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Monday, May 31, 2010

Should You Grieve When Christians Die?

Should we grieve at the funeral of a Christian when we know this person has gone to the best place possible? Of course, but not as one who grieves those who die and are not Christians.

We grieve at the loss of a Christian because we have lost someone. The deceased is fine. This person is no longer sick, old, hurting or worrying about paying taxes. The tribulations of this world are gone. There is a rejoicing in heaven. On the other hand, we will not see that person for some time. We will not have conversations or hugs. We will not receive anything from the deceased and any gift we make to the deceased will be meaningless. We mourn our loss.

Waiting is hard for us. As believers, we know that no Christian is ever truly lost to us. We know that we shall spend an eternity together. However, there is a break between the time of physical death and reuniting in heaven. We hate the wait but it will be like the blink of an eye in comparison with eternity.

I have spoken with numerous Christians who are making that transition to death. They have told me of talking to their own deceased relatives. I used to think these people were hallucinating but their stories are so similar and frequent that I believe they are real now. They tell me of their conversations because they know they will join these deceased relatives soon. They tell me that they were given these encounters to help them make the transition from life here to life there.

I have lost count of the number of people I have watched pass away. There was life in the body for a moment and, then, it is gone. It is very peaceful. It seems like the person gives his or her life over to death. It is like being convinced that this is the best direction to go. Once convinced, the trip is made.

Many times the person will wait until a family member comes before releasing his or her spirit. Many times the family members give permission for the person to go. I think that the family members need to do that for themselves as much as they need to do so for their loved ones.

No one can really say whether it is better to have a sudden death without suffering or one which can be seen for a long time. The first avoids the suffering but prevents any last things you would like to tell your loved one. The latter comes with suffering but allows those words and deeds you can do for your loved one.

Yes, we grieve those whom we have lost but not as those who have no hope. Our hope is built upon the word of the Lord Himself. Our hope is assured by His own resurrection. Our hope is guarded in heaven and waiting for us.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When Do You Stop Turning the Other Cheek?

We sit mesmerized by preachers who have told us that we should allow bullies to keep striking us. Somehow it seems virtuous. Jesus certainly allowed men to keep striking Him without stopping them. Thus, in the name of our faith we have encouraged women to stay in abusive homes. We have encouraged children to keep silent about the horrible nightmares from which they never awaken. We keep the bullies in power for the sake of our faith.

Do you really believe this is what Jesus intended? Was He advocating that we do nothing or say nothing? Was He saying that we should go back for more? I don't think so.

We must take Jesus' words before this statement to understand. He was telling them that their law allowed an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They were making sure that they equaled the pain that was given to them. This was a cause for always exacting how much damage should be done to those who had damaged you.

Jesus told them to give up that idea. Their law would not be adequate. He was not making a new law which required asking for more pain. He was not telling us to stay in abusive homes or allow bullies to go without being brought to justice. He was attacking an attitude of self right which cause so much conflict.

My life will be consumed by bitterness if I try to exact pain for every pain I have received. I allow much of it to go by. I don't allow it to continue. There is a difference. I turn my cheek but I also have a boundary which will not allow this to continue. Turning my cheek means I will not retaliate. It may mean that I seek justice.

Where is that line? For me, it is when I believe it will continue if I do nothing. I would report (and have done so) any abuse to children that I have detected. I have encouraged wives to go back to their husbands when they were repentant for striking them. However, I also have given wives permission to get out of the home when it appears the husbands are doing nothing to curb their anger. I have encouraged husbands to take their wives back after adultery and have explained to others that the pattern is so set that I can't see why they would stop having affairs.

Yes, I do believe you stop turning the other cheek. No, I don't ever believe in retaliation. Yes, I believe in justice. No, I don't believe you can give equal pain for equal pain.

And, yes, I believe you should overlook most of those things which caused you pain. I believe you always forgive no matter what has happened to you.

Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Should Christians Be the Friends of Sinners?

Most Christians do not like lost people. Sinners don't like Christians either. Who wants someone to condemn you with their self righteousness? I know I don't and I believe non-believers don't care for it either.

That doesn't mean that Christians don't gravitate toward churches who "preach the word" in such a way that sinners must leave "convicted." Honestly, I think the lost feel unloved more than they feel convicted. I believe they are hurt more by our condemnation than by their own sin. Our condemnation sends them away from Christ who is their salvation. However, this attitude is great for growing a church. You get people who need to feel superior by looking down on others. You will never run short on gathering the self-righteous.

Their sin is not different from ours in severity. Theirs may be more noticeable and they have not hidden it as well as we have. We call gossip "sharing a concern." We call hatred "standing up for what is right." This does not change what it is. We are sinners who have renamed our sins so that they become socially acceptable.

Yet, they do not necessarily notice our hypocrisy as much as they notice our lack of love. Couldn't we stay away from sin and love those who do not yet know Christ? Couldn't we be the people that lost people come to because they knew we would love them regardless of what they have done? You really don't have to approve sin to love sinners, do you?

The Pharisees thought it was terrible that the tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus at His table. I fell under conviction as I read this. Would sinners join me at my table? How have I presented myself to the world? Would they see me as standing for my faith while loving them into His kingdom? Would I sit with the saved and forget the lost?

A few years ago I had surgery on my neck to replace a herniated disk. I couldn't drive for a month so I would leave my office and meet the people who worked in the stores near the church. I met some great guys at Blockbuster video. I got to know everyone of them pretty well. One of them said, "I don't go to church but if I ever do, I am coming to yours." That was a tremendous compliment.

That is not my state today. I keep myself so busy that I don't spend any time with people who don't come to church. Yes, I make some phone calls to those who have visited our church but the fact that they have already come means that they are people who come to church. Could let people know that I will love them with the love of my Lord Jesus without a hidden agenda? Could I do so even if they never came to my church? Would I do so even if they never come any closer to knowing the Lord?

If I am to become like Jesus, I must.

Matthew 9:10-13 (NIV)
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Confessions of a Christian Hypocrite

Many Christians do not really care who they are. They are more concerned with how they look. They are not concerned whether they have lied but whether or not anyone knows it is a lie. They care more about how people perceive them than how they really are. Privately, they compare themselves to others and give themselves pretty good grades.

How do I know these things? Because I do this more often than I would like to admit. I am not striving to become like Jesus as much as I am trying to be perceived as becoming like Jesus. I am a hypocrite.

Hypocrites don't know where the battle should be fought. We hypocrites so often think that our battle is with the flesh. We think that we must become like Christ by our own efforts. Therefore, we get out our Bibles, read them and believe this action will change us. It doesn't. The proof is in our hearts. So much of us remains the same after we mechanically do the right things.

That doesn't lessen the importance of the disciples. Bible reading, study, meditation, prayer, fasting and spiritual pilgrimage are important to making us like Christ but they will never change us to a Christ-like state as long as we don't take every thought captive. They will never be adequate as long as we are willing to sweep the dirt under the rug. The strongholds that exist in our lives will always exist as long as we hide who we really are to ourselves and others.

Strongholds are our weaknesses which tacitly believe will never be erased. They are our lack of faith in a God who can change us completely. They represent our sharp tongues, pride (maybe in only certain areas), selfishness, addictions or any myriad of weaknesses which spiritual forces can influence us. They are the temptations that demons use against us when nothing else will work.

We try to cover these things rather than eliminate them because we do not believe they can be eliminated. Thus, we have the real reason we are such hypocrites. My faith will not accept the removal of my weakness, yet I do not want others to know it exists. I hide it so that I do not present myself as one who needs correction. I condemn it in others because I have deceived myself into believing that hiding my weakness is the same as eliminating it. I present myself as a victor over something that is beating me. I am like the politician who calls a defeat a victory so he will not look weak to his constituents.

Yet, I know the truth. So, I take every thought captive. This is the real means of defeating these strongholds. Not one bit of them can deceive me anymore. Not one shred can be tolerated if I am to have victory. I strive to do so until I am completely His. I will until I truly act with the character of my Lord.

This is not about being perfect though some will think it is. It is about being completely honest. It is about being completely His. God has not provided for forgiveness and cleansing from unrighteousness because He has desired perfection on earth. Continual cleansing is unnecessary for anyone who remains sealed from fault. We may not be of this world but we will certainly live in it. We will be stained from the spill of sin into our lives. However, my victory over strongholds will make me fully aware of my failures so that cleansing will be my normative activity. I will no longer pretend to be clean when I am not.

