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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

He Holds On

The perfect Christian life is impossible. We are creations that have fallen short of His glory. We are not God. We aren't perfect. We have a provision for forgiveness because of our imperfection. Our responsibility is to seek that forgiveness. We do and we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.

There have been moments in my life that were pure worship. I cried and laughed for the joy of my salvation. I committed my life so that I would never turn back from the moment of this exultation. I told my God of my love for Him and promised to be His with every part of my being.

Yet, it is amazing how quickly I forget those moments. I jump in the calm stream of the world and soon find myself in the rapids of a raging river. I find myself going with the world rather than trying to swim against it. I see myself becoming like what I have told my Lord that I despise. He comes to me in my distress and pulls me back to the shore. I tell Him of my love for Him again. He forgives me.

I once told God that I wouldn't take me back if I were Him. I knew He would but I wanted to tell Him that I know that He has no obligation to put up with my sinfulness. I wanted Him to know that I am grateful.

I am grateful that He holds onto me no matter how hard I try to wiggle away from Him.

I am reminded of my own children whom I snatched up when they were about to get into trouble. Sometimes the trouble was dangerous for them. They would do everything they could to get away. They would wiggle as hard as possible. They would scream. I would not let them hurt themselves. I wasn't about to lose them.

I shouldn't be surprised that my Heavenly Father holds onto me even when I am wiggling to get loose. He allows me to scream at Him but He will not let go. He will not let go no matter how much trouble I get into. I can never be lost to Him.

People are always telling me of how far they are from God. They tell me that they can't come back to Him. I tell them that they may have left Him but He never left them. He is still holding on.

You are so precious to Him that He won't let anything take you out of His hand.

John 10:27-29 (NIV)
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bargaining with Thieves

About fifteen months ago our church ended its contract with Verizon Wireless. They had given us good service but they were much more expensive than Sprint. We talked with them but they would not meet Sprint's price for what we needed. They weren't even close.

Sprint told us that they would transfer our numbers and end our agreement with Verizon. They did. However, Verizon decided to continue to charge us even though we had fulfilled our contract agreements. They sent bills for a couple of months which we refuted. They said we still had a phone on the agreement but they could not give me the phone number. They told me that they could not talk to anyone but the authorized person to discuss the bill. They said it was the pastor. I told them that I was the pastor and if they would give me my name I would be glad to talk with them. They couldn't. They told me that Sprint had not canceled our contract yet there were no phones under contract. Their lies astounded me. They never proved to me that we owed them anything. I refused to pay. They cut the bill in half and said they were willing to take that much. I told them that I refuse to pay any amount that we didn't owe.

I honestly believe that Verizon's computer continued to spit out the bills because someone didn't cancel our service. They, however, proved themselves unscrupulous in their manner of rectifying the error. They have given this bill to collections who don't care anymore than Verizon whether or not they have been accurate in their billing.

The Bible says that partnering with a thief will result in the thief failing to live up to the agreement. It also says that I am guilty of the crime committed if I remain silent about it. Therefore, this blog tells of our story. I have no desire to hurt Verizon or any of their employees. I just don't want them hurting anyone else.

You have an obligation to tell others when you notice harmful behavior. You have a responsibility to testify to the wrong committed. If you don't, you are bargaining with the thieves. You are partners with them.

Leviticus 5:1 (NIV)
1 "'If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.

Proverbs 29:24 (NASB)
24 He who is a partner with a thief hates his own life; He hears the oath but tells nothing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Church Has a Heart Problem

Why is it that many Christians fail to come to church just because they don't want to? Why is it that Christians give about 2% of their income? Why is it that 95% of Christians will never lead a soul to Christ? Why is it that in surveys of morality that Christians don't act differently from those who are non-Christians? Why are there so many fights within churches and within denominations? Why is it that non-Christians think Christians are hypocrites? Just one answer: We have heart problems.

The church is not the buildings. It is the people. These people are special to God. They are His children. Most of them were adopted. There are really very few Jews who make up the church. They are His chosen people by birth. Christians (not Jewish Christians) are His chosen people by adoption.

There are only one solution to the heart problem. One is that many of the people in the church are not really Christians. They have made an intellectual agreement to become a part of the church. They have made their mothers happy by being baptized but they do not really believe any more in Jesus than they believe in the Lion's club. They attend, give and occasionally serve but they have not given their hearts away. Therefore, their actions reflect their true heart.

The church is in need of salvation; not reformation. She is Christian in name and even contains Christians but there are too many people who pretend to be Christians to make the difference that Christ wants from His church.

How did this happen? Maybe churches were so interested in counting their baptisms that they failed to examine the ones being baptized. Maybe the church was more interested in the shade that a large membership provides that it fails to seek the fruit that the Lord provides. Maybe those who became the leaders didn't know they weren't Christians because they looked just like those around them. Maybe the church lost its first love for the Lord and sought bigger buildings and a bigger name for itself. Maybe its all of these things and more.

One things is for sure: God gives new hearts to those who come to Him. People with heart problems don't seem to have that heart. They continue to give people hell after He told them to give people heaven. They either need repentance in the worst way or they need salvation.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit that comes from a Christian. Anything less is a heart problem.

Ezekiel 11:19 (NKJV)
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When Politicians Court the Church

It has been said that politics is really a compound word. "Poly" means many. "Tics" are blood sucking insects. Therefore, politicians are many blood sucking insects. That was intended to be a joke but no one laughs anymore. It makes sense.

I went to a meeting several months ago hosted by politicians for pastors. Essentially they claimed that their party would bring back the values that we preachers espoused. They also claimed that the reason the nation is in such a sorry shape is because the preachers haven't preached the Word. They claim we have to get out there and tell the people who they should vote for. (They didn't actually say that last part but it is easy to connect the dots.)

I admit I felt guilty for a little while. I came back the next day and sat at a table with someone who contributes to this party. She fully connected the dots. It was amazing. Scales fell from my eyes and I remembered that we preachers had put this party in control before. We told people that they must vote for the party of morality. We put them in power and they did nothing. They continued to play politics. They continued to grow government. They continued to allow abortions. They continued to work hard for re-election. They were just as immoral as the other party. They just weren't as honest about it.

I thought, "Isn't this the same argument used by convicted murderers? 'I wouldn't have been a murderer if I had better parents.'" Now, I know they want me to believe that the wrong party is in power. They want me to believe that we preachers are the reason for that. They want me to believe that their party will bring America back to prominence. They point to the Reagan years. Is it because preachers were preaching the Word that Reagan was elected? I really don't think so.

I am not letting preachers off the hook either. We must preach the Word.  We must do all that we can to make people into disciples of Jesus Christ. That is our mandate. However, politics is not the reason to do so. That is not our business.

There is not many steps between being the power behind the throne and a pawn of the throne. We cannot have two masters. We must serve our Lord before all else. Yes, we may preach the principles espoused by a certain party. However, we must not preach them because of that party but preach them because of our Lord. That party or any other may take them as their own but we are not to sell ourselves out to them. They are men and women with clay feet and will disappoint us. Our Lord never disappoints.

I know there are many people who would like for me to get involved in politics. I will not do so. This is not because I don't support certain politicians privately. I can do that. However, I can't bring that to church. That belongs to Caesar. I won't give him the church.

Matthew 22:21 (NIV)
21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Can Christians Drink Alcohol and Still Be Faithful to Their Lord?

There are many things in life that are dangerous if not handled with caution. Electricity, cars, baseball and bike riding are all dangerous. Even God Himself is dangerous. You should behave accordingly when you are around danger. It is impossible to avoid all danger. Those who try to do so live lives of fear. They stop eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, popcorn, steak and hot dogs because people have been known to choke on these things. They refuse to board planes, trains and automobiles because people have been gravely injured while traveling in these modes of transportation. They may even stop going in their bathrooms or kitchens since so many accidents in the home occur in those rooms. Life cannot be lived this way with any freedom. It is unreasonable to avoid everything dangerous.

