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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why I Haven't Restored People to Their Faith

Most of us have walked some distance away from the Lord at some time in our lives. Many of us needed a crisis to bring us back to Him. We understand the story of the Prodigal who would look at his present circumstances and reason it is better to be a servant in the house of the Father than be in complete control of the pigpen. Therefore, we went home.

This process seems normal to us now. However, it is not God's design. Other believers should have noticed the distance between us and the Lord. They should have done something. 

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying they were responsible for my behavior. I, and you, did the walking away. We could have walked over these believers to get where we wanted to be. In fact, we probably would have.

Why don't we say something when we see others walk away from the Lord; especially when it is obvious? Here are the things I have observed in my own life.

I fail to understand that the sin has captured them. They are caught in a lie that says that the sin will not affect their relationship with the Lord. This lie says that the sin is better than walking in purity. This lie says that true joy will be found when this sin is completed. This lie says the action isn't sin at all. It is just fulfilling desire.

I, too often, see them as making a conscious choice through the whole process to complete their sinful walk. I, therefore, do not see my own responsibility of bringing them home. Unfortunately, my attitude is too often: "You made your bed. Now you will have to sleep in it!" This is a flaw in my character. It is not true love. It is an excuse for abdicating my responsibility to others.

I fail to take a gentle attitude toward them. I am more like Paul when he deals with John Mark. I will not take them on a journey with me. I understand that they will need to rebuild my trust when they return to the Lord but I must be gentle with them to bring them home. I am more likely to tell them the consequences of their harmful behavior than the benefits of walking with the Lord. Both must be said  for they temper each other. 

I don't want to go where they are. There is a measure of danger of restoring another person. You have to remain close to them while trying to call them out of their sinfulness. It means you are susceptible to what they are doing.  You must be sure that you are walking with the Lord is a strong walk before pulling someone out of sin. You must be spiritual; not merely someone who knows the Lord. This spiritual walk must be maintained carefully while you remain close to the one in sin. It is very easy to be pulled into their sin with them.

I don't like carrying others' burdens. I think I have enough of my own and leave others alone. This is a very selfish and lazy attitude. It is extremely unloving. I fail to understand the law of Christ which is a life of love which is laid down for my friends.

Surely, there are those whom I will go to who will be captured by sin anyway. I cannot bear the responsibility for their actions. I only have a responsibility for my own. I am responsible for noticing when people are captured. Trying gently to restore them while remaining close to them. I am responsible for fasting and praying that they will return to the relationship they once had with the Lord.

Would this make a difference in the way we deal with sin in the church? I think so. The flaw is not merely in those who are caught in a sin but in those who stand idly by and let them do so. I, for one, cannot allow this to continue to happen. 

I will be a part of the restoration of others.

Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV)
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What Does God Say about Living Together without Marriage?

You may already know the answer to this. The world has distorted the truth. I have heard so many things come from the world that seeks to justify sin. Let's look at some of these things:

"We were already committed to each other so why do we need a piece of paper to allow us to live together?" This is a common explanation for people to live together. Immature Christians agree with them. But I want to ask if God sees marriage as a piece of paper. It didn't include a piece of paper when it began. It started with a commitment to God and to the other person. Adam did a couple of things which need to be done in every marriage.

He identified with his wife as one with him. He said she was flesh of his flesh. He wasn't merely claiming that she came from his rib but that he was committed to her as he was to any part of himself. It was a permanent vow to his wife.

He made this commitment before God. It was not done in the backseat of a car. It was done as he knew God was present. In fact, God gave away the first bride. There was nothing shady about the whole affair. He was not breaking a law of God. He was participating with God in this marriage ceremony.

He named his wife. This was part of his identification with her. Today, a wife generally accepts her husband's last name. This is part of her commitment to her husband as well as his identification with her. This does not come because of any piece of paper but as a sign of the agreement they are in with each other.

Now, what is different about this and a couple living together without marriage? Do I really have to answer this?

Another excuse is, "God only put those marriage laws in place to prevent pregnancy outside of marriage. This rule of God was cultural like those of not wearing jewelry or not eating shellfish." This argument makes sense if sex is merely a biological experience but the Bible does not make it such. The Bible says that the sexual act joins us with the other person and brings the presence of the Lord into the act. (1 Corinthians 6:16-17) This means that the act of sex is a bonding act. It is more than biological.

I have heard believers say, "It was only sex." This seems to indicate that sex is akin to telling a woman that she looked good in a dress when it really made her look fat. In other words, no harm; no foul. Then, why does God say that the marriage bed should be kept holy?  God points out that He will judge the fornicators and adulterers. Fornication is the act of sex without marriage.

It is clear that sex was made for marriage and marriage should include sex. The Bible is very clear about this.

Proverbs 5:18-19 (NASB)
Let your fountain be blessed,
  And rejoice in the wife of your youth.
As a loving hind and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
Be exhilarated always with her love.

Now, that's some good Bible, huh?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is Life's Gauge on Full or Empty?

So, how's it going for you? Is life everything you expected it to be? Do you get up saying, "Good morning, God!" or "Good God, it's morning!"? Is your life boring? Do you hate going to work? Do you wonder how your marriage could get so mundane? Is church attendance more of a habit than an act of worship? Do you feel like you are merely talking to yourself when you pray? Do your children feel like more of a chore than a blessing? Are you tired all the time?

Would you like things to get better?

This is where I am supposed to tell you of the miracle cure that has been discovered by extracting the oils emitted between the toes of bats . . . or something like that. Let's see if we can use some good spiritual sense here instead.

Everyone's life has ups and downs. The idea that every day is going to be like winning the lottery is a myth. There is no one who has lived happily ever after without a few bumps in the road. There will be days that life will be hard. Jesus promised this. He said that we would have tribulation (troubles) in this world. We should expect it. We live in a fallen world.

This means everything in your life will have days when it is dull, mundane and a chore. This is not such bad news unless your whole universe is wrapped up in the moment you are in. Bad days will help us recognize God's goodness and yearn for His presence if we do not think that we have been condemned to only bad days. Things will get better no matter how bad the situation is. Even the believer who has cancer without any hope of recovery will have a complete recovery when he sees Jesus.

People who tell you that they have never had a bad day are just pretending. They have had bad days but they may have focused on their past good days or recognized that the bad days won't last. Jesus said that we should be a good courage because He had overcome the world. This means that there is nothing outside of His control to change. Positive people may simply be looking toward the good days but I assure you that they have had their share of bad days.

Everyone has days when their lives are empty. They may work to keep themselves busy so that they do not think of how things are really going but they would have to admit that their gauge is on empty if they would stop and think about it. Jesus did not come into the world to make life on this earth easy or pleasant. He came so that we might be saved. He came so that we might know we are forgiven. He came so that we would know the God who loves us. He came to teach us how to live our lives through these difficulties. He came to give us an abundant life.

Circumstances do not have to determine what we do. The Apostle Paul wrote that we should rejoice in the Lord always while he was in prison. We can rejoice while we are in the middle of a difficult time. This does not mean that the circumstances are less dire. They may be terrible but our rejoicing comes when we realize that God knows all about what we are going through and has a solution. We can rejoice and still admit things are less than optimal.

Your ministry is not determined by whether your life's gauge is on full or empty. Paul wrote much of the New Testament while he was in prison. I suppose he could have lamented that he would not have as much impact by writing letters rather than by preaching. Yet, we have no one who would attest to his preaching. We have millions who would praise God for his writing. The worst place you can be might be your most useful place.

So, your life's gauge may be full. Things are going great. You have money in the bank, the job you have always wanted, a spouse who loves you, children whom you are proud of, a nice house, two new cars and a dog that brings you your slippers and paper when you get in each evening. Good for you but it won't last forever. Life isn't like that. Even celebrities who have more money than they can spend have terrible days.

