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Friday, April 30, 2010

Conflict in the Church

There are at least four listing of spiritual gifts in the Bible. Each of these are mentioned for specific reasons. One common theme is found in all of these lists: the gifts of the Spirit are to bring harmony to the Body of Christ which is the Church.

It is hard to find a church today without conflict. Is this because many of the people who comprise these churches are not acting within their spiritual gifts? Absolutely!

Often churches use the concept of family to describe their fellowship. Family comes from being brothers with Christ and having God as our Father. It does not describe the function of the members adequately. We all have family members who are disfunctional. We may still love them but they can cause a lot of chaos. They may cause conflict within our families but we generally ignore their tirades, their misguided personalities and their abuse. Sometimes we give them money to go away. They are our family members. We can't do anything about it.

The functional model of the Church, however,  is the body when the Bible mentions spiritual gifts. The body has many members. Each functions differently but must function for the body to be healthy. The lack of health in many churches can be directly tied to the number of members (body parts) which are either not functioning or functioning outside of their spiritual gifts.

Those who do nothing within the church have a spiritual paralysis. They are no more than spectators. They are along for the ride. They are like the limbs which have been paralyzed by a spinal injury. They are not getting the message though they may like being fed by the rest of the body. They are dead weight.

Those who are acting outside of their spiritual gifts are like cancer. They may do great works within the church but they do them our of their own abilities. They may do these works out of pride so that others will see them. They may do them to condemn others. They can point to themselves and look down on those who do less. They certainly castigate the dead weight of those who are doing nothing. They may be serving to get onto ruling committees and boards. Their service is merely a con to run the church. They look so much like a blessing when they come, are given places of responsibility and take over in a short span of time. They are like the Pharisees who want to be seen doing their good works, who look down on the rest of the people and want to be in charge of every meeting.

There are not a great number of these people in many churches. I have found that most churches only have five to ten people who will fit this category. They stir up others who will join them in conflicts. These are the mindless individuals who could not understand a spiritual concept if it were to hit them in the foreheads. Some of them are not believers. They became members by walking an aisle or going through a class because it was expected of them. They join the cancerous individuals because they can't see their lack of spiritual maturity.They treat the church like any other organization they have joined. They pay their dues and attend when they would like.They serve when they have to. They come to conflict meetings to keep the club just like it has always been.

The people who act within their spiritual gifts bring harmony to the body. They are busy and happy. They are working and enjoying what they are doing. They fail to criticize others because they are too busy doing what they are supposed to do to notice what others are not doing. They seek to help the body function properly. They are surprised by conflict. They know the purpose of the church without having a committee formed who will state it and put it on placards all over the church. They know they are supposed the worship the Savior, win the lost and work for the glory of God. They know that they need spiritual insight. They know they need to mature in their own faith. They are the diamonds which are rare but so incredibly valuable that the church's value grows all around them.

What can change this disfunction of the church? The Holy Spirit must. It is a spiritual problem and must be met on a spiritual plain. We need unsaved members to be saved. We need cancerous believers to repent and come humbly before the throne. We need leaders to accept their responsibility of bringing the church to unity. We need a return to biblical rather than political themes within the church. We need to cry out so diligently that the Lord will send the might Holy Spirit to cleanse us.

Otherwise, I think we will just have conflict within the Church.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Can You Be Sure You Are Saved?

Matthew 10:22 bothered me as a new Christians. It says, " All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."  It was that part of  "'stands firm to the end'" that stopped me in my tracks. I reasoned that my failure to continue proclaiming Jesus at any time would negate my salvation. I wondered if I would always be true. I wondered if that meant I could lose my salvation. Thankfully I discovered what salvation is really about. It doesn't make this verse less serious but it assures me of my final destination.

Salvation does not depend upon my works. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)8   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Obedience is evidence of salvation but it does not gain us salvation. I am not saved because I have worked so hard to obtain it. It is God's gift to those who will receive it.

God keeps His word. He said that we would be saved by the confession of our mouths and the belief in our hearts. Romans 10:9-11 (NIV)9   That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11  As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 

Some may say that our confession is an act of work but I know that it is an evidence of God's work within us. 1 John 4:2 (NIV)2   This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 

God's Spirit identifies with us so that we know that we are saved. Romans 8:16 (NIV)16   The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.   I know I belong to Him because my spirit agrees with His Spirit.

It is through my spirit and His Spirit that I receive spiritual things. I understand them because He reveals it through my spirit which has been made alive. 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)14   The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

I am saved because God loves me and nothing can take that away. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)37   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore I know I am saved because I have received the faith God has for me to believe. I know I am saved because He gave salvation to me as a gift. I know I am saved because He always keeps His word. I know I am saved because my spirit agrees with His Spirit.  I know I am saved because I understand spiritual things. I know I am saved because God's love cannot be taken away from me.

Do you know you are saved?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do Children Understand a Parent's Devotion?

Yesterday my heart sank as I watched my daughter walk down to her apartment. My wife and I had spent five days in Cairo, Egypt. We saw a lot of incredible sites but she was the real reason we came. My heart hurt because I knew I wouldn't see her again for several months.

I am very proud of her. She teaches school in Cairo. I think she is very brave to leave the security of the US to go to a foreign country that is so very different from what most Americans will ever experience. She will leave and teach in another country next year. I am glad she does this. I only wish I could see her more often.

As she walked away I thought of how God feels when we walk away from Him. Unlike my daughter and me God can always be with His children. The only separation comes when His children walk away from Him. How much of a hurt is it for God if I leave Him for a bad reason if I hurt when my daughter leaves me for a good reason? I can't imagine.

I believe God wanted me to learn this lesson. His devotion to me is immeasurable. I can't really understand it.

I do understand my devotion to my children. I don't think it is possible for them to understand it either. I know I never understood it of my parents but I am starting to grasp a small part of what God feels.

1 John 3:1a (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do People Have Free Will?

Many atheist believe that free will does not exist. They believe that we are merely the products of our environments. If two people had exactly the same parents, the same exact time and date of birth, ate exactly the same things, had the same DNA, the same exact looks, had the same exact experiences at the same time with the same people and had every other experience and stimuli the same, these two people would think the same thoughts, say the same things and make the same decisions. (Of course, this destroys the concept of alternate universes because there would be no variations given exactly the same conditions.)

On the other hand, there are Christians who believe that some will go to heaven and others go to hell because God has chosen to same some. They believe that people have a free will about everything but salvation. They believe that God's grace is irresistible to these people. Those people will come to know Christ do not have a free will to do so. Many of these people deny that God, therefore, condemns others by not choosing them. I don't see how they are able to come to that conclusion. I can't help believing that I would know my choice of who is getting on my lifeboat would also condemn those whom are not chosen. It would occur to me; why not to God?

Yet, the words "predestined" and "chosen" are clearly used in the New Testament. But are these words being taken out of context when talking about salvation? Is it possible that God does not steal our free will when we understand the whole counsel of the word of God? I think so.