You know, I am really tired of being a closet hypocrite. However, I don't want to come out. I just want to stop being one.

2 Corinthians 10: 4-6 (ESV)
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dreams from God

I must admit that I have never had a dream that I could say was a divine revelation from God of what He wanted me to do or what He wanted me to be. That doesn't mean they didn't happen nor does it mean that they don't happen. It just means God has not spoken to me in this type of dream.

I remember hearing a lady speak of a vision she had of her family's ministry. This vision was an allegory of Satan attacking what they were doing. Satan was placing a cloud around them but the Holy Spirit was piercing the clouds to bring them what they needed just as they needed it. I thought, "What a bunch of balony!" Then, I had a "vision" within a couple of weeks.

This vision was one of understanding what was going on in the church I served at that time. I saw the people as children who were completely out of control. I was telling them to stop acting like they were and they were responding to me, "Who are you to tell us what to do?" I knew that their actions came from immaturity and the failure to recognize any authority. I understood what was happening through this explanatory vision.

So, I do not deny that a God-given dream can come from either a trance-like state or from sleep. I just know that this has not been God's method of speaking to me.

This does not mean that God fails to give us His plans. I have learned some things about those plans as I have served in the ministry. This learning came at a great cost to me. It came because I abandoned my plans for His plans. This is what I have learned. I call them dreams even though they have come to me in a more conventional way.

Your dream cannot be like someone else's dream. You can't dream to be like Billy Graham. You can't dream to be like Albert Einstein. Your dream is your dream. You will not be like anyone else. Your God-given plans (dreams) will be especially for you.

Your dreams will take into account your gifts and talents but will not be limited by them. God uses us to the fullness of what He desires. He takes into account how He has created us, but He is not limited by it.

Your dreams cannot be measured by any method on earth. You cannot look at what you have accomplished and say it is more or less than anyone else's work. You may have only led ten people to the Lord but those ten have influenced thousands of others. You may have only discipled twelve people in your ministry but they may have turned the world upside down.

Dreams do not come because we ask for them but because we are ready for them. Joseph received a dream thirteen years before he would start to see it accomplished. His dream didn't actually come to fruition for twenty-two to twenty-three years. He was ready for the dream because there were things that had to happen in order to fulfill God's plans. Joseph had to get to Egypt. He had to be brought before Pharoah. He had to establish himself as one who had the authority for his father and brothers to bow before him. His brothers could not recognize him if they were to come to Egypt. All of his hardship and triumph required that he start down the journey soon after receiving his dream. He didn't see it accomplished for a long time but the dream had to at that time to do what it was supposed to do.

I wrote in my prayer journal in March 1987 that God had called me to become a senior pastor of a church. I believed He would bring it about. In June 1995 a church in Houston called me to become their senior pastor. I absolutely needed those eight years and three months to be prepared for my dream to be fulfilled. I prayed each day and night without much exception that God would fulfill my dream. God didn't give it to me because I asked for it but because I was ready.

Dreams are not given to us to make us feel big. They will make us feel small if they are God-given. They will make us realize that we desperately need His wisdom and power to do something as big as the dream He gives us. It makes us humble. It forces us to walk daily with Him. Standing next to Him always makes me feel small.

Our obedience to His dream will not determine whether or not He loves us but it will determine whether or not we love Him. Love, not self accomplishment or approval, is the only true reason for doing as God says.

God has dreams for everyone but many refuse to listen. They can't hear because of the noise in their lives.

God has a dream for you.

Genesis 37:5a (NIV)  
5  Joseph had a dream,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Used to Be a Pharisee

Pharisees have never ceased to exist in any part of the world. The name in its semitic form means "the separated ones, separatists." The name alludes to the idea that they consider themselves better than others. They know everything about the "true" way things should be. Everyone else is deluded or evil.

This gives the Pharisees the right to condemn all others. They can look down upon others because they have meticulously kept the faith by condemning all forms of unrighteousness. They do not like contact with the unrighteous. They must keep themselves pure and purity means they will keep themselves separate from the sinners. Their condemnation of the sinners generally kept the sinners from coming close.

It is no wonder that baptisms will fall when the church becomes like the Pharisees. Even their prayers are condemning to those who hear them. Their goal is not to make people like Jesus but to make people like Pharisees. They will travel the whole earth to make a disciple who will become just like them.

Pharisees lack justice and mercy. Their care of keeping the law and truly living a righteousness by works doesn't leave room for grace. Grace carries in it both justice and mercy. There is no justice or grace in telling someone that sin is not sin. There is no mercy or grace in condemning someone to sin. Grace is the open hand that helps the person up; not the elbow in the back that keeps him on the ground. It is arms of forgiveness and love; not the cold unforgiving law which never hears or understands.

Pharisees point toward the law. Jesus gets in the way. He is a tool, not a friend, for the modern Pharisee. His words of forgiveness and love get in the way making people righteous. His compassion of forgiving those who crucified Him muddies the waters of what needs to be done to those who won't follow the law. The Pharisee is still yelling, "Crucify him!"

The Pharisee thinks that churches and pastors who are able to live among sinners have become liberal. The Pharisee believes the people need to know that they are condemned for their unrighteousness before they can know they are loved into salvation. However, the Bible says that Jesus came to save rather than condemn the world. It says that God loved us while we were yet sinners. Love must be extended before the law.

I used to be a Pharisee. I wanted to preach messages that would break people's hearts. I have seen people come forward, lay down at the front of the church and weep after one of my cold hard sermons. I thought that was good at the time. How wrong I was.

I understand better than ever that I am an ambassador for Jesus Christ. I extend who He is to people. I realize that He loved people first. He was invited into the homes of others and loved on those people. The only people He truly had trouble with was the Pharisees who wanted Him to become like them. He condemned them for their teaching because they thought it was righteousness.

I will be recognized as one of His disciples if I have love for others. There is no claim of being recognized if I keep the law better than others. I have to love like He loved. I need to be the person who gets invited to the sinners homes because I love them. I need to be the one who stands up against the "leaven" of the Pharisees because it lacks love.

I don't want to be a Pharisee any more.
Matthew 16:6 (NIV)
6  "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Would You Continue in Your Faith?

I was in China several years ago on my way to Mongolia for a mission trip. I really don't know why we had to stop there but we were there for one day going and two days coming back. Our guide was a Chinese Christian who had done graduate work in the US. I don't remember how the conversation came to it, but he stood in a crowded restaurant and sang of his faith. It was loud enough for everyone to hear. He was sharing his faith even though it could have cost him dearly. I will never forget that Christians are being persecuted more today than ever before, yet they continue to share their faith.

Isn't that a stark contrast from Americans? Most Christians will not be in church this Sunday. They will claim to love the Lord but will allow bad weather and good weather to keep them out. They will not give anything to their Lord. They do not serve in any area of their churches. They will vote for the people from whom they will receive the most benefit. No one knows they are believers by the way they act. They would certainly back down if their faith cost something.

Why is it that we can find people continuing in the faith when persecution exists while forgetting the faith in a free society? Could it be that one is paying for their faith in the Lord while the other has had it given to them? That which costs us nothing means nothing to us.

True Christians are found where the cost is high. They give sacrificially, serve so that it keeps them from other activities, speak when it will cost them something and vote with godly principles. They are not fair nor foul weather Christians. They see a much bigger picture. They have a much bigger hope than residing on this earth. They know the difference between the temporal and the eternal.

Let's say the freedom of our faith is taken away from us gradually. Imagine that your children would not be allowed to pursue careers in science because they will not espouse a belief in evolution. Imagine that you would not be promoted in your job because you will not take clients to the "gentlemen's clubs." Imagine that your faith will automatically put you on a "watch" list by the government. Imagine that your faith could be established as "hate" speech which could land you in jail. Would you continue in your faith?

Before you answer, you need to know that you don't have to "imagine" the things I have just mentioned. Now, will you continue in your faith?

Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Monday, May 24, 2010

What Does God Have to Say about the National Debt?

Does the fact that our nation is in debt more and more every day bother you? Does it bother you that the generations before us tried to make things better for the next generation but our generation is placing an insurmountable debt upon succeeding generations? Does it bother you that our generation has no intention of paying this debt? We may still have "In God We Trust" on our money but the truth is we are more in tune with "it's all about me" than with God.

The Bible says that the wicked borrow but do not repay. What would you say of our government and many others? It took a little over 200 years for us to learn that the best way for politicians to stay in office was to give away money without any repayment plan. That is pure wickedness according to the Bible.

