She made sure that faith was something that was believed rather than legislated. 

America has been blessed with resources and hard working, faithful people. She has stood for that which is right when other countries were selfish. She has fought for the oppressed. She has had the character to struggle through prejudices but she continues to overcome them. She has the character to reward what is truly good and punish that which is bad. She has had the values of right and wrong running through her bloodstream.

And America has become prosperous. Is there a inherent danger in prosperity? Does it mean that people will stop listening to God and forget what is right and wrong?

Those who have a close walk with God must always beware of prosperity. They must make special efforts to remember who God is. They must do so because they have the resources to act without Him. They must make sure that they walk carefully. The must do so because their prosperity can buy their way out of their failures. Prosperity can be a factor is forgetting who God is.

There will be people who will not come to church this Easter that have always gone to church on Easter. It seems that they would never have thought of missing church on Easter in the past but their own belief in their prosperity will be greater than their need for God.

God, however, is the Almighty. He has a way of bringing His people low so that they will remember Him.  He will not remain forgotten. 

Do you know someone who has become prosperous and no longer has much use for God? Maybe they walked with Him when they were poor. Maybe they gave Him glory and praise when they were small. Now, they forget Him. 

A nation goes the way of her people. Has America largely forgotten God in her prosperity?

God is telling His people to come home. 

Jeremiah 22:21 (ESV)
21 I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.’ This has been your way from your youth, that you have not obeyed my voice.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Vision of Eternity

The actions of many Christians indicates that they have no vision of eternity. Either they never truly think of it, don't believe in it or believe that it will be for everyone. Some excuse their lack of concern for those who don't know the Lord with the expectation that God will allow everyone but the worst of sinners into His heaven. Therefore, they keep their faith (if you can call this faith) to themselves. Why is this?

I don't believe that many Christians actually believe the story of the Cross. They like it. They will even say it is true when gathered around other Christians but they have no true walk with a living Jesus so they do not believe in this historical event with eternal meaning. The presence of Jesus daily should indicate that He lived because He continues to live in the Christians' hearts. A daily walk with Him would also give them a vision of eternity. They would long to be with Him.

I often see Christians telling me that their friends and family have gone to "a better place" when I perform funerals. Some of them say these words but don't believe it. I can see it in their eyes. Either they don't believe the deceased is really a Christian or they don't believe in eternity. Either way their sadness (not grief because there is a difference) reveals they do not believe they will ever see their loved ones again.

Christianity has become a silent faith for so many people who call themselves believers. They are glad to have new people come to their church but they are uncertain what to say about eternity. Sometimes I think that Christians believe that going to church will save you. I believe many people will find Christ at church but I don't believe the church will save anyone. Only a personal commitment to Jesus will save anyone. It is only by His blood that we are saved. The church cannot cover any of our sins. Our relationship with the church may help us grow to Christian maturity but it will never save us.

Many Christians don't see themselves as evangelist so they fail to share their faith. They don't understand that it often takes many people who work in concert together to see someone come to know the Lord. It takes several people who will invite them to learn more about Christ. This may be church events. It may be a fellowship of Christians. It may be a small group study being done in someone's home.

It takes several people to make all these things happen. It will take people who will serve food, others who will volunteer their homes, some who will make sure the children are nurtured and taught, still others to teach Bible studies and those who will invite their friends and acquaintances to these events. It all should have one focus: I want to see others in eternity. This comes because people who don't know Christ meet Him, commit themselves to Him, mature in Him and bring others with them to eternity.

Eternal condemnation is a horrible thought. We have done our best to prevent temporal condemnation in our present society. Someone else will cover up your bad decisions. In fact, other people will be blamed for your bad decisions. Personal responsibility is passe'. We live in an age of "its not my fault." How can anyone be condemned for eternity when no one is condemned for anything.

Many people see heaven as an egalitarian society. Everyone gets to go and everyone gets the same thing. That is not what Scripture says on either account. This life counts for determining our eternity. Heaven has a pass-fail entrance exam. Your name in the Lamb's Book of Life will be your ticket. However, heaven still has its rewards. Each of us will answer for what we did or did not do.

A vision of eternity would mean that we are very careful in the way we live on this earth. We would understand that our forgiveness is paid for by the blood of Jesus but there are still rewards and consequences for our decisions. We would understand that we have a responsibility for bringing people with us to eternity. We would know that our daily walk with a living Lord would give us the strength and continue this vision until we no longer breathe. We would look forward to our own eternity because we have been faithful to our Lord. We would see eternity as a transition from this life to the next. We would be grateful for what Jesus did for us now because we can see how this has determined our eternity. We would not be casual about our faith. We would be less concerned about our own church's growth and more concerned about God's kingdom.

Do you have a vision of eternity?

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Matthew 6:10

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God Expects You to Be at the Right Place at the Right Time

The right place at the right time is another definition for obedience to God. He expects us to be at the right place at the right time. It is His way of blessing us.

I have a daughter who is traveling the world today. I don't know exactly where she is. She went to India and has written me of the places she has gone since there. She moves from city to island to country to city frequently. I could never send her a package because I can't anticipate where she will be when it would arrive.

God is not so limited. He knows where you will be each day of your life. He sends His packages of blessings to the places where you are going to be according to His obedience. The reason most people have not received their blessings from God is because they have not been where they were supposed to be. In other words, the package was not sent because you would not be there to receive the package. Faithfulness to God's word and will is necessary to be at the right place at the right time.

Faithfulness to God is necessary to receive all that He has for you. He will supply all that you need for everything He has planned for you.

2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV)
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Do You Find a Godly Spouse?

There are plenty of online companies who will help you find a spouse nowadays. I have done several weddings with couples matched from these companies. (One of the couples knew each other through high school and "discovered" each other through one of these services.) I believe these companies appeal to people because they claim to have matched the couples through values which they have in common.

Truthfully, I wished I had thought of matching couples this way. Think about it. You present a "normal" scenario where couples praise the company for matching them. You tell prospective couples that they will be "matched" by a scientific method. It seems abnormal to not be matched with the person they tell you that you are matched with. You either have to deny that you believe in the company which should have kept you from trying the company in the first place or you go along with it and are magically matched with this person.

