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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We May All Be Sinners But We Are Not All the Same

I have heard it said so often in movies when some old guy is giving his final words, "I have found that people are basically good." For many years I thought that was a crock! The Bible says that we are all sinners. How can we be good and sinners at the same time? I forgot some things the Bible also says.

The Bible says that we were the crown of God's creation. He created us as good. That means that evil had to enter in for us to be corrupted. That corruption has been passed from parents to children since that day. It means that we have a propensity for sin. Sin is missing the glory of God we were intended for.

The fact that we are all sinners does not make us equally bad. That concept has permeated into the secular world. It is common to hear that we shouldn't judge each other. That comes from a concept that none of us is better than any other. That comes from the concept that we are all equally bad. That is not true.

We are not all equally bad. Before I continue,  this also does not give us a license to condemn each other. We are all God's creation. Condemning what He has made is condemning Him for what He has done. Yet, we must admit that those who read this blog are unlikely to be as bad as a serial killer. Most of you will not have done things so horrible that movies will be made about you..

Therefore, I can say to someone, "What you did was wrong." I should not condemn that person but I can discern whether or not it is wrong because I have a sense of right and wrong built within me that comes from my "good" creation. I know that I have the same capacity for selfishness but I may not come to the same level of wrong.

This, on the other hand does not make me totally good either. It means I may not be as bad and there are others who may be a lot better than me.

This, of course, does not change the concept of total depravity. Total depravity means that I don't have the ability (the goodness) within me to bring about my salvation. I am totally dependent upon the Lord for that. He is the grace that brings the goodness into my heart. The Holy Spirit is working around me to keep my heart His. It is here that I can boast of my goodness. It is Him working in me.

Yet, I cannot look down my nose at other sinners either. I can see their sins as evil. I cannot take credit for avoiding them. I cannot take comfort in my own sins as "not as bad." Each one was enough to send Jesus to the cross for me.

I am trying to say that people should not consider themselves as bad as the worst person they have read about. They need to see that God's grace has been around them. They need to see that they have been protected in some way against this evil. They need to see that we are not all the same.

While you cannot say that people are good; you also cannot say they are all equally bad.

We may all be sinners but we are not all the same.

Romans 3:23 NKJV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Galatians 3:26
For you are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Clothed with Power from On High

The Holy Spirit is a mystery to many of us. He does not follow a formula. He comes where He wants, when He wants. He is like the wind. We know when He is present and has passed but not exactly when He is coming. He may be gentle or a very strong gale.

Jesus told His followers to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Why did they need to wait? Why didn't the Holy Spirit arrive right away? What was the purpose in waiting?

I am sure that there is someone who will explain this. I just don't know how anyone could definitely know.

These believers waited for the Holy Spirit to arrive. They were not disappointed. He came with such a power that thousands gave their hearts to Christ. The Holy Spirit has done similar works several times. History records many times how the Spirit moved with thousands giving their souls to Christ.

But what about now? Is there any hope that the Spirit will move in your church? Are you more concerned that your pastor is charismatic than Spirit filled? Are churches going to continue to live on gimmicks to see people reached? Why won't the Spirit come to do an incredible work which will not deny the power of God to work?

Maybe we are uncomfortable with the idea of letting the Spirit work. He will do things we can't control. He may kill off some of the "sacred cows" at the church.

Maybe we are afraid to let the Spirit work in us. We may be the ones who need to be changed before the Spirit can do a mighty work in our churches.

On the other hand, what would you do if the Spirit started working in church this next Sunday? Would you stand back or join in? Would you declare what He could or could not do? Would you criticize those who did things you have never seen before in church? Would you fall down before Him?

Does the idea of the Holy Spirit coming scare you half to death?

Luke 24:49 (ESV)
And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Devil Doesn't Care If You . . .

The devil doesn't care if you go to church. He's going to be there. He encourages lots of people to attend church. He wants those will gossip and destroy the unity of the church to be there every Sunday. He doesn't like genuine prayer meetings. He hates people who are humble and confessing to their Lord. He doesn't want these people to change the church he has created.

The devil doesn't care if you come into the worship service. He will be there too. He wants people who are more concerned about which songs are being sung than who the songs should be sung to. He loves songs which make people feel good but tell no gospel story, genuine praise of God or theology. He loves songs which can be sung without anyone's hearts being changed. Of course, that depends on whether the heart has been prepared for worship. He hates people coming prepared to worship. He hates it when people know that the whole worship service is about the Lord and not the air conditioning, the suit the preacher has on or the dress that the lady across the aisle is wearing.

The devil doesn't care if you go out to do evangelism. He loves prepackaged programs which get people to "witness" because they have been made to feel guilty. He loves to hear the prayers secretly whispered that hope that no one is home. He hates it when people pray for the lost. He hates it when they determine to love the person they will witness to. He hates it when they weep over the lost. He hates it when someone comes to know the Lord but he knows that the prepackaged evangelism programs have abysmal records.

The devil doesn't care if you read your Bible. He is a student of the Bible too. He has been using it to get God's people to do things since the beginning. He knows that many Christians decide what to do and look for a scripture to "confirm" their decision. He helps them find these scriptures. He hates it when the Christian prays for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the scriptures are read. He hates it when the Christian becomes convicted by the Spirit as the Spirit reads the Word to the true believer.

The devil doesn't care if you have fellowship with other Christians. He loves it when you "share" with each other. He loves it when this involves stories which hurt the other people. He loves it when you exclaim, "Its only the truth!" and believe that absolves you from the damage that you have done by "sharing." He hates it when Christians get together to challenge and encourage each other to live lives worthy of the Lord. He loves it when they overeat, gossip and tell off-color jokes.

You see, you can easily be a fine upstanding church member without the devil ever caring.

Wouldn't you rather be someone that makes the devil care?

John 12:31 (NIV)
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

John 14:30 (NIV)
30  I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me,

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Maybe They Don't Know Its Jesus

Many people who are obviously under conviction fail to do anything about it. They know they have a boatload of guilt. They would love to have forgiveness. They have come to the point where they can't stand what they have done. They, often, make themselves and others promises that they will stop doing what they have done. They make a commitment to others. They don't understand that their conviction is coming from the Lord. Therefore, they deal with it with human understanding and human strength.

I have seen many people who were obviously under this conviction walk out of my church. I have seen them cry during the service. They are full of anguish and still do not know what to do about it. My words of trusting in Jesus seem to make no sense to them. They cannot understand how giving themselves to Him will help what they have done.

There are just as many Christians who justify their sins. They participate in the same things as non-Christians and pretend it is okay. They know something isn't right. They know their walk with the Lord is not what it was.
I wonder if they know it is the Lord who is speaking to them. I wonder if they know it is He who knows exactly what they have done. I wonder if they think He doesn't have a clue what they are doing.

Do you know who it is when you are under conviction? I call it "red letter" conviction.

Acts 9:3-5 (NIV)
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Is a Number Too

We count how many people come to our church. Some don't think it is important. They do a very poor job in counting. They think that we are saying we are "all about numbers" if we count. We are about numbers. They don't grasp that one is a number too.

I have been in the ministry for approximately thirty years. There have been times when a small number of people came to a Bible study or worship experience. There have been snows, rainstorms and ice which have kept people at home. Usually someone will come to me on one of these occasions and say, "Well, I suppose we need to cancel this since so few here." I will never do so because of the small number that attend. I will always do my best to deliver what I believe is God's message to the one or the one thousand.