Do you think that God is going to prosper a nation that acts wickedly? Do you think our previous prosperity as a nation had nothing to do with His blessing? What do you think will happen to us if we act wickedly? Do you think that we may go the way of other nations who are in such financial trouble? Do you think our standard of living will fall to their level?

You already know the answers to all these questions.

Psalm 37:21-22 (NIV)
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Don't Pass by Your Burning Bush

Your preacher enters the pulpit. He clears his throat and says, "The Lord has spoken to me."
Do you?
A) Lean forward to hear what he has to say
B) Yawn, because he says this often without any proof
C) Grab your checkbook and put it out of sight because this generally means he is about to ask for money
D)Wonder who "lobbied" him to get the church to do something they wanted

Does God still speak? Are these statements, most often made up by preachers, just fairy tales? Or, are there "burning bushes" for God's people to stop and hear from Him?

Yes, God does still speak. Yes, many of the statements are fairy tales made up by preachers. Yes, there are "burning bushes" to stop and hear God speak.

So often preachers are pressured by the congregation to do something. They may not know what it is but they need to do something. So, many preachers look around for something to do. Often, they build a new building. Often, that building is a new sanctuary. They get "a word from the Lord" to convince the congregation that is what needs to be done.

I will admit that I have done this. It was wrong and I have repented. I didn't know what to do and doing nothing did not seem to be an option. The only answer was to "have a word from the Lord." It proved unfruitful to take the Lord's name in vane. I should have known better. I hope I never say God told me something when He really didn't again.

That does not mean that I have never heard from God. That does not mean that He hasn't gotten my attention so that I could tell the congregation something they needed to hear. Those have been precious times and I should never make them less so by mixing pseudo-revelation in with the true, God given revelation.

God gives us "burning bushes" which stop us in our tracks while we were minding our own business, and speaks His calling to do something we may have let die or never known He wanted us to do. He takes us beyond what we believe we are capable of to do what we could never do without Him.

Just like Moses, we offer our objections. We do not have the natural capability. No one will believe us. We are scared to try and fail so we are ready to fail to try.

I have had so many people tell me that they believed God had called them to do something (most often it was to preach) but they did what was natural instead. They kept at the same job in the same town they had always been. They shared their revelation with others but never did anything about it. They had a "burning bush" but they let that experience pass them by. They lived good lives but never the life that God planned for them.

This blog is not intended for you to try to have a moment of revelation from God. It is not an attempt to get you to produce a revelation. That is in God's hands. He stopped Moses without Moses wanting to be stopped. This blog is a cry for you to follow through on what God has told you.

You have already had a "burning bush." Doing nothing about it is just letting it pass by.

Exodus 3:2-3 (NIV)
2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Hardly Recognize Sin AnyMore

Sin still exists. It moved to a new location and changed its name but it still exists. People still talk of it even though they have given it new parents and improved its looks. People seem happier with the new look of sin. It seems less damning for it no longer requires repentance but improvement for forgiveness. It can be spoken of in decent circles now without having to whisper. It is a nicer, kinder sin which everyone can do something about and which can be forgotten for long periods without any buildup of guilt. It bears almost no resemblance to its former look.

Somehow individual sin has disappeared. If you get fat, its the fault of the fast food restaurant. Smoking is caused by the tobacco companies. Pollution is caused by Big Oil.

Sin at the personal level is corporate. We are warming our planet, killing the rain forests and spending our country into bankruptcy. These sins we share with our neighbors. We don't have to take personal responsibility that requires repentance. We merely need to improve. It means we buy a Prius, send a dollar to the save the rainforest and rail on about the spending while complaining if any government program is cut. These sins are not felt personally. We can be assured that these can be spoken of at our parties without making anyone feel guilty.

Even the sins which should have pointed to our personal decisions are sent elsewhere. It is McDonald's fault that that our children are overweight. We pass laws to prohibit McDonald's from selling Happy Meals to children rather than recognize the responsibility of parents in ordering for their three year olds.

The words printed on each package of cigarets for the past several decades must have meant nothing. Think of all the innocent smokers who were forced to smoke and now are saddled with the diseases which come from this long time exposure.

Just think of how those mortgage companies lured people in to accept the payments on loans they couldn't afford. Surely, we can't hold the individual responsible for borrowing too much.

And think how the government must have forced those mortgage companies to give those loans. They made the money available in the first place, didn't they? Maybe that's why they got the bailout. Congress felt guilty for forcing the banks and mortgage companies to lend out money to people who couldn't really afford the loans. So, when it all came crashing down, Congress tried to rectify the problem by giving the lenders a boatload of money. Hold on! Has Congress ever taken responsibility for causing any of our countries problems in the past? No! I guess I really don't know why we gave them all that money.

We place sin on the back of just about any place than where it belongs. We blame the gun for killing the students. We blame the students who were shot rather than the shooter. We blame our country for causing the 911 attacks. We give absolution to the sinner and condemn others.

As long as we point fingers at others sins, as long as we accept sins as needing improvement rather than repentance, as long as we fail to own our own sins we will be doomed to continue in these sins. We cannot accept improvement when repentance is necessary.

There is no effectiveness is confessing another's sins. Repentance is only effective in the one who needs to stop what they are doing and do something else. Forgiveness is an individual need. Yet, we will never have these by pointing the finger at someone else.

Paul, who wrote nearly half of the books in the New Testament called himself the chief of sinners. He took responsibility for his own sins. Romans tells us how he struggles with doing what is right. His letter to Timothy tells us he considers his own sins the most egregious. Yet, we have the voice of a victor rather than a victim for he knows what his Lord has done for him.

Sin has not moved. It has not really changed. It still belongs to the individual. (There is corporate sin but that is subject for another day.) I am one of those sinners but I confess, repent and depend upon the One who saved me to carry out that salvation by changing me.

Sin is still sin. It doesn't matter how much lipstick you put on it.

1 Timothy 1:12-15 (ESV)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, through formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Warrior Spirit in a Man

This is really a message for moms with boys. Women often lack an understanding of what is going on in their boys. They see their aggressive behavior and wonder where it comes from. They see their desire to fight and think they are being mean. They try to extinguish these behaviors. Moms just simply do not see this as something constructive. They do not understand that men and women are more different than the outward appearances of the body. Men and different in their psychological makeup too.

Males have a natural warrior spirit. It is placed within them to protect, to provide and to lead their families. The good side of this warrior spirit is being extinguished in males. More and more fathers no longer live in the homes where their sons are being raised. These boys are surrounded by women who try to suppress this spirit. Most, if not all, of their elementary school teachers will be women.

Many of the dads still living in the home are unable to address the issue of this warrior spirit. These men have grown up thinking it is something that needs to be subdued. They have either become passive or they have channeled this spirit in destructive behavior. They believe that a man is one who has had lots of sexual conquests or can drink other men under the table or who is a bully to others. They do not understand that this spirit still exists to provide, protect and lead. They can't lead their sons to the noble place of manhood because they have never achieved this for themselves.

I happened to be reading of Caleb, the son of Jephenneh, the Keniizzite this morning. He was one of the spies that Moses had sent into the land of Canaan. He came back with the expectation of taking this land for his people. I read how he is eighty-five years old and asking Joshua to take the hill country of the Anakim. These were people who were much larger than any of the others they would face. They would be formidable warriors but Caleb wants the hill country where they live so he can drive them out and fulfill God's will.

What is it in Caleb that makes him want to do this? It is the warrior spirit! He is directing this spirit to the fulfillment of God's plan. This spirit is doing what it is created for. He is making a place for his own to live. He is providing for their future. He is taking the lead to do the will of God.

Moms, your sons are not being mean when they want to fight with one another. They are being males. Some of this is very healthy. Some dads know that their sons like to wrestle with them from an early age. This will not hurt the boys. Yet, they must know what it is to become men if they will ever use this warrior spirit in a way that will make them into noble men.

Boys need an exposure to men who are noble or they will likely use their warrior spirit in a wrong way. Thus, we have men causing more than 95% of all violent crime. Thus, we have men who are abusing their wives and girlfriends. Thus, we have men who are abusing their children. Thus, we have men who are drinking away and gambling away their families future.

Who will be these men who will say, "Give me the land where the giants live. I will take it for my family!"?

Moms, you need to share this with the father of your boys. He needs to step up and teach his boys how to use this warrior spirit. He can learn that from studying noble men like Caleb in the Bible. If he is unwilling or unable to become the example for your boys, you need to get your boys into church where they will learn what a noble man can become.