Still, there is a beauty in this. For centuries people have been "matched" by their parents and lived with their spouses in complete harmony. Children trusted that their parents would do the right thing for them. They did not want to disappoint their parents and set out to be successful. Most of these marriages succeeded. They had such fulfillment that these matched couples set out to match their own children in exactly the same way.

However, being matched by your parents is not normal for most of the world. My advice here comes from years of working with single adults. I have been through so many marriages and divorces that I have lost count. Some have made excellent decisions and their marriages are doing well. Others didn't do so well. They are either miserable, separated or divorced. This advice is as much my own observations as following principles.

Look in the right place. Go to church if you want a Christian spouse. I know it is possible to find a Christian in a bar. I know it is possible to find a person who will become a committed Christian in a bar. I also know it is possible to find a scoundrel at church. However, I will take the odds. I have sat with many a grieving woman who worries about the spiritual condition of her husband. He won't come to church. They may have a great physical and emotional relationship but they have no spiritual relationship. She cannot relate to him spiritually and that has become more important to her as she has matured.

If you want to marry a man, date a man; if you want to marry a boy, date a boy. A man is someone who will treat a woman with respect. He honors her. He is taking his responsibility of spiritual leadership before he meets his spouse. He guards his heart. He looks to the Lord for fulfillment in his life. He works at his work and plays at his play and doesn't get the two mixed up. A boy does get the two mixed up. He goes with the flow. He does not take spiritual matters seriously. He seeks to win you through extravagant gifts rather than extravagant commitment. He may be exciting but he is still a boy. Remember, if you date a boy, you will still have a boy after you get married. He will expect you to mother him. Get ready to call him to get him up for work. Get ready to take care of his bills and give him an allowance which he cannot exceed.

Look beyond the body to the heart or you might get a black widow. Some guys never look beyond the body. A woman who uses her body to attract men will continue to "enjoy" their looks after she is married. She will dress provocatively and flirt with other men. While I am no proponent of jealousy, I know that no husband really enjoys other men looking at his wife in "that" way. Remember, if she enjoys those looks of other men too much, she will likely take up with one of them on the side.

Pray together while you date. I know this is radical but prayer reveals a person's heart. It is the most intimate spiritual action we can take with another person. You can be assured that he or she will be reluctant to pray together after marriage if there is a reluctancy before marriage. In fact, the best way I know to deepen the relationship between a husband and wife is for them to pray each day together.

Take a careful look at how finances are handled. You will marry their debt regardless of what you think you can do. I don't even care if you have a pre-nuptual agreement concerning debt. You cannot separate your finances completely once you are married. You may think that you can. For example, you can say that he needs to make his own car payment but how will he get to work if his car is repossessed? Bad financial decisions must be fixed before the marriage should take place.

Look at how he or she treats his or her biological family. These relationships give some indication what a marriage is expected to be. Look at what goes on in the other person's family. It is unlikely that you will know how to handle a person who comes from a family who has a system of volatile arguments when your family always sat down and talked through conflicts calmly.

Look at how the person you date shows love. You can expect less of what you are getting after marriage if it comes only to win your heart. There is no need to continue this action once your heart is won. Your date should enjoy the things he or she is doing without expecting a reciprocal gift from you. Long walks and talks should have enjoyment within themselves. Dinners together are to enjoy both the meal and the company. Run, don't walk, away from someone who expects something more afterwards. This person is treating you like a prostitute.

You need to have some measure of intellectual commonality. Though possible, it is very unlikely that a nuclear physicist will have much in common with a motorcycle mechanic. Each may have a similar i.q. but the interest of their intellect will be too divergent for many significant intellectual discussions.

Remember, that you could be married if you wanted to be. The only reason that you are not married is because you have standards. Every single person I know could be married in a couple of months is he or she would simply lower the standards. There will always be someone who will marry you. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you life is meaningless if you never get married. Believe me, I have seen more miserable people who have regretted the persons they married than miserable people who have regretted the ones they didn't marry.

Lastly, depend upon God. I know this may seem trite but sometimes it is forgotten. You want what He wants. He wants what is best for you.

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.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In the Wake of the Sexual Revolution

Did God know what He was talking about when He said that we should wait for sex until marriage? Didn't sex lose its dangers when we learned how to prevent pregnancy? Didn't we liberate ourselves to a freedom of sexual expression when we took the social stigma out of sex before marriage? Haven't we made marriage special since it is no longer a motivation for sex?

The dangers of the sexual revolution were unseen by those who have disregarded God's word. We have learned much more about the dangers of sex outside of marriage without regard to pregnancy. We have seen the destruction of the nuclear family, the insecurity of children and unfaithfulness of those in marriage as a result of sexual impurity.

Sex is reserved for a married couple because it represents something special kept for the one person they will marry. The act itself is special. It should be a celebration of commitment rather than a shameful act committed in the backseats of cars on lonely roads. It should be kept in innocence with no one else to compare it to. It should be done with a freedom of the mind so that there are no thoughts of someone else when it is completed. It should be the ultimate act of faithfulness of one who has waited for the other person who has also waited. It should be given without holding back. Holding back comes from believing it is only a physical act. It should involve the whole person. Sex should be understood in a spiritual context. It should include rather than exclude the presence of God. It should be as pure as any act a Christian can commit.

Remove the dangers of sexual diseases and pregnancy and sex outside of marriage still has many consequences. It fosters a need for performance rather than commitment. Sex outside of marriage does not have the commitment of sex in a marriage. The act compares itself to past lovers in physical size and performance. Thus, we have a shady industry which cons people into buying products that promise to make them better at the sex act. Better than what? Better than they have had before is the answer. In fact, performance is the main word used by the shady industry. Notice it no longer is an act of love but performance. God created sex for procreation and enjoyment, not scoring higher than you have ever scored before.