Jesus was a failure at the end of His ministry if the gospel is about large numbers. It isn't. Jesus would have given the same Sermon on the Mount if there had only been one in attendance. I am certainly not greater than Jesus.

How do I know this? Look at the stories of Jesus. Many of them have Him speaking directly to individuals. He heals a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years and has her tell Him her story. He stops to heal a blind man by the road. He touches a leper and heals a mans withered hand on the Sabbath. He calls a little child to Himself. Each of these present a Savior who knows His people by name.

The preachers of large numbers know the number who attended but hardly anyone else. They seek the spectacular energy which can be generated by a large crowd. They don't spend the time with the individual. They don't care.

Some will object, "Doesn't the Bible also record numbers?" Yes, it does. It speaks of 120 people being in the Upper Room before Pentecost. It tells of 3000 people being baptized in on Pentecost. Yet, these numbers were not kept for attendance records. They were given for the glory of God. The number of disciples went from 120 to over 3000 in less than ten days. That was a story of God's power and glory; not simply telling how many attended.

Our counting of those in attendance is not so that we can brag about what we are doing. It must be to exclaim what God is doing. It should represent a responsibility to each person.

But no one should become a number alone. Each and every one is someone for whom Jesus died. They are precious to Him and they must be to us.

Each week we ask people to give us their prayer requests. Those are sorted out and brought to staff meeting. We pray over each one of these requests and each staff member writes a note to the person who has made a request. (Sometimes they have gotten so many notes from us that they ask us not to send any more notes. We relent from sending notes to those.) We want people to know that they are not just numbers. They are precious to God. Because of this we will care for them as individuals. Our prayers and notes reflect this.

We will never understand the ministry of Jesus until we know that the number of people who are saved and become disciples are the accumulation of ones. Its like having a million dollars in one dollar bills. God never looks at the five, ten, twenty, fifty or hundred without seeing the one.

Every one you meet is a one that is loved by God. You are a one that is loved by God.

Never forget that one is a number too.

Matthew 18:5-6 (NIV)  
5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Almost Right Is Totally Wrong

I have recently started going to the YMCA. My wife and I have been members for years but, while she was at her aquasize class, I rode my bicycle and just didn't frequent the Y. Recently I noticed that my upper muscles are getting a bit flabby and decided to try one of their programs to tone up. I made an appointment with a trainer and had him explain each of the machines I would need to use to accomplish my goals. He set the machines for my height, leg, arm length and amount of weight and showed me how to do the exercises correctly.

Now I log in to a main kiosk and each machine. It measures my range of motion, weight being lifted, number of reps and number of sets. It even tells me which machine to go to next. I don't have to remember a thing. (except my login number)

The computer does not count a rep if I do not go to the maximum lift. It tells me if I am going to fast. It tells me to stop letting the weights touch if I go to low. It counts each rep and tells me when I have reached my target. I am careful to do the exercises slowly to reach the goal of doing them correctly.

I notice that most of the other people do not do as I do. They do not lift to the maximum or as a low as they should go. They pump them as fast as they can. I am wondering why they would want to do the exercises incorrectly. No one makes them come to the Y. Why shouldn't they get the maximum benefit of the exercises?

Do people want to say they have done something without really doing it correctly? Are they more interested in getting it over with than doing it right? Are they more interested in short cuts than doing what needs to be done?

I believe the answer is yes to each of these questions. People want to say they have done things correctly. They want to think so as well. They, therefore, make excuses when they don't get the results they were expecting.

People do this with God too. They often come to me and tell me of the tragedy in their lives. They claim they have been faithful to God. They blame Him for their tragedy. They ask why He would allow this to happen when they have been so good.

I don't believe God acts that way. I don't think He slaps the bad and pats the good. I believe He uses the good and the bad to create a person of faith. However, not only is their theology messed up but their memory is too. They haven't been as faithful as they claimed.

For example, they will tell me that they haven't missed a Sunday all year when our records indicate they were at church thirty-five times during the past year. I'll admit they were present more than they were absent but they still missed seventeen times. That's hardly perfect attendance. They will tell me that they have tithed but our records indicate that they have given $844 for the whole past year. We should be helping them out if this is a tithe.

Somehow they think that almost right is totally right. (Don't ever hire one of these people to do your taxes!)

Almost means you didn't do what you were supposed to do. If you almost caught the bus; you missed it. If you almost apologized; you didn't. If you were almost obedient; you weren't.

So, when God tells you to do something and you almost did it; you didn't.

Look up the whole story of the following scripture. You'll see what I mean.

1 Samuel 15:19-22 (NIV)
19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?" 20 "But I did obey the LORD," Saul said. "I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal." 22 But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life Is Not Fair . . .So?

Life is not fair. Some are pretty:\; some are not. Some are tall; others are short. Some are born into wealthy homes; some are are not. Some are born with a keen mind; some are not. (And some get dumber every day!)

Somewhere we have taken the idea that America is the land of opportunity and made it into the land of equal opportunity. It is not. It is a place where you can work hard and make what you earn. It will be much harder for some people than others to do so.

One of my college professors (Educational Psychology) told us students the story of a young man at the university who was carrying a better than B average. This young man was mentally impaired but studied seventeen hours (including class time) each day. He was either in class, the library or sleeping (and he wasn't doing much sleeping!) I never forgot that story. He was driven to become a college graduate. He had a tremendous disadvantage but he didn't let it stop him.

The make things more unequal every time we try to make things equal. We simply can't admit that determination is as unequal as every other environmental or genetic trait.

Think about it. Should I ask really tall guys to play basketball on their knees so that I can have an equal opportunity to play with them? What would that do to the game of basketball? What does knowing that others had to accept an unnatural disadvantage so that I could play do to me?

The disadvantages and advantages that we face help make us who we are. They are known by God who does not use them as His means of choosing who will do something great. In fact, God seems to choose the ones who have the greatest disadvantage to do His greatest works.

He chose a man who could not speak well to lead His people out the oppression of Egypt. He chose the least likely of Jesse's sons to become the king of Judah and Israel. He chose the loud, brash, impulsive Peter to head His Church. God seems to relish the disadvantages because they reveal more clearly what He can do.

I remember hearing a man say that he couldn't go to college because he had to go to work. I guess he thinks that work and college are incompatible. I had to do both. I drove a city bus while I was in seminary. I got up often at 4:30 AM. Sometimes I had studied until 2:00 AM. I would go to my first stop with the driver's window open so that the wind would blow fiercely in my face and keep me awake until I picked up my first passengers. I didn't think I had a silver spoon in my mouth as I did this. After driving again in the evening I would also work for my father-in-law, deliver phone books and Sears catalogs and deliver advertising fliers for a local Christian bookstore. (Yes, all this work affected my grades. I believed that taking care of my family was more important than grades. The one who doesn't provide for his on family is worse than an unbeliever. I don' t know exactly what that means but I know it isn't good.)

It was through my financial disadvantage that God showed me His grace.

Yes indeed, life is not fair.  Praise God!

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is It Really Better Late Than Never?

I have heard it so many times: "Well, better late than never!" It was generally said about someone who is perpetually late. The fact that this person showed up at all was considered a fete.