The danger that alcohol presents is not a sufficient reason to avoid it. It can be a pleasant experience if used with the same caution which accompany anything that is dangerous. You need to be aware of what alcohol is doing at all times. It must be used in moderation. A Christian can drink alcohol in certain circumstances with a good conscience.

However, there are times when the Christian should abstain from alcohol to remain at peace with God and others. He should not drink if his drinking will cause another to stumble in his faith. He should not drink if it is harmful to his testimony. In other words, he should not drink if it will dishonor others or God.

Let's suppose that you have a non-Christian neighbor who is exploring the Christian faith. He has come to listen to you about faith. He personally drinks even though he grew up with an alcoholic father. You must use discernment whether or not you would serve a glass of wine when you have him over for a meal. It could be that this will become a stumbling block for him to see the difference between what he already is, what he despises about his past and what you are leading him to become.

Discernment is unnecessary if you or others around you are alcoholics. You simply do not drink around them. You don't deny that you drink. You do not drink around them because you want to help them overcome their addiction. This would also be true in the home. Alcohol must be eliminated in the home of an alcoholic. You never drink again because you love the one who cannot drink.

Personally, I don't drink. I have another reason for not drinking. I don't drink because of my commitment to the Lord. I was in my apartment in 1975 all by myself when the Lord made a visit to me. I repented of my sins and made a commitment that I would never go as far away from Him as I had before that night. He forgave me and told me in no uncertain words that I must pour out all my alcohol. I wasn't to drink again. I poured it out and have not had another alcoholic drink since then. I don't drink as a commitment to my Lord. I believe that this commitment applies to me. I don't think that it should apply to everyone. I do think the Lord has told the same thing to others.

Does this mean that a church deacon can go to a bar and drink with his buddies as long as he doesn't get drunk? No, I don't think so. Bars have a good number of non-Christians. They laugh behind the backs of Christians who say they are different but live exactly as they do. They are looking for someone who will accept them with their faults but who doesn't have their faults. They are seeking someone who has standards of conduct that they can admire. They are not seeking those who are better than them in practice but who live lives that doesn't look down on anyone. They think that church services condemn the lost. They think that these deacons go to church and act "high and mighty" when they are really no different from the lost.

Let's face it. Alcohol is very dangerous. You should use it sparingly and judiciously if you choose to use it at all. Yes, you can still be faithful to your Lord and drink but not in all places and at all times. You can't be faithful if He has led you to stop. You can't be faithful if you are inconsiderate of those around you.

I would use this rule as a litmus test for drinking. Drinking can be honoring of the Lord and others if you can truly pray while drinking, if you can bring up prayer (as in a blessing before a meal) and if you can honestly commune with your Lord while drinking. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it.

Proverbs 23:29-35 (NIV)
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! 32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. 34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 35 "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"

Friday, June 25, 2010

Can I or Should I Make a Difference? What's the Real Question?

Lots of things are overwhelming to us. The National Debt and government spending has gotten out of hand. Babies are being aborted by the millions. Crime is exceeding our abilities to incarcerate the criminals. Our world is being polluted with reckless abandon.  Marriage has become a quaint institution for people without lives.

Is there anything I can do about these problems? Can I make a difference? Sure, I ride a bicycle to work, recycle as much as I can, preach for life and have a church that is out of debt. I tell people what the Bible says to straighten out their marriages. I am personally out of debt with the exception of my mortgage. But, let's be honest. None of what I am doing is making any sizable difference. Sin continues to prevail.

It seems that whether or not I should make a difference is mute if I can't actually make a difference.

Could God call people to make a difference who really can't make a difference? --Not only "could He" but He has.

He called Moses, a convicted murderer, back to the land of his conviction to release millions of people from their slavery. He called Gideon to whittle down his inadequate army to a ridiculous number so that he could overcome the enemy of his people. He called Noah to build a boat which would house the animals of the world. He called Elijah to oppose the king and his religion to show that God was the only Lord.

The real question is not whether you can make a difference or should you make a difference but do you have the faith to make a difference. Faith comes from a calling of God. Faith supercedes all circumstances. Faith goes beyond all trends. Faith needs no other evidence than a call from God.

The oppression of God's people has called them to cry out to Him. They did so for years before they had the faith to see God deliver. God's answer was to call people to do what had appeared to be impossible. They believed because they heard Him call.

Our position must be either that of Isaiah, "Here I am, Lord. Send me" or that of the people who cry out to God for deliverance. Each of these takes faith. Each of these will make a difference where it seems impossible for a difference to be made.

Several leaders of states are asking for prayer for the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil continues to pollute the waters, kill the wildlife and destroy the livelihoods of the people in the area. It takes faith to take a stand on prayer. This will really make a difference.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beginning with the Wrong End in Mind

There was once a man who lived in a small village whose fishing was legendary. His expertise allowed him to fish for half a day and have enough to feed his family and sell for his other needs. He would spend much of the afternoon just enjoying his family and relaxing.

A tourist coming through the town noticed the ease by which he produced so much fish and asked the man, "What do you do with the second half of the day when you are not fishing?"

He answered, "I enjoy my family and relax."

The tourist explained, "If you would fish all day instead of half a day, you could buy a better and bigger boat. Then you could hire others to help you. You could become wealthy enough to have your own fishing enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "Why would I want to do that?"

"So, that you could relax and enjoy your family, of course!" the tourist exclaimed.

So often we begin with the wrong end in mind. We set profits above principles. We never enjoy what we are doing because it is merely a means to an end rather than the end itself. Admittedly, all things we must do are not pleasant but what we do should be motivated by the fulfillment of doing it.

In other words, painting should not have merely the desire to sell the paintings. It should be something that we do so well that the paintings sell. It should be done with enjoyment. Selling widgets should not merely have the goal of making a profit. It should have an intrinsic enjoyment of having your widgets being used to do something better than could be done without them. There has to be joy in each day or life is a tragedy.

That doesn't mean everyone should stop making profits on their goods and services. It means that the journey to the profit should be the end. Making a needed excellent product should produce profits. The joy has to be found in the making of the product for there is no assurance of joy in the profit itself.

It wasn't long after entering the ministry that I learned that there were certain things I could say and do that would lead people to join my church. I could preach in a manner that would get them to join. I could claim their joining was a "movement of the Lord" but I would know that it was really a "manipulation of the preacher." Instead, I asked the Lord to give me His words and let me be His servant. This is the reason I come to church nearly three hours before the first service begins. I pray that I will be used by God. I pray for His anointing.

I have stopped worrying whether people join the church. They do, but I am confident that it is not because of me. I just enjoy the preaching. I enjoy the worship. I watch what God does with me and others.

Sure, I want my church to grow but setting that as the "end" will change what I do. It will mean that I will preach to "tickle the ears" of those who come. It will mean that I will base success on those who join rather than whether or not I have been faithful. It will mean that I will lose the enjoyment of what I do so that I can see results that have not come from the Lord.

Those who set profits or church growth or any other man made goal will see that it can be lost as easily as it can be gained. I have seen many rich people who have lost their fortunes. I have seen many preachers whose big churches have shrunk.

We forget that we belong to the Lord. We forget that these things are His to give and take away. We must take our eyes off of Him if we are to put our eyes on these things.

The question isn't really, "Are you making a profit?"  The real question is, "Are you doing what you should be doing?" If so, profits are very likely in your future but they will not be who you are.

Do what you should. Do it with excellence. Put the results in God's hands. And . . .

Enjoy the day.

Proverbs 23:4-5 (NIV)
4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Do You Get More Workers for Your Church?

Our church is like most churches who are growing. We need people to serve. Each Sunday we make do. We lack all the people to teach our Preschoolers and Children for an ideal situation. It is always safe but it just isn't what we would want if we could design it differently. Our situation is not acceptable. It is not God honoring. We must do something to get more workers.

We have a number of pre-Christian and new Christians in our church. This means they need to be in worship and small groups. They bring their children who need teachers. We don't expect these pre and new Christians to serve as teachers.

We have a number of people who are elderly and are no longer able to teach Preschoolers and Children. They have servants' hearts but they are simply physically unable to teach these children like they need to be taught. They have served for years in the past but their days of sitting on the floor to play a game are over.