The person who treated the sex casually will have difficulty in treating it with commitment after marriage unless carefully walking with the Lord. The Christian understands that his or her body belongs to the Lord. If so, Christians cannot simply do as they please with these bodies. Simply put, it is easier to fail in sexual purity after marriage if there is a failure before marriage. However, it should be understood that marriage cannot be based on a lose commitment of the body. It is not built on a 99% commitment of faithfulness. It must be built on total commitment if the couple is fully give themselves to each other in every area of their lives.

You cannot recreate a first time for anything. We tend to remember our first times for things that are special in our lives. You cannot help but remember this act for the rest of your life. It must be guarded.

God forgives those who have failed. He can fix broken things. He can take those who will turn to Him fully and make them new again. He can take those who have failed and still give them victory. It will take the husband and wife committing themselves anew to presence of God in their marriage to fix the brokenness of sex outside marriage. It will take time to heal the hurt that it causes. 

(Tomorrow I will write my blog on why and how you should carefully choose a marriage partner.) 

Hebrews 13:4 (ESV)
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How Do You Balance Justice and Mercy?

Jesus really jumped on the Pharisees. They seemed to be the picture of religion which would point people away from God. They kept the law meticulously where it suited them. They tithed, fasted, prayed eloquently and kept the Sabbath's regulations with no measure for error. They though their careful observance of God's word would give them special honors in the presence of God. Surely, the Messiah Himself would come to reward them. They neglected what Jesus said was the weightier or more important matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.

Justice and mercy seem to be at opposite ends. Justice makes sure that everyone is rewarded for his righteousness and punished for his unrighteousness. Justice demands that these rewards and punishments reflect the measure of devotion or lack of devotion to obedience for God's law. Thus, justice seems to be something which will condemn the sinner and award the saint. However, while there are moments of virtue, no virtue can erase the wrong each of us has done. Ultimately, we stand guilty under a strict justice system.

In that same sentence, Jesus placed mercy. Some people think that mercy is ignoring guilt. It is not. Mercy is consciously refusing to exact the punishment for guilt. Thus, a husband who has been unfaithful may be shown mercy by his wife when she does not divorce him. Justice says that she has every right. Mercy says that she should give him another opportunity to redeem himself. 

Our society is afraid of leaning too hard on justice and forgetting mercy. However, their is danger in giving mercy without regard to justice as well. Somehow we feel good about ourselves when we applaud the pregnant girl who finishes her high school diploma when we forget that she was a part of the problem in the first place. We are rewarding those who solve the problems they caused.

How do you know how to balance justice and mercy? I believe this is where faithfulness comes in. Faithfulness depends upon God who is just and has given us mercy. Faithfulness is walking with God daily so that you know Him so clearly that you can make judgments of justice balanced with mercy. It believes in consequences for sin and help to work through those sins to the other side. By faithfulness to God and His creation I give mercy and understand justice. By faithfulness to God and His creation I give those who will turn from their sinfulness all the mercy necessary to walk through the consequences. By faithfulness, I know that justice must prevail too. I know that the man who has been unfaithful to his wife multiple times is hurting her. I know that there comes a moment when more mercy will be detrimental to her and to him. 

Doesn't it seem to be a contradiction for those in Hollywood who say that no one should judge another when they are angry with their own spouses when they have been unfaithful? If they really believed in a "don't judge anyone society, " wouldn't they refuse to judge their own spouses? There seems to be a system of right and wrong that is personal but not universal. In other words, I can administer justice if you have personally hurt me but I have no right if you hurt yourself or someone else. 

This is other side of the Pharisees' lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness. The lack of these things present legalism for those who are given to a system of order and rules. The lack of these things promote liberalism for those who want nothing to do with judgment. Both sides fail in faithfulness. Neither side really knows God.

Justice and mercy must be handled carefully. Each must be balanced against the other with faithfulness to our Lord being the force which keeps them in check. These are the more important matters of the law.

Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
23   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Does God Expect Us to Know Wrong from Right?

The time was the mid 70's. The place was on an East Texas road. Abdul (not his real name) had just been pulled over by two highway patrolmen for doing 85 in a 55. He stayed in the car while one patrolman approached the driver's side. The other stood at the right rear of the car.

Abdul had been a very devout Muslim. He had come from Iran to America to attend college. During that time he investigated Christianity. Abdul became a Christian. He transferred much of his Muslim heritage to Christianity. For example, devout Muslims do not smoke or drink. Abdul thought it was abhorrent for Christians to smoke or drink. The very thought was offensive to him.

The patrolman began, "Sir, have you had anything to drink tonight?"

Abdul could not believe that this officer of the law would ask such a question. "Why would you ask me such a nasty question?" Abdul responded.

"Sir, I didn't intend to ask you anything offensive. I just wanted to know if you had any alcoholic drinks tonight?"

Abdul became very animated upon hearing him ask this question again. His hands began to move as he spoke more loudly and rapidly, "You ask such a nasty question of me again! Why do you do this thing? I have not done anything to you!"

The officer leans down to eye level and asks Abdul's passenger, an American girl, "Has he been smoking something?"

This was all that Abdul could take. "You have not only dishonored me with your questions but you are now trying to dishonor this lady with them. Is there no limit to how you will abuse us?!"

"Woah! woah! woah!" the policeman continued, "We don't need an international incident here. I was just trying to do my duty. I'll tell you what: the speed limit in this state is 55. You just keep it below 55 and we won't have any trouble." With this, the officer turned on his heels and headed back to the patrol car.

However, Abdul was not finished. He called out. "You couldn't give me a ticket if you wanted to!"

Naturally, the policeman turn around quickly, approached the car and said, "Why not?!"

"Because I don't have a driver's license!" Abdul announced triumphantly.

The patrolman at the back of the car couldn't take it anymore. He fell on the back of the car in laughter. The other patrolman suddenly saw the humor in the whole thing and started to laugh too. And you know what? Abdul didn't get a ticket. They had the American girl drive and told Abdul he would get a ticket next time.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Abdul could have received a ticket. (This is a true story by the way.) Do you think it will be different when we stand before God. Will we be able to say, "Sorry, Lord, I didn't know what I was doing was wrong."?