God does not see time as we do. He knows it as completed but experiences it in the moment. We know it and experience it at the same time. Therefore, God makes His decisions out of His knowledge of what He knows will happen. He knows all the variances of all the decisions that can be made. He knows what will happen if this computer crashes right now and what will happen if it continues to allow me to write. He knows how to bring me to worship and serve Him if it is possible. But God never violates my will. He will allow me to sin. He will allow some of the greatest atrocities known to be completed because He does not violate my will or anyone else's. He intervenes but does not take over my body or mind to so what He wants. I can resist or I can comply.

However, God is also very persuasive. He will do what will cause me to come to Him. He will work around me to bring others into my life as His grace to me when I allow Him. I can resist His Spirit, resist the environment He works around me and resist His urgings through others to come to Him. These are all grace.

God knows the exact time and date that I gave my heart to Him before the beginning of time. He, therefore, knew what it would take to cause that to happen. He worked to make that happen. I was "predestined" and "chosen" because of His infinite knowledge. God's grace happens for us individually in our own fullness of time.

Should this make me praise God less because I have decided to follow Jesus? Am I less joyful because my grace was resistible? No, absolutely not! I know that He worked to save me. I responded because of His knowledge of what I would do.

God saves people because of His love. There is no other reason. None of us would be saved if He had not worked to save us. He sent Jesus to save us while we were still sinners. He sent people to tell you the gospel story. He worked through media, books, the Bible and other means to have you hear the gospel. You can and could resist but why would you really want to? Its not like the world is offering you a better deal.

Ephesians 1:4-7 (NIV)
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Narrow Path to God

I tell single adults often, "The only reason that you are not married is because you have standards." These singles have come to me lamenting that they cannot find a mate. I assure them that this is a good thing. Anyone can be married very quickly if they will just lower their standards. However, once married, they still have to live with the person whom they have lowered their standards to.

Standards are values are established within us. They are values we choose. Two unethical parents can produce the most ethical child. An environment of thievery, cons and lies can still produce an honest and trustworthy individual. Nothing makes people choose their values. These values establish standards by which we live.

The lack of many things comes from having standards. More money, a bigger house and a new car are available to those who will lower their standards. There are many opportunities for those who will do that which is dangerous or illegal.

Yet, standards are a good thing. It is because of standards that we keep our word, are loyal to our spouses and can be trusted at our work. It is our standards that keep us who we are. It is our standards that reveal and make our hearts. It is those same standards which can give us joy even when things do not go as we would like.

Peter wept bitterly after denying Jesus because he had violated his standards. He was disloyal when loyalty was something he thought had been established. Judas hanged himself because he had gone below his own standard for thirty pieces of silver. There will be no greater disappointment in your life than when you lower what you considered to be a standard. It will hurt your heart.

Most of us know this pain. Some time we have done something to lower our standards. We have participated in things with others which did not meet our standards. We have felt badly. If we do these things often the pain will go away. Then, our standards will remain low. The fact that it we feel pain means that the value is still in place. We can build a wall around this value so that it cannot affect our lives. If something happens to open that wall the pain of all our violations fall upon us. The pain returns. The standard will either be re-established or we will repair the wall around our value.

Our hearts were built to accept the things of God. They were made for God's values to be placed within them. Those values have established a standard of living for us. We violate the image of God and therefore fall short of His glory when we violate those standards. It is called sin and, when recognized, is painful. It can make us feel worthless when God has established forever our value by giving His only Son as a sacrifice for us. We are immeasurably valuable to God. He has redeemed us from our violations.

Being true to these God-established values are the only way we have joy. This has been built into us. There is no peace without walking a path within God's values. That is what most people are looking for by staying away from these values. That is why they can't find it. That is why, after pursuing a licentious life. will seek to do good in the world. They will seek to feed the children, find clean water or fight disease for groups within the world. They are appealing to the values established by God. Yet, they many of them don't understand. They cannot simply have some values and leave out the others and walk with God.

The road to peace is a narrow path. It is one which God has established within us.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Is the Church?

The definition of church has gotten fuzzy in the past fifty to sixty years. There are so many parachurch organizations which call on people to give, serve and worship that people have gotten these organizations mixed up with the church. Many of these organizations are worthwhile endeavors. They accomplish a distinct calling of God which accomplishes His will but they are not the Church.

The New Testament had no difficulty in determining what a church was. It is a body of baptized believers who corporately and regularly meet together to worship, grow together in the likeness of Jesus and share the gospel message to the world. It is clear that the New Testament was written for the sake of the church. It calls the local churches by name and establishes them as a group which will comprise the bride of Christ.

Even the early Church had those who separated themselves to share the gospel. Paul, Silas, Barnabus and Mark were examples of what may have been called the early "parachurch" movement. They were commissioned by the Church to spread the gospel. They had the Church's blessing and were obviously supported by the Church. Paul's letter to the Philippians records his appreciation for their support. However, Paul never called the Paul and Silas Evangelistic Association a church. He never called for the churches he contacted to consider what he was doing as such. That may not be as true of all parachurch organizations today.

The Church cares for the whole individual. It is the Church which will be there when counseling is needed. It is the Church that will be called upon for a wedding or a funeral. It is the Church that will help in times of stress. Try calling on that radio station you have been giving to when you need someone to visit you in the hospital or perform a funeral. It will call upon its listeners to pray. It will also probably tell you that you should call your church.

This certainly doesn't mean you should fail giving to that radio station or that evangelistic association or that ministry that reaches certain groups that the Church hasn't reached. Many of these organizations are God-called ministries which accomplish His will. However, they are not the Church.

There will be many people who will sit at home Sunday mornings listening to radio stations which give the gospel. Some will carry worship services from churches. These people could have been in a church worship service but chose to sit at home and listen. They have missed one of the vital elements of the Church. The Church was and is a hands-on experience. You have to show up. That's not true of a lot of parachurch organizations. Giving is the criteria for becoming a part of most of these organizations. Some will call on you to serve but the lion's share of those who participate will do so by financial giving. That is why they have share-a-thons and other fund raising events so frequently.

I urge everyone to be a part of a local church. Remember, Christ will come back for His bride, the Church.

Revelation 19:7-8 (NIV)
7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Is Worship?

Surveys conclude that most people who attend church do not worship. How can I say this? Because most church attenders say they do not have any real contact with God. Why is that?

I wonder if people are expecting God to be spectacular when He has contact with them. Maybe people expect God to be as Elijah expected Him to be. Elijah had been the prophet of the spectacular and had some amazing encounters with God. Should he expect God in the wind, the earthquake or the fire since he had seen God bring fire from heaven to light an altar? It is easy to expect God to knock you down every time He speaks. Yet, as Elijah learned, sometimes He speaks in a still small voice.

Some people just don't expect to meet God when they go to a worship service. They expect to sing, pray, give and hear a sermon. They want it to be done expediently since they don't expect anything else to happen. They are seldom disappointed since nothing else happens for them. They think they have done enough by showing up. They have never imagined that a prepared heart or an expectation of meeting God is necessary for worship.
Some preachers may support this idea. They may personally think that people came to sing and hear them preach. Therefore, they try to be as spectacular as possible. After all, they are representing God and He should be able to put on a tremendous show.

People gather from everywhere to hear these preachers. Everyone says they are great communicators. Are they? Or are they just great showmen? People can easily miss hearing God when there is one whose actions say, "Look at me! Look at me!" Some people will believe that this is God speaking.