I wondered if this thought has been transfered to our obedience to God. It seems that I am urging people to come home to God every week. I tell the story of the Prodigal Son's Father. I tell them they can come home. The next week I am offering them the same deal. They have heard it so many times that it no longer has any impact. They hear the story of the Prodigal wanting to eat the pig food and know things really aren't that bad yet. The figure they can wait until things get that bad before coming home. So, just like the Prodigal, they stay away until everything's going down the toilet.

Is that really the way God is? Does He keep giving you a chance to come home forever? Does He allow you to wait until you are ready to be obedient to Him? Does He say, "Better late than never?"

That doesn't seem to be the story of God's people when they refused to go into the Promised Land. The next day they decided to be faithful but God was no longer with them. They were horribly beaten. They didn't even know that God wasn't with them.

What if this next Sunday is the last time God is going to ask you to be obedient? What if you don't ever get another chance? Why should you believe that God will continue to give you another chance?

No, it's not better late than never. It's better to be obedient the first time. My suggestion is that you do what God says when He tells you to do it.

Numbers 14:40-42 (ESV)
And they rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, "Here we are. We will go up to the place that the LORD has promised, for we have sinned." But Moses said, "Why are you transgressing the command of the LORD, when that will not succeed? Do not go up for the LORD is not with you, lest you be struck down before your enemies.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tithing and the Fear of Death

God has asked us to trust Him. He has assured us that we can. Yet, I find that most Christians don't. They worry when things go wrong. They go outside of His will to solve their problems. They fail to do what He says.

One day a life threatening or a life ending tragedy strikes. These "believers" are assured there is a place called heaven that has been reserved for them. They say they believe but honestly are terrified of death. They are trying to believe in a God who will take them into heaven when they have never believed in a God who can take them to tomorrow. They have no evidence that He can be trusted because they have never had to trust Him. They worked every situation out by themselves. Their faith has been marginalized by their actions.

People use great excuses when they are asked to be obedient to God. Their excuses reveal their lack of trust in Him. They say that they don't have the ability to do what He has asked them to do. They don't trust in Him to give them the ability. They say they don't have the resources to give like He has asked them to give. They don't trust Him to give them more than they need to be obedient and beyond.

Honestly, their lack of tithing reveals their lack of trust. That trust is not suddenly generated when they near death.

(Those who don't want to believe try to claim that preachers are out after their money. Let's be honest, most of you will never meet me nor will you ever come to my church. I have no vested interest in your obedience. I will not benefit whether or not you serve or give. You are the only one who will benefit from your obedience. So, quit trying to blame the preachers when they are simply telling you the truth.)

Why would someone want to live like this? Why think you will trust Him for eternity when you can't trust Him for tomorrow?

Malachi 3:9-10 (ESV)
You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reinterpreting My Circumstances

I see so much better with hindsight. I see how God has acted to bring me to things I would never have considered after the fact. Is it possible that I could see these things before they happened? Is it possible that I could know that God is working even in the most dire of circumstances.

Yes, it is, but I will have to change my way of thinking about God.

God does not react to circumstances. He does not cause everything that happens but He knows they will happen. He weaves that knowledge with His will to produce a world that will know salvation. He weaves the minute details in my life to produce something much better.

God does not expect me to react to circumstances alone. I should interpret my circumstances with His will for me in mind. This means the things around me are not merely random acts but purposeful allowances of God's will. Some of them may be horrible but I have no way of judging their maliciousness. I do not know what horrible act was prevented or what great act was created by any event. I only know that it came by God's permission or volition.

I cannot determine God's will specifically without His revelation to me. I know my own salvation because God visited me. He brought me to conviction. He cleared my mind for thinking so that I would trust in Him. I do not believe He was irresistible but I do believe He was amazingly persuasive. The same is true for the circumstances within my life. I cannot know specifically what God is doing unless He reveals it to me.

However, I can know that God is working. I may not know where but just knowing that God is using something I think is horrible is enough. I can know He is loving me through whatever I am going through. I know He has a purpose. I know He will not fail.

I may not be able to be specific in knowing what He is doing but I can reinterpret my circumstances from things which are merely happening to me to things which are changing the universe for His glory. I can know that God has a reason without knowing what that reason is. I can praise Him for that reason. I can have joy in what God is doing without having to know the outcome because I know His will is to give me a better future than I could ever have without these circumstances.

Physically the night will be just as dark. The circumstances may be just as bad but they will never be dire for there is a morning coming. The light of that morning will allow me to see the specific will of God. I can reinterpret it for my good now and know how good it is later.

This must be my way of seeing my circumstances.

You know, the same is true for everyone who reads this too. (Maybe you should read the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis.)
Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Are You Prepared for the Good News?

I have noticed that almost everyone asks me to give them the bad news before I can give them the good news. Why are we conditioned like this? Why is it that good news is hard to sell?

This morning I looked at the local paper. The front page stories told of people losing their jobs, a Navy Seal losing his life and the new local UFL team not having an owner. (The last one was a little humorous. How can you have a team that has no owner? That's like saying we have a factory without a building or any employees.) Good news is buried in the middle of the paper.

Maybe people want to know the bad news so they can make preparations. For example, knowing a hurricane is coming will change the plans for a picnic on the beach. But let's be honest, we can do nothing about most of the bad news we learn. We can shake our heads, say its a tragedy and hope it never happens again.

Yet, a plane crashes and we all gather around our tvs and computers to see images of the wreckage. Two cars wreck on the interstate and we slow down to take a hard look at the damage. A house catches on fire in our neighborhood and we gather around to watch it burn. Why are we so drawn to bad news?

Focusing on bad news makes us forget the good news. This also makes no sense. I admit that I don't want to be characterized as a Pollyanna, but I have no need to be focused on doom and gloom. Bad news can lead to depression. It can lead to a worse economy. It can make businesses stop their plans for expansion and lay off workers. Bad news often creates more bad news.

Bad news requires no faith. It takes faith to believe that something better is coming. It takes faith to believe that everything is still in God's hands. It takes faith to believe that He will sustain you regardless of the bad news. It takes faith to prepare yourself for the good news.

What would you do if you knew that GE stock would rise 25% in the next year? Wouldn't you take everything you had and put it in GE? What should you do knowing that God is still in control? How should you prepare yourself for the good news?

We must remain faithful if we believe there is good news coming. It means we must spend as God directs us to spend. It means we must go where God directs us to go. It means we must look for the opportunities that God has placed in front of us now. We must accept those opportunities in the middle of all the bad news because we know that there is good news coming. That good news is dependent upon God's actions in our lives. Today's obedience is the preparation for tomorrow's good news. Today's obedience is good news for today.

Yet, we look at the bad news without seeing the good news. The loss of a job is the opportunity to share with a family. The wreck is an opportunity to pray for someone. The bad news tests our faith. It proves our faith.

Preparing for good news is different from reacting to good news. I want to be in the good news preparation business while other people are saying all the news is bad.

Yes, that will take a lot of faith.

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Saddest State of Being I Know

Ecclesiastes 1:14 (ESV)
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Solomon was an amazing king. He was the son of David. He had a firm foundation in his faith. He was wealthy beyond imagination. He built the greatest temple that Israel has ever known. He experienced the presence of God when this temple was opened. No one would have guessed that he would write the preceding words.( "all is vanity.")

He was an unfulfilled man. He had the means to explore the world and did not found his filling in the world. He is the example of what happens to a person when he falls off the foundation of his faith. He is empty but cannot remember when he was full.