People are breaking God's laws with impunity. You can take any list of things that God hates and find that they are committing these wrongs. Take 2 Timothy 3:2-5 for example:

2  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,   heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Will you be able to find someone who will say that they didn't know these things are wrong? Yes, but will that make them innocent. No.

We are not only responsible for being righteous but also for knowing what righteousness is. This is why Josiah wept when the copy of God's word had been found and read. He knew that all his people were guilty of breaking what God had said was right and wrong.

Will it be different for us? 

Don't count on it.

2 Kings 22:8 (ESV)
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.

2 Kings 22:10-13 (ESV)
10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.
12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying,
13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Don't Let Money Be a Root of Evil

There are so many things I can say from the pulpit without very many people becoming upset. If I say that all men have lied at some time in their lives, very few will ever dispute it. I can say that we have all been careless with our words and many will tell me that I am "stepping on their toes" but they won't be offended. However, I am the most selfish preacher only after sordid gain when I say that people are robbing God when they neglect their tithes.

Money has control over so many people. They can work diligently at the church without regard to their time. They will take mission trips, learn to share their faith and take discipleship courses without much regard for the time and effort these things take. However, these same people may not see the need to give their money without regard to the intrinsic benefit that this giving allows. They want to buy something rather than give to whatever God wills.

Money has become the litmus test which reveals a person's heart. People may be excellent Christians while speaking of so many things but let money get involved and they will break ties with their own families to get more of it. They will maneuver, deceive, manipulate, lie and forget their faith and reputation to take another's inheritance. They will end friendships of years for a few dollars. They will destroy their churches if it means more money in their pockets.

Money is often a destructive force in ministers lives. They may be trustworthy in every care put in their charge but money insidiously destroys them. They seek it with such diligence that it taints their whole ministries. The love of money will eliminate the good character they show in every other area. Their congregations believe the minister should be above this evil and lose all trust for their ministers when they find them to be wanting for more money.

The Bible calls money the root of all sorts of evil. The root is at the heart of the plant.

And maybe that's the reason we guard this love so carefully. Kill the root and you kill the plant. Maybe we are afraid it will kill us. We think money is life for our hearts but it is merely an evil that influences our hearts.

A plant generally has many roots that feed it. Evil has many roots but money seems to be a large root in many a person's life. This root is like a tumor which grows on the heart. It claims it cannot be removed because to do so would take a piece of the heart but it can. It claims to be essential but it is not. It is more like an addiction in our lives for it claims to be life giving when it is really life destroying.

How is it with you and your money? Do you get upset when money is mentioned in a sermon? Do you start justifying your lack of giving? Do you give cheerfully and anonymously or do you give grudgingly and make sure people know you give? Do you give and tell the preacher that you do so that you can "buy" his good graces?

Money will get the best of you if you don't watch out.

1 Timothy 6:10 (NKJV)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is God Looking for You?

Many, many years ago there was a fictional television program which told the stories of people who were given a million dollars. An incredibly rich benefactor would choose someone worthy enough to receive this magnificent gift. It wasn't a contest. This money was given to people the benefactor considered worthy because of the lives they had lived. The stories centered around the character of those who received the gifts and their very credible lack of belief that someone would do such a thing.

I think people watched this program because they wanted to believe that there might be someone who would do such a thing. They wanted to believe that someday someone would walk up to them and give them the gift which would make all their financial troubles disappear.

What would you think if I told you that I know someone who is looking to give his support to you? What if I told you that he has been looking for someone with a pure heart so that he could support them? What if I told you that he always finds the person he is looking for? What if I told you that this benefactor is God?

Many people believe that God makes rules and searches the world for those who disobey His rules. They see Him and those who serve Him as the spiritual and moral police. They think that they are being reported for their failures instead of the good things that they have done. They keep ducking their heads, avoiding places where they know God can be found and hoping their names don't come up in God's presence. They are afraid that God will hear of their failures and give them everything they are due.

This is not who God is. God sent His Son to die for us, not to condemn us. God demonstrated His love toward us in that He sent His Son for people who had no thought of Him. He sent His Son for those of us who working against what He wants to do. He even sent His Son for those who hate Him. His love is unconditional. He wants to see us succeed.

God searches the world for those who give themselves to Him. He wants to give His aid. He has plans for great things to happen in each of our lives. He works with those who will turn to Him completely. These are the people who God can give His strength to. These are the people who will walk in His strength.

Think about it. Who is mentioned on the news each night? Isn't it those who have done bad things? God doesn't have to search for bad people. He wouldn't need omniscience to find bad people. He could simply watch the news!

God is searching for the good. He is looking into the hearts of each person seeking those whose heart is His. These are the people He gives His strength to.

So, is God looking for you? I hope so.

2 Chronicles 16:9 (ESV)
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unqualified Calling of the Lord

I have met many ministers who have no calling. They do what they do because they don't know what else to do. They do what they do because they genuinely like church and people. They do what they do because their mothers or fathers expected them to do this.

But they have no calling.

A calling from the Lord is an unqualified acceptance of His will. It is saying that you will go wherever He tells you to go and serve in any capacity He wants you to serve. It is saying that you will wait for His will before you will act. It is a daily devotion to Him.

A "called" minister is available all the time. The work can never become a job. It can never be a clock that keeps you at the church. No Bible study or sermon can just get by. The calling urges the called minister to give His Lord glory. He or she gives the very best. No amount of time can measure the best.

The called minister is always aware of his calling. He knows he is to reach souls. He knows he is to make disciples. It makes him dream of what he should be doing. It makes him pray and read the Scriptures diligently to hear a word from the Lord in the direction he should take. 

The "calling" directs the called ministers life. His first concern is to His Lord. He knows that His Lord will provide for his family. He knows that His Lord doesn't want him to abandon his family. His Lord will direct his days so that there is time for the family. It may not be the amount of time each day that his family wants but it will be what they need. 