An encounter with God does not need a preacher. . . or a praise band, choir, really catchy songs or killer videos for that matter. An encounter with God happens in the heart. It may come without expectation but it generally comes from someone who is listening for God. God initiates the encounter to ears that are capable of hearing.

You still your heart and listen for Him. You come into His presence. He doesn't have to speak. It is enough that you know He is there. You tell Him that you love Him and that He is your God. Somehow you know that He has heard you. He is pleased with your coming to Him.

And you have worshiped.

Psalm 95:6-7 (NIV)
6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7  for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice,

Friday, April 23, 2010

Being Real Rather Than Spiritually Dry

I just returned to my hotel from a worship service at Maadi Community Church. It was real. My wife and I are in Cairo visiting my daughter and she took us to her church.

No new churches can be built in Egypt so the church meets under at tent. It is a fancy tent with ceiling fans, special lighting, a sound system and video projection. People sit in plastic stacking chairs. They had some trouble with their computer projection. It neither played a song the preacher wanted us to hear nor would it project the last song (How Great Is Our God) but everyone seemed to know it, so it was still okay.

The congregation was very international. So were the musicians who played and sang. There was a special unity that transcended their backgrounds. The Apostles Creed was recited or read. It was obvious that some knew it by heart. It meant they came from denominations which recited it so often that they had memorized it. The fact that some knew it and some didn't was further evidence of the congregation's diverse background. They didn't point out their differences. They worshiped together.

Sometimes Christians are so conscious that they act in the proper way with the correct doctrine that they forget that it isn't about how we look or how hard we hold to our specific doctrine. We can worship with others without calling them heretics because they fail to agree with us on every jot and tittle.

It is what occurs on the inside of us that counts. It is here that we meet with our Lord. We go into the secret room of our hearts and worship. It is here we are to pray. It is here that we listen to our God. It doesn't matter if we are alone or in a group of thousands because we are truly in our own secret place. We are by ourselves even though there may be others brushing up against us.

Often we are so worried about how we look that we can't worship. We notice if there are those who are putting money in the offering plate and we do or don't because of how we appear. We notice that there are those who do or do not sing and we do or don't because we don't want to stand out. We can be embarrassed about how little we have put in the offering or proud of how much we have placed in the offering and be just as unreal in the practice of our faith either way.

Actions that do not follow a changed heart will make you very spiritually dry. You are trying to grow fruit without any water. The Spirit changes and grows our hearts so that we produce fruit. Outward actions without an inward change will be a shell with nothing inside.

Being unreal is denying that I know Jesus in my heart while trying to show others how much I know Him with my actions. The people at Maadi were truly worshiping their Lord. What was going on in their hearts was appearing on the outside. That is very real.

I suppose Maadi Community Church is not a perfect church. I am sure they wouldn't have let me come in if they were. They were real. I was privileged to have worshiped with them today.

Revelation 3:8-9 (NIV)
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Is the Bible?

I find that some Christians think that the Bible is no more than a book of wisdom. They see it as somewhat helpful but believe that its principles may not apply in all situations. They seek the Bible to confirm what they want to do, give them encouragement when things aren't going well and even give advice on how they can employ God to give them what they want. They do not understand what the Bible really is.

The Bible is God's message to the world. The principles recorded in the Bible are not optional. They are interpreted by the Holy Spirit to reveal spiritual things to spiritual people. It was written by people who were inspired by the Spirit. It contains all the necessary instructions for a Christian to become mature. It should be read, heard, meditated upon, analyzed,  memorized and followed. It is more powerful than any or all of the Christian be-bop songs on the radio in leading a person to become a fully functional follower of Jesus Christ.

It is impossible to do what is contrary to what the Bible says and still be in the middle of God's will. God's word is consistent. The Bible is the best commentary on the Bible. It is interpreted in the context of the day, in the context of the passage, in the context of the book and in the context of the whole Bible. The principles are clear to those who seek Him. These principles will lead the Christian to a closer walk with the Lord. Disobedience to these principles will lead them further away.

I have said it before: The most important thing a Christian can do is spend a portion of his/her day (Five minutes is a good start. Early is the best time.) reading the Bible and listening to for the Holy Spirit to speak.

The Bible is not like any other book you have read. It is God's message to you.

Psalm 119:105 (NIV)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There Is No Love in Bitterness

Why is it that so many Christians are bitter? Sure, they may have had some terrible things happen in their lives. Yes, their lives may not have turned out like they thought they would. No one doubts that tragedy and hard times can turn your life around but why do some people have such bitterness about it? Why is it that those who say they profess to Jesus have no knowledge of forgiving? Why do they not understand letting their pain go?

Bitterness is a common malady. It is rehearsing wrongs committed against you. You get madder each time these wrongs are "relived" in your mind. Your thoughts of revenge do no good.

Bitterness makes the one wronged into a helpless victim. Revenge is the action of someone who is helpless. I think that's why this motif sells so well in Hollywood. People want to see the one who does wrong to "get theirs." They care little if the civil rights are stepped upon. They care little of what motivated the wrong doer. They want revenge for the other person. Seeing another get revenge doesn't give relief. It perpetuates the dream of revenge. It makes us all more bitter.

Some people act bitterly when they stand for a cause. They feel that others have violated the supreme rules which should have been followed and feel justified in violent actions to claim revenge. Thus, you will see normally, law-abiding citizens sabotage loggers equipment. They will confront whalers on the ocean. They will yell angrily at those who enter abortion clinics. They will fly airplanes into IRS buildings.

Please note that I am not saying we should be silent about the things we care passionately about. I hate abortion but I have to love those who get abortions. I have to tell them about forgiveness. I preach against it but I still have to keep the bitterness from infecting my life.

Jesus was horribly treated after He was arrested. He was beaten, spat upon and put through a scourging. People lied about Him. One of His friends denied he knew Him. One of them turned Him in.

Jesus never became bitter because He understood "for God so loved the world." His sacrifice came from His love. In the end He truly practiced what He preached. He asked for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him.

There just is no love in bitterness.

Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
44  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Did Jesus Dance?

Jesus is invited to the wedding at Cana. We all know the story. It is one of Jesus turning water into wine. The wedding feast had run out of wine. It was a tremendous embarrassment. Jesus' mother, Mary, knew He could do something about it. (How do you suppose she knew that?) She knew He would do something about it. (Why would she suppose that?) He didn't disappoint her.

He has the servants fill six stone jars which are used for ceremonial cleansing with water. The servants would know what they had put in those jars. They were hewn out of stone. I have seen these "jars" in Israel. Our guide in Israel said that only God can make a stone. These were special jars. The servants, all the while knowing they had only put water in the jars, were instructed to take some to the master of the feast. It was the best wine he had tasted! He rebuked the bridegroom for holding the best wine for last. The servants and Jesus' disciples knew the truth. This wine was nothing but water until Jesus changed it.

The movies about Jesus present a man who never smiles. He never tells a joke. He never does anything fun. He walks as if He glides over everything. No one really knows Him. I don't think I would like Him.

But Jesus was invited to weddings and to peoples' houses to eat. He was applauded and approached by little children. Can such a melancholic man be invited to so many joyous occasions? I don't think so. I think He was a lot of fun. I think this is why they invited Him.