I wonder about those who once served the Lord with unreserved passion but find no place for Him in their lives today. Do they know something I don't? Or, are they afraid to give up their emptiness for being filled? What is the addiction which keeps them from realizing their spiritual poverty and asking the Lord to fill them again?
Surely, Solomon heard the story about his father's sin with his mother. He must have known his father's writing which begs God to renew him to a previous state of spiritual fullness.

Psalms 51:10-12 (ESV)

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

I, myself, knew that something was missing in my life before I came to know the Lord. I was sure there was something that would fill my life but I didn't know what it was. I discovered the fullness of the Lord when I came to know Him. The memory of that fullness makes any distance between me and the Lord more painful. I have a greater longing to come back to Him. I ask for forgiveness. I am welcomed back into your presence. I enjoy fullness once again. Why would I stay away?

I have known people who will stay in their emptiness when they freely admit that they could come home to the Lord. They generally believe that they can't do without something which has drawn them away from the Lord. It may be a substance of addiction or a relationship which is also addictive. I wonder if Solomon thought he couldn't do without his wives. The Bible says he loved them. I fail to understand this since he had so many. How could he love all of them when he wouldn't give his undivided devotion to one of them? How could he have gotten so addicted to these women that he would give up the fullness of the Lord for the emptiness of a belief that says this world is all that anyone needs?

Yet, there are plenty of people who know the Lord but have not had His fullness in a very long time. They know He will receive them but they stay away. Eventually, they too will say, "Vanity, vanity all is vanity." I can't think of a sadder state.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are Preachers Responsible for the Moral Decline?

I was recently confronted with the following statement: "I believe the reason we are in a moral decline is because preachers have not been preaching the Word of God." I couldn't really respond. I can't say that I have heard what most preachers are saying in their churches. I am preaching in my own church on Sundays so I don't get out much. Also, this statement is non-measurable. There is no one to measure the accuracy or the veracity by which preachers are declaring God's Word. Also, there is no way to determine the impact it is having. Jesus had a very small group of followers by the time of His death yet His impact beyond compare. So, those in the smallest of churches may be having a greater impact by those who follow than those who are in huge churches. The blaming of preachers sounds like a convenient way of absolving personal responsibility for doing what the individual already knows to do.

Still, I do know that there are some preachers who are deviating from God's Word. (I hear them on radio and watch them on tv and the internet. Not all radio, tv and internet preachers are failing to preach the Word but I know that some of them are.) They are supposedly endowed with special knowledge which enables them to give "new teachings" which no one else will give. They are leading people to believe in a god who does not exist. They are espousing a god who is much like the pagan gods of old who will respond favorably to those who sacrifice something that is special to his followers. It does not matter that these preachers "use" the Bible to prove their points. These proofs will not hold up to the whole counsel of the Word. Careful examination reveals their "new teaching" to be repackaged paganism.

There are other preachers who are soft-selling the gospel. These preachers are doing whatever it takes to gather larger crowds. They will use any vaudeville act to bring the people in. They give out teaching like pablum to their congregation which is never very mature. They are gathered into indoor stadiums to be rallied into feeling good about themselves so they can be successful in the world. Success is defined as being healthy, wealthy and good-looking. Image is everything in these churches. They give people the feeling that God is never disappointed in us. He is never really hard on sin. He is a "nursing home god." Their god is just glad you came by to see him. It doesn't matter what you are doing the rest of the time. He, then, promises you will inherit a whole lot because of your visits.

Yes, all preachers will have to give an account of their messages. (Hebrews 13:17) They are supposed to be responsible for the souls of their people. This the highest calling a person can have. Their failure to faithfully complete their duty will be judged harshly. Their judgment will not be pleasant.

Does this absolve people from their own responsibility toward the Word of God? I don't think so. I believe they will be responsible for listening and obeying things which they know to be wrong. All believers have been given His Spirit. He is the teacher who will recall God's Word to those who know Him. They will not be able to stand before the judgment of Christ and say, "It was the preacher alone who made me act as I did." They will bear some of the responsibility for their actions.
Yet, isn't this what the Bible warned us about. Didn't it say that there would come a time when people would want preachers who would tell people what they wanted to hear. In fact, that scripture indicates that it is the people who are gathering these preachers together. They seem to have, at least, some responsibility for the preaching.

So to the preachers I say: " preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Timothy 2:2) God alone will measure your impact. Just be true to the Word.

To the people who sit in the pew I say, "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) Don't stand for false preaching. Remove yourselves from it.

2 Timothy 4:3 (NASB)
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Love Lost

I have performed many wedding ceremonies. Each one had two people who seemed to have an extravagant love for each other. Each looked into other's eyes and could not believe that this person whom was loved without measure would marry them. Unfortunately, some of these people are no longer married.

How does that happen? The answer is that this sort of thing happens for many reasons. It generally happens because one or both lose what they had on their wedding day. They lose the love they had at first.

Losing your first love doesn't happen suddenly. It is not like an earthquake which transforms the landscape in hours. It is like erosion that takes a very long time. It comes when other things crowd out the love these two people have together. Eventually, the job, the house, the car, the tv and the children are more important than they are to each other.

The only defense is to recognize that this will naturally happen and take special care to recognize and counter it. It is easy to lose the love you once had. It has to be guarded or it will be gone.

Is this any different from the love that we have for our Lord? No. Those of us who gave our hearts to Christ as adults (or at least old enough to be considered adults) remember the euphoria we felt as new believers. We told of our new faith to our lost friends because we saw it as something they would surely want to join us in. We served our Lord without question. We called Him Lord because He was our Lord.

But, just like our relationships with our spouses, we allowed other things to creep in and choke out the love we once had. We started to claim time, money and interests for ourselves. Suddenly, the job, the house, the car, tv and making our children happy became more important than our Lord. Our love waned and we didn't notice it.

We didn't notice because, just like with our spouses, we kept doing those things which appeared to reveal a good relationship.We kept going to church. (We kept living with our spouses.) We had times of exceptional worship. (We kept a physical intimacy with our spouses.) We gave and served. (We still washed the dishes or the car and we went out to eat with our spouses.) Everything looked great but the love that we once had was not there anymore.

Now, no one else knows that we have lost our first love. That is, no one but our Lord.

The Bible says that we should go back to doing the things that we did when we had our first love. Could that be a solution for our relationship with our Lord and with our spouses?

I think so.

So, have you lost your first love?

Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5  Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Politically Correct Path

Jesus did not have to die on the cross. He could have taken a different path and been celebrated by the people. He could have thrown His support behind the Pharisees. He could have supported Herod. He could have tempered His teaching to be agreeable with the people. He could have appealed to the crowds.

Think about it. How popular would a person be who could heal the sick and provide food for everyone who came to hear Him speak? How many people would have thrown their support behind Him if He would have told them how they could be healthy, wealthy and wise?

Isn't that what many preachers are doing today? Are they showing signs of healing and telling people how they can have more money than they ever have? Are they being politically correct? Are they standing firm in Jesus being the only way for salvation? Are they saying that there are other paths to salvation? Are they soft on abortion and homosexuality? Do they preach that people should get married before they live together? Are they just being politically correct?

Some think that people didn't follow Jesus because He was enigmatic. They think that people didn't understand who He said He was. I don't think so. I think that people didn't follow Jesus because they understood who He was claiming to be. I believe they had heard that no one should claim to be who He was claiming to be for so long that they couldn't believe who He was. I think they looked at the crowds and determined that they needed to be politically correct.