My disappointment in ministers has come while we interviewed Music Ministers a couple of years ago. Their calling was qualified. They asked how many hours they were expected to work or told me that they were not going to serve a church very far from where they were raised. One told me that he was looking to make a step up to a "First Baptist" church and didn't think that he could do that after serving at our church. 

Calling is not about salary, location, position or timing. Our only answer to God's calling is an unqualified "Yes!" Otherwise, all you are is just a hired hand.

Hebrews 11:8 (ESV)
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is Total Transformation Possible?

The man before me is downtrodden. He has been beaten down by the consequences of his own actions. His addiction to alcohol married an addiction to cocaine. He has lost his lucrative profession, his wonderful family and his reputation. He doesn't know where to go nor what to do. He knows he needs a change in his life but he does not have the strength to make this change. He hopes that I can give him steps which will allow him to live with his addictions. 

I know I can't. I know of no steps which will lead a person away from something which have become so important that it makes you lose what this man has lost. These addictions are more important than his wife and two little girls. It will take something stronger than steps to correct these addictions.

Someone told him that he needed to come to church. That's why he is before me now. I know that church alone will not change people. There are too many people who come to church every week who remain unchanged to believe this. Church may be a positive influence but it will not transform people from addictions.

I tell him that I know of three things which have been proven to transform people. He is ready to listen. I tell him that brain surgery will change people. A simply lobotomy will change him but I don't know whether or not it will relieve him of his addictions. I just know that he will be changed.

I tell him that deep psychotherapy has been known to change people. Long periods of time under the care of a psychotherapist might do what he needs. The problem is that this man doesn't have a long period of time to give. He needs to break with his addictions immediately. He no longer has money or the trust of his family. Psychotherapy may have worked if he had started earlier. Its just a little too late now.

My last offer is one I know will work. I talk about giving his heart to Jesus Christ. I don't talk about going to church. I don't mention begin baptized. I don't give him an ultimatum of joining AA or NA or any other group we have at the church. I tell him that Jesus can change him if he will completely turn his life over to Him.

He looks at me with desperation yet still skeptical. He cannot understand how a commitment to Someone who died 2000 years ago will change him today. 

"If you will give your heart to him and really mean it," I continue, "He not only can change your life but must change your life or you really didn't mean it. You fall in love with Him more than you love your addictions. This is the only way I know you can have a true transformation."

He hesitates. He is weighing what I have just said. He can't imagine loving anything more than his addictions. He is afraid of another failure. He has tried to change on his own so many times before. He quits for a little while but always returns to his alcohol and cocaine. He wants to believe. He has no other choice. 

He nods and I ask him again if he really means it. He says, "I want to mean it."

"That's all that can be expected." I ask him to bow his head and repeat a prayer with me. "Jesus, I am a sinner. I have done things which have hurt my family. I have done things that have hurt You. I ask for Your forgiveness. I thank You that You have given it to me. I give You my life. I commit myself to live the rest of my life for You. I ask You to live within my heart. Thank You for saving me. Amen."

Will this man be totally transformed? He must or he doesn't really know Jesus.

This man has not become perfect in the sense that he will never say another cross word to anyone nor get angry when he should have listened. Total transformation is not perfection. Total transformation is an empowerment which gives victory over forces that seek to conform you. It is coming back to your Lord again and again when you have failed in what people will consider minor. It is a lot of corrections. It is a relationship which grows. It is a love that never fails.

So, why are so many people unchanged who come to church? Now, that is a great question. Why are they unchanged?

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Godly World View

The red Toyota Corolla passed me doing around 50 in a 35 mph zone. It is a very busy road. There are two schools within a half mile of each other. You hardly go out of one school zone when you enter the other. Pedestrians often cross illegally. Often drivers get impatient with the traffic and wiz through. The police patrol the area but not regularly enough to make people comply with the law. So, the speed zone is largely ignored.

The speeding Corolla stopped at a red light so that I was able to catch up. I noticed the fish symbol with a cross in it on the back of the car. I wondered if the driver really knew what that meant. I wondered if she knew that it meant your life would be different from others'. She didn't seem to be in a hurry. She had just disregarded the speed limit. I wondered why she stopped at the red light.

I was in Beijing, China in 1996 riding with a group of Christians on a mission trip. The road was incredibly crowded with cars, trucks and bicycles. We came to a major intersection with traffic lights in all directions. Eight to ten policemen directed traffic even though the lights appeared to work correctly. I asked, "Why the policemen?"

"If they were not there, no one would stop," our guide said matter-of-factly.

I wondered, "Do people tend to rebel against authority when they disregard the presence of God? Does the lack of a godly world view support rebellion against those who have authority over us?"

Now, let's weigh the two stories I have recounted. The first one has a young lady with a Christian symbol on the back of her car breaking the law. Let's assume that means she is a Christian. The second story is an observation in a Communist country which has said that God does not exist. Their rebellious actions seem to be similar traits. Each rebels against authority. This appears to indicate that rebellion against authority prevails whether or not a faith system exists.

I am not convinced. I wonder if being a Christian means that Christians have a godly world view. Do Christians view the world as ordered by the presence of God or do they have a selfish world view in which God is their servant. I wonder if obedience to God is deemed optional for many Christians. Do Christians sing songs, raise their hands and weep crocodile tears to Him who can help them win the lotteries, get new jobs, heal their sicknesses, find new mates and whistle "Do-Dah" all day long? Has the godliness of righteousness drained from our society? Do we understand Him as God whom we must obey or as just someone we can call on to help when He is needed?

Are Christians speeding, cheating on their taxes, cheating on their spouses, and looking at pornography at any less rate than those who are non-Christian? Unfortunately, the answer is "no." How can there be a godly world view demonstrated by a people who will do these things with impunity?

A godly world view affects our respect for all authorities because it admits that God is over all of these authorities. It draws a distinct boundary when considering rebellion. Authority is to be obeyed unless is disregards God's higher authority. Thus, Paul would go to prison for preaching the gospel and also write that we should obey those who are in authority over us.