We have a number of people who attend infrequently. They come a couple of times each month. I have never ceased to be amazed that there are others who do the same thing on different weeks so that our average attendance remains the same. It is as if they all got together and decided when to come to church so that the attendance doesn't drop or increase much. These people need to grow in their Christian commitment but they are unreliable as teachers for children. Children need consistency. The unpredictable attendance patterns of these people eliminates them from the possibility of teaching even if their maturity level doesn't.

We have a number of people in the military. They are sent on deployments for long periods of time. They are wonderful teachers when they are at home but the military demands they go to sea often enough that they can't consistently teach. They make excellent substitutes when they are around but their obligations to our country demand they are gone.

Yes, we have a number of people who could serve but choose not to. We have asked them to serve. They have refused. Often they have good reasons. They may be taking care of elderly parents or going through a tough time spiritually or with someone in their homes (like a teenager who is being rebellious or a spouse who is absent from church). Others just refuse to serve. They don't want to be tied down with an obligation.

So, what do you do to get workers? You pray that God will send them.  The only thing keeping churches from growing is the lack of workers. It is His church. He employs the workers. He will call them out to His service. 

We are still doing this at our church. Each week, we fill the positions. It is like the manna that they Israelites picked up each day. They only got enough for each day. We are going to continue to pray until every need is met.

It's not complicated but it is intense.

Matthew 9:37-38 (NIV)
Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers to His harvest field."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Would God Have to Sue You to Get You to Fulfill Your Commitment?

You have finally realized your dream could come true. You could have that remodeled kitchen or bathroom. You could have that sunroom or finished attic. You finally have the plans, the money to pay for it and you contact a contractor to do the work. You have been careful in choosing this man. His work is impeccable. An agreement is met with a handshake. He can start Monday morning. You write a check for the materials. He wants all of the money upfront but you know better.

The glorious day arrives when the work starts. No materials have arrived but it's okay. Demolition must proceed construction. The contractor works in a frenzy. He knows his trade and tears things apart quickly and loudly. Dust is everywhere! Things are going gloriously. You can't wait!

The house is a mess but you can live with it. You are about to receive your dream. You can put up with just about anything. Wednesday rolls around and the contractor works for a little while, receives a phone call and tells you that he has to see another customer but will be back soon.

A week passes and you don't see him. Then, he comes by and drops off some needed building supply. He piddles around for a little while and is gone again. Three weeks have passed and you have seen little progress. You realize that your contractor has you just where he wants you. Your house is such a mess that you can't back out. You can't find someone else to complete the job because you have already paid him for the materials. You must resort to threats and you hate having to do this.

Does this sound familiar? Just about everyone who has renovated his house knows this frustration. I am sure there are some contractors who stay on the job until completed but I haven't used them. I have had to threaten lawsuits to get them to return. I don't think they were too worried. What would really happen to them in a lawsuit? Most of them have very little in their own names. They have all their assets in their wive's names. Suing them just makes them change the name of their business.

Before we continue to disparage all the contractors in the world, let's take a look at our own lives. Have we ever acted like this contractor? Have we ever treated God this way? Have we ever started down the road of doing what needed to be done and gotten sidetracked?

I have seen it happen often. A person comes back to church after years of infrequency. His live is in a mess. He is losing his children, his wife or his financial means. He knows he needs the Lord. He walks forward in a church service to publicly commit himself to the Lord. He promises to act in a manner pleasing to the Lord forever.

Things go well in the beginning. He works hard to see things change. Progress is being made. Life starts to get back in order. He lives through the consequences of his previous action and claims that the Lord has given hims strength to endure. It appears that his whole life will soon be in order.

Just then, something happens that he has to take care of. It seems like a little thing. He doesn't feel that well or he has to do something with his business or he just wants to attend a sporting event that will take him away on a Sunday morning. That small crack in his faithfulness gets larger. God, who can be put on the back burner once, can be put on hold with greater and greater frequency. Eventually, he is back in the condition he was in before he made a commitment to renovate his life. In fact, he may be in worse shape.

Did he not realize that his commitment to the Lord was lifelong? Starting a job is important but not more important than finishing it.  Will God have to threaten to sue the man in order to get his to complete the job he started? Will God have to let his reap the fullness of the consequences of his actions?

How many Christians will say they started well but got sidetracked? I don't want to be one of them. Do you?

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

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sorting Out Privileges from Obligations

Today I help one of my daughters move. She is in her second year of residency after medical school. She has a one year transitional year in Chattanooga and moves back to Birmingham for three more years of anesthesiology. It is extremely hard but it will be worth it in the end.

Moving is not one of my favorite things to do. It is hot, seems never to end and leaves leaves me completely exhausted at the end of the day. Truthfully, I hate moving. Many of you who read this may agree with me.

However, this is probably the last time I will get to do this for my daughter. Her next move will probably involve a group of doctors that she will join for her practice or a hospital that she will work for. Someone else will pay for that move. I will not be needed any longer.

Rejoicing is the ostensible response to such a thought but it also turns another page in both of our lives. It means that I will not have the privilege of doing this again. Yes, I did use the word privilege. I will no longer be able to serve my daughter in this way. I will no longer have her dependent upon my help for moving. She asserts her independence from me again, not by jerking away like a teenager, but by being adult and responsible.

Instead of dreading this day, I should savor it. It is the end of a chapter in my life. It is the end of a chapter of her life. What began as one book has produced independent sequels. We are no longer main characters in one book but recurring characters in separate books. Eventually, my book will end and hers will continue. I want like to have an epilogue which includes pleasant memories.

Children are indeed a gift from the Lord. We must see them as such and all that we do with them is a privilege rather than an obligation.

Today is going to be a great day! I get to help my daughter move!

Psalm 127:3 (NASB)
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Instruction Manual

Many fathers know that the journey a father should take is arduous. Many of them had fathers who didn't know what they were doing. These fathers may have become the dictator whose children either eventually escaped from or always, but unsuccessfully, tried to please. On the other hand, these fathers may have become the "Santa Claus" who indulged their children's every whim. These fathers abdicate their roles as leaders within their families and put pressures on the mothers to fulfill the role of nurturer and ultimate disciplinarian. Neither group of fathers are what fathers should be.

I believe that the general rules of fatherhood are found in a parable called "The Prodigal Son." Anyone who has read it should know that the story is really about the father. He is the one who gives the example of what a father should be. I believe this is a father's manual. It is also a means of testing. If you are the father you hoped you would be you will follow these characteristics.

Here is the instruction manual:

Love your children even when they hurt you. The son in this story asked for his inheritance before his father was dead. Essentially he said, "Dad, I want to treat you like you are dead while you are alive. I want to go away from you and do what I really want to do. I don't want to live around you anymore." That has to hurt but the father loved his son anyway.

Hope for the best in your children. This father saw his son coming home from a great distance. He must have been looking. He must have been longing. He hoped that his son would remember his love. He hoped his son would come home. His hope was fulfilled. Hope tells what you really think of your children. Hope won't let you forget them. Fathers must always hope for the best no matter what the circumstances. Hope for the best always.

Seek restoration rather than retribution. Fathers can't make their children pay for everything they have done wrong. The goal is restoration not a repayment of the things done wrong. A father may make his son pray for a broken window but he should also address why the window is broken. If it is because his son was playing ball too close to a house, he should take him somewhere they can play ball together. No one ever makes things right by simply paying the price. Restoration comes from an acceptance from the side of the father. The father must receive the son or the son will never be able to pay back anything done wrong.

Celebrate each time your children come home. The father in this story threw a party. It is necessary to keep that welcoming spirit in your home. Their separation wasn't on such good terms. Reuniting had to be. My youngest daughter came home Thursday. She has literally been all over the world. We went to see Toy Story 3 (in 3D) together yesterday. (She is twenty-six but still likes some of the same movies I do.) It was a very special time for me. I always want to celebrate when my children come home.

I know this parable is about our heavenly Father. He gives all fathers an example to follow.

I hope you have a very blessed Father's Day.