Is that really different from today? Are people still being politically correct? Do they still look at the crowds who reject Jesus and join those crowds rather than go against them?

Being Jesus' follower is not any easier than it was during His day. Surely, few of us will see the physical persecution they would have seen but we shall still receive persecution. We may be ostracized or lose our jobs by our stand as a follower. We may have people slander us because of our beliefs.

Many people will kick Jesus to the curb when it comes to what they must do or what they must stand for. Political correctness will be more important to them than their relationship with Jesus.

The politically correct path will cause you to leave Jesus. It always has. Jesus is just not politically correct.

John 6:66 (Charles B. Williams Translation)
As a result of this many of His disciples turned their backs on Him and stopped accompanying Him.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not Part of the Crowd

I heard a "radio preacher" say that God never uses the crowd. He was recalling the story of Gideon having too many soldiers. He said that those who were scared were sent home. Those who were unprepared were disqualified. Only those who were completely obedient and dependent upon the Lord remained. I can imagine Gideon's attack against the most ridiculous odds with the idea that "this is so crazy it just might work."

God has always used extraordinary people. They were such because they obeyed. They often were the least likely to be God's leaders. They are the fatherless old man who would be the beginning of the lineage of God's people, the shepherd boy who would become Israel's greatest king and the loud-mouthed fisherman who would lead God's Church. Nothing on the outside appears extraordinary. It was their faith, their obedience and God's hand upon them that made them great.

Surely, there are faithful people in the crowd. They obey but they do not take the lead. They are often scared and run from what the Lord asked of them. They are unprepared to go into the battle. They are sent home because they want to make sure that their faith stays within limits. They want to make sure that no inconvenient commitment is ever made.

Thus, we have those who stand and fight and those who claim that their faith is something personal. They think it is okay to keep their faith private. They never understood what it means to let their light shine before men. That scripture is very inconvenient.

But my calling is not to determine the usefulness of others. My calling is to be faithful so that I can be used. I am not called to stand in a crowd that runs from the battle. I am called to be prepared. I am called to do anything and everything asked of me by my Savior.

Have you ever asked yourself if you have been faithful? Do you know what the Lord has called you to do? Are you doing it?

Or have you become part of the crowd?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When the Devil Roars

The Bible says that the devil prowls like a roaring lion. I have never heard a lion roar but I can imagine being in a jungle and hearing that roar. I can imagine that my heart would stop. I can imagine that all breath would be taken from me. I can imagine fear like I have never known before.

The devil can roar but he cannot touch us without God's permission. He was given permission to afflict Job but was limited in how far that affliction could go. The devil's greatest weapon is making us believe that something terrible is about to happen. He roars and we stop following after our Lord. He roars and we deny who we are in Him. He roars and we live in fear.

Most of the roars of the devil never happen to us. He roars and tells us that God will not take care of us. He roars and says that all is lost unless we abandon our devotion to the Lord. He roars to bring us the fear that will steal the joy we should have in the Lord.

How many times have you been afraid for your future? Were you really afraid that God would not supply what you needed? This is the roar of the devil. He consumes those who abandon their trust in the Lord.

The Bible tells us to resist him. We do so when we are firm in our faith. We do so when we tell him who our God really is. We do so when we recite the greatness of our God. We tell him of the times God has provided for us. We tell him of the times God has provided for His people.

Yes, we may end up suffering but the suffering can only last as long as God gives it permission. Then, we are relieved. This is our faith. This is a test of our faith. God never releases us to the devil without limiting the time and extent of what the devil can do.

So, the devil roars but instead of running, we confront him with our testimony of who our God is. He flees. It isn't so much that he is a coward. He just knows when he is licked.

1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Could Your Life Use a Full Charge?

I wanted to write this blog on my Macbook this morning but it was dead. Someone, possibly me, had used it until the charge was almost gone and left it up. While it goes to sleep, it does not stop draining the battery. Thus, I picked up a dead Mac.

This prompted me to think of "sharpening the saw." (I am not sure if I read this in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" or it was just in my Covey Planner.) I wondered when I had last "sharpened the saw" or to use a more timely term: "charged my batteries."

I continue to ride my bicycle to work each day. I go to the YMCA to improve my upper body strength. This has rejuvenated my body so that I have very little back pain and I am carrying thirty-five less pounds than I did a year ago. I also make sure that I get seven hours of sleep each night. My body is getting rejuvenated on a regular basis.

But what about my spirit? This is something that also needs charging. I know what I must do but I tell myself that I don't have the time to do it. We all struggle with making time for things. Something will always crowd out important things if we don't schedule them. I have not spent any time recharging my spirit.

I need to give my spirit time to enjoy the presence of God. Surely, this happens in worship but the spirit also needs "alone time" with God. This is different from the quiet time that I have each morning.  It cannot substitute for it.

I had a pastor who once advised me to make sure that my work at the church did not consume me. He said I should, "Depart daily, withdraw weekly and abandon annually." The fact that I go home each day does not substitute for a vacation that leaves town. The fact that I have a quiet time each day does not substitute for a extended time when I spend time with the Spirit.

Thus, I must schedule a day when I take my Bible and a notebook to some place where I can read and pray. I must listen to God and be quiet. I must sing (it will have to be far away from people so that my singing won't cause others pain) and even dance if that is where the Spirit leads me.

Otherwise, I will continue in the dull plodding of my present spiritual life. I just don't want that. I think life should be exciting. God made it to be such. He provides fullness in my phsycial, intellectual and emotional existence. Why would I believe He would allow my spiritual life to languish? In fact, I believe He would want this to be more vibrant than the others. Each of these need time to charge back to vitality. So, it is with the spirit. It needs to be recharged, too.

Okay, my life could use a full charge. How about yours?

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who Would You Call If You Knew Jesus Was Coming Back Tonight?

I wonder how the disciples interpreted what Jesus said. He told them that the end would come after the gospel had been preached to all the nations. They expected Him to come back for them at any time even though the gospel was hardly outside of Israel alone. They must have believed that they would be taken out before the gospel reached these other nations. Yet, how would they have seen all the things He had predicted if they were already gone. Still, I know, as they did, that Jesus could return right now.

The expectation of Jesus' return has been preached since I have been going to church. We sang songs which indicated that it could be at any time even though the gospel has still not reached all the peoples of the world. I was in Mongolia in the late nineties and hardly found anyone who had heard of Jesus. They had no idea who I was talking about. I am sure there are other people who have never heard of Jesus today.

I cannot say that Jesus will return today with certainty. I also can't say He won't. I do know that the gospel must continue to reach people. I believe God has already prepared these people to hear the gospel. I believe that many will be saved when they hear this good news. I know I have a responsibility in this.

Sometimes I don't think many Christians get it. They come to church, sing songs and even give some of their money but they don't really grasp the larger picture. They fail to understand that the Church exists to make disciples who will make disciples. The concept is not one of  "get saved and wait for heaven" but one of "get saved and bring others to heaven." They don't understand that some need to be teaching our children and preschoolers so that they can become disciples. They don't understand that Jesus didn't come just so that we might be able to tolerate this world and go to heaven. They think that faith is something that is used rather than something that is life changing. They don't know that all will change for them at the coming of the Lord. They don't have an urgency to get the gospel to everyone.

Who would you call if you knew Jesus was coming tonight? Who would you make an attempt to tell the gospel so that this person would join you in heaven? What would keep you from making that call? What's keeping you from making that call now?