Maybe your life seems empty. Nothing is working out. You have debts past your eyeballs, a job that you hate, a spouse who tries to poison you at breakfast, children who have you, a falling down house, a car that uses more oil than gas and a dog that chews your shoes to smithereens every night. This won't last either. Life isn't like this.  Even homeless guys gather around a great Thanksgiving meal at the Salvation Army.

Is life's gauge on full or empty? So what?

I cycle. There aren't any hills in Virginia Beach but there were plenty when I was in Nashville. There was one hill that I would have to go into my lowest gear to climb. It even had a name--Red Hill. It was very hard to go up. I would have to stand on the pedals and my legs were screaming in pain as I slowly climbed that hill. Eventually, I topped the hill and had the most exhilarating ride down the other side. I couldn't have gotten to that part of the ride without climbing that hill.

Maybe empty is just a good excuse to be filled.

Philippians 4:4-5 (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Humility vs the Attitude of a Loser

Many people think that they are being humble when they put themselves down. They make fun of themselves, call themselves stupid, clumsy, ugly or any number of deprecating characteristics. They fail to see what they are doing. They are saying that God did a very poor job with His creation. These people may call themselves "rotten ole sinners" and believe this is what God wants them to call themselves. They are saying that God is unable to do anything with them. They are giving themselves an excuse to be a loser.

These potential losers cannot see God's plans bigger than they have right now. They can't see that God who made their mouths could have them speak for Him. They do not see that God who created their intellect could have them create something magnificent for Him. They do not see that God is working on them at all. They can only see what is in front of them and it scares them to think bigger thoughts. They are afraid of having their fears confirmed with failure. They are afraid that others will agree with them in their own deprecation.

Therefore, they will depreciate their jobs and their churches. They will make excuses every time you enter their cars or houses. They make themselves small and hope that someone will tell them that they are bigger than they are claiming to be.

However, their attitude will never let them get beyond where they are. They will be losers because they have determined it. They have judged themselves with their own words and condemned themselves with their attitudes.

Losers cannot be humble. They are thinking of themselves too much to be so.

Humble people do not think little of themselves; they don't think of themselves at all. Humble people realize that there is a power that is greater than they are. They realize that the plans that God has for them are bigger than they are. They are amazed that God has chosen them and they count it as a privilege. They see themselves as God's children. They see themselves as royalty. They know they have incredible privileges because of who they are. They can accomplish anything when God has called them into it.

Humble people know that God is always working on them. They do not call themselves, who are God's creation, deprecating names. They know they have sinned but they do not condemn themselves as sinners. They know that they do not possess the strength to be great outside of God's power so they give Him all the glory for the things He is doing in their lives. They do not condemn themselves to what they are because they know there is something better and God is presently bringing it to them.

I know that my God is big enough to make me better than I am. I know that it is He who is my strength. I know that I am wonderfully made. I am because of the great I AM. I am a winner. I am His.

Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blaming Others for Our Sins

Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit. They have lost their innocence. They are confronted by God. When Adam is asked if he has eaten what he shouldn't he replies, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Did Adam just blame God for his sin?

That seems to be the method of many unrepentant people. They blame others for causing them to sin. Someone doesn't come to church so they blame the church for not checking on them. Someone commits adultery so she blames her husband for not giving her enough attention. Someone embezzles from his business and he blames the lack of controls which would have prevented him for doing so. Does this really make sense?

The repentant person admits that he has sinned. He admits that he has fallen short of God's glory. He admits that he is responsible. Yes, there are contributing factors but they did not force a person to sin. Rape is rape because a person is forced to commit the act. It is not a sin. Adultery is a sin because no one forces the person to commit adultery. Should we accept the explanations and give absolution because someone has a contributing factor to their sins?

It bothers me that people are doing that very thing. They are taking the responsibility for others sins. The church members are accepting the sin of a member because they did not stop that member from sinning. The spouse is saying he didn't spend enough time with his wife and takes responsibility for the affair. All the while people are quoting, "Judge not; lest ye be judged."

Let's admit it. There will be no change without repentance. There will be no repentance as long as others are blamed. There will be no change without going a different direction. The direction will not be changed as long as nothing has to be changed.

Newton's first law of motion states: "Unless acted upon by a net external force, a body, at rest, will remain at rest and a body, in motion, will remain in motion." Let's apply that to sinfulness. A person will remain in his sin unless responding to the Holy Spirit who will convict him of his sin. He confesses (says the same as God says about the sin in that he acknowledges that he needs repentance) and is cleansed from all unrighteousness.

Newton's second law of motion states: "If net external force on a body is zero, then its velocity remains constant." Applying this to sin. Sin remains constant if there is nothing changing the sin.

We can neither give the responsibility for our sins to others nor accept the responsibility for others' sins. Conviction, confession and repentance keeps our whole society from getting worse and worse. We just can't blame others for our sins.

Psalm 51:4 (NIV)
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How Do People Lose Their Faith?

Faith is not merely an intellectual matter. In fact, much of our understanding which has been called intellectual must be ignored to have faith. For example: reason says that the meek shall have nothing for they have fought for nothing. Faith says that the meek shall inherit the earth. Reason says that needs must be sought by the one who needs them. Faith says that the one who seeks God first will have his needs met.

Faith is not a measure of intellect. Many very intelligent people have given their lives to Christ. Many have not. Many people of average or less than average intellect have given their lives to Christ. Many of these also have not.

Faith is found in the heart. It is not a matter of the brain. The mind believes it, the feeling feel it and the will determines it. It is not something that can be explained. It is not something which feeds the intellect nor deprives the intellect.

People allow other things to crowd out their faith when they fail to guard their hearts. They will get involved in a sport or work at times when they need to be guarding their hearts. They will reason that they are not under the law that says they must read their Bibles and pray every day. They will reason that most people miss church a few weeks a year. They will reason that they need their money more than the church does. They will reason that everyone falls off the spiritual wagon every once in a while.

Their faith has moved from their hearts to their intellect.. It becomes reasonable and it is not reasonable to deny yourself anything you want.

From here it is a short trip to no faith at all. Faith cannot exist as something that can be reasoned in a fallen world. The intellect of a fallen world will give a fallen reasoning. And from here any sin can be launched. The heart has been lost. The faith has been subdued.

Proverbs 27:19 (NKJV)
As in water face reflects face, So a man's heart reveals the man.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jesus Changes Jerks

I have acted like a jerk before. I may have been tired or frustrated. I may have been irritated by something. It isn't an excuse for acting like a jerk. There is no real justification. It is the action of a person who does not care how he acts when he is less than comfortable. However, acting like a jerk does not make me a jerk.

The trouble is that some people aren't acting. They are jerks. They are merely expressing what they have in their hearts. It may be fear, pride or selfishness that makes them jerks. It may be hatred of events in their lives or hatred of people in general that keeps them current among jerks. Loneliness may make someone a jerk and keep them as such.

I ask myself why a person is presenting himself as a jerk. Did I do something that makes people act like this or is this something deep in their hearts. Most of the time I will never know. None of my friends are jerks. I haven't had much desire to hang around jerks. I don't think they would want me to anyway.

The only way to change a jerk is to change his heart. That is not something that we can do. We neither have the right nor the ability to change another person's heart.

God said He wanted to give us new hearts. That would certainly change a jerk into a new creation.

Have you ever thought what kind of jerk you would be if not for Jesus changing your heart? Have you ever thought what you might have become?

I heard a preacher ask his congregation to stand if they had participated in the sins Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians. I decided to do the same thing is my own congregation. I read the scriptures and ask if they would stand if they had participated in any of those sins. The whole congregation stood at once. (Even those asleep stood up but didn't know why!)

Yes, Jesus changes us. . .even jerks.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV)
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Is Hate Speech?

Hate speech is hard to define. The social acceptance of what was once anathema has resulted in loving what was universally hated and hating what was universally loved. For example, I can be considered a hate monger for saying that homosexuality is wrong while another person may be applauded for saying that Christianity is mean-spirited. It was not so long ago that these roles would have been reversed.