So, at the wedding feast Jesus would have enjoyed Himself. He would have laughed, told and listened to stories. He would have danced- yes, I believe He did! But the party was not over when His mother came to Him. So, He made more wine.

That's why Zacchaeus was so joyful when Jesus said He was coming to his house. He didn't come to condemn Zacchaeus any more than He came to condemn any of us. He came to give us life- full life. This is joy indescribable. It is given by a joyful Jesus.

Luke 19:5-6 (ESV)
And when jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today. So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Letters from God

We seem fascinated with who we are. We print the prayers we pray to God and forget the answers He has given to us. We forget that He contacted us first. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." He loved us first. He contacted us first. And out of His love God still contacts us.

Often Congressmen and women offer resolutions which take no real action from anyone else. These resolutions are read to a practically empty room. They are recorded and sent to their home districts to make someone feel good about their 100th birthday or 75th wedding anniversary or some other accomplishment. The recipients often take their resolutions and frame them. They point to these and say they were recognized by Congress. They don't know that Congress wasn't actually there when this was read. They don't know that it took no real action by Congress for this to be read. The prayers of a lot of people resemble resolutions from Congress. No response is necessary.

Yet, God is speaking to those who will listen. He speaks through the Bible in a remarkable way. He takes a scripture and puts the "hearer's" name on it. Through the Holy Spirit He applies this scripture in a new way. He uses it to teach, correct, encourage righteousness and give direction. He speaks to those who pray without being so enamored with their own prayers that they fail to listen. Frankly, He speaks to those who will shut up and listen!

This morning I asked God what I should write about in this blog. He said to me plainly, "Tell them to listen." So, here it is. What has He said to you?

Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)
3  'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Blessed Is the Nation Whose God Is the Lord

It is easy to take just about any statement and through innuendo, lack of context and parsing each verb make it into what you want it to say. People do it all the time when they read the Bible. They look for verses they can use to justify what they want to do. They can use the Bible to verify their righteousness as they murder, lie and steal. We shouldn't be surprised that people will do the same thing when reading the US Constitution.

I understand that a judge has ruled that the government, whoever the government is, cannot declare a National Day of Prayer. This comes from an understanding of "Congress shall make no law for the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" from the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. The fact that the framers of these words called for prayer, voted to have Bibles printed from public funds and that then and now there is an established need for chaplains in our armed forces who are publicly funded seems to be ignored.

So you can ignore the context of the words, the practices of those who wrote them and the continued result of their actions and still be a judge who is upholding the rights established with these words. Does anyone else see the foolishness in this? The framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights were clearly saying that no one should be made to go to church or practice any religion. I would fight for others rights to ignore religion but I will not stand still while other force me or others within Congress to ignore our faith. This is clearly trampling on the latter clause of "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.

I realize that what I am about to say sounds like a conspiracy theory but I will still say it. Communists said that religion was the opiate of the masses. They spend decades trying to eradicate it from their countries. They were upfront and deliberate. There are those in the US who are carefully removing it from all phases of our lives. It has been taken from the schools and continues to be slowly removed from places in which it could be seen regularly.

Totalitarian governments want to eliminate religion. Why is that? They do not want a power higher than that which they have established on earth. It is easier to lead a people who believe this is all there is than a people who will fight for righteousness, giving God glory and Someone who can overrule the rules established by man. Those with faith know there is a reward that awaits them. They have Someone within them who motivates them beyond rules. They can't be fully controlled.

Psalm 33:12 (ESV)
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Friday, April 16, 2010

People Need an Overwhelming "Yes!"

Maybe you are the person who can't say "no." You can't say it to your spouse, children or other relatives. You can't say it to your boss or other co-workers. You can't say it to your church. You can't say it to the salesman at your door. It means you have a lot of things you don't want.

It means you are living in a different kind of fear. You are afraid of disappointing others. Your life is frazzled. You are constantly behind. You have cluttered up everything and you can't do the things that you are really good at.

Do you want to keep doing this? Do you want to add so many things that others want to do that you have little time for what God called you to do? Do you want to continue seeking the most elusive joy of being perfect?

Why can't you say "no?" It is because you don't have an overwhelming "yes!"

A couple of years ago our church's benevolence ministry decided that its mission was to feed people who needed food. We got out of the paying rent, utilities, car repairs and a sundry of other bills which were brought to us. We concentrate of feeding people. Each week we give at least a week's food to over a hundred people. We are able to give them everything they need for their meals- even meat! We can do so because the whole church understands what we do. We can do so because we have a reputation for doing so. Other businesses have contributed to what we do. Panera Bread has been incredibly generous in giving us bread. Several grocery stores have added to our pantry of food. We work with the local Food Bank to get much of our food. Our church knows its mission in benevolence and is doing an outstanding job.

It wasn't always that way. Our benevolence ministry did a little bit of everything and didn't have a real mission. The result was a lack of understanding on the part of our church and for those who were in need. Of course, this now means we say "no" to those who come for other things but our "no" comes because we have a resounding "yes!"

Answer honestly: Am I fulfilled as a Christian? Do I know that I am doing what God wants me to do? Am I doing some things I believe I shouldn't be doing? Do I have an overwhelming "yes!" in my life? Your answer to these questions determines what you must do.

God has gifted you to do something that is special for you. You will love to do it once you are involved in it. You will use your spiritual gift(s) to fulfill this service. It may be that you have the gift of teaching and need to teach a Sunday School class. It may be that you have the gift of encouragement and need to lead a small group. It may be that you have the gift of mercy and need to start a grief ministry at your church.

You get better at doing what you are supposed to do each time you do it. You get worse when you are doing something that you are not supposed to do. Doing what you are supposed to do energizes you. Doing what you are not supposed to do just makes you tired. You look forward to doing what you are supposed to do. You dread doing what you shouldn't be doing.

When you have an ovewhelming "yes!" you should also have a resounding "no!" It makes our life into a life giving river rather than a stinky old swamp.

You know what you need to do.

1 Timothy 4:14-15 (NIV)
14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15  Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Taxman Cometh!

Stop reading this blog and get back to doing your taxes! (That is, if you haven't already finished them.)

Each year Americans have a infamous day when we all pay our dues. We rifle through 68,000 pages of tax code to find what we are supposed to pay. Even the best accountants don't know all the code. Any of them can make a mistake.

It is on this day that, while we say we live in a free country, we realize that nothing in our country is free! Every service provided, every politician elected, every federal employee, every bit of our security, education, research, roads and a myriad of other things present us with a bill that must be paid.

Many people are wanting to shrink our government and those bills, yet they can't agree on what things to shrink. It seems that everyone has an idea of what needs to stay and go but they can't agree on what those things are. Thus, we are much more likely to have a growing, rather than a shrinking, government. So, the government only has two choices if it continues to grow since it doesn't produce any marketable goods. It can print more money and/or raise the taxes. I can assure you that it will be a combination of both.

On the other hand, God has never wavered in His requirement. He told us that we need to give Him a tenth. That has stood for thousands of years. He never increased the amount. He said that by doing these things He would "throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" if we would bring Him this tenth. I am not an accountant but that sounds like a much better deal than the government is giving me.

Please pay your taxes if you haven't already done so. Rejoice in these now because taxes have to go up. Next year you will pay more.