Joshua 14:10-12 (NIV)
10 "Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12  Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Commitment to Win

I have a prediction for the fall football season: A small college- we'll call them Peanut University- will play a college that everyone knows and expects to win - let's call them Beat-Everyone-All-the-Time University. PU will take the field and the announcers will try to highlight some of their players but admit that this game is nothing more than a warm-up for BEATU.

PU wins the toss and elects to receive the ball. BEATU's kicker trots on the field and kicks the ball through the uprights. The BEATU players believe they have just scored a field goal and celebrate! The cannon that is sounded when BEATU scores is shot. It takes ten minutes of the officials time to explain why that doesn't count. "But we shot the cannon," one of the linemen says, "And coach said we don't shoot the cannon unless we scored, so we must have scored." While that seems reasonable to the BEATU players, the refs won't hear any more about it.The BEATU team thinks the refs are against them.

PU throws a bomb the first play from scrimmage. The BEATU defensive back is waving at one of the cheerleaders and doesn't notice PU's diminutive split end run past him. In fact, the split end is so small that the BEATU players think he must be a ball boy. The ball is caught and PU scores.

"No problem," thinks the BEATU players, "We haven't gotten the ball yet."

PU kicks off. However, their kicker, who kicks with all his might, closes his eyes just before he makes contact. He almost misses the ball! He kicks at such and angle and with such a slow trajectory that the ball barely goes ten yards. Meanwhile, the BEATU players are on the twenty yard line forming their famous "grind-everyone-in-front-of- us-in-the-ground wedge. PU falls on the ball.

"Wow," the announcers proclaim, "An onside kick! That was really gutsy."

PU, seizing the moment, throws another bomb. BEATU still doesn't recognize the split end as a player. He scores again. The score is 14-0.

This is when the announcers say some of the dumbest things you will ever hear. "It looks like the BEATU players don't know what hit them. Can you believe this? It looks like we have a real game on our hands."

There are two people on the field who know the truth. They are the coaches. The BEATU coach has gotten where he is by making a commitment to win. The other coach only hopes to win. He is happy to be ahead at any time during the game. The BEATU coach won't accept anything but winning. That is why he is where he is.

The final score is 96-14. You guessed it- BEATU wins.

Too many times people make the commitment to get ahead but not to win. They lose weight only to gain it back. They make the sale only to lose the resale. They get their lives in order just to go back to the way they were. They stopped drinking, smoking, gambling, spending, or any other harmful activity just to go back to it. They fail to realize that while life certainly has its challenges and there will be some moments of failure, that there must be a commitment to win so that you don't stay on the ground after getting knocked down.

The Christian life is not being perfect. It is not always making the right decisions at the right time. It is not without times of failure or being knocked back on you butt. It is about a commitment to keep getting up and fighting for victory. It is a commitment to win.

Yet, there are only a few people who understand this commitment. They stop short. They quit early. They do the minimum. They are mediocre, at best. They are failures, at worst. Amazingly, many of them don't even know they are failures. They look around and measure themselves against others within their churches. Most of the others don't have a commitment to win either.

Do you have the commitment to win? Do you set your heart to win or just get ahead? Do you find yourself going back to the things you wanted victory over?

I am absolutely sure that God wants us to win. The commitment on our part is to do so until we receive our reward.

I have stopped short at times. I have gone in when I should have continued. I will no longer do so. I may get knocked down but I will get up. I will be a winner because I will not accept defeat. I will depend upon my Lord for the outcome but I will also participate fully with Him. I will not hold back my efforts or my resources.

I am making a commitment to win. Will you join me?

2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hooked on Pornography?

Many years ago a Christian man confessed to me that he had a problem with pornography. I told him that he should avoid going by the magazine racks. That was when he told me that he was spending over $400 per month on pornography. He spent it on movies, magazines, internet sites and phone sex. I realized that I didn't have a clue on how to help him.

Since then I have had several men confess this addiction to me. Many of them had over-protective mothers and either physically absent or emotionally absent fathers. They still felt controlled by their mothers and through fantasy longed for women they could control. Pornography provided this fantasy.

However, this was not always the case. Some had fathers who were admired and mothers who supported but did not overly control their sons. Pornography is not just a psychological problem. It is also spiritual.

I believe every healthy man can fall into the trap of pornography. Men have sexual desires which seem foreign to women. Women have no idea what the do to men when they dress provocatively. They like the attention but they do not understand what goes on physiologically, emotionally and intellectually. A man's thinking changes when his sexual desires are aroused. He will do things which he knows is harmful.

Each healthy man must guard himself in this area even if he isn't addicted. It is easy to see something that draws his attention. His lingering look will lead to his desires being ignited. Pornography promises satisfaction but never delivers. It results in shame. He may well condemn himself for his failure after the desire is gone.

Most people say that a man must guard his eyes if he is going to overcome pornography. I must admit that a man's desires are ignited by what he sees first, what he sees second and what he sees third. No other stimulation is necessary. However, I don't think the problem is with the eyes. I believe the problem lies in the heart and mind.

A man's heart is who he is. This is how he sees himself and relates to the world through who he believes he is. He will act differently toward others if he is confident rather than scared. He will cave into pornography if he sees himself as its victim. He will allow himself to get closer and closer to his failure to resist it if he continues to see himself as one who is controlled by women. He is seeking to be man if only in his fantasy but does not know how to go about it. A man's heart must be changed if he is to overcome pornography.

A man cannot continue to be passive and overcome pornography. He must take action in his heart. He must make a break with his mother if he is to overcome his feelings of inadequacy. He does not need to be overly cruel, though she may think he is, but firmly establish himself as one who can make his own decisions. He must continue to love his mother yet not give into her whims or demands which have controlled him. He must "man up" if he is to overcome his addiction.

The change of heart is one that God must give him. God has promised us all a new heart when we come to Him. I believe a lot of us have refused delivery. We are trying to live the Christian life with worldly hearts. It doesn't work. We need to accept the heart that the Lord gives us. It comes through complete surrender to Him. He becomes our life so that we might have life. He gives us a new heart. We act with that heart and our world is changed.

The mind also must be renewed. It must be filled with godly things. It must be renewed daily through God's word. The believer must take time each day to read the Bible so that he makes a connection with God. He must pray and put his day before the Lord. His mind is not changed in a moment but it develops the habit of seeking God's word and communing with Him. This changes his thinking. He thinks thoughts within the boundaries of pleasing God.

A man will have much more control over his eyes when he his heart and mind have been changed. His desire to play closer to the flames will be extinguished. He will guard his eyes because his heart is not pulling him in the wrong direction. He will go back to the scriptures when tempted. He will seek the presence of God. He will ask for strength and he will receive it. He will have victory.

Some men will find that their addiction to pornography will be harder to break than others addictions to heroine or cocaine. They will need a close friend who can pray with them through the moments of temptation. They will need to be completely honest with this friend. They will have to go to him often.

Most addicts get support from others when they confess their addictions. This addiction gets condemnation. That is why so few will confess it. This one really needs a anonymous support group that meets. This one needs people who will help these men overcome the addiction as much as any other addiction needs it.

Everyone who reads this blog today will either have a problem with pornography (yet it is not an addiction) or knows someone who does (but you may not know he does). It might be good for men to share this with each other without making confessions to each other.

It will be good only if it is meant to help.

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?

Psalm 101:3 (NIV)
3 I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What to Do with an Unfaithful Spouse

Every time I think I have heard it all- I find out I haven't!

I have a guy come into my office to complain about his wife. It has to do with unfaithfulness. I listen as he tells me that he can't understand her. You see, he has only been unfaithful to her once in the past year and she remains upset with him. I press him on the issue and he admits to being unfaithful two more times but they don't count because she doesn't know about those other women!

I can tell you what I would do with this guy but I don't think it would be appropriate for me to write this in my blog. I hope and pray that this isn't the case with your spouse.

Unfaithfulness is much like grieving over the death of a loved one. In fact, you are grieving over the death of your spouse. Your marriage had a purity which has been murdered. Three emotions grab you. There is shock, pain and anger. You transition between each of them in half a heartbeat. You are in tears because of the pain, then you are in tears because of the anger and sometimes you feel nothing at all. You want to throw your spouse out for causing you this pain and you don't know what you will do without him or her. You desperately want to know why and can't understand even if you are told why.

So what do you do?