So, I drive the speed limit, stop at red lights, take my shopping cart to the places the stores designate, throw my trash in the rubbish bin, reluctantly, but as correctly as I know how, do my taxes and am absolutely faithful to my wife. (There will be no more blogs anyway if the last one wasn't kept. Dead men write no blogs!) Yet, all of this is not because I have a compliant nature for I don't. I understand God as my life. He has ordered the universe. I follow Him.

Have you ever heard someone say, "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission?" Maybe that was the thought that sent Jesus to the Cross. That's not where I want to be.

Isaiah 65:2 (NIV)
2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations--

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who Is The Enemy?

I suppose that all teenagers are not rebellious. Some parents may have their children grow into maturity with a complete understanding of why their parents have given the principles and boundaries these teenagers live under. However, many teenagers think that their parents are the enemy and the world is their friend. This understanding will cause them more grief than than either the parents or the teenagers can imagine.

The church has a number of immature Christians. They act just like teenagers when accepting authority. They rebel because there is something they want. They think that their church leaders are the enemy and the other immature Christians who don't know what's really going on are their friends.

It is normal for those who are immature to rebel against authority. They want to do as they wish. They want to make those who keep them from doing so as evil. Immature people will even make their actions seem noble. They will couch it in spiritual ways if possible and in human compassion when not. 

Amazingly, most people fail to recognize what is going on here. They see this as merely the selfishness of those who are immature. They see their enemy as those whom they can see.

Paul didn't see things this way when he wrote to the Ephesians. He saw that each struggle came against spiritual evil which worked in the physical world. This spiritual evil rebels against God's will. It disrupts the fellowship of God's church. It thwarts the reaching of souls for Christ. It stops the teaching of the Scriptures. It forgets the mission of God's people. It takes away from the glory that should go to God.

Our struggle is not with those people who are disrupting our churches. Our true struggle is against a much more sinister force. This force is working behind the scenes. This evil one is separating God's people. It works in the spiritual areas which are unseen. 

This enemy works to set children against their parents and parents against their children. He works to destroy God's creation. He keeps working relentlessly. He wants us to think that we are the problem when it is him. 

This evil cannot be tolerated. He has declared himself our enemy. An enemy only wants one thing: your defeat. We recognize him and fight in the only way we can. We must go to God in prayer and ask for victory over the devil. He cannot defeat God.

However, we will always be defensive as long as we fail to recognize our enemy. We will fight against others. We will use political, emotional, psychological and other means of subtle coercions to get our way. We will fight each other rather than the evil one(s). We must recognize the worm for who he is and fight him in the spiritual realms. 

Do you have a struggle going on in your church? Now, think about it, who is the real enemy?

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Standing Alone

I remember watching westerns on television as a child. More than one gave the story of a town sheriff who would stand alone against a lynch-mob. His prisoner was often innocent. That wasn't the point, however. The sheriff stood alone so this man could get a fair trial. The sheriff stood for what was right even if no one else stood with him.

Those television programs were made during a time when people understood that there was a right and wrong. These principles stood no matter who denied or supported them. They did not have a face. They were not negated because of a whim or even the perceived need of the individual. 

These stories often told the other side. A son had been murdered. All the evidence pointed to the man in the jail. The townsfolk wanted to alleviate the pain of the murdered boy's mother. They wanted instant retribution. They wanted to give this mother relief from her pain. They rallied around her and forgot what was right and wrong.

Yet, the sheriff, who may have wanted to give this mother relief as well, stood firm in protecting his prisoner. He understood that the law was made to benefit everyone. He understood that he had to do what the law said even when he didn't want to. He had to do so when he would rather have stood with the mob.

There are few people who will really stand for what is right when everyone else seeks something else. Most people become silent. They don't join in with those who are doing evil. They just don't say or do anything. They walk by while someone is beaten. They lock their doors; hoping no one will ask them to take a stand.

This gives a very blurred vision of right and wrong. Many people believe that the majority makes something right. Their understanding of right and wrong is determined by the number of people who say it is right or wrong. They believe they can be right as long as they are in the majority. 

I'm actually surprised that more movies of "instant justice" are not made. The mob takes the jailed man and hangs him. They congratulate themselves afterwards as they meet at the grieving mother's house for fried chicken and potato salad. All is right because they are all right together.

However, all will never be all right until we understand that there is a right. It will not be all right until we commit to that which is right. It will not be all right until we stand alone for what is right. 

You have to stand alone for what is right before you can stand together.

Joshua 24:15 (NIV)
15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Today Is a Test

Today is a test. It will be taken whether or not we are prepared. We have the question set before us: What will we do with what we have? 

We may have dreaded this test. It may mean we have to go through something we would rather avoid. We can run from the test but it just means we have to take the same test later. Sometimes the "makeup" test is much harder than the one in front of us. It is better to go ahead and take the test today.

This test may scare us. The fear of failing this test is founded upon the previous tests we have failed. We like to avoid confrontations. Tests are confrontations of what we fear. Today's test confronts us by how we will handle our particular situation which has been handed to us today. Our success or failure is built upon what we do.

Our answers to today's test will reveal what we really believe. Everything we have said in platitudes and proverbs will mean nothing if we do not live what we say we believe. 

We cannot justify failing today's test. We can't simply say that stress got to us or that there were other unforeseen circumstances which got in the way of our success. Ultimately, we are responsible for today's test. 

Help is available for this test if we ask for it. No one needs to take today's test alone. There is One who knows all the answers and wants to help us pass today's test.

There will be another test for tomorrow. Today's test is the one we must concentrate on. Will we do what we should or will we regret our answer for today? Will we try to justify our failure or will we accept our faults? Will we ask for help on this test or will we try to go it alone?

Today's test is graded on a curve. Failing today's test is not our goal but if we do, we have One who will give us a passing grade. He passed the test for us.

We will pass today's test if we will just listen.

Hebrews 3:12-15 (NIV)
12  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.13  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.14  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
15 As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion."