Matthew 22:16-21 (NIV)
16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" 21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Is Mustard Seed Faith?

Jesus told us that we would see our mountains moved if we had faith as small as a mustard seed. (Mountains were symbolic of seemingly insurmountable problems.) He gave a spacial dimension to a spiritual reality. He wanted us to see how little faith it takes to see what we have considered to be impossible to become reality.

Faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--  not by works, so that no one can boast." Some may want to say that this is only saving faith that is a gift. I can't see it. Faith is spiritual. Our spirit is made alive by God's Spirit. We are able to know spiritual things because of this.

Jesus rebuked people for having too little faith. Once He and His disciples were on the Sea of Galilee in a storm. He was in the front of the boat asleep while the disciples rowed. They became so scared that they awakened Jesus to save them from the storm.  He said to them, "You of little faith, what are you so afraid?" If we are not careful we can assume that Jesus rebuked them for waking Him but this is not the case. It was their fear, not their coming to Him, that revealed their faith. If anything, they should have woken Him earlier. They had a little faith. That faith came to Jesus. He rebuked them for that faith's size.

Doubt is the fleshly refusal of faith. Doubt is believing refusing to believe what God is revealing to us as truth. God gives us faith for things He wants for us. We have the opportunity to take that faith and let it grow or refuse to believe what God is revealing. Doubt is a conflict within the Christian. It is ambivalent. It believes what it sees and what God reveals at the same time. It does not allow faith to grow. The seed of faith needs the water of belief to grow. Doubt removes all moisture for this seed. Jesus said,  (Matthew 21:21 NIV) "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."

Jesus rebukes His disciples for their lack of faith because He knows that God has given them the faith they need to do what He has called them to do. They have refused to let the faith grow. They have instead believed what they have always seen rather than what God is showing them.

We do not manufacture our own faith. That makes faith something we use to manipulate the world. God is sovereign. True faith never conflicts with God's will because faith must come from Him. But this makes our responsibility so much greater. We must accept and allow the faith that God gives us to grow. That is our responsibility.

Remember the story of the man who wanted the demon cast out of his son. The man told Jesus, "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

"'If you can?'" said Jesus, "Everything is possible for him who believes." 

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:22-24) Jesus removes the demon. He does not rebuke this father for his admission of unbelief. He is affirming his faith but admitting he lacks what he thinks is necessary to get what he really wants.

This is the faith of a mustard seed. It is small but wants desperately to grow. This faith moves mountains.

Matthew 17:20 (NIV)
20 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hearing and Understanding the Word

People must hear the gospel message. That has to be the first step in salvation. They may "hear" it through the written word, the transmitted word or the in-person spoken word. Yet, many people hear it but never understand it. Many people like it but do not understand it.

Understanding the word means that fruit is produced. In fact, much fruit is produced. Understanding is much more than giving definition to the words which have been heard. Understanding is a commitment of the life of the hearer. Understanding the word is a life put in order by the word.

So many people hear the word and make a perfunctory commitment to it. They say they will come to church and do what they must yet do not understand that the commitment is not just when it is convenient. They fail to see that understanding the word is accepting the cost of the "pearl of great price." Jesus said that the person who finds this pearl sells all that he has and buys the pearl. He said it is like finding a treasure in a field and selling all that you have to buy that field.

Many people are puzzled with these words. They fail to understand the word. They fail to see the commitment that it requires. Their failure is evidence that they lack understanding.

Many people are looking for a religion which can be regulated. They want it to occupy a portion of their lives without consuming their lives. They want to be able to turn it on and off. This way they can do whatever they want when the time comes. This way they can refuse any commitment that the Lord requires of them. They want a religion not a full fledged commitment.

This is not different from other things in their lives. They have done the same thing in their marriages. They are faithful when they want to act married and unfaithful when they don't. They want to order their lives by convenience. A convenient life is a meaningless life. A convenient life does not understand the word.

Yes, faith comes by hearing but that hearing comes by the word of Christ. The word of Christ is more than knowledge. It is the same commitment Christ gave to His Father. "Not my will but yours be done."

Is this a tall order? There is none greater. There is none more rewarding. There is none that needs our Lord more. Yet, the result is an abundance of fruit. It is definitely worth it.

Matthew 13:23 (NIV)
23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Monday, April 12, 2010

We All Have Clay Feet

I wonder if we are looking for perfect people as I listen to the media. It seems they are finding the clay feet of everyone of whom they report. They chase those who have sinned. They report in minute detail what happened and when it happened. Then, to add insult to injury they make innuendoes of what might still be happening.

Every slip is reported once a person has been targeted. They stir up things that may not be true. They do so with impunity. They seek to destroy the reputations of people. It is shameful.

These people, who cheer the media, are also the people who tell us that we shouldn't judge others when confronted on a personal level. They would never permit the destruction of someone whom they personally know. These distant public figures are fair game. In fact, it is as if these people are merely video game people who can be blown up or shot without any connection with reality.

Yes, some of the things that public figures have done is reprehensible. Yes, they are public figures and people will make them heroes and villains. But this has gone too far.

We all have clay feet. We may not all have cheated, stolen, committed adultery or committed murder. We have all fallen short of God's glory. For this we have the grace of God. This is the same grace that those who are being reported on need. This is the same grace we should be reaching out to them with.

Yes, we call sin, sin. Yet we forgive the sinner and love him. It is what God has done with us.

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You've Just Got to Love Them

Each week someone comes to church who either hasn't been in a very long time or has never been to church. This person has a need. He or she has probably gone other places to find the answer to his or her need.

The most common need is not raising children, fixing finances or putting a marriage back together. These may be the needs which present themselves when asked but these will not be the true need. People can hear all the sermons about marriage, finances and raising children and remain unchanged and in just as much need. People need something that is life changing. They need something that makes life worth living.

So, they come to church a little scared and very skeptical. They are hoping that they will discover what they need in one session so they can get out of here and get back to their lives. They have no clue that their lack of commitment to anything is the reason their lives lack meaning now. There are a lot of people at church who have the same need as they do. These people come to church but have no abiding reason; no commitment to the Lord.

Why are they here? Someone invited them. Something drew them in. They are ready to hear what they need but they don't know what to listen for. Just one discouraging word from someone in the church will send them back to their cars. Just one embarrassing mistake on their part will make them leave and never return. They are like someone standing on a board laid between two buildings each twenty stories tall. One step off of the board is disastrous.

These people are God's gift to those in the church. Those who have made a commitment to the Lord understand the love of the Lord. They reach out to these people. They befriend them. It is more than a friendly faces. It is people whom they can eventually call friends.

Church people who have made a commitment to the Lord should always be on the lookout for those who have truly wandered into the church. The only way people will know that Jesus truly loves them is by being loved.

I was watching a testimony of someone who appeared on The 700 Club posted on Youtube last night. There were many comments from people who didn't believe the testimony. Some of the Christians were condemning them for their unbelief. I thought, "These people have wandered upon this testimony of this Christian lady on Youtube. Something brought them here. Why would we condemn them for their unbelief? Is this what Jesus really wants us to do?"

The arguments went back and forth. You can't argue someone into heaven. You love people into heaven. That's how Jesus did it. I think this is the way we should do it too.