Matthew 24:42-44 (NIV)
42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Playing It Safe

God is not safe. People think that coming to God will always appear safe. God will not comply with this premise. He will take people into places that demand faith. They will appear to be very dangerous. They will demand that the person or persons depend upon Him for safety. Our human nature believes that safety is found by keeping away from danger. It thinks that you will always be safe if you never run with scissors, never get into a fight or never go into dark places. Of course, playing is safe means that you are always mediocre. You live and die but are never remembered.

Playing it safe would have kept Moses in the Pharoah's court. He could have forgotten his Hebrew heritage and remained in luxury. Playing it safe would have meant that Moses could have stayed a sheep herder rather than going back to Egypt to get God's people. Playing it safe would have meant that Moses would have run from Pharoah after Pharoah opposed him. Playing it safe would not have led the people to the middle of a sea that could not be crossed quickly. Playing it safe would have meant integrating the people among the many peoples in the middle east. They would have lost their identity as God's people.

Doing what God says is seldom safe. It means leaving a safe job to do what God has called you to do. It may mean taking less pay when going to a new church because God has called you. It may mean addressing the sin of a prominent member of your church even though you realize that this will result in a firestorm of criticism. It may mean selling all that you have, giving it to the poor and following Jesus.

Yet, doing what God says though is ultimately safe. It will not seem to be safe. It will not have human assurances that it is safe. It will often lack the support of others. Yet, its safety is not based on what can be seen. It is based on faith.

The Bible tells the story of Jesus going to watch people give their money. Rich people gave a lot of money. A widow gives only two cents but it is all that she has. Jesus says that she gave the most. He doesn't say this but it means the same thing: "They gave what was safe. She gave everything so that she had to depend upon God." That was why she gave more than them. She gave away any safety. They only gave a small portion. (Check to see if someone says this in their prayer before the offering at church this next Sunday: "Lord, we return a small portion of what you have provided for us.") She understood that it all belonged to Him.

So, you can live a life of humanly assured safety or God-assured safety. The decision will determine who you are. It will reveal who you believe God is. It will either be one of mediocrity or given to God's glory.

There is only one truly safe place and it is not in playing it safe.

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Remember That He Is the Same God

So, you have just gotten some bad news. You have lost or may lose your job. You have bill that you can't pay. You have a sickness or a loved one has a sickness that is being called terminal. Your car has broken down and you can't afford to get another one. You are about to be evicted from your apartment. Your children are doing things that are harmful to themselves. You are stressed and yet can't sleep. Maybe all these things are happening at once.

I certainly hope not but even if they are, God is still the same God He was before your crises.

He is the same God who gave Sarah and Abraham a baby even though they had gone way past the time to have children.

He is the same God who preserved Moses life and brought down His wrath of Pharoah.

He is the same God who split the sea so that His people could walk through it.

He is the same God who provided manna for His people daily.

He is the same God who enabled a boy to kill a giant called Goliath.

He is the same God who made the flour and oil to multiply so a widow could provide for her son and Elijah.

He is the same God who brought the widow's son back to life when he died.

He is the same God who healed the leprosy of General Naaman.

He is the same God who multiplied the loaves and fishes.

He is the same God who made the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear.

He is the same God who resurrected a man who had been dead for four days.

He is the same God who resurrected His Son after three days.

He is the same God who came to you earlier in your life and brought you His presence in salvation.

He is the same God who has answered your prayers before this day.

And He will be the same God after your crisis is over.

James 1:17 (NIV)
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)
8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Know Pride, No Grace; No Pride, Know Grace

My pride gets in the way. It gets me in trouble. It makes me speak when I need to be quiet and makes me quiet when I need to speak. It keeps me from listening. It makes me take offense when no offense is given. It makes me a jerk when I am really a great guy- oops, there goes the pride again!

Pride does so much more damage than what others feel about me. It makes God opposed to me. It keeps me from His grace. It keeps me from seeing the things He has for me. It keeps me from accepting them. It makes me think I am too good for some things and keeps me from the best things.

I heard the story of a minister who would not accept a position at another church because the new church wouldn't pay him what he was already making. The opportunity has passed and he still does not know that it was God's will that he should have gone. The resultant years have been very hard for him. He has been financially decimated by circumstances. He does not realize that he could not believe that God would provide for him and his family if he followed God's will. He seized what should have been God's and stayed in his present place of service.

Most people think that he just couldn't believe God would provide. They say he has a lack of faith but I see it differently from the consequences. The man is in need of God's provision. God's provision is His grace. The prolonged lack of provision is God's means of teaching the man something that he needs to know. A brief period of time is a test of faith. A prolonged lesson is one of teaching humility. The need of this man was to submit to God's will regardless of the amount he was going to be paid. God would rather give this man grace but is prevented by the man's continued lack of humility.

I came to my present church for a salary less than I made in the last. I knew it was God's will to come. I obeyed even though I made less money and my house payment went up more than a thousand dollars a month. Yet, God has provided everything I have needed. I even have an abundance. Now, that's grace!

James 4:6 (NIV)
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

James 4:10 (NIV)
10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Can I Give to the Local Christian Radio Station and Count It as Part of My Tithe?

I think Christian radio has a great ministry. It helps Christians worship and give them comfort. It is good clean entertainment. However, it is not the church.

Some will respond with, "No, but it helps the church. Doesn't it give the church free advertising?" The answer is "yes" and "no." If the church charges anything for an event, even if that charge is to break even with the expenses, Christian radio charges the church big bucks. As long as the church charges nothing for an event, Christian radio does not charge. Most events require churches to charge something.

Christian radio exclaims it is "listener supported." Guess what? So is the church!

On the other side, I appreciate that Christian radio is around. It provides a ministry that the church has not been able to provide. They pay a fee for playing each and every one of Christians' favorite songs. They take a chance in buying the equipment and securing the license. Christians should support them.

But can a Christian count their giving as part of their tithe? Before I answer this question I must ask whether or not you care what the Bible says. If not, do what you want to do. If you do, then read on.

The Bible tells us that God calls the failure to give Him the full tithe theft. He says that the people are stealing from Him when they fail to bring the full tithe into the storehouse. The question is: what is this storehouse? The Bible tells us that storerooms were built in the Temple. It must be that God was expecting people to bring a tenth of the fruit of their labors to the Temple.

It is clear that the Church represents the Temple of the Old Testament. It is the place where God's people worship. It is the body of Christ. It is His Bride. It is whom He is coming back for. There is nothing more precious to the Lord than His church.

Does God still expect a tithe? Jesus said that people should tithe. (Luke 11:42) I don't think we can get a higher authority than Him. Therefore, Christians must return a tithe to the Lord through His storehouse (the Temple and now the Church) as Jesus expected and see what God will do in blessing them.

Christians should give beyond the tithe. That is what an offering is. The offering may go to a Christian radio station or an evangelist or missions or any other Christian related ministry. It is something that is not require of the Christian but should be expected of the Christian who truly loves the Lord.

You know what to do if you want to do what the Bible says. Remember God loves a cheerful giver. I wish people would keep it if they won't give it cheerfully but that's not my call. God has blessings bigger than Christians can imagine but it takes faith to receive them. Tithe to your church for a month and see if I am not right.

Look up Malachi 3:10 and Luke 11:42 and see what they say.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Cup of Water in Eternity

I suppose everyone has something that he is ashamed of. He is sure that God will never let him forget it. He has not allowed himself to forget it. It haunts him again and again no matter how much time has transpired. He will go to the grave with it.