Luke 15:22-24 (NIV)
22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Before and After Pictures

I lost 35 lbs. within the last year. I weighed over 200 lbs. in the picture for my profile. Obviously, I need to change the picture. Maybe I should put a before and after picture.

Before and after pictures are common for physical attributes. They show the difference a diet and/or an exercise program makes. They are common for the cosmetic industry. How many times have you seen an ad where the wrinkles disappear as the screen shows before and after pictures of a certain product? You wonder if it is really that effective. You can do a lot with photography these days.

Television has done wonders with before and after pictures. Many reality tv programs are really before and after shots. They take the house that is incredibly cluttered and clean it. They take the house that is run down and renovate it. They take a person and do an "extreme makeover." All of these include before and after pictures. Everyone loves to see what can happen to a house, a yard or a person. Maybe people are thinking that things aren't hopeless for themselves when they see what can be done for those who appear to be hopeless.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see the "after" the "after" photos? What would we see if the tv cameras came back a year after the makeovers? Would we see people who have gained back their weight and re-cluttered their houses? I think it is very likely. An outward change does not last.

You can see this with predictable frequency in those who have won the lottery. So many times you see that they are bankrupt and wishing they had never won the lottery. Winning the lottery does not change the person on the inside. It merely changes the outside. Many people did not handle their money responsibly when they were poor. Does anyone really believe they will be responsible when they are rich?

This is one of the reasons I like "The Biggest Loser." At least, this program tries to teach these overweight people how to lose the weight and maintain a healthy diet. They try to change the person on the inside.

However, people really can't be changed. They can change but they cannot be changed. Something must happen on the inside before there will be a lasting change on the outside.

I have heard there are only three things that can cause change. They are: brain surgery, deep psychotherapy and religious conversion. Who doubts what a lobotomy will do? Surely, people must go to psychotherapist because it works. And many of us who know Jesus Christ can attest that we have been changed.

Christians should be walking before and after pictures. We should be able to explain how we were and how we are by what we have become. Those who show no difference must admit that there was nothing that happened on the inside. They should doubt whether or not they are believers. Christ comes to live in a believer. He will clean the house He resides in. He will change your life from the inside out. If there is no change on the inside, there will truly be no change in you.

Do you have a before and after picture of your life? Can you look back at who you were and see how Christ has changed you? Can you see how He has given you forgiveness for people you normally would not have forgiven? Can you see how He has given you grace toward people whom you would normally despise? Can you see how your language, your habits and your work has changed because of Christ?

I served in a church once where the Chairman of Deacons was a real snake in the grass. He was known for his underhanded dealings in the community. The pastor of the church told me that he was really a very kind man when he came to church. I said, "I don't really care. Jesus didn't save us so that we would be kind when we get to church. Salvation is an all-the-time thing or it isn't anything at all."

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde must not be the testimony of the Christian. The way we act at church must be consistent with the way we act out of church or we are merely putting on a performance. We may have convinced the audience we have become the character we are playing. This is not the Christian life. Christians become like Jesus not because we have acted our way into His characteristics but because we have surrendered our way into His way. The result is a change within.

Do you have a before and after picture of your Christian life? You should. It is called your testimony.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Simply Irresponsible

Why is it that we try to blame others for the things we have done. It seems to be in our nature. "Look what you made me do!" is a common excuse for many a mistake. Our blaming others is a common characteristic of our fallen nature.

Avoiding the blame follows a pattern. We realize what we have done. We may be sorry that we did it but we are more concerned with the reprocussions than trying to make things right. Our innocence is stripped from us. We could repent and reveal our failure but our fallen nature demands we avoid the blame. Our first step is to hide.

Who do we hide from? From anyone who can blame us. We avoid those who will know what we have done. We will hide in what we consider a safe place. That might involve safe people or literally a safe place. Presidents have hidden in the White House or taken vacations to avoid receiving the blame. They hope that it will simply blow over. Children have hidden the broken vases they knocked over because they tried to play ball in the house. Husbands have meticulously hidden the records of emails of sinful liasons. Wives have hidden the receipts of expenditures from their husbands. The hope is that all transgressions should remain hidden.

We blame others after our sins are revealed. I have had husbands blame their wives for the adultery they committed. ("She wasn't showing me any attention!") Children blame their friends for breaking a vase. ("Johnny threw the ball; what was I supposed to do? I had to hit it!") Presidents blame their critics. ("You who want limited government are so condemning when I have given it to you.")

Blaming others never resolves anything. It makes us irresponsible. It is in all of us. It does not matter if we are big or small, anonymous or well-known, rich or poor; we avoid taking responsibility without recognizing what we have done. Taking responsibility is something that comes from a spiritual nature that reaches upward. It confesses, makes the best restitution possible and commits to avoiding new failures rather than avoiding the blame.

Yes, this goes against our fallen nature. Yes, we will find ourselves asking for forgiveness. Yes, we have to give forgiveness to understand forgiveness. Yes, we can hold ourselves and others accountable without a final condemnation. Yes, there can be restoration.

But, no; there is no restoration without taking responsibility.

Genesis 3:9-12 (NIV)
9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." 11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" 12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cleaning Out the Clutter

I am one of those people who has a hard time deciding between what is good and what is best. I often keep old electronics because they intrigue me. They still work but because of quality, style or specific function have become obsolete. This is true for old clothes, old bicycles, and anything else that I simply can't use anymore but still appears to be in reasonably good shape.

Some of my clutter comes from being raised on a farm. A farm is generally some distance from supply stores. It is in a rural section of the country where you will have to drive significant distances or place orders for repairing equipment. Therefore, things are saved because they have the potential for being reused in a pinch. It is better to have an old piece of equipment working than a more efficient piece of equipment which doesn't work. The job has to be done. Waiting is not an option on the farm. You literally make hay while the sun shines. You don't have time to wait for replacement parts.

However, that is really no excuse for what I am doing. I am keeping things which are cluttering my house and my life. Some of these things are good but they are keeping me from the best. It is hard for me to stop doing or keeping the good but it must be done if I am ever going to have the best.

Take my schedule, for example. I need to have a time with the Lord each day. This I keep very regularly. I pray, read the scriptures and write this blog. This blog represents my time with the Lord. I try to keep the personal things out of it but sometimes, like today, they must come through.

I need to make sure that I spend time talking with my wife. This is something that most men have to consciously do. Men don't think of talking with their wives so their wives are often left to nagging them. Nagging will eventually get men to talk although it usually means they speak angrily. It is important for her that I talk with her each day. I must listen but I also must talk. I call her several times during the day just to let her know that I am thinking of her. This is really important.

I should spend time exercising each day. That is why I ride a bicycle to work each day. I need it so that I can be healthy and able to do what the Lord has called me to do. Exercise has lowered my cholesterol, regulated my blood pressure, brought my resting heart rate to 45 bpm, increased my energy, helped me sleep, helped me lose weight (35 lbs.) and significantly decreased me back pain. Yes, I would have to say this is one thing that I don't need to eliminate from my life.

What things have had to go? Most of the things on television will kill your thinking processes. A couple of programs a week is all I really need for recreational tv. Anything else is clutter.

A lot of sports needs to go in the fall. I generally spend my Saturdays watching college football. None of the coaches or team members have done so much as send me a Christmas card for my devotion. It is a general waste of my time. Folloing one team is better than following all of them.

Wasteful chatting must be something of the past. There are times when you need to talk to people. It is the friendly, loving thing to do but it cannot be done when it simply becomes an effort to waste time. You have to ask if the person you are talking to or if you are accomplishing anything with this conversation. Gossip has to go. Saying things that build others in their faith or encourage them must stay. Sorting through these conversations will make them more meaningful to all parties involved.

Endless internet searches must end. One search leads to another and to another and to another and . . . . Soon, you have spend an hour looking at the internet without getting anything done. The danger is that this will keep you from doing what you should be doing. The danger is that these searches may lead you to something that you don't need to see. (I have never had this experience but people tell me that it happens.) I must make a point of getting the info I need and getting back to what I need to do.