Romans 5:8 (NIV)
8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So Many People Get Nothing Out of Going to Church

It is not uncommon for peopleto tell me that they hope the sermon is short. I must agree no sermon should be longer than it needs to be but they don't realize that they are also sharing their heart. I know that they don't expect anything to happen. Going to church is just a habit. It's not that they have lost their hope to see a miracle; they just expect nothing.

People who expect nothing are not disappointed. They will nearly always miss anything that happens. They are like someone who ate when Jesus fed the 5,000 and never asked where the food came from. They expected no miracle so they didn't see the miracle that happened right in front of them.

The Bible says that these people lack faith. Faith means you come with an expectation that God rewards those who seek Him. They came without seeking Him. Therefore, they frequently miss Him.

Many of these people are faithful to their churches. They serve, tithe and attend with clockwork efficiency. They can be counted on to meet any need the church might have. Yet, they still don't get it. They don't know that they should be expecting God to act when they worship.

How do you suppose the Pharisees missed Jesus' miracles? Of course, they explained them so that Jesus could not be the Messiah. They did so because they didn't expect anything to happen with Him. Therefore, they missed the miracles which happened right in front of them.

I have wondered if this lack of any expectation also prevents anything from happening. Does the lack of faith of many prevent the miracles that God would like to do? Would people be healed in our services if there were those who truly believed that they could be healed?

I know that God is not pleased with those who get nothing out of church. It wasn't His responsibility to perform so that they would see Him. It was their responsibility to come with an expectation of meeting with Him. People are changed when they come into God's presence. Those who expect nothing leave the same way they came in.

Do you expect anything when you attend church? Do you expect to be changed because you have come into the presence of the Lord?  If not, you should ask your preacher to make the sermon real short.

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Marriage Needs Transcendent Reasons to Last

There was a time when marriages lasted. It was more common to be widowed that divorced. It was unusual that your children would have different last names. You expected to stay with your spouse "until death do us part" and you promised your spouse that he or she better not make you hasten his or her death.

Marriages weren't perfect. People still struggled through difficult times. But that's the point: they struggled through those difficult times. They worked hard to stay together. What has changed?

I believe that each couple for whom I have performed a wedding ceremony intended to stay married for life. In most cases they thought the love they had for each other would never fade. They believed that their loved ones would never hurt them. They didn't realize that both of these things would change after marriage. The type of love they had for each other changed. There were times when loved ones were negligent and hurt them. So, they thought it is all over. They didn't know that this is just the process of life. It is the process of growth.

Three things kept marriages together for many, many years. The first of these was example. People grew up in an agricultural society. Mom and Dad needed each other to survive. They needed each other's work. They needed the children to work. They did all of this together. They were in relatively small homes where just about everything was shared. The children saw how their parents made it through the good and tough times. They applied their parents' principles to their own problems when they got married. They knew it was better to stay together. They knew they needed their spouses to survive.

The industrial revolution came along and changed much of that. Dads were absent most of the time. They came home so tired that they had little time for Mom and the children. The example of seeing parents work through tough times faded away. Of course, WWII didn't help. Women found that they could support themselves outside the home. Soon, both husband and wife knew they could survive without each other. They decided to split rather than work through tough times.

Marriages were also kept together by tradition. Your neighbors were all married. You told your children that they would all be married someday. Marriage was so traditional that it was unusual to know someone who had never been married. Everyone you worked with remained married. That was one of the reasons that widows were honored. They had been faithful to the end. It was a right of passage. The tradition has faded since 50% of marriages end in divorce today. (This does not mean that 50% of the people who have been married got a divorce. Some of the people have gotten multiple divorces.) Everyone knows people who have been divorced. It is no longer traditional to stay married.

Faith kept many marriages intact. God wants His people to remain faithful to Him and to each other. He set principles of a devotion to Him and to the spouse of your youth. He said that He hated divorce. (He does not condemn the divorced but it is painful to the people who are divorced. Never forget that God hurts when we hurt. He hates those things that hurt us.) Faith was the strength that many couples used to get through the tough times.

You can nothing about the example you received from your parents. They may have been great or sorry examples for marriage. That is not your responsibility.

You can do nothing about tradition. All your neighbors and co-workers may be divorced. They may want to talk you into joining their ranks. However, you can do something about your faith. You can devote yourself to the Lord and pray that by His strength that you and your spouse will love each other and work through all difficulties. You can pray together so that you are bonded deeply in spirit. You can go to church this Sunday. You can find a small group (or Sunday School class) within your church that you will get involved with. You can hold on to Him and know that He will hold you together.

You see, you need something more transcendent than your love for each other. You need God's love for you to hold you together. This is something you must agree upon together.

Today I am praying for marriages.
Proverbs 18:22 (NIV)
22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.

Colossians 3:19 (NIV)
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Proverbs 5:15-20 (NIV)
15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer-- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20  Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Overcoming the Sin Which Is Crouching at the Door

Mike and Samantha seemed to have a really great marriage. They were active in their small group at church and often made comments which revealed a deep walk with their Lord. They seemed enamored with each other. They held hands when they walked the church halls. Even the way they looked at each other revealed their love and commitment. Their relationship was a model for others to follow.

That was before Samantha was contacted by an old boyfriend on Facebook. It was really innocent. He just asked what she had been doing. Samantha told Mike about the message. He wanted to act like it was no big deal but it really bothered him. He covered his feelings and told Samantha it was okay to reply.

This wasn't a matter of getting Mike's permission. Mike knew that Samantha's and her former boyfriend's relationship had not been a godly one. Samantha told Mike to make sure that replying to her old boyfriend wouldn't hurt Mike. But Mike, wanting to show his trust of Samantha, hid his true feelings and said it would be good to hear from this old boyfriend.

Samantha replied but also made sure that was the end of her contact with the old boyfriend. Her reply was curt; not cute. She did not want to remember her days in this toxic relationship. The old boyfriend got the message and did not continue sending messages.

However, Mike's imagination ran wild. He couldn't help but imagine that their relationship was being rekindled through this contact. He imagined that Samantha was seeking a time to go and see the old boyfriend. His fears began to take greater shape. He began to look at Samantha differently.

Finally, he accused her of doing what he feared. Samantha was appalled. She had never been unfaithful to Mike since they had met. He was truly the love of her life. How could he think she would act so shamefully. She defended herself angrily. Mike supposed her anger was proof that she was hiding what he suspected.

That was six months ago. Mike and Samantha aren't nearly as regular in church and have stopped going to their small group altogether. They have even stopped holding hands.

Sin crouches at the door for each of us. None of us is immune. We must overcome it.

Genesis 4:7 (NIV)
7  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Make Today the First Day of the End of Your Life

Did you get up this morning without thinking this is a special day? Did you go through your routines that come with every day? This day has a better chance of being wasted if you don't use every minute of it effectively. It's amazing what can be done in a day when it treated as special.

Our days are numbered. We will not be on this earth that long. The effect we leave behind will not last through the next generation if we don't take each day seriously. We order the events in our day to fit within our calling. We listen to our Lord to know what we should do each day. We set out to make this day special. God intervenes. We listen again. We set out again to fulfill His will.