Monday, March 8, 2010

When Someone Won't Trust You

We are all sinners who come to our God who forgives. We receive forgiveness from Him. Others will forgive us too if they understand the forgiveness given to them. But forgiveness is not the same as trust. After we have received forgiveness we will have to earn their trust again.

Many people try to say that they have not been forgiven if they are not instantly trusted after they have asked for forgiveness. This is not the case. Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned. It takes a special effort to earn trust after it has been lost. Many times people say they haven't been forgiven when trust, not forgiveness, is really the issue. Equating the two will leave you frustrated. People with whom you have lost trust have every right to withhold their trust.

The first step in earning trust is to admit your fault. You lost this person's trust. Ask if you can earn it back. You are not asking for a gift; you are applying for a job. The answer may not be favorable. It may be tentative or even hopeful. He or she may want to trust you. He or she may want things back to where they were before you lost his or her trust. Yet, this person will know that time will tell. Re-earning trust is a long uphill journey.

Remember that you are the one who must earn the trust. You shouldn't expect the one you hurt to make leaps of faith. He or she may have suspicions that you won't be faithful. He or she may still believe you are unfaithful. You must go overboard to prove your faithfulness.

You have no right to become the offended party when you are asked about your faithfulness. You caused the problem in the first place. When asked, you must prove you have been faithful. Living without having to prove your faithfulness is something you lost when you were unfaithful. You may feel that the offended party is bringing up your sinfulness again when he or she questions where you have been or what you have been doing but he or she is really trying to establish your faithfulness (or the lack thereof).

The commitment to be faithful needs to be made often. It needs to be made when you don't want to. It needs to be made when you are questioned. It needs to be made without question. Each action needs to be examined before it is committed. The question must be, "Will what I am doing appear to establish or destroy my faithfulness?" Obviously, you must avoid any appearance of evil.

You will need God's strength and a commitment to Him to establish trust with someone with whom it has been violated. Your commitment here will give you strength and understanding when the person who has not given you trust is acting unreasonable. Trust involves emotions. Emotions are not always reasonable. Emotions may come from the fear of the renewed pain of being hurt again.

Set out on your journey to win trust. Do not settle for something less. Define what trust will mean. It may mean that you no longer have to explain where you have been. It may be that you are trusted with the credit card again. It may mean that you are not under an investigation when you can't be reached on your cell phone. It may mean all of the above.

Make a point of never losing that trust again. We all have to forgive and be forgiven every day. Ask for forgiveness for small transgressions so that you are not admitting to big ones later. Hold trust as something very precious. Never, never, never lose it again.

Simon Peter lost Jesus' trust when he denied that he knew Jesus. Peter hurt the One he said he would always stand up for. Later, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Peter makes a commitment which is often missed when speaking in English. He used two different words for know when asked if he loved Jesus.

He says to Jesus, "Lord you know (a knowledge that is given without experiencing that knowledge. I know George Washington was the first American president without having seen him or living during the time he was president.) all things. You know (a knowledge that will come from experience. You will be able to watch and see that I love you.) that I love you."

The latter is the commitment you must make to the one with whom you are trying to re-earn trust. You re-earn trust through experience.

John 21:17(c) (NASB)
Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Heritage and Tradition in the Church

The best definition of tradition as it applies to the church is: an inherited pattern of thought or action. (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) Heritage is defined as: something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor. There isn't a significant difference in the two definitions. However, one of these will kill a church and the other will establish it.

A church built on heritage decides what has made her great. She notes the things which are transcendent and makes sure these are not violated. She holds carefully to her theology and makes sure that is transmitted to the next generation. Her practices don't become sacred. They are simply ways of transmitting this heritage.

A church built on tradition makes her practices sacred. She defines worship by the traditional way it has always been. Traditionalism often forgets the reasons why it is done. The tradition takes on a life of its own. A church build on tradition will continue to do what it does long after it is no longer practical. The tradition becomes more important than the principle for which that actions once supported.

A church built on tradition will argue over when the offering is to be taken, how the offering is taken, where it is to be taken and how it should be spent. The members try to spiritualize those things which are merely tradition. They actually think this is the way the Bible prescribes an offering should be taken. They do not understand that the taking of the offering has evolved to the place where it is today. 

The same is true for the 11:00 AM worship service, the giving of a percentage of the offerings to missions, the patterns of sermons, the establishment of Sunday Schools and many other activities and entities in the church. They were means of passing down the church's heritage. They have become traditions which must be done exactly as they have always been done whether or not they are accomplishing anything that resembles the church's heritage.

Traditionalism becomes detrimental when it forgets the principle it supports. The church will live for its traditions rather than its heritage. The church will, therefore, pass on its traditions rather than its heritage. When younger generations ask why it is done this way the answer will be either, "Because God wants us to do it this way," or "We've always done it this way." 

Often the ones who should be passing on the heritage don't understand the question of the younger generation. There real questions are, "Why do we have to do this at all?" and, "What does this mean?" Unfortunately, the ones wrapped in tradition can't answer. It may have not been passed down to them. There may have been generations of members who no longer know why things is done in this traditional way.

I am afraid that some of the things I do in church will become traditions that forget our heritage. I baptize at the beginning of services because I don't have time to get dressed at the end. I wear a robe when I baptize to cover up the waders I wear to keep me dry. These can easily become traditions which will plague the next pastor. He may have a baptistry which allows him to stand outside the water to baptize. He doesn't need time to get dressed so he can baptize at the end of the service and won't need a robe either. I am afraid that someone will tell him that it isn't a legitimate baptism if he isn't wearing a robe or that it was done at the wrong time of the service.

Traditionalism will eventually kill a church. People will not gather when they know there is no meaning in what is being done. They will sense that it is all ritual without much substance. They will stop being mesmerized by the robes, the candles and the organ music. They will look for something else. It may not be spiritual but they will call it such. They are looking for something with meaning.

A church is a living organism which changes or it dies. It is built on heritage. It is killed by traditions without meaning. 

Jesus said He would build His church on a heritage that even the gates of Hades would not prevail against. The Church is built on this heritage.