Does this mean that our definitions of wrong and right have changed? No, wrong and right will never change as long as the same source for determining righteousness isn't changed. The problem is that people have leaned toward what is universally accepted as the definition of wrong and right. In other words, something is wrong or right because of the number of people who believe it is.

This is dangerous. Justification by number rather than rule of law will result in the minority being oppressed. An illegal action can be justified when a "majority" argument is acceptable. "I just did what everyone else was saying (or doing)," makes the breaking of a law reasonable when using the rule of the majority. Therefore, looting and other chaos can be justified after the winning of a Superbowl or the perceived injustice of a criminal verdict.

Thus, hate speech can be anything we don't agree with. Censorship will be employed if enough people join us. It is a short distance between this and the censorship of communist countries. Of course, we would say that our motivation is to promote unity and keep the peace. I'll bet the leaders of the communist countries would say the same thing.

I actually anticipate that some day I will be accused of hate speech when I say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I know there are those who say that pluralism is the order of the day but they fail to see that Islam, Hinduism and any other non Judeo-Christian faith is welcomed in schools and government. Freedom of religion is becoming practically defined as freedom from the Christian faith. It is natural to see it become hate speech if current trends prevail.

 I don't see how hate speech will ever be defined. I deplore the words of the KKK and other radically militant groups that promote violence between people. I would support laws that would prevent speech which directly leads to violence against other groups. However, I do not believe we should prevent people from espousing their beliefs. That even goes for those with whom I disagree.

We often applaud the freedoms that we have in our country. These freedoms are not found in most of the world. They have been paid for with the precious blood of those who have fought for these "inalienable" rights. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

How long will I be able to proclaim without fear of prosecution?:

This Jesus is the stone that is rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why Is the Christian Life So Boring?

Most Christians appear to be bored. They are bored with the church, the worship, the music, the message, the word and those they meet with. They want something more but they are unwilling to commit anything more. They are getting just as much out of their faith as they are putting in. They search for churches who claim to have more than they are receiving now. Some are claiming that there are blessings that God has for them that will not receive at other churches.

I really don't believe the problem is in the churches these bored Christians are attending. I believe the bored Christians are not embracing God's will for their lives. They either don't know that God cares for each of His children individually or they aren't willing to act like His children. They may want to act like God is just someone who helps them get what they want. He is the one that gives gifts but doesn't call upon them be His presence on the earth.

The church is a body. Each Christian is a part of that body. Each part of a body has a function. Each part of the body must function or the body will be handicapped. Each believer must know how God has gifted him. Each believer must also use his gifts by knowing God's will. God gives His will to those who will do as He says.

The Christian life is boring when the Christian wants to be waited on. The Christian becomes a consumer in his church rather than a functioning part of the body. He acts like a child who must be entertained rather than someone who has enlisted in God's army.

No Christian should act like a child for long. He should grow in the faith by doing what God has called him to do. He may teach or serve in a multitude of other ministries within the church. He should ask God what he should do. He should know that being a disciple of Christ means he must serve somewhere. He cannot be committed to Christ and now serve Him.

Serving Christ is a commitment that requires faith. It may mean that the Christian commits to a mission trip without knowing where the funds are coming from that will pay for that mission trip. It may be that the Christian takes up the challenge to teach when he has never taught before. It may mean that a Christian commits to give to God an amount that he doesn't think he can afford. It may mean that the Christian commits to witnessing when he the fear of witnessing paralyzes him.

One thing is for sure; the Christian who goes where God leads will not be bored.  He will be growing. He will not notice what is not happening in his church because he is too busy doing what God has called him to do. He is not searching for a new "teaching" which will bring blessings he never new he had because he is being blessed with God's very close walk with him.

I was in Scotland about sixteen or seventeen years ago talking with a lady who would go down to her village square and engage people in conversations about God. Her goal was to win others to Christ. She was being used of God as an effective witness for Him. Some Christians were urging her to stop doing so. I wondered why.

She told me, "I don't know why people say that Christianity is boring. I think it is very exciting!"

Of course, she did. She was doing what God was leading her to do by faith. She was pleasing her Lord. This is always very exciting.

The Apostle Paul never seemed to be bored. Have you ever wondered why?

Philippians 2:1-2 (NKJV)
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort in love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Searching for God in All the Wrong Places

How do you explain the change that God brings upon an individual? Many people on the outside do not understand it. They see that a friend, who was participating with them in their way of thinking, changed overnight. They assume that the friend is delusional. The friend cannot explain why he has changed. He talks different. His way of looking at things is different. Those who have never experienced this change do not believe they would be able to accomplish the same change. They don't want to.

"Surely, my friend will come to his senses. This must be a religious phase. How can he change like this? What kind of power has come over him?" are the thoughts of those who have never experienced this change. In a way, they are right. There has been a power that has come over the believer. They are like an engine that has just been started. It was cold and lifeless but the spark was ignited and now it hums with power. They are like a house that was once lifeless. It was silent and decaying. Now, the house has an inhabitant who is improving its looks.

Those who have never experienced this change often believe in God. They just don't believe He can inhabit a person. They just don't believe He can be personally known. They struggle with the observation of someone whom they have known becoming someone else. It may even scare them. They want to explain it psychologically and may even read (supposed) studies which boil the whole experience down to psychology and physiology. They struggle with the idea of a Holy Spirit or even spirits in general.

God came to live in that individual. It is not religion that changed the person. It is not their effort to change. It is the outside force of the Holy Spirit coming to make a difference. The changed person's spirit became alive. His heart of stone was exchanged for a heart of flesh. He finally sees his purpose of giving God glory. He understands forgiveness for the first time. He gives grace where he never gave grace. He has wisdom because he listens to God. His whole person has been changed.

There are a lot of fakers in the church. They claim to have been changed by God but careful examination of their lives reveals a person who is simply masking their original condition. They are unchanged at the heart though they may be a fully dunked member of the church. They may even get into church leadership. They may even learn the lingo of the believers. They may be the only ones who know their hearts are vacant. They assume that is the condition of everyone who call themselves believers.

The change that Jesus brings into an individual's life is not explainable. It can only be experienced. It is supernatural.

People will search for the evidence of God everywhere. They will explain away the evidence every time they see Him. Yet, the evidence for the presence of God is not in some scientific study. It is not in the paranormal.

It (He) is found in the changed heart of a true believer.

Romans 8:9 (NIV)
9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Must I Do It All by Myself?

I ride a bicycle to work each day. It gives me time to think. This morning I was thinking of all the things I had to do today. Suddenly, it struck me, "Why do I have to be the one that does all these things?" The truth is that I don't. Few people would expect me to do many of the things I do. Why must I do it myself?

I started thinking Moses encounter with his father-in-law. (I came into my office, took a Bible, flipped it open and it landed exactly on the page where the story is recorded. How weird is that?!) His father-in-law, Jethro, watches Moses judge the people all day. Moses even has a good explanation of why he must do so. He tells the people how God decides in their disputes. Jethro doesn't understand why Moses has to be the only one to judge. He is not able to be the leader he needs to be and the people must stand in lines all day to hear his judgment. I am sure that lots of disputes were worked out outside the system. The strong will rule over the weak in the absence of a governing authority. I'll bet  some days the lines were just too long for some people.

Jethro tells Moses he should appoint others to handle the minor disputes and let only the major ones come to him. He agrees. The result makes Moses and the people a whole lot happier. God's will is accomplished better too.

Is there something within me that says that I must do everything? Do I think that others can't do it as well as I do? Do I think that I am slacking off if I don't have more to do than humanly possible? Do I think that I am God's only chosen servant? None of this makes sense.

I think my problem is that I don't trust people to do things the way that I do them. I need to give that up. Of course, they won't do things the way I would do them. They aren't me! They shouldn't be expected to. Sometimes they will do things much better than I do even if it isn't the way I wanted them done. Even if they don't do them as well, their doing the more minor job will free me to do the more major jobs.

So, I must think of all the things I am doing. I must decide which ones that I absolutely must do. I should decide which ones I love to do. These are the ones that make me come to work each day. Then, I must give away everything else.