Our days are fulfilling because they are full. They give us our work and recreation. They are both serious and fun. They are playful and accomplishing what we are called to do. We do not dilly dally. We do not spend time surfing the net for no reason at all. We do not channel surf before our televisions. We balance recreation and work. We spend appropriate time with hygiene, meals and exercise. We are on a mission. We do not waste the day.

Fun becomes more fun because we have not diluted it with wasted time. We can intensely throw ourselves into our relationships, our play and our work because they are ordered outside of ourselves. We listen to our Lord who balances our lives perfectly. He gives our lives intensity because we walk with Him daily. He does not want us to waste a day.

The end will come some day. We will look back and see what we have done with our Lord; for our Lord. It will be for His glory. It will be more than we could have ever imagined having done without Him. It will be much more than we could have planned for ourselves. In the end we will go to our reward fulfilled; looking forward to this reward. We will not regret our days nor will we fear our destination.

And it will all be glorious because each day was so special.

James 4:13-17 (NIV)
13 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Don't Accept Anything Less Than Life

How many people are living in our world today? How many people have life? These are two different questions. I believe there are nearly 6 billion people living in our world today. I truly wonder how they come up with this number. Is this from the accumulated census totals of all countries or an extrapolation of known populations. I suspect it is more of the latter than the former. This is how we get statements like: "Every ten seconds 3,000 people clear their throats." I have no idea how you can make this assessment. I suspect that accurately knowing how many people are living on this planet at any given time is impossible.

We also would be hard pressed to state accurately  how many people have life. Life is more than food and drink. It is more than respiration and propagation. It is living in a manner that gives you living purpose. It is being fulfilled in who you are. It is accepting who you are intended to be by celebration. Many of those who call themselves Christians have no more life than the rest of the world. They are good at faking it but they really don't possess it. They have no idea what life really is.

Many Christians run from life. They refuse all responsibilities so that they can go where they would like and do what they want. They assume that taking responsibility will curtain life. They are so wrong. Any acceptance of purpose brings life. It does keep me from doing some things that I want to do. It does mean that I will work while all of my friends are outside playing. However, that is what brings life.

We are amazed at the athletes who perform well in the Olympics. Many people do not understand that this could have been them. They assume that each athlete has a supernatural talent which enabled him or her to perform at this level. There is no doubt that these people are talented. Yet, talent alone will not make you a winning Olympic athlete. It takes hours of hard work. It takes bringing their bodies to exhaustion again and again. It means they will be working while their friends are outside playing. Many of the overweight lethargic people who watch the Olympics could have been in the place of these athletes if they would have accepted a different purpose in their lives.

Life is knowing who you are, what you have been called to do and doing so with a steadfast purpose. Life is a calling to responsibility. Simply going where you want to go and doing what you want to do will not bring you life. This type of living is like a swamp that smells from the decay. A life with purpose is a river teaming with life. The river moves and is exciting. The swamp just sits there.

Don't accept anything less than life. It is unnecessary to do so. God gives you purpose when He comes into your life. It means work but it also means fulfillment. It means you will struggle through tough days but it also means you will know why you are on this planet. It means holding onto Him to make each day count.

Jesus came for this purpose. Don't accept less.

John 10:10b (NIV)  
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Has God's Anointing Today?

Anointing is rarely spoken of except in charismatic denominations. There is such a mystery that has been placed around it that many Christians do not understand the term. That is why they often treat their ministers as if they are employees and ministers often comply by acting like employees.

The Old Testament applied anointing to kings and priests. They were chosen by God to perform God's work. Thus, you have Aaron and the priests who follow him being anointed with oil. You also see the kings of Israel receiving an anointing to designate that they have been set aside for the Lord's work.

Anointing was done by pouring oil a person's head. (At least for these purposes. There are other examples of inanimate objects being anointed. These objects were set aside for the Lord's use.) The person should have had a command from God to do so. Anointing was a calling and an office which received God's support. These anointed ones were not coerced to follow the Lord. They could commit egregious acts against their Lord. The Lord was patient with them but would eventually remove His support. They had both a great privilege and great responsibility due to their anointing.

The use of oil is unnecessary today. The Holy Spirit should be recognized by spiritual people and they should designate those among them as "anointed." The hands of the elders designate whom they believe God has called to His work. These people should be able to recognize the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit upon another's life. They should carefully consider the person before they convey their belief in the calling. Too many churches have been damaged by the acceptance of someone who does not have God's calling.

All ministers should have God's anointing. They should know that they are specifically set aside by God for the ministry. They should know that their strength and wisdom comes from the Lord. They should be people of prayer because for they depend upon their Lord to guide them in the things they do. They need to know that the circumstances do not always indicate what the Lord is doing.

Anointed ministers preach and teach because of their anointing. They have an ability to communicate that cannot be equated with good technique. They may not even be that interesting but God's spirit is so mightily upon them that people are convicted, challenged, taught and encouraged by what has been said. Thus, you have a Jonathan Edwards who being nearsighted leaned forward to read his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" with God-sized numbers of people coming to know the Lord.

Unfortunately, many ministers today are doing their work in their own strength. They lack God's anointing. They made their decisions to enter the ministry because they didn't know what else to do.They may have loved the Lord and His word and wanted a profession which would allow them to spend time with both. It may be that their fathers were in the ministry and they wanted to please them. It may be that others told them that they needed to go into the ministry. They may be able to give interesting messages that everyone likes. They may be able to give comfort to others but their ministry never gives any indication of God's anointing. It never grows. It never shows God's power.

God's anointed are not immune from downturns. Jesus, Himself, had many of His disciples leave Him when He began teaching things they did not wish to believe. He comes to the twelve and asks them if they will leave too. Peter (God bless him!) asks where they would go. He saw that God's anointing was on Jesus. He wouldn't receive that from the Pharisees, other teachers and the Priests.

Unspiritual people cannot recognize God's anointed. This, like all other spiritual things, are revealed by the spirit. Thus, they will lay their hands on any number of people whom will later be called ministers but lack God's anointing. These "ordained" will be frustrations to their churches and to themselves.

The church needs employees who may not be anointed too. They can teach and sometimes preach very effectively. They can be extremely dedicated to the Lord. They are not second class to those who are anointed. The anointed understand that they should follow the pattern of Jesus and become the servant of all. But these employees will not have the responsibility of those who are anointed.

There is a blessed continual concern pursuing the anointed. It is not a fear of losing their positions in the church. In fact, whether they have a church to minister in makes little difference to them. They are called to do God's work, not called to get paid for the work. They are not called to worry about keeping their jobs, nor in doing what the people desire. They must continue to listen to God intently. The Apostles stopped waiting on tables because they did not want to neglect prayer and God's word. It is the same for all of God's anointed for the pressure they feel is to stay connected closely with their Lord. They do not depend upon their own abilities. They know all that they do of significance is done by the Lord Himself.

God's anointing exists today. He still shows Himself to be mighty through His anointed.

Paul's warning to Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:22a (NIV)
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands . . .

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Faith Must Be Experienced

The women who had gone to put spices on the dead body of Jesus came back from the tomb excited. They told the disciples that they had seen an angel. The angel said that Jesus had been risen. The disciples thought this was silly talk.

