Search This Blog

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is Wrong Still Wrong or Have We Gone Astray?

What ever happened to right and wrong? People who say something is wrong are deemed judgmental. They are castigated as what is wrong with the world.

It seems that no one can say something is wrong if they have ever committed the wrong. The less people say something is wrong, the more people commit the wrong. Committing the wrong is a tacit approval of the wrong. Therefore, the wrong becomes the right and those who are saying anything is wrong are actually wrong themselves.

Let's take that a little further. Let's say that bank robberies were so common that just about everyone committed the robbery some time in their lives. They would say that they can't say that bank robberies are wrong because that would make them hypocrites. Therefore, fewer and fewer people would say that bank robberies were wrong because there is no one establishing that it is wrong. Eventually we will need to lock up the depositors because they are the only people saying it is wrong. They will be in the wrong because they have judged those who rob banks.

Yes, that's silly but let's take something that appears to be happening. Premarital sex was once said to be wrong. The commitment of marriage preceded sex. Time passed with more people saying it was wrong to judge those who had premarital sex. Many people openly admitted that they had premarital sex. They did not feel that they could "judge" others by saying it was wrong now that they were married. Thus, less and less people said it was wrong. More and more people joked about it. Before long it became the norm. Now, young boys and girls are ridiculed if they haven't had sex. Even the "G" rated programs speak of a person being ready for sex without any thought of marriage. Children born out of wedlock is more common in Hollywood than those who have married parents. Wrong has become right and right has become wrong.

People have to adjust their reasoning if we have any hope to preach righteousness in our churches. Committing a sin does not mean that you can't say it was wrong. In fact, you may have more right to say it was wrong than others. You can say that premarital sex has created a loss of trust that takes years to rebuild. (The husband wonders if his wife will sleep with someone else she is not married to if she slept with him before they were married. The wife wonders if he is using the moves on someone else he used on her before marriage.) You can say it is wrong even without admitting that you did it yourself.

Wrong and right must be established outside of what is going on. Righteousness is not determined by what everyone else is doing. Righteousness is established by Someone who has the right to determine what righteousness is. Only God can establish right and wrong. Mankind will always deteriorate the meaning of righteousness.

Righteousness must be established with authority. The Bible must be the written authority for God's Word. It should be preached regardless of the more' of a society.

Judgment is not saying something is wrong. Judgment is condemning someone for the wrong. We must stop the condemnation process while being able to say when an act is wrong. We must stop using Matthew 7:1 (Judge not lest ye be judged.) as a tacit means of approval of every sinful act. (Note that the following verses give instructions how to judge.)

Maybe a parable will help us understand:

A teacher who has been living with her boyfriend is told by one of her fourth grade students that she doesn't think that living together before marriage is right.

The teacher rebukes the child, "Judge not lest ye be judged!"

Later the teacher gives a math exam. The student gets her paper back. Several of her answers have big red X's over them. The student asks why they were marked as wrong.

"That's because those are the wrong answers, honey," the teacher explains.

"Judge not lest ye be judged!" the student replies.

Psalm 119:105-106 (NIV)

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. 106  I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stop Making Excuses for Failure

I hear it happen often. A person comes to the pulpit and complains about being sick or makes some other excuse for the bad sermon he is about to preach. This person will also tell how dumb he is or how inept he is at what he does. He thinks he is being humble but he is far from it. Humility is not self deprecating. Humility is not trying to make others think less of you.

I believe that those who are openly critical of themselves think of themselves too much. They are saying that God isn't doing such a great job. They are giving themselves excuses for failures. They are afraid that success costs too much. They make excuses for their failures before they fail.

Thus, they will belittle their churches, their children and themselves in an effort to make an excuse if anything goes wrong. However, their true nature is discovered if you ever question something they have done. They generally defend their actions to the hilt. It is evident that they really don't believe that they are the dumbest person in the room. They really are telling others how bad they are so that they can receive the applause of those who feel compassion for them. Then, if they really do fail, they have merely met their own (and others) expectations.