It will be hard. I won't like it at first. I may not ever like it but it will allow me to do what I really need to be doing.

How about you? Are you trying to do it all?

Exodus 18:17-18 (NIV)
17 Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just Get Over It!

I never wanted to be a Baptist. I became one because I read the Bible and Baptist were a people of the Book. I became a Baptist, not because other denominations weren't of the Book, but because Baptist were. I got dunked soon afterward and joined a Baptist church.

Now, Baptist have had a long running denominational controversy. We don't agree on how we should interpret the Bible. We publish editorials and attack each other so that we can show ourselves right and others wrong. The result has not been pretty.

What is in us that makes us want to show others how wrong they are? Why can't we agree to disagree on some things and cooperate on the things we can agree on? Why can't we just get over it?

Getting over it is as hard to do as an organization as it is as an individual. Your sister says something that you don't like so you don't speak to her until she admits she is wrong. Where is the Christian grace in that? Why not just get over it?

The congregation tells a pastor that his sermons are too long. He responds with a campaign of sermons that speak of censoring the word of God. Why not find out if that is the general consensus and take their criticism as constructive? Why not get over it?

A spouse is unfaithful. It is extremely painful. The hurt takes away all trust that you have for your spouse. Yes, here you need an admission of wrong because you don't want it to continue. However, the bottom line is that you will have to decide to get over it or you will never have a healthy relationship with your spouse again. No one can live with constant condemnation. They will never be able to pay back what they have done to you. You cannot hope of them feeling your pain. Eventually, you will have to get over it or you will force them to do something more drastic. They will either leave, commit the sin again or stay and be as good as gone.

Some things you simply have to decide to get over. Not all things are so easy. Some things require you to forgive based on the blood of Jesus. The power in His spilled blood will enable you to forgive. You claim His blood for the basis of your forgiveness. You cannot hold the debt against someone that the blood of Jesus has forgiven. It is the only way to get over it.

Your life will be much better if you will release the debts you are holding against others. I know you are afraid of being hurt again. I know that you believe that holding others' wrongs against them will prevent you from being hurt but the truth is that holding others' wrong assures you will continue to be hurt. There is nothing to prevent you from being hurt again. You must get over it or you will be a slave to the wrong done against you.

Just get over it! You'll be happier if you do.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Monday, July 19, 2010

There Is Still Hope

There have been many times that circumstances seemed to overcome God's people. It seemed impossible for God's people to leave Egypt. They were feared by the Egyptians who had made them slaves. Surely Pharoah would not let them go. How would he build his great cities and monuments without the Hebrews.

God called Moses and the rest is history.

Jericho was a royal city. Its walls were thirty foot thick. So thick that people lived within the walls. There was no known manmade force that could bring these walls down. God asked His people to follow His plan and the walls came tumbling down.

Jehoshaphat was surrounded by all the ites - Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites. Victory was impossible. He calls for a prayer meeting. He says, "We don't know what to do but our eyes are on you." Soon, Jehaziel gets a word from God that they don't have to fight at all. Jehoshaphat puts his choir in front singing, "Give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love endures forever." All the ites attack each other. Jehoshaphat takes three days to carry away the loot that he didn't fight for. His enemy is eliminated without he or his army lifting a finger.

Then, there is Jesus. They put Him on a cross and publically executed Him. They stuck a spear in His side to make sure He was dead. They buried Him in a tomb. He stayed there for a little while but come Sunday morning He got up!

There are many people crying doom and gloom in this country. I have been one of them. However, this morning I told myself to stop this nonsense. I know better than this.

As long as God is on His throne, there is hope.

As long as God knows what we need, there is hope.

As long as God is all powerful, there is hope.

As long as God loves us, there is hope.

There is hope even though our national debt is beyond our comprehension. There is hope even if wrong is being made right and right is being made wrong. There is hope even if the circumstances indicate there will be a double dip recession. There is hope even if our elected officials don't seem to see the consequences of what they are doing.

Yes, there is hope but not because we have put that hope in the economy or elected officials. There is hope but not because we believe that BP can stop an oil leak. There is hope but not because we trust people to do the right thing. There is hope but not because the stimulous bill is working. There is hope but not because terrorism has been stopped. There is hope but not because I have the answer to your or my own problems.

There is hope because God is a God of hope! And He is still God!

My hope is placed in Him. I don't believe He will ultimately disappoint me. He is my hope.

Psalm 43:5 (ESV)
Why are you downcast, O my soul,
     and why are you in turmoil within
Hope in God; for I shall again praise
     my salvation and my God.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Is a Real Man?

Real men do exist. However, they are rare. Most women have searched for a real man. Most have settled for something less. Most men don't know what a real man is. They have had such few examples to emulate. They have believed that real men win ever fight they enter, out-drink every other man at the bar and out-cuss anyone who comes near. Some men never enter this contest. They stay away from the bars, don't fight and don't use bad language. They are still as clueless in what a real man is. They get married and follow their wives to church or wherever they lead.

The good news is that it is never too late to become a real man. Here are the characteristics of a real man.

A real man will not sell his soul to anyone or anything. He has given his soul to the Lord. There is nothing left to sell. His word is true. His promises are kept.

A real man leads his family. He does not defer to his wife for every decision. His leadership is one that protects and nurtures the family. He will sacrifice his own life to do what is necessary for his family. Neither his work nor hobbies will take precedence over his family. He will work hard long hours to provide. He will allow his wife to work outside the home if she would like but will not require her to do so. He will listen to his wife and make decisions with her. He will not simply put the decisions in her hands. He is never a dictator but he will make the decision if he and his wife disagree. He will not do what he feels is wrong for the sake of peace alone.

A real man does not own a Bible. His Bible owns him. He reads it and follows it. He goes to church to hear it explained. He explains it to other men and women. He keeps the word of God true by the way he lives. He keeps the word of God alive because he seeks it to bring life to him and his family.

A real man does not have to pretend to be a man. He does not have to brag about his accomplishments. He does not have to show how powerful he is. He does not have to ask for admiration.

A real man has an awe of God. He knows God's power and wisdom. He knows God's love and expects that God will reward him for his faithfulness. He expects that the things God has said are best. He believes that following them will result in the best. He gives each day to the Lord and follows Him with the expectation that God will do something grand in his life.

A real man has faith. He knows that bad times come to everyone. He does not blame God for the bad times but goes to God for wisdom in handling these bad times. He prays to God when there are needs beyond anything that wisdom can supply. He has confidence that God will provide when there is no other evidence. He simply believes and puts his beliefs to work.

Being a real man is a tall order. It is a challenge for every man. It takes God's help and a man's willing heart.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
11  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Solving Problems

Not every problem's solution is spelled out in the Bible. There are no "Steps That Guarantee Profit in Business." There are no "Ways to Fire Employees and Keep Your Christian Witness." These are things that you must do without a template. Each business is different. Each situation is too.

This is as true in the church as it is outside the church. There are plenty of people telling you how to run the church but none of them have found their models in the Bible. Typically, they will find something that works and look for a scripture to support it. Or they might follow a principle in the Bible by applying their specific method of accomplishing it. Either way, there are no specified solutions to many of the Church's specific problems.

Of course, there are personal problems too. You don't know whether you should let your daughter go out with a certain guy. You don't know whether or not you should take a new job. You don't know whether or not you should date a certain girl. You don't know whether or not you should buy a new car or which car to buy. At least, you don't know the answer to these things by reading the Bible.

Why doesn't the Bible specify on how each problem should be solved? It would be so big that no one could carry it if it did. No, the Bible doesn't tell us how to solve all the problems because it has told us to ask God for wisdom. It has said that He will give it to us generously.

Have you ever thought that God is like a father who teaches us all our lives. He wants us coming to Him with our problems. Therefore, He promises to give us the wisdom needed for each of them. He wants us to interact with Him in these problems. He wants to show us His love through giving us the wisdom needed to make the right decisions.