You do need to talk with some godly friends. You will probably decide to do what those close to you tell you to do. Those who are divorced will advise you to be like them. Those who have forgiven will advise you to do as they have done. You will try what your closest advisers tell you. It is very important to surround yourself with these people.

You will need to start the process of forgiveness as soon as possible. You may decide to be divorced but an unforgiven act will raise its ugly head in another place in your life. It will cause you pain that you do not deserve. Forgiveness is a gift. It is something that you can do with the presence of the Lord. It is not something that is within you. It is something that is within Him. Ask for His forgiveness for your spouse.

You do not need allow your spouse to continue to hurt you. Some people think that forgiveness means that they give their spouse permission to continue to hurt them. That is not forgiveness- that is masochism! You must draw boundaries which your spouse must obey or you will no longer be in the relationship. If he or she won't obey, you end it. In fact, the marriage is already over if the spouse continues. You are just making it official.

There will be a temptation to pay your spouse back. You may want him or her to feel the same pain as you have. You may try to do so by being unfaithful too. This will do nothing but hurt you. It will never make your pain disappear. You will never be able to be unfaithful enough to satisfy the punishment you would like to inflict.

You should ask your spouse if he or she wants to continue in the marriage. You should ask if he or she will go to counseling. Your marriage is over if you receive a negative answer to either of these.

Carefully choose a Christian counselor. Secular ideas will not lead to a godly lifestyle. It needs to be a person who is a Christian who happens to be a counselor, not a counselor that happens to be a Christian. The person must put biblical and spiritual principles before psychology. Otherwise, the counselor is trying to educate your spouse out of sin. This could very well lead to a justification for the affair. A compelling "why" may lead to doing it again if the "why" appears again.

Your spouse must go and do what the counselor asks. He or she must be completely truthful. Lies indicate that there is no repentance. Minimizing the problem indicates there is no repentance. Continuing to hide the sin indicates there is no repentance.

Counseling may be painful for you. You must continue until the counselor thinks you have sufficiently mended the relationship. You may want to quit and it may renew your anger because you didn't do anything wrong in the first place. Yet, you are having to listen and talk to this counselor about intimate things which are painful to you. You must continue if you want your marriage to be mended.

You and your spouse should commit yourself to God, to each other, to a church and to a small group of Christians. This means that you and your spouse will begin praying together each day, worshiping together each and every week unless providentially hindered and building deep relationships with other committed Christians.

Your physical intimacy should continue when the counselor says you are ready. Do not let your spouse tell you when that is. You may not be ready yet. You need a third party, the counselor, to protect you from the coercion of an offending spouse. The spouse wants things to get back to normal so he or she doesn't have to live with his or her guilt. The physical intimacy is one way of doing so. You should allow the counselor to protect you from the pressure your spouse will put on you.

You don't have to tell the church or the small group what has happened unless it involves these people. Naturally, unfaithfulness needs to be confessed within the scope of the people affected. This is true of any sin. Don't share it if it doesn't concern them.

You must make a commitment to the Lord that you will do what He wants. You will want to quit and throw your spouse out several times before you heal. Your commitment to the Lord will give you strength to make it. You may only have the strength to make it only hour by hour right after you learn of the affair. You will eventually build up to surviving day by day before you will see victory.

Don't be surprised if your pain returns years later even if you spouse has been completely faithful during those years. Satan is called the "accuser of the brethren." I believe he will accuse your spouse before you to give you and your spouse pain. Say to him, "I have forgiven that sin against me by the blood of Jesus!" This usually sends him packing.

Share with a close godly friend who will not break a confidence. Tell this friend what is going on. Ask for this friend's prayers. Keep the friend updated.

Lastly, believe God will give you peace. You may still get divorced because your spouse may continue to be unfaithful to you. You still need peace. He is the God of peace. Get very close to Him and He will give it to you.

I am so sorry for your pain. I said a prayer for all of you who read this. Please comment if you have something to say to help others. God bless you.

Proverbs 6:32 (NIV)
32  But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Natural State of the Natural Man

God breathed into man and he became a living creature. No other created living thing had God’s breath. Man’s body was created to be a pure vessel for his soul. Yet, Satan tempted man and he corrupted that body. The ingestion of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil introduced this corruption. The result was a sentence of death which is on each and every one of us.

Immediately, man knew he was naked. Corrupting the body did not make him naked but made him feel something that he had not felt before: Shame. The body had nothing to be shameful for because he was not ashamed before he ate the fruit yet he knew the body had been corrupted since he had eaten that which he should not have eaten He ate and digested through the body. He had corrupted his body and it became shameful. He had never felt shame before and tried to cover it.

The natural state of the flesh is to seek further corruption. It ingests harmful drugs and exposes itself to further sinful acts to continue in that corruption. The corruption of the flesh is exciting but never fulfilling. It promises more than God could ever give you. It delivers more shame which continues to be covered.

The flesh seeks to worship the created rather than the Creator. This worship glorifies flesh. The worship seeks to satisfy the flesh at all costs. Songs are sung of its corruption and sacrifices of worship are made.

The flesh gathers those around who claim they are not ashamed. They indulge in further corruptions of the flesh. They continue to explore that which God has prohibited. They tempt God’s wrath. He gives them over to their shamefulness. They quickly fall to depths deeper than ever imagined.

The flesh forgets God and He gives those who no longer acknowledge Him to a corrupt mind. This corruption has made the spirit dead and the mind corrupt. New shameful acts are created through the flesh which also corrupts the mind. Values of right and wrong cannot be determined with corrupt minds. Eventually, that which is right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right.

The things of God no longer make sense to those whose minds have been so thoroughly corrupted. They have no means of discerning God’s will, His holiness or His fulfillment. They think that these things are foolish. This is natural. It is absolutely natural.

The natural man has a dead spirit. This means his spirit cannot respond to the things of God. That is the way it is with all dead things. They are observable but cannot respond to the same stimuli that living things respond to. The natural man cannot respond to godly things because it is as if they are invisible to him. He does not believe they exist. Speaking of such things ranges from foolishness to madness for the natural man.

There is no way that the natural man will ever turn back toward that which is wholesome without somehow invigorating the spirit. The spirit is the means of communication with God. It is the only means of restoring the glory which God originally placed within man. The spirit responds to God and changes man from the inside out.

Man will either set his mind on the things of the spirit or the things of the flesh. They will always be in opposition to each other.

Which one have you set your mind on?

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)
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.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to Speak at a Funeral

Maybe you have been asked to speak at someone's funeral. Maybe you have asked to speak. What do you need to say? How should it be said? What is the best approach? May I give some suggestions?

I have heard people embarrass themselves at funerals often enough. Maybe they heard something in a movie in which everyone cheered or maybe they just thought it would be so "cool" to say something that pushed the envelope of decency. It doesn't matter. These things were embarrassing for the families, the friends and the fools who said them! You don't want to be one of those fools, do you?

I suggest that you write down what you are going to say. This will help you formulate what to say. You don't have to use what you have written at the funeral. You do need to take it with you. Most people can look down and read it if they get emotional or forget what they were going to say. You can give it to the preacher to read if you get too emotional. However, I have seen people get to the pulpit and forget all they were going to say. They could neither read it themselves or give it to the preacher to read (he doesn't read minds). They felt extremely embarrassed.

Your ultimate goal is to express a character quality which you appreciated in the deceased. The preacher's job is to give comfort to the family and friends. You may share the fact that the person gave their hearts to Jesus or what type of Christian the deceased was but your goal is to express your appreciation for the difference the deceased has made in your life.

Therefore, don't say, "She was a great cook," and leave it there. You need to say what that cooking meant to you. You need to describe how she would cook. You need to attach it to a character trait like love or caring for others. You need to describe what she cooked in such a way that the people taste the food while you are speaking. If what you are saying is truly a character trait, they all know what her apple pies tasted like too. You can identify and describe so that they will join you in remembering the character trait.

Don't claim you have a relationship better than others. I have heard, "I am more hurt than any of you because I loved Momma more than you did." The rest of the siblings want to throw this one out the window. Funerals are no time to cause rifts (or widen them) in the family. Join the people in your grief but don't think yours is greater because you express it differently than anyone else.

Work on what you are going to say last longer than any other part. You need to leave the platform somehow. You will bore people if you keep thinking of another story to tell. You will eventually be ushered off. One of the relatives or the preacher will tell you its time to sit down. What is the most important thing you want them to know about the deceased? Save that for last. It will mean the most and it will be the most remembered thing you have said.