This is not God's desire for any of us. He wants us to know that we are forgiven. He wants us to know that He has forgotten what we have done. He will never bring it up again. He wants us to get over everything we have done. He wants us to accept the Blood of Jesus as payment for our sins.

However, there is something that we have done that He does not forget. He will never let it fade away. It is reserved for us. Everything we do that supports the work of God will not be forgotten. In fact, the reward for our deeds will never be lost.

We do not live in a world in which sacrifice is a virtue. The world thinks that those who serve are merely servants. The world wants to be served at all times. Those few who understand this world know that it is fading away. The rewards it provides will soon be gone. They do not understand that the gold they have here will not have any value in eternity. They do not understand that the sacrifice they have for the gospel will have ultimate value in eternity.

Maybe this is why the world tries to give absolution to its sins rather than forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Christ. Sacrifice has no real place in a hedonistic world. The failure to accept Christ as our Savior results in carrying our sins with us. There is no virtue we have that will cancel our debt. The Blood of Jesus is the only answer for forgiveness.

So, on the one side my debt is canceled. On the other, my sacrifice continues to build an account in eternity.

Do you think that Christians realize this? Do you think they are always beating themselves up for the things they have done and never realizing their sacrifices are being stored for a reward in eternity? Do they know that even a cup of water is not forgotten?

Mark 9:41 (NIV)
41  I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Traveling at the Speed of Life

Scientific evidence suggests that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. Galaxies on the edge are traveling faster than the speed of light. This, to me, is mind boggling. I understand the concept of the redshift of light but it still makes me wonder who is doing the traveling. In other words, if we are going three fouths the speed of light in one direction and another galaxy is going three fourths the speed of light in another direction, neither of us is traveling at the speed of light but we are doing so relative to each other. Thus, how can you really measure speed without a static point? (I know someone knows but I am so far removed from this stuff it might be easier to let be ignorant than trying to explain it to me.)

Life seems to be expanding at an ever increasing rate, too. Once it seemed like forever between our birthdays. We didn't think Christmas would ever arrive. Summers were long periods of time between our school years. Graduation seemed like it would never come. Pregnancy before our first children seemed like an eternity.

Our lives seemed to have sped up as we have gotten older. Our dentist appointments seem to be a couple of weeks apart rather than six months. Our children are growing at an ever increasing rate. We didn't think they would ever say their first words. Now, their vocabularies are larger than ours. Birthdays are dates which we wonder what we have done in the past year.

Life can run over you if you don't travel with it. For example, you can be left behind by technology. You get on that bus or you won't know what is going on with those around you. They will speak a language you don't understand. They will do things that you can't imagine.

You must get on with others in your life or they will leave you behind too. Your children will have lives of their own. They will branch out from your life. They will get far apart unless one of both of you work at staying together. At first, they really want their independence and you must give them a measure of it but you must do whatever you can to stay as connected as possible without truly interfering in their lives. If you don't, you will look up one day and realize that it has been years since you have seen each other. Where did the time go?

Life needs a static point which gives some measure to the distance that has been traveled. It needs this point in other to tell if those around us are getting closer or farther away. Time is unreliable. Phsyical distance will not measure how close you are to each other. It will not necessarily allow you to travel at the speed of life with another person.

So what is it that will allow us to travel at that speed with another?

It is love. Love that can also be ever expanding so that it will fill the space between time and distance. It is the static point and the dynamic expansion of love that allows us to travel at the speed of life.

It will be all that remains after this life has been packed away in boxes of memories.

1 Corinthians 13:8a (ESV)
Love never ends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Do You Restore Someone Who Has Sinned?

We have all sinned. Each sin was enough to condemn us to an eternity of hell. Yet, not all sins carry the same consequences here on earth. Telling your spouse a lie will not be the same as committing adultery. Coveting your bosses car will not be the same as stealing from your boss. Therefore, some sins will require the sinner more time than others for restoration.

Here are the steps I have seen that have brought people back to a full restoration of service for our Lord. These are necessary both for the one who has sinned and those who will work together with the sinner. Avoiding these steps will most likely result in the return of the sin.

Confrontation. The person must know that he has been exposed regardless if he realizes it because his sin brought to light through another person or by the Lord personally. He must know that he can no longer hide the sin. Hiding the sin or any part of it will result in committing this sin again.

Confession. This is not telling God something that He already knows. It is saying the things that God would say about the sin. It is saying that the sin was against Him even if it involved others. It is taking full responsibility in the heart- not just with the mouth. It is painful because of the realization of how this sin has hurt God as well as others. True confession should be made as large as the group it affects. It should not go before the whole church unless the whole church is involved. A pastor may need to confess something done publicly before the church. However, others would not unless it involved the whole church.

Repentance. This is turning completely around. It means being in a church each time the doors are open. It cannot be casual. A casual repentance is of no use. It is radical. It is consistent. It is real.

Consequences. Most people say that forgiveness means there are no consequences. They point to the woman caught in adultery. They are wrong. That woman had to go back to her husband. (Their culture said that a woman had to be married to commit adultery. It didn't matter if the man she was with was married or not.) Jesus told her to "sin no more." This would have been extremely hard for a woman whose sin was so publicly known. There were huge consequences for her sin. There will be consequences for all sins. It may mean that the person is asked to attend church somewhere else for a while. It may mean that the person is removed from places of service. It may mean that the person must reveal his whereabouts at all times. It may mean restoring what has been taken.

Commitment. Most people think that commitment should come after repentance. Surely, repentance is a commitment in itself. However, I have found that people readily make a commitment when caught in their sins. They forget these commitments in the middle of their consequences. It is after the consequences are administered that the person cries out that their punishment is too much. In other words, they are saying, "I am willing to take punishment as long as it doesn't hurt too much." There is no real confession or repentance if there is no commitment after the consequences.

Restoration. I would love to do this in a formalized form if anyone would ever let me. I would love to anoint the person with oil and declare they are restored. However, most people stop somewhere before they are restored. They often return to their old ways. They never get this far so that they are never truly restored. They go somewhere else where they can repeat their sins.  A restored person needs to know he has been restored.

Do you have someone whom you know is in a sin which carries major consequences? Restore him if you can.

Galatians 6:1 (NIV)
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

(Yes, I know I used this scripture recently in a blog but the thought of restoring others is on my heart at this time. It is a totally different blog than before. The previous blog dealt more with my attitude. This one deals specifically with restoration.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Living in a Small Town in the State of Craziness

Why are we in the this state of craziness? Why is it that a state can establish a rule of law that defines marriage as between a man and woman yet a judge can reverse that ruling? Does this tell us anything about the arrogance of judges? Does that tell us something about the political nature of the justice system? Is this an indication that we are headed toward greater sinfulness? How did things get this way?

The Bible tells us. Those who know God do not honor Him or give Him thanks. These two actions cause their hearts to become darkened. They no longer see the light. Evil hides from the light. It loves the darkness. Darkened hearts are welcomed places for evil.

What did believers do that did not honor God or give Him thanks? They continued to go to church. They continued to send their kids to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. They continued to make all the Sunday night cantatas and fried chicken fellowships. They were members in good standing in their churches. So, what was it?