Endless online shopping goes hand-in-hand with internet searches. I have spend two days making sure that I got the best price on an item that cost less than $100. I haven't taken into account what it has cost me to search. It would have been cheaper for me to have bought the item retail than to have done such a search.

I must throw away the things that are getting in the way. My desk is presently cluttered with things I need to toss. I will never need these memos, calendars, brochures and other items which cover every inch of my desk. I spend too much time trying to get to the things which are important because I have to dig through the things that aren't.

The word "best" is a superlative. There aren't any other best. Faith is best over all the good things I can do. Family is best over all the other people I have spend time with. My service to the Lord is best over all the activities in my life.

I must clean out the clutter or else I will appeal to the good and never have time for the best.

Do you think that was what Jesus was trying to tell Martha?

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" 41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The True Role of Parents

The animal world understands parenting's purpose: Their children are to be able to function in the world successfully without their parents. They teach and even push their children out of the nests so that they can lead their own lives. Many humans fail to understand this.

Children are a delight to their parents. The problem comes when parents believe their children are to be delighted. Parents begin pushing their children into interests long before the child has any idea what he or she wants. They have them in soccer, ballet, piano lessons and special learning classes before these children are four years old. The child is rushed from one activity to another. He or she has no time for conversation or contemplation. Activity takes the place of any dead time. No one has any time to determine what he or she should do. There is always another activity.

The child, wanting to please his parents, goes along with most of it. He does his best at each sport, art or intellectual pursuit. He believes his value is determined by how well he does. It has made his teachers give everyone in his class an award year after year. Maybe it is because the teacher wants every child to succeed or maybe the teacher knows that the success of the program is determined by the number of children in it. Therefore, the teacher works to keep the children in the programs.

Some parents will concentrate on one activity for their children. They will train, buy equipment and spend endless practices with their children. They will justify this relentless obsession by saying they are doing this to get their child a college scholarship. What a crock! They are vicariously living their dreams through their children! This is why they push so hard. Their concern is not only for their children.

Some of these children are burned out on the sport by the time they should be excelling at it. This sport, art or intellectual pursuit becomes their god. A small percentage of them will see their god live beyond high school. A smaller percentage beyond that.

I remember an All-American football player telling me that he looked at a clock on a rainy Saturday afternoon. and watched the seconds tick away as his god died. Except for a couple of post-season activities, he would never put on the pads again. He knew he was not able to make the pros (Yes, even All-Americans don't always make the pros.). He was lost because this had been his purpose in life for so long.

The parents' true role is to help their children function in the world without them. They must be able to understand what they want to do with their lives. They must be able to think on their own. They must understand their relationship with God. They can neither exist on their parents' faith nor their parents' dreams. They must have their own.

Parents need to know that the things they teach their children need to be prioritized. The things which will mean the most to them all of their lives need to take a greater importance. Faith trumps education. Education trumps athleticism.

Parents should lead their children to be responsible by their own example. They should pay their bills and keep their promises. They should work hard, tell the truth and expect God to reward their faithfulness. They should face adversity, persevere and succeed through their tenacity. Children will have a hard time understanding this when they have no real time with their parents outside of their scheduled activities.

Parenting is sacrificial. It takes time and money. It takes prayers. It takes doing your best to see these gifts from God grow up to be responsible adults. Parenting isn't for wimps.

Some day your children will tell you goodbye. They will truly be on their own and there is nothing you can do about it. Today, you can do something. You should. Do your best to give them the faith, the skills and the character to function well without you. That is the true role of parenting.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NIV)
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Declaring War on Debt

I have been been very concerned about debt; both my personal debt and that of our nation. I am working hard to get completely out of debt. It means hard decisions. It means that I must deny myself some pleasures that would be met simply by allowing the debt to exist.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that I want to get out of all expected debt. I want to get out of all debt. I don't have a car loan or recurring credit card bills now. I would like to pay off my house and the debt of apology I owe others, as well. I don't want to owe anyone anything but love.

Proverbs tells us that we should not allow debt to be our normal way of life. It tells us that we are under obligation to others when we owe something. It says that we are unable to do what we would like while we are under this burden. It says we will have to make painful choices to remove the burden.

This is also true of our nation. We cannot continue to borrow with no thought of repayment. We cannot think that someone else will pay our debt for us. We must humble ourselves to the reality that we cannot have everything we want. We cannot bail out everyone who is hurting. We cannot give security to those who choose to make bad decisions.

We will eventually have to declare war on our debt. The worse we pile up the debt now; the worse it will be later. We will have to shrink our government. We will have to lay off government employees. We will have to stop the flow of entitlements. We will have to curtail our spending as a nation or the burden of debt will soon crush us. We will have to raise taxes. We will have to tax everyone. It will become the greatest depression that has ever been known. It will make us a nation who must answer to all who have loaned us money. But it will be done or we will no longer exist as the "land of opportunity." We will become like the European countries who are being destroyed by their debt. Anarchy appears in their future.

Why don't politicians know this? I think they secretly do but don't admit it. They are concerned about getting re-elected. Promising more to more people seems to get you re-elected. Saying that you are going to make others pay your bills seems to be the best answer to the debt. Claiming that this spending is necessary or things will get worse resonates with many. Avoiding the hard question of how you will pay for it is always met with the need of the moment rather than the attitude of responsible living. Emotions are used for excuses.

I had a local businessman tell me that he was scared a couple of weeks ago. He immigrated to American many years ago and started his own business. He has done well for himself. He is afraid it will all disappear soon. I have heard that many others have the same fear. We are desperately in need of leaders who will say, "No more!" Yes, it sounds negative but it is the most positive thing we can do for our future.

Think of it. If we do nothing the government will have to print money faster than Zimbabwe did. It will redefine hyper-inflation. It will not be that you will spend the money you make as fast as you can but that you will borrow before you are paid so that you can pay with inflated dollars. Interest rates will soar since lenders know their payments will be made with money that isn't worth as much as the money they  loaned. Where does this end? I don't know but I do know that I don't want to go there.

The Bible has told us what to do. We must not rest until we have unburdened ourselves from debt. I believe that is both personally and as a nation. What do you think?

Romans 13:8 (NIV)
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Proverbs 6:1-5 (NIV)
1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, 2 if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor's hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! 4 Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. 5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Am I So Ugly When I Am Tired?

I am a bear when I get tired or hungry. I wish that I could say that I allow my spirit to be in tune with God all the time but my physical state certainly has a big affect on my spiritual state. Why is that?

We are all comprised of body, soul and spirit. The body, of course, is how we relate to this world. We are recognized by our looks, voice or any other means that physically identifies us to this world. Our bodies get tired. Inside the body is the brain. It begins to process the information wearily when we are tired. It responds to the signals the rest of the body gives it. It says it is sleepy, hungry, tired, dirty, irritated as it responds to outside stimuli.

The soul is mind, will and emotions. The brain, our information processor, sends its info to our minds. The mind is part of the soul. It makes our decisions for us. It can stimulate our emotions. It can stimulate our wills.  The mind can be influenced by the other two parts of the soul, too. Emotions can override a good decision process. Will can keep one on task when the person is emotionally drained. We cannot separate the parts of who we are. They interact with each other. The result may be that a person gets angry because he is physically tired. A person may even give up when his will is normally strong because of pain or exhaustion.

The spirit is our communicator with the Spirit of God. The spirit processes spiritual info to the mind. The mind responds to this with its decisions. The mind set on the spirit makes spiritual decisions but the mind set on the flesh makes worldly decisions.

It is very hard to deny our bodies. One of the values for fasting is that it does exactly that. It puts the demanding body in its place. It sacrifices the flesh so that the spirit can have full control. It focuses the individual on the spirit and spiritual things.

Most of the time, however, the body catches us unaware. It demands without warning. It demands that it be rested, stimulated, fed or anything else that pleases it. We often fail to recognize what is happening and go with the flow.