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

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Least Likely Convert

I'll bet there is someone that you don't ever think will become a Christian. This person has laughed at your faith. He has exhibited no interest in Christ. This person may have developed a morality that rivals that of Christians. He may even point out each time a "Christian" is caught in a scandal. He may believe that his own pleasures are the only reason for living. Ultimately, he is a hedonist regardless of whether he leans toward a heightened or depraved morality. He does what pleases him even if it appears altruistic. There is no world outside what he can verify with his five senses.

Maybe you have stopped praying for this person. No one would blame you. He hasn't given any indication of moving slightly closer to a faith in Christ. In fact, he may have moved farther away when you prayed for him. You got frustrated and started believing that he will never come to Christ.

It is harder to give up on someone you care about. A husband or wife that doesn't know the Lord is very difficult to live with too. He or she may treat you wonderfully but you don't have the same ultimate values. There is always a disconnect when it comes to spiritual matters. You can't seem to communicate when it comes to spiritual things. You have explained, been laughed at, been argued with and have left frustrated so many times. You may love each other deeply but this spiritual gap makes things less than they could be . . . less than you long for them to be.

You have called your preacher to come explain the gospel. Unfortunately, the problem isn't a lack of information or the ability to win the "Christian" argument. The problem is resisting the Holy Spirit. No preacher can prevent that from happening.

Zaccheus was the least likely convert. He had cheated people and become rich. He is a little man who may have been despised by those in a spirtual community. Let's look at the elements of his conversion.

Zaccheus had heard about Jesus. There had been enough interest that he wanted to see Him as He passed by. Zaccheus climbed a tree, maybe because no one would step aside so he could see. His tree climbing resulted in being seen by Jesus.

Zaccheus had an encounter with Jesus Himself. There was no preacher coming by to evangelize him. There was no argument that was won. Ultimately, everyone who comes to Christ must have an encounter with Him.

Zaccheus was known by the Lord. Jesus called him by name. Jesus said he would come to his house to eat. Zaccheus could have rejected Him at that time but he didn't. It was a greater opportunity for him to know this great Man better.

Zaccheus made a commitment. He did so publically. His offer to give back what he had taken was his public commitment to Christ. He didn't hide his new faith.

Jesus declared Zaccheus as saved. Our salvation is not determined by what we have done but what He has declared. Yes, we make a commitment but Jesus identifies with us. Our spirit and His Spirit agree. Then, we know salvation.

Maybe you should change your prayer for the person you care about and does not know the Lord. Maybe you should pray that this person opens his or her heart to the gospel. Pray that their will be no resistance to the Holy Spirit.

God saves the least likely converts. Keep praying.

Luke 19:8-10 (NASB)
And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Are We Responsible for the Sins of Others?

Yesterday, another crazy person attacked people coming out of government offices. He shot a couple of police officers before being shot. The news media is looking for a pattern in these attacks against the government. (the man flying a plane into the IRS building in Austin, TX  et al) People are looking for a way to see these things coming. They are seeking someone to blame. 

Our world has changed drastically in the past several years. We have seen that terrorism, whether domestic or foreign, gets instant media attention. Those who act out of their anger know that their names will soon be splashed all over the televisions and internet. Their fifteen minutes of fame can be easily reached without having to attain any honor. 

Often these crazies are given special attention as their actions are scrutinized. Their ideals are given value in that they are discussed. They know that, while they may not live to see the discussions, their ideals are considered carefully. It is a very fast way to get their message to the world.

For example, I have been writing this blog consistently for almost a year. (I will have written it every day for a year later this month. I wrote some blogs before but not that consistently.) I have less than 20,000 hits since I started counting. I would have over a million hits overnight if I took some crazy action like these violent people have. My "message" would get out more rapidly. If I considered myself a martyr, I might think doing something insane would be worth it. I instantly become a household name and each of my blogs are analyzed to reveal why I did what I did.

How about this? Why don't we quit advertising the ideals of crazy people? Why don't we simply say, "An unnamed man began shooting people as they made their ways home after work," and leave the story at that without any further information? Eliminate the motivation for why these people do what they do so they will stop doing them. Make them have to work hard to get their messages out. I believe most of this will stop.

I also believe that the internet has given crazy people an opportunity to band together in a way they never did before. The discussions on the internet take a life of their own. One person adds innuendo while another uses hyperbole. Soon, the story is one of the most malevolent evils whose face can be seen in whoever is being attacked. Today, most people don't believe that something is true because of the character of those whom have said it is true. They believe it is true because there are so many others who are saying it is true. Truth is what "everyone" else is saying is true. 

Unfortunately, there is no way to rebut all that is being said on the internet. I both applaud and regret this conclusion. I am glad for the free speech the internet allows us to have. I can say practically anything I like without reprisal. I am afraid of what our country would become if we lost our freedom of speech. However, I also hate the fact that lies which lead people to angry actions are so available for everyone. You can find whatever you want to believe on the internet. You can join a group which believes it and debunk the real truth within that group. Eventually, you can see yourself as a savior by taking drastic action. 

Yet, I do not want to take the ultimate point of view which says that someone else made me do what I do. I don't want to blame the high school students who were killed at Columbine for the actions of two students who killed so many of them. I don't want to honor those who killed so many in Oklahoma by saying they acted nobly when killing innocent children and adults. Ultimately, the blame rests on those who take this action. They may have been influenced by others but there were millions who didn't take their despicable actions even when being influenced by the same information and temptations. These people who terrorize and kill are responsible for what they have done. 

Each of these people will stand before their Maker one day to answer for their actions. I don't believe He will say,"Well, of course you took this action. What else could you do? Others made you do it." 

I don't think that gets others off the hook, either. I do believe that each one who supports the violent actions of others will also have to answer for their actions. They may never have killed anyone but their messages of violence urged others to do so. They, too, will stand before God to answer for their actions.

Each of us needs to know that we are responsible for our actions each day. Others may have influenced our actions for better or worse but the responsibility still lies with the person in the mirror.

Romans 14:12 (NIV)
12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.