Forget about grandstanding. No one is going to cheer when you get through. Be humble because this isn't about you. You are not seeking compliments. You are remembering someone you love. (Refuse to speak if you didn't love the deceased.)

Keep it to about five minutes and you will be loved. Go twenty-five and they will talk about you at the reception following the service. Keep it short and simple.

It is okay to become emotional but don't try to become emotional. I have seen so much wailing at services that was disingenuous that I would like to throw up. If I can tell, believe me others can too. This is not an Oscar performance. Believe me, people know whether or not it is real.

Think of others' feelings about what you might say. Do not confess the deceased sins. Do not reveal some dark secret that you and the deceased have kept to yourselves. It might make a great episode of Desperate Housewives but it will not make a great funeral service.

Afterwards, when people tell you that you have said just the right thing, answer, "Thank you." Don't go on and on about what you could have said or what you wanted to say. You appreciate the compliment. You don't dwell on it.

I hope and pray that the deceased you are speaking of knew the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, don't tell the people that he or she didn't. It won't do the deceased any good. Say instead, "The hope that we all have is found in our faith in Jesus Christ. Those who know Him will be together forever. We all look forward to that great reunion that is assured for those who know Him."  You don't have to rub salt in the wound of the family if the deceased didn't know the Lord.

I hope this helps you as you prepare what you will say at your loved one's funeral.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NIV)
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 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, May 15, 2010

A Life Full of Others

We need other people. God made us to be social creatures who interacted and helped one another. The first "not good" thing that God said was, "It is not good for the man to be alone." Marriage was instituted at the most basic level to have a corresponding helper.

Moses was told by his father-in-law that it was not good to work alone. He told Moses to select others who would help him make decisions. Moses wore out both himself and the people. He needed other people.

The Old and New Testaments tell us to love others. It is basic to loving God. Our love of others reveals our love of God. We cannot love God and hate others. This love is to be basic to our relationship with God so that we understand that we need to love one another.

Paul tells us to bear each other's burdens. We are to help those who are struggling. It means that they need us but it also means we our need for loving and helping others is fulfilled. We need to help those whom we see in need.

Paul also tells us that we need to gently correct others when we see them caught in a sin. It is as if they have been tangled in a vine at the bottom of the sea. They will "spiritually" drown unless we help them. Each of us needs to be corrected some time. Even pastors need to be corrected. Unfortunately, people often give pastors a pass when they see the danger signals. That is why so many pastors get themselves in so much trouble. We need others who love us enough to correct us.

It is absolutely clear that we need each other. God made us that way. So, why do we want to carry our burdens alone.

Earlier this year I did a funeral of a lady I had never met. She had no church, no family, no social group and no organizations she had joined. A neighbor was holding her funeral service.

I always arrive early to any service I perform. I think it is disrespectful to make the family anxious because the preacher comes in the nick of time. I was at the service about forty-five minutes early. The neighbors (a couple who had known her deceased husband) arrived early too. I thanked them for caring for this lady because there would have been no one if they hadn't held this service.

They said to me, "You don't understand. Two hours before her husband died, he asked us to have this service. We agreed and we're doing it, but this woman didn't like us. She didn't like anyone. She didn't like any of the other neighbors and they didn't like her. We're the only people coming so why don't we go ahead and get this thing over with!"

No one cried but this was the saddest funeral service I ever performed. Hers was a sad life. There would be no one who would remember her. There was no one to grieve. She lived a life void of others. It was never how she was intended to live. It was an empty life. There were no accomplishments to read. There were no deeds of kindness to recount. There was no one who stood to tell how his life was better because of this woman.

We were created to be social. We were created to be spiritual. We were created for fellowship with God and others. Yet, I know people who merely come to church without joining a small group. They are trying to sail their ship alone. They just won't be able to do so adequately. They may wander from port to port but they will always know there is something missing.

The love that God wants us to share with each other is meant to be personal. It takes a personal relationship with others to have this love. You have to get to know people to ask them to help you. You have to get to know people to have meaningful conversations. You have to get to know people to correct them or have them correct you.

We need each other. Make sure you have a small group of spiritual individuals whom you love and love you.  God intended our lives to be full of others.

1 John 3:14 (ESV)
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lord Will Help You Know Where and What You Need to Do

Sometimes you need direction. Of course, you go to your family and friends. Of course, think out your own solutions. Sometimes there seems to be no good answer. Some decisions must be made right the first time. Trial and error won't do.

Let's say you are considering marriage. This is not one of those decisions which trial and error will do. You want to do this one time and know that you have to do it right. Should you depend upon emotions alone? Should you say that your love will make things go right even if everything else is wrong? Should you wait for a better time?

You won't find the answer in a fortune cookie. Your parents and others may be no help. They will probably ask you the things you have already asked yourself. "Are you in love?" How does anyone know that the emotion he is feeling is love? Knowing that time will tell doesn't really help.

There are other decisions which need an answer that can't be easily discerned. When do you know which church to join? If you are a minister, which church should you serve? Should you take the job in front of you or should you wait for what you really want? Should you invest in _________ (you fill in the blank)?

These decisions need an outside source who loves you, knows you and knows what is best for you. These decisions need to be brought before the Lord. That is generally more of a process than an exercise.
I often have to take my Bible, a notebook and get away from everything in order to hear God's answer. I make sure that I am clear in what I am asking. I am also clear that God may step outside my box and give me something I haven't asked for. I have gone to God asking if I should go to another church when He has told me to stay put. I didn't think that was an option but God gave me this answer.

God's solution to my question doesn't always look like the best thing. I went to serve at one church without knowing the salary they would pay me. Their accommodations for me during the interview led me to believe they couldn't pay me enough to live near the church. God clearly told me to go and I put the salary in His hands. I didn't know they were quite capable of paying my salary. The salary they gave me was more than adequate. On the surface, however, it looked like a bad financial decision. God knew what I didn't and I had an incredible ministry at that church.

Often, God waits to give an answer. I must admit I hate this. I know that I am not ready for the answer when this happens. I simply keep praying. I have had God give me the answer of where He wanted me years before He led me there. I understood the need to wait after I received the blessing God had for me. Knowing this has not made me a person who loves to wait. I still hate to wait but I must if I am to have God's answer. I shouldn't have gone to Him if I didn't really want that answer.

Most of the time I have been forced to be quiet before I can hear God. I have said all that I can to God. I just listen for some time before He speaks. Again, it has something to do with my readiness and willingness to listen. He has never been silent forever.

I have been asking God to do something for our church fervently for the past few months. I have prayed, cried out and asked what I need to do. I have had silence until a couple of days ago. One of my staff was talking to me about an unrelated subject when the Lord spoke to me. He said, "You think that by your crying out to Me that I will do what you want. You think that your prayers are going to make Me do what you want. You have never placed your problem in My hands. This has always been about you and what you would do." That hit me right between the eyes. I haven't stopped praying but this answer changed my prayers. I now pray, "Lord, it is your problem and it is in your hands. Blessed be Your Name." The effort to make God do what I want is gone. This is where I needed to be in the first place.

I have to pray that God will answer my prayers and somehow let me know that it was Him. I didn't know whether or not to go into the ministry but I promised God I wouldn't go without a "Damascus Road" experience. I wanted something that was clearly God. God gave me that experience and I went. I didn't know whether or not I should become a senior pastor. God gave me a definite calling so I would not deny what He had called me to. I have tried to wiggle out of these callings but God keeps bringing me back to when He spoke so clearly to me. I can't escape knowing what God has said.

So, call unto God. Call until you hear. Call until you know it is Him. Don't be surprised if His answer is something you never considered. Know it is the best for you. It is the best because He loves you.

Romans 8:26 (NIV)
26  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Have You Had a Your Time with the Lord Today?

The initial stages of turning away from God are not volitional. I doubt that Solomon thought that he would be led away from his Lord by his wives. They were ways to enhance his borders. Many of them became his wives as an exchange from one ruler to a greater king. These lessor rulers gave their daughters in marriage as part of their commitment to Solomon. This was the way of signing contracts. It seemed to be the logical thing for a superior king to accept. Yet, Solomon, who had built the most magnificent temple that Israel would ever know, no longer served his Lord fully because of these foreign wives.

I am at home this morning because I have a plumber coming to fix a leak. You know how it goes; he will be here sometime between 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Normally I am in the office by 7:00 AM. The first thing I do in the office is have a time with the Lord. It structures the rest of my day. However, my first reaction today was not about spending that time. I could just get a few things done around the house before the plumber arrived. Then, I would spend my time with the Lord. Initially, I failed to see the danger in this.