Still, Peter and John take off running to the tomb to see for themselves. John, the younger of the two, caught Peter but did not go into the tomb. Peter goes in, sees the burial clothing and leaves marveling. He certainly didn't expect this. Who would have thought that Jesus would be resurrected?

Jesus had told His disciples that this would happen but it didn't make sense at the time. Maybe they thought all His talk of a resurrection was allegorical. Surely He couldn't mean that He would actually die and come back to life.

As they say, "The proof is in the pudding!" Meeting Jesus after His death and resurrection changed everything. It had to be experienced. It had to be seen with their own eyes.

Nothing has really changed. We either meet Jesus personally or we talk about someone known by others. We experience Him and our lives are changed. He comes to live within us.

Then, the resurrection makes sense.

I serve a living savoir; He's in the world today; I know that He is living whatever men may say; I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, and just the time I need Him, He's always near. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.

Matthew 28:7 (NIV)
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Christian's Spamblocker

Like most of you, I have a spamblocker on my email. It keeps most of the unwanted spam from ever getting to me. This way my inbox only has about sixty emails a day rather than whatever the number would be without the spamblocker. I can only imagine.

Of course, I peruse that list occasionally to see if an email I want was blocked. I only find one of these blocked but wanted emails every few weeks. The efficiency of the spamblocker makes my inspection unnecessary most weeks.

Spamblockers keep our email flowing more smoothly. They make our time more productive. They keep us on task. They keep us from being distracted by those who offer deals too good to be true. They do their best to make sure that the emails we receive are pertinent to what we need. I appreciate my spamblocker.

It is amazing how many people don't have spamblockers for their lives. They do not filter anything that comes in. For example, I have Netflix. I am on the "one movie at a time" plan but I also have the ability to stream movies to my tv. Last night I streamed a series that I thought would be interesting. I watched about twenty minutes of it, realized that it had inappropriate material, stopped the streaming and deleted the series. I didn't need those images and that content in my memories. I know that the images of sin will cause me to permit more sin. I do not understand how I can please my Lord and participate in sin. Therefore, I "blocked" those images from getting to me.

I went to work with my wife yesterday. I sat in a hospital waiting area or the cafeteria, read and watched people. One man whom I saw several times would use "Jesus Christ" as an expletive. I wondered why he would allow the Savior to become just a word. Jesus said that our words reveal our hearts. His continued verbal explosions were damaging and revealing his heart at the same time. He needed a blocker to keep that from ever happening. He said it often and loudly as if he were proud that he could say the name of Jesus in such a disrespectful way.

One of my daughters called me when she was a sleepover with friends years ago. (I think she was ten or eleven.) They were about to watch an "R" rated movie and she wanted to know if it was okay. I told her that we don't watch those types of movies but I thanked her for calling. She knew not to watch the movie but she needed her dad to be her excuse for not watching it. Peer pressure can get you into all types of trouble. She needed a "blocker" to give her permission to say "no." She would have been forced to watch something she didn't want to watch if I had not blocked her from it. I don't know how her friends responded to my action. She never complained to me about the matter.

What is the Christian's spamblocker? What keeps the Christian from participating with the world in things that are harmful? It is the mind that is set on the Holy Spirit. When we set our minds on Him, we will not give into the desires of our flesh. What you will block and what you will allow will reveal if you are setting your mind upon the Spirit. It brings life and peace.

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds of the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Fore the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Going Beyond the Minimum

I believe some people just barely make it to the end of the day. They don’t do one thing extra. They go to work and do the minimum. They come home to do the minimum. They have the minimum training they can have to get their jobs. They don’t want to learn another thing. They live their lives waiting for Friday nights, holidays and vacations. They hate what they do and don’t have a lot of love for who they are.
These are the people who are the last ones hired and the first ones laid off. They are only needed in desperate times. They will get you through a time when you can’t find anyone else and you must have someone. They become expendable and the company looks forward to the day when they are no longer needed. They do not care about the places they work, always believe their bosses should be paying them more and believe the company can’t do without them. All the while they are barely worth having.
This is not your story. You, on the other hand, are valuable to the place you work. You go the extra mile. You are a voracious learner. You take on new projects and do things beyond the minimum. You were the first one hired and the company will only lay you off if it is closing its doors. They will keep you during the lean times because you make more for your company than you are paid. You will find a job soon even if you do get laid off. You are that valuable to any company you work for.
Your boss knows that you can work in other places. He or she appreciates the fact that you work for him or her. This boss works to keep you.
I want everyone on my staff to be learners. I never want a staff member that can’t serve somewhere else. Each staff member should have opportunities to serve in other places. They should be asked but continue to work for me because they are called to this place. They should do more than the minimum all the time. They should be a great example of those who go the extra mile. Their character and work ethic should prove them to be examples of someone who has given their hearts to Christ. He wants them to do things with excellence.
I have seen staff members who do the minimum. They come in when it is required and leave the moment they can. They never give an extra minute of their day to the work. They learn as little as possible and gripe each time they are asked to do something beyond their routine. I see this as job rather than a call to the ministry. They value their paycheck and see no reason for a sacrifice to the Lord. They fail to understand the ministry because they fail to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ. 
Each of these “ministers” should do their churches a favor and admit they are not called into the ministry. A calling should always be a struggle. The minister should struggle to balance the ministry and their time with their families. The family should not be neglected but neither does the ministry. Their relationship with Jesus should permeate their entire lives. It should order every day, all day.
I struggle with folks who do the minimum. Some come to me for help. They have never done more than the minimum. They are laid off from the jobs frequently. They wonder why this keeps happening to them. I can tell them. They suffer for doing wrong rather than right. They suffer because they have have done the minimum.
The following scripture applies even though we no longer have slaves. We work for Him first and we will work best for our bosses.
Ephesians 6:5-8 (TNIV)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, anw with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward  each one of you for whatever good you do whether you are slave or free.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on a Cross?

Most Christians understand that Jesus died for them. They understand the substitutionary atonement of Jesus death for their sins. However, they don't know why it had to be on a cross. Why wasn't Jesus executed by some other means which wouldn't have been nearly as painful?

Jesus' death on the cross was predicted. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 states, "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree,  you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance." Sin is a capital offense according to Romans 6:23. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:24, " He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." Jesus' bearing our sins put Him under God's curse. It meant He would die on a "tree" for our sins.

Jesus' death on the cross was public. The Romans chose crucifixion for enemies of the state so that their execution would be a public reminder to prevent future insurrections. The Jews required witnesses for any capital offense. The The public crucifixion was a testimony of Jesus' death. Many would have seen Him die. It would be hard to refute. The completion of Jesus' sentence was established legally. There would be too many to see this execution for others to legitimately say that it didn't happen.

Jesus' death on the cross was the price. It was the most cruel and painful means of execution known. It would establish forever the egregious nature of sin. It would point toward the love of our God to sacrifice so much to save us. A careful look at the cross will bring us to our knees. Why would God die for us? Why would He go through such pain to see us forgiven? What parent would let his son go through such pain for others? Only God.

"Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow." The price of my sin was the cross. The price of your sin was the cross. I look on the cross and see the life of Jesus given for me. I am grateful and I know it had to be the cross.

Romans 5:8 (NIV)
8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.