Sometimes the answer to a problem is not God's power but His wisdom. Sometimes He expects us to do the work after we have brought Him our problem.

Maybe problems are really opportunities to talk with God.

James 1:5 (NIV)
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously without finding fault, and it will be give to him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Process of the Disciple-Maker

Jesus told us to make disciples but hardly anyone knows how to do so. Maybe that's why so many people think that discipleship is a course taken rather than the following of a master.

Many of us have a hard time being called a master. We know that we are flawed and hope that no one follows our complete example. We are afraid to tell people to do what we do. It makes us extremely responsible to that person. We don't like watching our own actions so scrupulously so that they will be examples to those whom we disciple. We would rather teach a course than to make disciples.

But how will people have an example of a disciple if they don't have someone to observe? Shouldn't that mean that all people who seek to fulfill Jesus' command to make disciples are to be examples that others will follow?

We are so often found saying, "Don't look at me! Look at Jesus!" Yes, this is proper in one sense but was that what Paul wrote to his disciples? Didn't he say that they should do as he did?

Paul also admitted that he had the same clay feet which plague all Christians. His disciples followed an example of humility as Paul told them this. It was important that they know that Paul was not hiding his flaws. It was just as important for him to say that they should do as he did. They needed to see someone who was doing the work of the disciple.

Being perfect is not the example a master should set for his disciples. Jesus said that the master should teach the disciples to observe all that He commanded. This observance will often mean that the master will confess his or her own failures to those being led. This example will eliminate the immature Christians who look down on others while hiding their own faults. This example will put observing what Jesus commanded above merely knowing what Jesus commanded.

A master must teach and the disciple must learn. The master must act and the disciple must see. The process of discipleship is one of learning, receiving, hearing and seeing. It is held in both the classroom and the field. It results in changed lives because it is led and practiced by lives that have been changed so that lives can be changed.

And, yes, God will be with you through the whole process.

Philippians 4:9 (NIV)
9  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Not Over Yet!

Joseph is in prison. His brothers have sold him into slavery. His master's wife has accused him of rape. His fellow prisoners have forgotten him. I know the whole story. I would have liked to have told him, "It's not over yet!"

Mary and Martha are crying their eyes out. They had sent for Jesus when their brother, Lazarus had gotten deathly ill but Jesus hadn't arrived in time. Their brother died. They put him in the tomb. It has been four days. Surely nothing good can happen now. I would have liked to have told them, "It's not over yet!"

The women who followed Jesus have heard Him say, "It is finished!" He has breathed His last. All that He has said makes no sense now. Life itself makes no sense. I would have liked to have told them, "It's not over yet!"

How many times have you been in despair for the moment because the moment is all that you could see? How many times did you think that it was over when it really wasn't?

This moment is not the end. God has not thrown in the towel. You shouldn't either. So what if the stock market crashes and the housing industry takes a double dip?  As long as God is on His throne, it's not over. He still speaks and acts. He still removes the word "impossible" from our vocabularies.

It's funny. This morning I got up and acted like God had been removed from His throne. This afternoon I know I was wrong. I forgot what I would like to tell so many others.

It's not over yet!

Revelation 4:2 (NIV)
2  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You May Be Killing Your Pastor

It is traditional for a church to have a pastor who is the leader of that church. He must be good at preaching and administration. He must counsel and discipline the members. He must be at every function, every hospital stay and every fellowship. He is expected to drop his vacation for a funeral or any other crisis in the church. His days off are hardly his days.

The pastor preaches tired sermons because they come from a tired man. He is typically overweight, diabetic and flirting with a heart attack by the time he is forty years of age. On top of this, he is the most criticized person because, even with all of his effort, he really hasn't been all places at all times. He has walked past a member when entering the church and been castigated down the halls and on the telephone for his unfriendliness. He has been accused of misuse of the church funds when there is an unexpected expense. He is considered lazy by some members because they don't see him at the hospital emergency rooms in the middle of the night. They don't know of the visits he makes to help a family heal through an adultery. They don't see him praying over the person in the nursing home who can't recall that he was there.

I am not in a church like the ones I am describing. However, I know several of my fellow pastors who are. They want to grow and help their congregations but the discouragement has become such a weight that they can hardly get up each morning. One said, "I feel like a boxer who has been hit so many times that I can't hold my hands up anymore. I don't have the energy to block the blows. I am just taking a beating and no one is there to call the fight."

Churches often elect search committees to find a pastor. They come back and tell the church that he can walk on water. He preaches a trial sermon and the church says that he can walk on water if the lake is frozen solid. They vote to call him their pastor. He comes. Within three months they say that he can't walk on frozen water but he can swim.  A year passes and the church says that he can't swim. Another year passes and they say that not only can he not swim but he is them down with him. They stand on the shore chanting, "Give up! Give up! Give up!" They want a new pastor. Even the one they got rid of before him seems better than the one they have now.

This ungodly action and attitude is killing pastors all over the world. It is the work of satan. It is his desire to see those whom God called become failures. These pastors feel like failures. They wonder who they have disappointed each day they enter. They wonder why God would make them go through this pain. They wish they could do something else with their lives. Eventually, they don't care if they live or die. They just want it all to end.

Of course, God will have the final word. He will "reward" each of these people for what they have done to their pastors. They will suffer for their own actions in this life too. They will have missed God's presence on this earth.

If you are a pastor reading this, I would like to tell you something that God has just told me to tell you. He has not forgotten you. He knows the struggles you are in. He knows your heart and He will deliver you. You may suffer for a little while but not forever. He is Almighty!

Now, send your pastor a note of encouragement. Believe me, he needs it.

Hebrews 13:17 (NIV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life Is Boring without a Vision

Today was like yesterday. Which was like so many days before it. Weeks have gone by. Even months. Routine is all that life has become. Mondays: back to work. Tuesdays: prepare reports that are due on Wednesday. Wednesdays: And so on and so on . . . .

Even church can get this way. You come and may even enjoy it. It wasn't memorable. It was church. The sermon was, well, a sermon. You endured it. You saw some friends. You went out to eat. You went home and took a nap.

Doesn't it seem like there ought to be something more than this? What is life if it has no exclamation marks? Do we just go along with society until we die? Have we fallen into graves with both ends kicked out (known better as ruts)?

Let's admit it. Life is like this without a vision. Life is merely jumping into a stream of people who will carry you wherever that stream leads if you don't have a vision. You need something that makes life worth living. You need something more than a faith that saves you but has no other affect until you die.

You can't have a vision and do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. The vision makes the swamp of your life into a river. It sets a goal for you to accomplish. It eliminates things that you will no longer have any time for. It consumes your life so that there is something at the end.  You will not be able to pick up a vision just when you feel like it.

Vision has more to do with who you are that what you will do. Your vision will define who you are. Who you are will define your vision. The vision must be greater than you think you can accomplish or it will be limited by who you are. It must contain faith.

Vision must come from beyond ourselves. It takes into account all that we are but it must come from somewhere else. It must be seen before we can see it with our eyes. It must exist inside before it can exist outside.

Vision is not stopped with hardship. It is not stopped by discouragement. Vision is followed. It is never pushed. It doesn't push well.

The real issue is that you need a vision from God. You need to ask Him to give you something that will make your life exciting. You need Him to give you something that will challenge you.

Have you received five talents, two talents or one talent from the Lord? I don't know. I just know He expects you to do more than just sit on them. He expects more than you are comfortable with. He expects faithfulness.

Proverbs 29:18 (NASB)
18 Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Questions While I Wait on God

Where is God when you desperately need Him? Where is He when you are all alone with your problem and there is no help in sight? Where is He when you can't do without a miracle? When your whole existence will be maliciously altered if He doesn't arrive?

We do our best to call to Him when we need Him the most. We cry, we fast, we give, we serve, we stay up at night praying and we beg. These are the desperate times in our lives. These are the times when we must have a job or a healing or a provision by God to get us through this crucial time in our lives.