Just think of Jesus' disciples. He had asked a few of them to go with Him to pray. It was a very stressful night and they knew it.  He goes a distance away from them to pray. He is emotional but His emotions do not overcome His spirit. His disciples are tired and they fall asleep. Their spirits were not in control. Their bodies were. That is why Jesus said, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The disciples were caught off guard. They surely would have continued to pray if their spirits had been processing Jesus' desire to have them pray. Their bodies demanded sleep and they surrendered.

I have known many saints who do not let their discomfort go unnoticed. That doesn't make my own actions less reprehensible. I just find myself in good company when I act non-Christian. I wouldn't have that problem if I kept my mind on the things of the Spirit.

Physical exhaustion doesn't cause us to put our minds on the flesh. It just reveals that our minds are on the flesh. When it happens I should recognize how I am acting and make sure my mind is filled with the Spirit. Otherwise, I am not much different from the rest of the world.

Romans 8:5 (ESV)
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Do Your Fears Control You?

It is amazing what fear does to us. It is just as amazing what fear reveals about us.

Fear will keep people from forgiving others. Fear becomes the barrier that keeps them from being hurt. They are so afraid of being hurt that they do not want to allow others to get close to them. They can't get hurt from those who are far away. Fear reveals those who feel very inadequate. They are so afraid of losing that they do not want to put themselves in a position where they can lose. They don't want to compete so they don't want to allow people close enough to hurt them.

I know of a case where a husband learned that his wife had pre-marital sex with someone else before he met her. He has been so afraid of trusting her even though she has never been unfaithful to him since she met him. She kept her vow to him . He feels hurt that she has been intimate with another man albeit before they met. He despises this other man and has even come to despise his wife. He is pushing her away because of his fear of being hurt. This fear is consuming him.

Fear will keep people from winning. These people hoard everything they get. They take their earnings and sock it away because they are afraid of "rainy days" which will siphon off their surplus. They are guaranteed to lose in the bigger sense because they have failed to try to win. Playing it safe is the worst kind of safety. It prevents success. It assures mediocrity. It makes everyone's cup half empty.

Pastors often malign the mega-churches. They drop by to see their cathedral ceilings, massive seating capacity and opulent furnishings. The criticize while secretly wishing they were in one of these churches. They do not realize that the pastor and people had a time when they heard from God and put security in His hands to venture into the building of these buildings. These mega-churches believed something more than their fear could stop. They became winners because their fear ceased to control their decisions.

Fear reveals how big your God is. Is He really the Almighty or is He just mighty? Can He do all things or most things? Can He give you the strength to overcome anything of just the strength to tolerate anything? Does He grant forgiveness so that you will forgive or does He hold back some things so that you also don't have to forgive all things? Fear will keep you from believing in a God who will do all these things. Fear will make you have a false God. You really can't make God smaller; you can only believe He is smaller.

All of us have some measure of fear about some things. The trouble comes when we allow that fear to control us. We must abandon our fears if we are to live godly, successful, significant lives. There is no joy in fear. There is no praise in fear.

The only fear we should have is a godly fear. This fear is one of being afraid of disappointing God. This fear is good for us. All other fears need to be given to Him. Otherwise your cup will be half empty rather than "running over."

Do your fears control you?

Psalm 55:22 (NIV)
22  Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Trouble with Faith

Many Christians don't understand their own faith. They see it as a means of helping them in this life. They see it as a way of giving them comfort or encouragement when they are down. They lose the concept of a total commitment. It is merely one of their commitments. It has its place but it does not need to intrude into every area of their lives. They may have a little faith but it is extremely little. It would never get out of the boat and walk toward Jesus.

Do people seek safety over Jesus? Absolutely! They would rather stay in a safe boat than take a "chance" at walking toward Jesus on the water. They already know that they can't walk on water. The difference between Peter who got out of the boat and those who stayed in the boat was that Peter understood that the Man who was walking on the water could give him the ability to also walk on the water. The only reason Peter didn't complete his journey was that he began to notice what the ones in the boat couldn't take their eyes off of. He doubted when he saw the wind and the waves. That which we can see often gets in the way of our faith.

Therefore, members of churches are scared as they fail to meet their budgets. They cry when they see that they can no longer keep the buildings in good working order or that they are struggling to make the note payments. They fail to understand that the Christian life is all about seeking God and His kingdom. He will add every need if the people will simply do that.

Maybe that's it? Christians already know they will not seek Him first or His kingdom so they have no expectation that He will supply their needs. Therefore, there is a need to be worried. The supply is not coming because the doubters can expect nothing from the Lord. How many times have you heard in a church meeting, "If the money is going to be raised, it is going to be given by us!"? The natural man can understand this. It should make the spiritual man sick. We might as well give lessons on walking on water. "If we are going to walk on water it is because we have learned how to walk on water." What a crock!

The trouble with faith is that it cannot be something that people work up within themselves. It is a gift of God that causes us to believe. It is something directly opposed to our natural order. It rejects "seeing is believing" and accepts "believing is seeing!"

Faith flies in the face of the practical non-believers. These are the ones who are deemed practical by the majority of the church. They are the ones that church members say keep them safe. They are the ones who also keep people from seeking Him and His kingdom. They balance the budget but also see no miracles. Their faith is one of staying in the boat that God gave them rather than getting out on the water for a close walk with Him. They will accept good over best consistently if it involves true faith.

But we can't expect our churches to be different if we aren't different. We can't expect our church to step out in faith if we will not trust God with our tithe. We can't expect our church to reach people if we won't step forward to reach them. We can't expect our church to know and teach God's word if we will accept something less. We can't expect our church to walk toward Jesus if we won't take those steps to do so as well.

The real trouble with faith is that it is so easy to fake. We can look like true believers and live very self-preserving lives. We can say that we have faith because we tell people that we know we are going to heaven. The truth is that people don't really have any faith if they say they can trust Him for eternity but can't trust Him for this next Friday. I suppose they want to say that they believe because they know they really can't do anything about their deaths. They might as well say they are going to heaven. Maybe that's why so many "believers" are so scared of dying. They really don't believe and the evidence is found in how they always stay safe while on this earth. The average Christian can't really point to an act where they had to depend upon God or they would sink. It is as nonsensical to them as it is to a non-believer.

The trouble with faith is that it goes against the ways of the world. Few people want to do that. They would rather stay in the boat.

Matthew 14:28-29 (NIV)
And Peter answered Him, "Lord, if it is You,  command me to come to you on the water. And He said to him, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lest I forget My God

Today didn't start out so good. I discovered that my bike had a flat when I was ready to go to work this morning. I forgot the shorts I wanted to wear during the day after I got to work. The check my wife had given me to deposit needed her signature so that I had to catch her before she got all the way to work. (She works fifty miles away.) I spend Fridays working on my sermon. I had several phone calls. I didn't even get to write this blog until now.

Each of these things are minor when placed alongside some of the horrible things that have happened to people today. Some people had their spouses leave them, some people lost their jobs today, some people just learned of an terminal illness. The things in my world are merely inconveniences. I had an expectation of what this day would look like. Its appearance is nothing like I hoped it would be.

Did these things happen because of bad karma, fate, bad luck or divine intervention? Do they have any purpose at all? How do I recognize the events which have a purpose? I am not sure that everything has a purpose. I know that I chose to wear a white knit shirt today. I don't think there was any purpose in my mind when I chose it. It seemed to be the closest shirt within my reach when I went into my closet. I suppose you could say it chose me. I don't think everything has a purpose nor do I think I will know the purpose of everything that does.

Yet, there are certainly times when unplanned events do have a purpose. I did not plan to meet my wife on the day we met. It certainly had a purpose. It was part of a divine plan to bring us together. It was God who endorsed the meeting. I am forever grateful.

Do I recognize the good things that God brings but fail to recognize the bad things which may ultimately create more good? Yes, of course. I want to acknowledge that God is good and can see the good things as His doing. I don't want to see the bad things in the same light. I want to act like God has nothing to do with these things. But how can I say that God has enough control to bring about good things and not enough control to stop the bad things from happening? He is God, right?

If God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, He must have a reason for the rain.