Believers did not understand that God is not to be placed first in their lives. He is to be placed only in their lives. God does not stand at the head of the line asking for our time and money. He is to be central to all that we do. Honoring God is not giving Him a portion of what we have. It is giving Him all that we have. Believers do not tithe or give because they see the long line standing behind God. They tell Him that He will have to wait while they get a new HDTV and car. He will be secondary to their needs. They say, "God, you know that if I have anything left over, I'll give you some of it." They throw a $5 bill in the plate and say, "Ain't I good today, God?"

Trying to place God first in your life is like trying to place your heart first in the list of all your body parts. This may explain why so many people are out of shape. Another body part will demand something that may be detrimental to the heart. The stomach may say that it wants to eat ice cream every midnight. The legs may say they want to lay on the couch rather than take a walk each day. The mouth may say that it really likes a six-pack every night. Things crowd each other once they are put in a line.

Therefore, the Bible tells us, that God will allow for people to unravel. Their natural desires will become unnatural. Sinfulness will be obeyed and honored. Righteousness and those who are righteous will be hated. Speaking against sinfulness will become a (hate) crime.

Is there a solution? Yes, of course but the solution is not easy. It demands something that will invade every area of the believer. It involves repentance and making God central to all that you do. It means sacrifice. It means going to work. There can be no complacency.  Wimps don't need to try this. It is life transforming.

Can you say that you truly honor God and give Him thanks? Can you say that He is central to everything in your life? Do you tithe and give Him an offering? Do you give Him thanks in everything or only for the big and good stuff?
Some believers have hunkered down and hope to wait out the storm. They think that they can continue to go to church and keep things just like they are. They can close out the rest of the world and regulate the amount of wrong that enters their own families or church.

They think they can live in a little town in the state of craziness. I think their town is about to be annexed.

Would you ask God to be central to your life today? Would you ask Him to bring light that will eliminate the darkness?

Romans 1:21 (NIV)
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Heart of Worship

2 Kings 18:4 (NIV)
4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

It seems that every believer should know that he or she should not worship anything or anyone but the Lord God but that isn't the case. Objects in the church are often worshiped without believers knowing what they are doing. I have seen hymnals, organs, stained-glass windows, pulpits and choir robes given the veneration which should have been reserved for the Lord.

They didn't even know they were worshiping these "idols." In fact, they denied it when confronted. They said, "I'm not worshiping the (whatever), I just think that (whatever) enhances my worship." They do not see how closely they resemble the people during Hezekiah's day nor during Paul's. They can not see that they have divided their worship between the Creator and man-made creations.

What would happen if your church removed the items which have become a part of your worship? Let's say that next week the choir chairs or the organ is gone. The pulpit is no longer on the platform. The hymnals are not in sight. The drums are missing. The pastor doesn't wear a coat or tie. There is no instrumental music. The room is austere. It has no head banging music or organ playing before the service begins. You are asked to sing and learn the songs without hymnals or screens. You are asked to pray without someone leading you. You are asked to open your own Bible because there are none in the pews.

How many less people would be back next week? How many more people would get it? Would anyone? 

Exodus 20:3-6 (NIV)
3 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6  but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Devil Laughs

I just heard that another church is fighting. They are voting whether or not to get rid of their pastor. It seems he confronted a prominent member about his sinfulness. The member gives a lot of money and the rest of the church would rather accommodate the sin of the prominent member than to stand up for righteousness. It's a whole lot easier to get rid of the pastor than to replace this member's money.

I already know how the story will be told about the town. They will say that the pastor was not a gracious forgiving person. They will say he was judgmental; and everyone knows the Bible says we shouldn't judge. (Actually, it doesn't. Read 1 Corinthians 5:12) The church needs a more caring and loving man.

Meanwhile, the devil laughs. He enjoys church fights. He loves churches who take their attention off of the Lord and place it on themselves. He loves churches who use their prayer meetings as opportunities for gossip. He relishes churches who are prideful about their missions giving but care very little about reaching people for Christ personally. He is excited about churches who applaud themselves for correct doctrine but fail to know that God is all powerful and present.

The devil laughs at anemic churches. He laughs because they think their problems are marketing or each other. He is so amused to see that the members lack love for one another. He knows that he would be defeated if they knew he was the enemy. He laughs when churches attack their own.

Either God laughs or the devil laughs with delight at the actions of a church. Which is it at your church? Who's laughing?

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

Quit the Job You Hate

I went into Wallytown this morning and asked the lady who was checking me out if she had just started her shift. She was not smiling. She said she had been there two hours and had six hours left. She said, "I can't wait."

I suppose she could be an aspiring actress who has taken this job until she gets her big break, but I doubt it. This is her terminal job. This is all that she will do. She has taken this job because it was the easiest thing to do. She doesn't want to work her way up the ladder. She just wants to get off work and go home. She needs to quit and get a job she loves.

Many people tell me, "O, that's not easy." Of course, it isn't easy. She already took easy! Easy is not having to study. Easy is not having to stay up late at night doing papers. Easy is not having to fill out job applications. Easy is not taking tests. Easy has gotten her a job she hates. Easy is going to keep her exactly where she is for the rest of her life. Easy is the road to hell in eternity. Easy is the road to hell on earth.

I suppose easy will keep you fat. Easy will keep you unhealthy. Easy will keep you in a rut. Easy will be your undoing.

So, what would you really rather be doing? How has God gifted you? What are your talents? Take an assessment. Change what you are doing if you are not using what God has given you.

Think about it! Do you think that God would give you spiritual gifts and talents and expect that you would never use them? It is God who is at work in you. Let that work become you. Quit the job you hate and get the job you love.

Philippians 2:13
For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Your Value to God

Have you ever thought that the world revolved around you? It does, but not like many people think.

Anyone who thinks that he is more important than anyone else is wrong. Anyone who thinks he is the most important person in the world is right. These statements are not contradictory of each other though many will claim they are.

God loves you with the same love that He loves others. There is nothing you can do to get Him to love you more. There is nothing you can do that will get Him to love you less. You are equal to the most and least loved person on the earth. Yet, there are times that the Bible seems to say this is wrong. For example, the Bible says, "God loves a cheerful giver." I think that has more to do with delight than actual love. How about, "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated?" This deals with hyperbole. It is a statement of the actions of those who disregard their inheritance. No, God loves you just as much as He does the Pope or Billy Graham.

This means that God will move heaven and earth so that you would know Him and come into His fellowship. He sent His Son for you even if no one else came to accept His forgiveness. He came for you personally to know Him. He will come after you if you walk away from Him. He will use the full extent of His resources to do so. He will make the bad and the good work to bring you close to Him. He will use those who love Him and those who hate or are indifferent to Him to bring you to Him. He will never make you go but He will lead in every possible way to get you to come to Him.

So the whole universe exists for you. And the whole universe exists for me, too.

There will come a time when a book will be opened and you will see your name written in it. Your name was written there before the beginning of time. You will realize that God did all that He did for you to have your name there. There will be other names. Maybe you will realize that He did all that He could so that their names will be there too. It won't matter if you realize it or not. Your name is in the book right now or it will never be. God has either been successful in calling you to Himself or He hasn't. You may continue to reject Him all of your life. You may be doing so right now. He will not make you come to Him.

You may have walked away from God. Isn't it strange that you would be reading this right now? Why is that? Could it be that God is calling you home to Himself? Did a friend tell you it was here? Could God have led that friend to tell you how important you are to God? He will change the universe for you to in His loving arms.

He knows your name.

Isaiah 49:16 (ESV)
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.