Sometimes, regardless of all our efforts, God is silent. He says nothing. He makes no promises. He does not tell us what He is about to do. There is no indication that He is about to do anything. Is He on a far away journey? Is He unconcerned? Is He aware of the impending disaster? These questions run through our minds.

Should I expect Him to come to my rescue? Does He expect me to rescue myself? What if I have nothing I can do? What if I just want to know what I should do? I am willing. Just let me know and I'll do it. Here we are searching but still not finding Him.

How long should I wait until I give up? Can I accept God's absence? Will my faith remain through His silence? Should I accept what is happening as fate?

Is it because I don't have enough faith? Is God testing my faith? Do I need to tell myself to believe? Do I need to ask for more faith? Is faith a silly thing to have when no one shows up?

How do I give my problem to God when I can't seem to think of anything else? Am I just weak?

In the end, God always shows Himself. Sometimes He allows the disaster and carries me through it. Sometimes He simply rescues me.

I was worried but God was never hurried.

Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
10 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Christian's Bucket List

So, a movie comes out about the things two men want to do before they die and everyone starts making their own list. It is called a "bucket" list because its what you want to do before you "kick the bucket."

My first thought was, "Do Christians need a list like this?" At first, I dismissed the idea. Then, I of some of the things I have done and still need to do that have enhanced my life. I want my life to make a difference. These things have made profound differences in my life. They have changed me so that I can make a difference. I have not done all of them but I am working on those that I haven't.

Here they are:

1. Take a tour of the Holy Land. Most people wait until they think they can afford it. They are usually physically unable by the time that arrives. The trips I make to the Holy Land enhance my preaching and my faith. Don't wait too late to do this one.

2. Read the entire Bible. Know the books. Let the Holy Spirit read it to you.

3. Leave an inheritance for your children. This is biblical, by the way.

4. Get to know a missionary personally. Most Christians can name a missionary but can't say they know any of them. You need to know one in order to really have a heart for missions.

5. Give something to the Lord that means a great deal to you.

6. Experience a miracle. This is a strange goal but I believe that prayer and faith produce miracles.

7. Fast for an extended time. Going without food isn't the only way to fast. You can do without something that you have held dear to you. It can be sexual relations with your spouse, a sport that you love or anything that will make you focus on prayer and the Lord. Amazing things happen when people fast for the Lord.

8. Win at least one soul to the Lord and disciple him or her to become a mature Christian.

9. Get to know your spiritual gift and use it effectively.

10. Make a record of your testimony that all your relatives can hear at your funeral. You can record it or write it down. It needs to be in your words so that it will be your testimony.

This list is not comprehensive. There are many things that should be added to the list for those who are not faint-hearted. The Christian life is not a life with a period but one with an exclamation mark. Otherwise, it wasn't worth living.

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

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Are Christianity and Socialism Compatible?

Why is it that socialistic countries work so hard in eliminating Christianity? In fact, they try to eliminate any religion that doesn't allow everyone to go to heaven. Why is that? Simply put, it goes against their desire to make everyone alike.

Socialism has been around our schools for some time. Every child gets an award so that no child feels like he has been slighted. Unfortunately, this takes the desire away from the children who worked so hard to achieve the best. We have honored the mediocre and less to keep anyone from feeling bad. We never realized that we have damaged more than we would ever seen come about naturally.

The inability to fail prevents people from succeeding. People can pursue something in which they are mediocre and receive awards so they never look for the thing for which they are best suited. We have kept them in mediocrity by awarding it. They didn't look elsewhere because they were getting awards right where they were. People are  not motivated unless they are dissatisfied with the status quo.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Christianity says that we should always improve. We are becoming like Jesus. It is our destiny. Christianity says that God has called us to be excellent at what He has called us to do. Christianity says that you can't be mediocre and win the prize. That is a threat to any egalitarian espoused ideal. The particularism of Christianity infects the universalism of socialism.

Sure, we have the story of the Good Samaritan. Socialism tries to make that story one of helping those who are down and out. It isn't. Take a closer look. It is a story whose main point is teaching who is really doing what is right. Making this parable a story of socialism is like saying the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is really about beds.

No, Christianity tells the story of the man who gives money to his servants as he goes away so that they will invest it for him while he is gone. He returns to find that those he gave the most made the most. He finds the last one having done nothing with his money. He neither made or lost any because he did nothing. That man is thrown out. He did nothing and received punishment.

Some look at their education and claim that they are a product of socialized education because they went to public school. They actually believe this malarky. This is why our schools are going to spend more than ever and get less and less. The problem is not with our teachers. The problem is not with how much money we spend in the school. The problem is in the homes of the children. We are not products of the public education. We are products of our families. The destruction of the home will result in children learning less and less in school. Those societies who have a low divorce rate and place a high value on the family are excelling in education. The reason the US is dropping is not because we haven't spent enough money on education. It is because the teachers can only do so on the foundation laid by the children's families.

Christianity is says, "Go to work. Do your best. Expect God's results for your effort." It surely doesn't tell us that we will all receive the same no matter what we do. That's not even true in heaven, by the way. We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ to receive our rewards for what we have done in this life.

So, socialism must ridicule Christianity. It must call it oppressive. It must make it the reason for wars and famine. It must make it full of hypocrites and charlatans. It must discredit Christianity. True, full blown socialism has a hard time existing alongside Christianity.

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)
Do you not know that in a race all runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way to get the prize.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sometimes It Takes a Whole Lot of Love to Be Hated

We have turned into a strange society. We have learned to be polite without love. We have learned the skills expected in a civil society without actually becoming civil. We know how others expect us to act and perform for our audiences. It is like thinking that your life is your own until you realize that the lines have been written for you. We aren't who we think we are. We aren't who you think we are. We are like what we think you think we are.

Therefore, we stand in line without pushing, hold the door open for the person who follows us and smile at the lady taking our meal orders. We do some of these things without thoughts of others. We do some of these things as we treat others as our servants. We do many of these things with disdain for those whom we have forced politeness upon ourselves.

We have confused politeness for love. This should not be a surprise since we have also confused sex for love, gifts for love, time for love and just about anything else that has been exchanged with us. We barter our politeness for reciprocal politeness. So often we may think that the world loves us back for our politeness. They tell us that they like to be around us. It substitutes for love. We feel good about ourselves when we think others love us.

Yet, that isn't the point. That wasn't the point with Jesus. He didn't work to get people to love Him. He loved people, but He wasn't always polite. The Pharisees didn't see the love in being called white-washed tombs. They couldn't understand that love isn't about being polite. It isn't about bartering anything at all. It certainly isn't an action whose sole purpose is to elicit a reciprocal love.

Love is doing what is best for people even when it hurts. Good parents understand this. Many good parents have heard the words, "I have you!" come from the people they love the most. They have acted out of love. Parents who are trying to win the love of their children without doing what is best for them are really in love with themselves. They want to win their children's love. They are willing to barter for that love. They will give their time, money and privileges without regard to what is good for their children.

I heard that a very wealthy man said, "I want to give my son enough that he can do anything but not so much that he can do nothing." There is love in that. True love does what is needed without regard to the consequence of the feelings of others.

The most loving person in the world will not be loved. He will be crucified.

Loving others is not about being loved by others. Its about giving your life.

John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Big Is God's Credit Limit?

Not all credit cards rest in our wallets. Some are issued by our parents, our children, our spouses and our employers. Some are used often. Others are never used. Many people don't use the card issued by their employers. They are afraid of the loan being called in. Nearly everyone uses the one issued by their spouses.

Credit is used when the bill isn't completely paid. We are to be excellent to one another. The failure to do so means we are accruing debt with that person. Being late for work means credit must be used. And just like at the store, the same thing may cost differently with different employers. The employer has to decide whether keeping you is costing him more than letting you go. Being late will push some employers off the edge.

Thus it goes with all the people we are around. Those to whom we matter and they matter to us give us credit. They overlook so much. It is on credit. They permit so much. That, too, is credit. Children are given a huge credit limit; parents, not so much. A spouse gives credit based on a credit history. The bottom line remains the same though: does it cost more to keep you around than to let you go?