Unfortunately, God allows me to go toward hell when I choose to. He leaves me alone when I want to be left alone. He ceases to speak when I give Him a deaf ear. I should expect to have some measure of bad things happen anyway. Everyone is in this boat together. We all have good and bad happen. The difference between those who know Him and don't is that those who know Him don't have to go through these things alone. We can cry out His name like we once called out for our mothers when we were afraid of the dark.  We can look to Him and be delivered from those things which haven't gone like we expected.

I think this is the purpose of some of the things that happen. It makes us remember Him. Our "not enoughs" and "unexpected failings" cause us to call out to Him. We do not have so much that we fail to need Him. We won't forget the One whom we are dependent upon. We will cry out to the One who can straighten out the crooked events in our lives. We will bless the One who can bless us. We will forget those we don't need.

And we need God. All the time. Even when we don't realize it. So, sometimes things happen so we won't forget.

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12  lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14  then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deut 8:11-18 (ESV)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Your Pastor and His Salary

Most people and churches want to know how much to pay their pastor. I have an easy answer: pay him according to the community you are in. Take those who have the same number of years of experience in their field with similar education and pay him accordingly. 

But this is not what this blog is about. I want to address what his attitude is toward his salary. I have been around so many pastors who had such an ungodly attitude toward their salary that it has made me sick. 

Jesus had a treasury. He obviously accepted money from some sources. Paul writes that one who teaches and preaches the Word is worthy of a double honor. This is an "accounting" type term to say that those who do this are worthy of a double salary. I think this is why Paul also warns of those who will get into the preaching of the Word for the sake of the money. We have all met a silver tongued preacher who worried more about the money he was making than the souls that were being affected.

A pastor who demands more salary is not one who can honestly preach a message of God's provision. He might argue that God provided after he threw a fit but I find that a thin excuse for his demands. God's provision may come because we have worked hard. God may provide because we have prayed hard. But God's provision hardly comes because we have extorted it out of the people He has sent us to serve.

I served with a pastor who threatened to leave the church every year around the time the church projected its next years budget. He was an amazing communicator and felt that the church's growth was all about him. I admit, much of the church's growth was because of his communication skills. It also had something to do with the problems in other local churches and the miraculous working of God that did not take his preaching into account. Eventually, the church let him go. He thought they had done him wrong. I thought about all his threats. I don't think he realized the message he was sending each year. I wished he had repented of his attitude toward money, but that never happened. Yes, he reaped what he had sown.

A pastor demanding more money cannot serve God fully. Jesus said we can't serve both God and money. It is a hard lesson to learn but we must truly "seek Him first and His Kingdom" if we want Him to add to us all the things we need. A pastor serving money is evident in the way he lives. He serves to the point of the money. He exacts his time to the value of his salary. He works to that point and not one more moment. That is, unless the person who needs ministry is a wealthy giver to the church. Then, he will be found on the doorstep of that member any hour of the day or night. 

The money grabbing pastor will run when things get tough. He does not desire to protect the sheep. He does not desire to truly feed the sheep. He wants to gather the sheep, count the sheep and determines an acceptable amount to let the wolves devour. He will not stand up when the time comes to protect the sheep. He will go to another church as soon as the heat is turned up. 

I know of a church where the pastor led the church to build a new sanctuary. He had no plan for paying for this new sanctuary. They only paid the interest on the debt for many years. He also led the church to refinance the loan several of the years that the debt existed. He took the money generated by refinancing to do huge programs in the community. The church grew but continued to pour more money into its ministries while allowing the debt to grow.  Eventually, the new building was no longer new. It required maintenance which could not be afforded. He left soon afterwards to allow the subsequent pastors to clean up this debt mess.

Money is the primary motivation for this type of pastor's calling. He knows he can't ask what a new church will pay him to early in the search process but he is salivating to know. He will listen much more attentively when you talk salary. He will not come unless he knows the salary. He doesn't truly believe that God can provide for him. He is looking for the church to do that. He is always called to a "higher salary." There is no higher calling in this.

My church pays me well. They are truly great. I don't like talking about salary when a church has considered me to become their pastor. My present church insisted that I tell them what my previous salary was. I put them off as long as I could. Eventually, I told them it didn't matter. I gave them a number. I didn't try to lie but I was under what I was making at the time. They pretty well matched that salary. I was and still am happy with what they did. I know that God takes care of me. He has done so extremely well even though my smaller house cost me about $120k more than my previous one. God has a way of taking amounts of money and laughing at them.

One of my church members noticed the old car I drive. He put a prayer request in that I get a better car. I went to him and told him that this doesn't matter. I asked that he not do put the request in again because I am very happy with what I drive. I was, however, very pleased that he was concerned for me. I love this attitude in church members. I love telling them that I don't need more when they want to want to give me more. (Yes, this is bragging and I will have to repent!)

You just can't serve God and money. It's in the Bible, you know.

Luke 16:13 (ESV) 
13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marriage for a Lifetime

We are a people who are always looking around. We are always comparing what we have to what others have. We notice how our neighbors keep their yards, the cars they drive, the way their children act and we notice their spouses. Sometimes we are deluded into thinking that others got a better deal than we did. They are where they are because their parents were rich or because they are smart or because they just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Our own covetousness can make us believe that we deserve what they have received. We can even want what they have. We don't think it is fair.

So, we make our comparisons. "You got Wonder Woman and I got Ugly Betty," or "You got Superman and I got Jughead," becomes our thoughts. These will not make your marriage better. It will cause you to be open to "new" opportunities. It is a short trip from dissatisfaction with your spouse to disaster.

Many people in my church are in the Navy. They go through frequent and long deployments away from their spouses. It is hard on their families. Anything unstable in their relationships will be multiplied because of the stress that they are in. Most of them do very well considering their circumstances. They are faithful to their spouses throughout their military careers. However, a little instability at home before a deployment will be multiplied during a deployment.

There are men and women stationed on ships today. A tenuous relationship at home, being confined on a ship with members of the opposite sex, loneliness and time together with members of the opposite sex who are not your spouse can stress marriage. It is absolutely vital that each person keep his or her commitment to the spouse by guarding every look and thought. It is absolutely necessary that each one guard his or her heart and keep the Lord at the very center. The pull of the natural flesh will be hard to conquer otherwise.

Why not look around? Why not be unfaithful?

You will hurt your spouse in ways that you cannot imagine when you are unfaithful. Even pornography is unfaithfulness because it compares the intimacy of a wife to that of an unknown woman. Unfaithfulness from a wife makes a husband feel extremely inadequate. It destroys who he is. It robs him from his strength. It takes any measure of leadership away from him and gives it to another man.

It seriously damages you and your faith. You simply cannot walk in the Spirit and the flesh at the same time. You may be able to hide it from your church and your friends but it will never be hidden from your Lord and yourself. You will know what sort of hypocrite you really are.

Families are torn apart with unfaithfulness. Children have a harder time understanding the love of a God who will be with them always when they cannot see it in their parents. The children's stability in school and self esteem is damaged. They somehow believe that they caused the problems between their parents. They love both parents and are often forced to choose between them.

Unfaithfulness does not create more faithfulness in the spouse who was hurt. He or she may see that they should be able to do as has been done. He or she may be more open to unfaithfulness because it seems justified. Of course, this is not true but it is an act that often follows the unfaithfulness of a spouse.

Marriage is intended for a lifetime. God wants you to love your spouse always. He expects you to guard your eyes and your hearts. He expects you to raise your children in the presence of godliness. He expects you to grow old together and take care of one another.

Marriage for a lifetime is better for your too. Make that commitment. Do it for your spouse. Do it for your faith. Do it for your children. Do it for yourself.

Proverbs 5:15-23 (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? 21 For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. 22 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. 23 He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Did We Choose Christ or Did He Choose Us?

John 15:16 (NIV)
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
Did Jesus choose me or did I choose Him? It seems like we are asking the question of which came first: the chicken or the egg. Does it matter? Well, yes, it does when it starts to affect my actions or reaching other people.