Anything can become a ritual. Even spending time in the word and prayer can become a ritual. You always have to guard this. However, my time with the Lord each morning has not become a ritual. It is one of the few times during the day that I listen. It is a necessity.

I know what I do when I don't make my time with the Lord a priority. I either minimize it to get it out of the way, postpone it to a later time during the day or forget about it altogether. My past has proven that I can forget my time with the Lord for weeks. Those in my congregation who have a time with the Lord can tell when I have failed to make this time. Those who don't have a time with the Lord don't notice. However, I would know even if none of my congregation did.

It is very easy to forget this devotional time. No one holds me accountable to it. It would be easy to simply pick up the Bible, read the first verse that I see, say a short prayer (God, bless the missionaries!) and say I have had my time with the Lord. I would not have listened to Him. I would hardly have acknowledged Him. I cannot call that a special time with God.

I know that my devotional time with the Lord is the most significant thing I do to become like Christ. I know that it changes my heart and that changes me from the inside out. My devotional time with the Lord changes my reactions to the events in my life. It changes the way I make decisions. It even changes those decisions. I cannot go far from the Lord when I have had a serious time with Him each day.

Each day I have a crucifixion. I take up my own cross. I climb my Golgotha. I am crucified. Then, I truly live like I have never lived before. My Lord lives within me. I live a life in the flesh is done by faith. There is no more ritual. No one has to see me do so. I am His.

Road away from God has many slight deviations. Eventually it turns you around until you are going the wrong direction. You must guard your hearts. You must guard them daily or you who are serving the Lord fully today will wake up some day wondering how you could have hurt the One you said you loved so much. You will be far away from Him without recognizing the small compromises you made along the way. It isn't worth it.

The only life really worth living is one which is given to Him.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where Will Doing What Is Right in Our Own Eyes Lead Us?

Does it seem like the world has lost its anchor and is adrift? The world thinks you can borrow yourself out of a financial crisis. The world thinks it is normal for homosexuals to want to get married while heterosexuals avoid it. The world thinks that photos of beauty contestants in their underwear is wholesome. The world thinks that prayer is no means of knowing what should be done. The world owns a Bible but doesn't know where it is.

People would have told you that you were crazy if you described what the world would be like today twenty to thirty years ago. How did we get in this condition? The Bible has a very succinct answer.

After things got relatively good for Israel (starting in the book of Judges) they started to deviate from their devotion to God. The generation who followed God devotedly did not pass that relationship to their children. They did what their parents did but did not have the relationship that their parents had. Therefore, their children saw no reason to continue in their parents footsteps. In fact, they believed that their own methods of doing things were better than their parents. They did not follow the Lord and did what was right in their own eyes. In other words, they threw out any standard which existed and substituted what seemed right at the time.

A microcosm of this might be seen in the person who stops for fast food rather than getting something healthy because his hunger can be satisfied faster. It seems right at the time. It will not be right over time. So, doing what is right in your own eyes is doing what seems right without any standard to measure against what is right.

The Bible also says that this pattern will lead to death. Is it any wonder that most Americans are overweight? Is it any wonder how many Americans in debt past their ears? Shouldn't we expect extremes for stimulation when there are no restraints? Of course!

It seems like we are on a boat which has lost its power so the crew cut the anchor in hopes that the ship would naturally sail to Hawaii. It seems that we have people who are claiming to be Moses who have led the people to the middle of Red Sea. Instead of depending upon God for a solution they have chartered a boat. However, the name of that boat is Titanic! "Yes," they say, "Its unsinkable!"

How do you tell crazy people that they are crazy? Maybe crazy people think that sane people are crazy. They are absolutely convinced that the right in their own eyes will lead to a new heaven. How long can this craziness be sustained? As long as people are satisfied with the status quo they will go this direction. It is what seems right in their own eyes and they will not adopt another standard. They will not look elsewhere as long as they believe the solution is in their own hands.

It is more important than ever that Christians live godly lives. We must become the Bible to the world that is adrift. We must live in the most loving way possible. We must address sinfulness within the church. We must call for holiness in those who are believers. We must become a rock which declare that Jesus is the Christ and there is no other. We must live lives of joy which will attract others. We must keep the standard of the Scripture carefully while remembering justice and mercy. We must pray like never before. We must not crawl under a rock but proclaim our Jesus in the most loving ways possible.

Don't be surprised that the world has gone crazy.

Judges 17:6 (ESV)
6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cleansed from Unrighteousness

I am forgiven by the blood of Jesus. His work on the cross granted me forgiveness for all time. So, do I still need to confess my sins if they are forgiven whether or not I have confessed?

There is a difference between being forgiven and knowing forgiveness. A parent can forgive his child after the child has run away from home. The child can live a life away from the parent without knowing that forgiveness. In fact, that child may even exclaim that the parent has never forgiven him. It won't be true but the child has never known that forgiveness.

Confession is not telling the parent what was done was wrong. It is not informing the parent of something that was wrong. Confession is an admission that it was wrong. It is heartfelt. It is remorseful. It is painful. It puts the wrong into the open so that it can be dealt with. John uses a conditional verb when speaking of this confession.

Confession is not merely a objective statement. It has the condition of really meaning it. The words of confession mean nothing by themselves. True confession is feeling the pain it caused to God (or whomever was hurt). It is more than admitting it was wrong. It is knowing it was wrong deeply.

John gives the results of such a confession with two other conditional verbs. These words forgive and cleanse. The forgiveness of sins is not conditional because of what Jesus has done on the cross. That is guaranteed. The condition is within the person who is being forgiven. It is tied together with cleanse.

Forgiveness means that the sin will no longer have its control over the one who committed it. This comes when the person has also been cleansed of that sin. Most people are sorry they were caught in sin. They believe that others are obligated to forgive them if they simply say the right words. These people who forgive them should do so again and again without fail. They are shocked when others decide they want nothing to do with them after they have committed the same sin for the umpteenth time. They claim that others are worse because of their failure to forgive. The truth is that the person was never cleansed from the sin because it still has a power over them to continue in that sin. This forgiveness is both a restoration of the relationship and the power over that sin.

I borrowed a friend's power washer to get the mold that was growing on the north side of my house. It did an excellent job of removing all of it. It soon grew back because I did nothing to prevent it from coming back. So often people confess in such a way that they know they are forgiven but do not know cleansing. They look clean at the moment but the same exact sin comes back. It still has a power over them.

Cleansing is very conditional. It is conditional on the confession. It is conditional on what is being done to prevent it from happening again. You don't take a bath in the middle of a pigpen. Why should you expect to be clean if you stay in the condition which caused the sin. There is no real confession that neglects prevention. The person may be sorry to be caught but will soon continue in the sin.

Forgiveness is an act of God. Cleansing is also an act of God. The one who is cleansed puts himself in the hands of God when he confesses. He accepts God's forgiveness and God's condition for continuing to be cleansed.
Otherwise, unrighteousness will continue to haunt us. It will make us feel like failures. It will cause us to say that we are rotten sinners for life rather than called out saints of God. It will diminish our forgiveness and raise our sin to a higher level. It will deny the power of God to change us.

This is not God's intention for us. He wants us to know forgiveness and cleansing. He wants us to live our lives in freedom. He wants us to have victory.

Have you truly confessed your sins? Do you know you are forgiven? Have you been cleansed from all your unrighteousness? You can if you will.

1 John 1:9 (ESV)
9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rest for the Weary

Most people are very tired. They have struggled to get ahead. They have achieved some things. They are worried they will lose these things. They are working harder than ever to protect what they have earned. They worry while living one day at a time. It's wearing them out.

There are two extremes which must be avoided. No one should expect everyone else to come to their rescue nor should they expect others to bail them out when they get into trouble. No one should expect others to provide when they won't do anything to provide for themselves. Making excuses of why you can't do things is just as irresponsible. I have heard people tell me why they couldn't go to college or play sports or become actors, writers or musicians. Those reasons never seem to include "I didn't try" or "I wasn't good enough." They make excuses like ,"I had to go to work and couldn't go to college." Come on, lots of people went to work and to college at the same time. No, it wasn't as easy but they still did it. So, these people with excuses which they believe expect others to take care of them. People are dishonest with themselves and those around them when they expect others to take care of them.