We live on credit with God too. We fall short of His glory. We are less than excellent to Him. Sin is a matter of failing to give God glory. It comes through doing wrong things and failing to do right things. We don't do right things right.

How big is God's credit limit? In other words, when does God say its better to let you go than to keep you?

So many times I have gone some distance from God before I noticed how deep in debt I have gotten with Him. I have had many heart talks with God. I have had many confessions. I have felt anguish as I admitted how far I have been away from Him. It is then that He has shown me the cross one more time. It is then that He has pointed to His Son and said, "Paid in full."

Now, I don't want to use my credit limit with God as an excuse for licentious behavior. But when the time comes, when I have had enough of myself and found that I am empty, I come back to pay my debt and find that it has already been paid.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How Do I Remain Faithful to My Lord?

I have seen many people who started a day without any faith in the Lord and ended the day with a full blown faith. I have never seen someone begin a day totally committed to the Lord and end it with no faith. Faith may come like a tidal wave but it leaves like a slow drizzle. This is why we must guard our hearts from the erosion of our faith.

Solomon had great faith. He built God's Temple. It was magnificent. He asked for wisdom rather than riches or power and God blessed him. No one would have predicted who Solomon would be at the end of his life. His prayer for the Temple represents a man committed to his Lord without reserve. The end of his life represents an old an who doesn't know right from wrong. How did this happen?

Solomon disobeyed the Lord by importing horses from Egypt. It seems like a small thing. God had said that His people should not do this in Deuteronomy 17:17. I am sure Egypt had the best horses. Solomon only had the best of everything. I am sure that it made sense to import these horses. Afterall, this has to make his army more powerful. I am also sure that you don't do what God tells you not to do.

It is much harder to evict a person than to keep him on the outside. Your heart is much easier to possess when any part of it unfaithful. All that Satan needed was a foothold and he could move where he wanted. The demons came in at will as soon as the door was unguarded. His disobedience to the Lord in this ostensibly small area allowed him to marry the many foreign women who would turn his heart away from the Lord.

Please realize this. Satan especially wants those who can make tremendous differences for the sake of their Lord. He leaves many people alone. He will be after you if you are one of these people. He will want to bring you down. He will do so by tempting you to compromise on something that seems harmless. That is why we must guard our hearts so diligently. We won't see what we have done as so bad until we have gotten very far away from the Lord. Satan will have done more than neutralize us. He will have enlisted us in his army.

Now the really amazing thing is that perfection is just another way of getting far away from the Lord. Once we have focused on perfection we have taken our focus off the Lord. Peter took his eyes off of Jesus when he attempted to walk on the water. He sunk. He would have sunk just as quickly if he concentrated on walking on the water rather than keeping his eyes on Jesus. Perfection is not the answer.

The questions we must ask are: Where am I in my relationship with the Lord? Am I moving closer to Him or farther away? Am I completely focused on Him? Where am I failing? Have I turned everything over to Him? Have I confessed? Am I really His today? It is much easier to make slight corrections each day.

Do you have someone to whom you are accountible? A speaker once told a group that he monitors his son's internet surfing. I asked if his son could also see his. He responded emphatically that he didn't need to be accountible to a teenager. Why act like this? Shouldn't a man be able to show his son that he is just as faithful? Or is this a case of "do like I say rather than what I do?" If I can hold the deacons in my church accountible, shouldn't they be able to hold me accountible? Why should it ever be a one-way street?

This is why you should be intimately involved in church. You should have people close enough to you that they can see where you are with the Lord. They should love you enough to confront you when you are out of line. They should also submit themselves to your scrutiny. This is not merely church attendance but church intimacy. This is what fellowship is truly designed for.

No one is perfect. These words have often been said to excuse a fault. However, these words should be used to help us hold each other up.

Guard your heart.

Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Contract with the Church (Part 2)

My church can be like many others who have grown, leveled off and, then, started to decline. This church has seen many times when she has grown and shrunk. The pastor of the church must take the responsibility to see the church grow.

Make no mistake. The goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The pastor must lead this charge. Therefore, I make the following contract with my church:

1. I will always be honest with the church. I know that I can take numbers and make them look good. I can report percentages of members in attendance while the total attendance numbers drop. I can report only the good things while ignoring the bad. I will not do so. The church will know exactly how we are doing without regard to how it makes me look.
2. I will always take responsibility for leadership. I will share the calling of each Christian to make disciples but I will not blame others if they fail to do so. I have been called to equip people to make disciples. I will do so or I have failed.
3. I will care for each person as they have a need. I will not get caught in a popularity war. I will not visit or care for a certain group and ignore another simply because one of these groups makes more complaints. I will be pastor of all the people.
4. I will work to the fullness of my calling. I will not relent in my work or my messages. I will prepare each message as the Lord leads without regard to the reactions or the consequences. I will not be found lazy nor neglecting the time it takes to please my Lord.
5. I will keep the church relevant in all areas so that the gospel message can be effectively given. This means I will keep abreast of trends in communication technology and current issues which need attention. This will mean updating websites, electronic messaging and illustrations. It will mean that I will know current affairs and preach a current message each week.
6. I will lead the church in prayer. I will seek God's face personally and lead the church to do so, too. I will keep prayer meeting as one of the most important times in the church.
7. I will present principles without compromise. I will not shy away from a message that is political nor will I preach a message because it is political. I will stand on God's Word; not on a political party or any other ideological group.
8. I will always seek to love the church like God loves the church. I will turn over those who are hard to love to the Lord so that He will love them through me. I will know (by experience) love for those who will not love me because my Lord loves those who do not love Him.
9. I will remain true to the gospel. I will confess my sins to my Lord. I will seek to live a life totally surrendered to Jesus Christ.
10. I will personally share my faith. I will seek to see others come to know the Lord. I will do so inside and outside the church.

Will this make my church grow? I don't know. I know it will make me grow. It is what I believe my Lord wants me to do. I believe my seeking Him will result in Him growing His church. I believe it will make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I will give my all. Isn't that what He did for me?

Philippians 3:7-10 (NIV)
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Monday, July 5, 2010

Contract with the Church (Part 1)

The denomination my church belongs to is organized in associations. We are autonomous but we have agreed to cooperate so that we could do things together that we would not be able to do separately.

There are seventy churches in our area association. Seventeen of these churches are on the brink of closing. Their attendance and giving is unable to sustain their existence.

Could these churches have been saved? Yes. In fact, they could still be saved but they may choose not to be. Doing what you need to do rather than what you want to do is often uncomfortable. Comfort becomes more important as people get older. They are tired of changing preschoolers diapers, hearing loud youth and looking for a parking place. They enjoy going to their own classroom which they decorated and made covers for the foam rubber padding for each chair. They don't want to remember the names of new people. They already have all the friends they want. These churches will go out of business soon if this is their attitude. They do not grasp the big picture of making disciples. They may have never understood why the church exists.

Sadly, these failing churches are more common than we would like to admit. Many churches whose weekly attendance is in the hundreds are headed down the same path. Their termination date is farther away but they are taking the same approach. Their location may be the major reason they have not gone out of business. (More churches grow because of location than anything they are doing.) It could be their reputation or merely inertia which keeps them going.

These churches are going down in attendance just a few people a year. They don't know that they are going out of business yet. They are still meeting weekly, paying the bills, having Vacation Bible School and listening to their choir.  They are like people who have a terminal illness but don't yet know it. They have symptoms but it isn't changing what they need to do. Unfortunately, radically painful procedures will be necessary by the time they find out how ill they really are.

A church must take a different approach if it is to continue to a church pleasing to the Lord. It must understand that its purpose is to make disciples who will do what Jesus commanded. It must reach new people and raise them up into the likeness of Jesus.

Tomorrow I will give the things I will set out to do in my own church. Even a growing church isn't immune to the diseases of misdirection, apathy and simple laziness.