Some people will stop sharing Christ with others when they believe that their witness makes no difference. What difference does a witness make if it all depends upon whether or not Christ has chosen that person? There are two reasons I believe that I also chose Christ. I do not negate that He chose me. I add that I chose Him.

We must consider the culture of that day. A potential disciple would search and seek out a teacher who would teach him what he wanted to learn. That is not what happened with Jesus. He prayed all night and chose His disciples. But, also remember the story of the rich, young ruler. Jesus told him that he needed to sell all that he had and follow Jesus. Yes, Jesus took the initiative. He made the offer to the young man but the offer was rejected. This example tells me that, while it was important that Jesus chose the rich young ruler, the young man also had to choose Jesus.

The construction of the Greek gives a slightly different meaning than is so often translated in the English. The word translated "not"  modifies "you" not choose. The translation would be closer to the original meaning by saying, "It was not you that chose me" rather than "You did not choose me." The difference is subtle but substantive. The latter gives us the impression that we have not chosen at all. The first leans toward saying that it was not our initiative in the choice. In other words, we can choose after He has made His choice but we still get a choice.

It is clear through our own experiences and Scripture that Jesus makes the choice before we make our choice. In fact, there could be no one who will choose Him that He has not chosen. His choosing is active. He works to move people into our path to lead us to Himself. He uses circumstances, prayers and the witness of others to bring us to Himself. He has chosen us but we do not necessarily choose Him.

Our choice is evident in our fruit. We are to bring others with us to Him. We should see others come to Him because He has chosen us.

Our choice is evident in those who will remain faithful. In fact, there is much evidence that those who fall from the faith may have never truly come to the faith in the first place. Our fruit must be genuine for it to be His fruit. Those who come to Christ should remain in Christ or they have never come to Christ.

Our choice is found in our prayers. We should hear His will so that we can pray in His name. This is not merely giving suggestions to God for the things we would like to see. It is asking on His behalf for the sake of those He loves. In other words, our choice is made most evident through those we have led to Christ. It places us in partnership with Him so that we want what He wants and, therefore, receive what He wants us to receive.

Did we choose Christ or did He choose us?


Monday, June 7, 2010

How Do You Listen to the Spirit?

The Bible speaks of us as three parts of a whole. We are body, soul and spirit. The body is our means of being identified in this world. It is our physical self that transports us from place to place. It houses our brains which is the information processor for our contact with this world.

The soul is composed of our mind, will and emotions. We generally talk of our souls when we are describing who we are.  We tell others what we are interested in, what makes us happy, sad or mad and what we want to do with our lives. This is our soul.

Our spirit is our means of communicating with the Holy Spirit who is God. Our spirits are dead from sin before we come to know Christ. This doesn't mean that our spirits are non-existent. It means that like a dead person cannot be affected by the world around him, our spirit cannot be affected by the Holy Spirit. Our spirit is made alive by giving our lives to Christ. It is at this point that we can communicate with the Holy Spirit.

Yet, many people who claim to know Christ also claim they have never had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Something is wrong when this happens. Hearing the Spirit should be a normal experience for the believer.

While no one can make the Spirit speak, there is certainly times when He does. The lack of hearing the Spirit is why people don't read their Bibles. They are so bored reading words that do not apply to them. On the other hand, people who read the Bible as the Spirit speaks to them are excited because it seems as if every word was written for them. They are convicted, taught, challenged, led, given insight, encouraged and sometimes rebuked while reading the Scriptures.

Admittedly, there are no formulas for hearing the Spirit. There are times He speaks to us when we are far from Him. However, those are extreme cases. Usually, the person who sets his mind on the Spirit will hear from the Spirit and those who set their minds on the flesh will not hear from the Spirit. The latter will not be dead but they will certainly be playing dead. They have allowed the things of this world to choke out the words of the Spirit. They would honestly say that the Christian life is boring. They would look for a more exciting place for church. They would seek new revelations which will give them greater insight in spiritual matters. They will seek teachers who will tickle their ears rather than rattle their cages.

Hearing from the Spirit is as easy (or as hard, depending on how you look at it) as making a full commitment to the Lord. Say, "I confess that I have not listened to Your Spirit, Lord. I make a full commitment to You today that I will do whatever You say. I ask You to speak for I am your servant who is fully committed to you."

I have found amazing things to have happened when I did this. I have picked up my Bible and read something that I have often read before but this time I have gotten a new understanding which applied to my life and what the Lord wanted me to do. I have found that my prayer life is completely changed when I pray as the Spirit leads. I see the things that God is doing and pray for them. I see God change the world around me through these prayers. I know that it isn't me that is working but my spirit is communicating with the Holy Spirit to know (some of) the mind of God.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit waits for me to be quiet before He speaks. I pray my prayer of commitment to Him. I continue to pray until I am silent. Then, He speaks. I wonder if He was just waiting for me to be quiet. He did not want to interrupt.

It should be normal for every believer to hear the Spirit speak. The reason believers fail to listen is because they have something between Him and themselves.  They would hear from the Spirit if they would simply repent, confess and commit themselves to the Lord.

I believe the Holy Spirit has a lot to say to us today. Are you listening?

1John 4:13 (ESV)
By this we know that we abide in him and he is us, because he has given us his Spirit.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Today I Trust in the Name of the Lord Our God

I have been fairly negative about the way things are going. I have almost given up on our country's recovery from moral decline. I have almost given up on getting control of the national debt. I have almost given up on an economic recovery. I have almost given up because I have forgotten that there is a strength beyond mankind that can turn things around.

I have been afraid and I have given in to my fears. I have assumed that nothing could be done when something must be done. I have looked at men and known they didn't have the nature nor the strength to do what needs to be done.

But no more. I will finally do what I know must be done. I will cast my fears upon Him because He wants them and He can do something with them. I will stop depending upon men (and women) to change things by themselves. I will not look to their strength or charisma to get these things done.

I will release my future to the understanding of one day. Each day will fill my life. I cannot live in tomorrows. Each day will have its own concerns. Each day will have its own opportunities. I will live in that day fully. I will no longer make plans for tomorrow without making sure things are right today.

I will truly believe that something better is coming because I have given my cares over to the Lord. I will seek Him and His kingdom and expect Him to provide my every need. I will take Him at His word. I will need no other proof.

Today I will see the opportunities that He has given me. I will recognize them as ways of teaching me, holding me accountable, causing me to give Him glory and making me into His likeness. I will not curse the inconveniences and hardships. Instead, I will notice how they have changed me.

My trust shall be in Him. Besides, worrying and believing in man for salvation has never worked.

Psalm 20:7 (NIV)  
7  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Was I thinking?

This morning I drove over to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to ride in a Multiple Sclerosis Bike Ride. They have 30, 60, 150 and 200 mile rides. (One day rides were 30 and 60 miles. Two day rides were 75 and 100 miles each day.) I chose the one day 60 mile ride. I hadn't trained one minute. In fact, I had to put air in the tires on my road bike because it had been three years since I had ridden it.

I blew out of the starting place at an incredible pace. For the first two hours I passed everyone I saw. I kept telling my self, "This isn't so hard." Sometime during the third hour rigor mortis set in. My legs stated to cramp and everyone whom I had passed earlier passed me. The next two hours were horrible. My legs cramped, I became extremely thirsty (even though I was constantly drinking liquids) and hands became numb. I wondered if I would finish the ride.

What was I thinking when I signed up for this ride without any training? What was I thinking when I rode so hard at the beginning and had nothing left to finish the ride? What was I thinking when I failed to remember that I will be 56 years old within a month?

Wisdom says that you discern something before making a decision. You see I acted foolishly. I deceived myself. I thought that my riding to and from church every day constituted conditioning. Ten to eleven miles a day will not prepare anyone for riding sixty miles. I deceived myself into thinking that I could do what I did when I was thirty. I deceived myself into believing that I would have plenty of energy left over at the end of the ride. I was wrong. I acted foolishly. Isn't that the way we so often make foolish decisions? We deceive ourselves.

Its a little after 4:00 PM now in Virginia Beach. I think I'll go to bed now. This may be the best decision I made all day!

Proverbs 14:8 (ESV)
8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.