The other extreme is thinking that the whole universe rests in your hands. This is believing that you must worry about these things and must work without any rest if you are going to provide and protect for yourself and your family. This will make you extremely tired.

The mother who worries about her children at school, on the bus, in sports and even spending overnighters with friends is always going to be tired. She decides to worry when she can't be with them constantly. It is actually more constant than the work she would do to provide and protect them in her presence.

The man who works incessantly due to his fears of losing his job, not getting ahead fast enough or making more money than he has before becomes very tired. He also believes his world is in his hands. He works even harder as the economy goes haywire. He believes he can change his world if he only knows the secrets to things that others are missing. This is why there are so many ads telling people how they can get ahead if they will follow a simple plan. "You, too, can make money like I did!" , the ad claims. An 800 number is given and many fall into the trap. The universe is not in your hands. Holding the world on your shoulders will only make you extremely tired. There are too many factors you cannot control.

The answer to this problem is found in doing what is reasonable. It is not reasonable to do nothing. If you do nothing, you should expect nothing. It is not reasonable to think you can do everything. There is always something else that can be done. You will never sleep and never rest if you try to do everything.

What is reasonable? Who determines what reasonable is? When do I know I have done what I should and need to leave what's left over alone? At some point you must believe that there is a God of the universe who will handle what you can't handle. You must turn it over to Him or you will find yourself surrendering to irresponsibility or trying to carry the world on your shoulders.

The first step is to admit that you can't do it all. That is a huge step for some people. They have carried the world for so long that they don't know how to put it down. They feel as if the world will stop if they quit trying to do everything.

Then, say it out loud, "I can't do it all." That verbal admission should give you peace when you know there is Someone who can do it all. You can't single-handedly manipulate the stock market. You can't make the economy better. You can't make the businesses which support your business make all the right decisions so that your business will flourish. You can't do it all.

Admit that He can and will do that which you can't. The God that loves you with an everlasting love is not trying to hurt you now. He may let your business fail because He has something better for you but He won't ultimately hurt you. So, it is reasonable to turn those worries over to Him.

Once you have done these things you are ready to know what your reasonable part is. It is not reasonable to work so much that you are not able to enjoy the things you have worked for. It is not reasonable to lose your family for the sake of success. It is reasonable to stop and go home when you have worked a full day. It is reasonable to commit that which you can't reasonably do to Him who loves you without measure.

And if you don't? You will eventually be dishonest or very, very tired.

Matthew 11:28 (ESV)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Don't Christians Grow?

You have people give their lives to Christ. They are baptized and they go to church every week. They study the Bible and become quite knowledgeable of its contents. They can be seen at Christian concerts, they travel great distances to hear Christian teacher and they even serve in the church. Yet, these people fail miserably when their integrity is measured.

These same Christian people will be found meaner than snakes at a church business meeting. They will gossip, hold grudges and outright hate other people as if they don't know the Lord at all. People are often shocked if they learn of these Christians personal lives. They may have pornography, excessive drinking or rampant gambling hidden from the public. Their marriages are horrible, their children know the truth about them and they are constantly worrying about how people perceive them.

What is wrong? They went to all the right places to learn of Jesus. They even have some knowledge of who He is. Yet, how can they continue to act like they don't know Him? Simple, they have failed to make the basic commitment to Christian growth. They have failed to take up their crosses.

The cross is an instrument of death. The condemned person was placed on the cross to slowly die. It took time before death set in. The person who takes up his or her spiritual cross will find death to self come slowly but surely. The cross is putting everything that self wants aside so that Christ may reign in you. It is dying to your love of anything or anyone in this world which will keep you from Christ's sovereignty in your life.

It is a struggle to stay on the cross. Some times the old self raises its head to claim you once more. It says that the cross is unnecessary. It says that you are doing more than most Christians anyway. It claims an allegiance to family or work or anything which the world says should be put before the Lord. It yells at you to get off the cross and live a good life.

However, the life is not good. The Christian who tries to live a good life is never satisfied in it. This good Christian will simply never grow much because he or she cannot be Jesus' disciple.

A disciple abides in His word. A disciple follows His commands. A disciple accomplishes much because the Lord is His strength. A disciple knows Him. A disciple loves like Him. A disciple becomes like Him. You can't be a disciple and grow into His likeness unless you take up your own cross.

A disciple doesn't seek pain. The only pain the cross brings is that of self denial. It doesn't mean that the person will hurt himself physically. Jesus gave no example of this. There are no stories of Him cutting, piercing or burning Himself to prove His devotion to His Father. His example is one of self denial; not self depreciation; not self flagellation. His pain came from His own self denial.

A disciple's cross may cause pain. It is brought upon him by his commitment to the Lord. It may mean that he will live in a mission where the comforts of America do not exist. It may mean that he will fast so that he might know his Lord's will. It may mean that he will give in such a way that he will miss comforts that he could have otherwise afforded.

The lack of a cross guarantees that the Christian will not become a disciple of Jesus. It guarantees the hindrance of Christian growth. It guarantees the Christian will continue to act like those who do not know the Lord.

The lack of taking up your own cross is the crucial failure for the Christian. It is the reason our churches are full of people who are empty.
Luke 14:26-27 (NIV)
26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. 27  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Life Has Meaning But Most People Don't Know What Their Meaning Is

I go to Home Depot all the time and look at the tools. I know what some of them do. Most of these tools are a mystery to me. I don't know what they are called and I don't know what they do. I want one anyway.

Every created tool has a purpose. It is hard to imagine a tool which had no purpose. Why would someone create a tool without a purpose? Why would it be called a tool if it didn't have a purpose? Creation has a purpose.

I sometimes look at paintings and wonder what the artist was thinking. Some paintings are beautiful to me. Some are ridiculous. I still think the artist has a purpose even if I don't understand it. Some art is offensive. It is the purpose of that art that offends me the most. Yet, it is still a purpose. Creation has a purpose.

There are only two real possibilities for our lives. We are either created or we are merely the results of random acts. The later is a strange conclusion because our bodies do not have random parts. The body is put together so that each part has a purpose. Why would I assume that a body of purpose was put together without any purpose?

A watch has a purpose. Even the pretty parts have a purpose. They are there to be pretty. The presence of purpose reveals the presence of a creator. It was someone's purpose to make a watch. No one when looking at a watch exclaims how remarkable it is that these parts have formed themselves together to make a watch which accurately records time. In fact, most watches (if not all) have their creators' names placed on the front.

I am sitting on my deck typing this blog. My Jack Russell Terrier, Jackie, is lying under a bench near me. I suspect (though I am unsure because she is a Jack Russell) she has no idea of her purpose. She has been placed in our lives for our enjoyment. We have fed her, taken her to many vets and played with her. She has caused us many days of laughter and some days of rage for what she has done. Overall, as much as it has been her capacity, she has pleased us. We got her for this purpose. It is not creation but it is purposeful.

I don't know that I can measure the difference between a dog and a human. I don't know that I can compare a human to God as I would a dog to a human. Yet, I know that this purposeful universe would would be without any order if purpose did not exist. We all have a purpose.

Still, most people are allowing their lives to be influenced by their circumstances rather than by their purpose. They are like my dog who reacts to the stimuli without any real purpose in her life. These people have purpose but neither know nor do they work toward their purpose. They are born, grow, go to school, get married, have kids, work, retire and die without knowing why they have been placed on the earth. We will never know them because they never knew themselves.

Every person has one general purpose though they are permitted and called to express it in different ways. We were created to give God glory. The very definition of sin reveals our failure. It also reveals our glory. It reveals our purpose.

God created us and stamped His Name on us. He gave us a general and a specific purpose. Some are being artists for His glory while others are being lawyers, teachers or construction workers. Each follows his or her calling to give Him glory. It is both puncticular and continuing. God doesn't seem to measure the glory we give Him by comparison. He praise the one who gives a great deal and have disdain for the widow who gave only two cents. He sees both our physical acts and our hearts at the same time.

Nothing seems to be right when we fail in our purpose. My little dog hangs her head and doesn't like being around me when she has done something she shouldn't. (So, maybe she does understand her purpose afterall.)  The universe is out of order when we continue to fail in our purpose. Yet, we have all failed in our purpose at some time.

So, give God glory today. It is what you were created for.

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

(This definition of sin is the most succinct verse which reveals our purpose. It is falling short of His glory that defines sin. Therefore, our purpose must be to give Him glory. Please don't take this as a negative because that is not the intent. It is a challenge to return to our purpose of giving God glory.)