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What is Freedom, Anyway?

I have never done a survey on what people think freedom is. However, I believe they would tell me that freedom is being able to do what you want to do. If that is the case, none of us is free.

We are not free to drive as fast as we would like. Nor are we free to avoid our taxes. We lack freedom in many things if freedom is doing whatever we want.

We have free speech. Freedom to own firearms. We are free to come and go as we please, engage in enterprise and own our own businesses. We are free to choose our own leadership.

Freedom is coming into harmony with truth. It is believing and acting consistently with our desires. It may mean that our desires must be changed in order to experience true freedom. In other words, our desire to drive really fast may have to come into line with the speed limit if we are to know real freedom. Otherwise, the speed limit will always represent restriction rather than freedom.

Actually, doing whatever we want whenever we want it will put us under great bondage. Buying whatever you want whenever you want it will restrict what you can purchase as real needs. Unrestricted spending, drinking, sexual activity or anything that we simply want will seriously affect our freedom. Following our urges and lusts will get us into real trouble. The kind of trouble that can get us arrested. This is the kind of trouble that will take away our freedoms.

The truly free person is in harmony with his world. He wants what he should have. His world and his desires are the same.

Yet, that is truly strange for us. We seem to struggle to get beyond what we should have. It started with Adam and Eve. It continues today. They were free until Satan told them they could have something better than God had for them.

Most people don't understand the true nature of freedom. They think that the type of freedom I espouse is the worst kind of bondage. Even many Christians fail to understand true freedom. They are trying to live a Christian life of rules and restrictions rather than freedom. Bondage is our manner of living the Christian life as long as we pick and choose our obedience. We will try to avoid as many restrictions as possible rather than realize the freedom that we have.

Now, I know that most people will never understand what I am about to write. They think that it takes a great effort to live the Christian life. That is bondage to me. The Christian life is not about my effort to follow the rules but about my willingness to give my life to Him. I don't need to live in restrictions. I need to allow Him to live through me.

Freedom is giving your life to Christ.

Matthew 10:39 (NIV)
39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

God's Grace Surrounds Us

I don't deserve what I have. I deserve burning in hell. I deserve a life apart from God and anything good He has planned for me. I deserve to live all by myself. I deserve worries, hopelessness and despondency. I deserve all these things, but God, instead, came to me with His grace.

God's grace is salvation but not only the salvation which gives us eternal life. It gives us true life. It intertwines with all that we do and experience. It is hard at times. It changes us. It brings blessings and challenges. 

Grace is something that happens to us everyday. We may not even notice it. We may fail to notice His grace when one of our little ones is sick or we are laid off from our jobs. We may fail to see Him in loss of someone we love. The mundane days of our lives will all run together if we ignore His grace. We won't even notice that He is always working around us.

I watch God's grace and have never ceased to be amazed. I see people join our church and know they came because of His grace for I didn't deserve their presence. I didn't cause our church to grow. I am never more than a messenger. I have reached the status of servant. I am neither good at marketing or promoting. I don't even press the issue when I invite people to join. They do because of God's grace to them and to me.

I pray for God's grace. I ask God to protect my family. I ask Him to provide for their every need. I ask Him to lead each one to His grace. Prayer is a request for grace. God certainly doesn't owe us answers to our prayers.

Sometimes I think the world has gone crazy. It doesn't recognize God's grace so it seeks solutions to its problems which do not include Him. Each of these solutions becomes tomorrow's problems. Then, we frantically seek another solution. It is within God's grace to lead us. Our obedience rests in His grace.

Can you see His grace all around you? Do you see the path He has taken you? Are you simply amazed at the grace He has all around you all the time? Do you know what you have?

We either live in His grace or we falsely live with the disappointment of things we never received but believed we deserved. 

I don't want what I deserve. I want grace.

Ephesians 6:24 (NKJV)
Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Who or What Can You Trust?

Many economists are saying that we are headed for a double dip recession. I find it interesting that there is no official definition for this term. Most think it means that a second recession follows quickly behind what appears to be a short recovery. So, a double dip recession will mean that the economy will get much worse.

This means that all of the stimulus money did nothing but get us in worse shape. We didn't help businesses and we didn't save jobs. It just means we will be paying back money that didn't do anything at all. We might as well have gone to the race track and gambled it all away.

When will we learn that we can't throw the burden of debt at the feet of rich people? Who will employ people if no one is rich? Who wants to work for someone who may not have the money to pay you? Forcing rich people to pay all the taxes is like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

We trusted in the politicians who said that we had to have the stimulus money in order to stem the tide of the recession. It didn't work. They promised to get the money to pay for this stimulus from the rich. (Do you remember, "No one who makes less than $250k will pay more taxes"?) So, we can neither trust in the government or the rich to be able to pull us out of this recession.

Why do we keep trusting in manmade solutions? Why do we run from one manmade savior to another?

Because the real solution is life-altering. The real solution is to turn over our lives and our trust to God. It means we won't be able to live like we have. We will put our trust in Him and He will resolve our problems but only after we repent of our sins.

I suppose many people don't believe in this solution. They see God as the deity who put everything in motion and went on a long trip. They believe He doesn't want to be bothered by us. He expects us to work out our problems.

Is this the God of the Old and New Testaments? Does He get involved with His people if they cry out to Him? Yes, He does. He delivers His people when we cry out. He sent His Son when we were helpless. We can trust in Him.

Why? What makes Him Someone we can trust?

He loves us without measure. He knows the correct solution to any problem. He has the strength to solve any problem. Simply put: He can be trusted because of who He is. He does not put out any effort to be Himself.

Yet, people will trust in other things as long as possible.

Isn't it time to trust in Him now?

Psalm 33:16-21 (NKJV)
No king is saved
     by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered
     by great strength
A horse is a vain hope for
Neither shall it deliver any by
     its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is
     on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His
To deliver their soul from
And to keep them alive in
Our soul waits for the LORD;
He is our help and shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in
Because we have trusted in His
     holy name.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Never Buy a Used Toothbrush

Do you really have to tell people not to buy a used toothbrush. I think you do. Common sense isn't so common, is it? I ride a bike to work each day. I have the opportunity to watch people as they drive. I have to ride defensively or I will not ride again. I have to see if they are aware they are about to run over me. I watch their eyes. The eyes reveal where their attention is.

A lot has been said about people using cell phones while they drive. Believe me, cell phones aren't the worst thing they can do. I watch people read magazines, eat and play musical instruments while they drive. I see them completely engrossed in changing their ipods to the songs they love. One guy actually turned into the sidewalk I was traveling down. He was oblivious to where he was or where he was going. Where is the sense in doing this?

Yet, people must know that they can't spend more money than they have in their bank accounts. They should know that the amount on their credit cards will have to be paid back. They should know that they can't afford a new car or new house according to their incomes. They should know that going home with someone who is not your spouse isn't going to make family relationships better.

Young people should know that their chances of getting a Christian for a spouse is better in church than in a bar. They should know that no one really wants someone who has been had by everyone else. They should know that driving under the influence is not safe. They should know that seatbelt will do them no good if it isn't buckled around them. It doesn't take a mental genius to understand that bad grades will result in failure.

I wonder if people make the connection between actions and consequences. I think they just want to have fun without thinking of the consequence of their fun. I believe they want to avoid any discomfort as long as they can. Maybe that's why they vote for someone who will promise to get them out of the trouble they caused themselves.

The problems we face today were yesterday's solutions. Welfare increased poverty. The national income tax resulted in a huge government. Sub-prime loans resulted in a housing crash.

The bailouts from the government will result in higher taxes, inflation and a more stressed economy. It has to. The bills will have to be paid someday. The consequences cannot be avoided forever.

We need a huge dose of wisdom.

Or else, you might start shopping for used toothbrushes.

Proverbs 8:1-11 (NIV)
1 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud: 4 "To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. 5 You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. 6 Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. 7 My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. 8 All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. 9 To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. 10 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.