How can this be if you really know you are doing what God wants you to do? Shouldn't you have an expectation of success rather than failure? Shouldn't you expect God to give you strength to accomplish everything He has called you to do?

Joshua became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. How could he expect to lead this people after they had been led by someone whom God spoke face-to-face? Sure, he had been trained by Moses but could he actually take the place of Moses?

Imagine if he had stood before the people and said:

"Children of the former slaves from Egypt, Moses is dead. I have been placed in leadership over you but I am not fit to be your leader. I am not very smart. I don't talk to God like Moses did. I am really scared right now and you would be better off going back to Egypt than following me. However, I will lead you to the Promised Land where we will most assuredly die trying to defeat the people who already live there. Now, who's with me?"

Of course, no such speech was given. However, in all of his instructions to the Israelites Joshua added, (Joshua 1:13 (NIV))  "Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: 'The LORD your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land.'

Joshua made no excuses for failure. He didn't even accept the possibility of failure. He was expressing incredible confidence in God and the people. He was saying that victory was already theirs.

I wonder how many people would be successful at what they do if they would do what God told them to do and stopped giving excuses claiming failure is eminent.

Try praying the following prayer:

I thank you God for you have prepared me for every challenge I will meet today. I will call upon you when I feel weak. I praise you for you have strengthened me. I  need your wisdom. I thank you for giving it to me. Success will be determined in my faithfulness. I will do what you say because I love you with all my heart. Amen.

Now, dont' make another excuse. Go and do what God says.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can You Recommend Your Church?

Once you were likely to receive an unannounced visit from a church you recently visited. They would arrive at your door and want to talk to you about your faith and the church. They would expect you to open your door and spend a minimum of thirty minutes to an hour assuring them of your faith. This method has become less and less effective (except possibly in rural situations). Many people see this an invasion of their homes. They do not want anyone coming unannounced. They don't like it when their family does this to them; why would they want someone they don't know doing this?

Many churches went to the telephone contact people for their church. They reasoned that this was not an invasion of privacy. The telephone seemed benign. Then, the telemarketers hounded people. They called until no one could eat their evening meals. They called in the middle of favorite television programs. They called until caller identification became a standard feature on phones. Now, the contact from a church is met with the same resistance as if the church is a telemarketer.

Email seems to be the next best solution. Many find it the most impersonal but it neither invades privacy nor interrupts what is going on. Then, spam came to destroy this method of contact. People started getting so many unsolicited emails that spam filters became the norm. Many will never see their emails received because the person must place the address of the sender into their address book before that email can proceed. Of course, the church or the church member who is making this contact is not in the address book. Therefore, the emails being sent are going unread.

So, how are churches to make contacts if these methods are ineffective? I am glad you asked.

I have a couple of Honda cars. Hondas need their timing belts changed every 80,000 miles. That time has come on one of my vehicles. I asked people who I should go to. Most people scratched their heads and said they didn't know. A recommendation is putting your own reputation on the line. The people I asked did not want to be responsible for a bad mechanic. They preferred to be silent.

Finally, someone recommended a place to me. This place works on Hondas exclusively. I went looking for them on the internet. They were listed in the White Pages but did not have a website. I called them and told them what I needed. Their hours of operation were very limited. I got a map from google and headed to their business. They were very hard to find with the GPS and the map. How are they able to stay in business?

The answer is simple. They live on recommendations. I have never seen their advertising. No one is going to find their business unless they are purposely driving there. (And many of them will lose their way!) They must do a great job or they will never see another customer.

Is this a crazy idea for a church? Should a church exist on its reputation? Why hasn't the church done so?

Jesus healed a blind man by making some mud from His spittle and putting it on the man's eyes. The blind man was instructed to wash the mud off at Siloam. The man received his sight and, no doubt, exuberantly declared that Jesus had healed him.

Those who chose not to believe questioned the man who said, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (Does this sound like a recommendation to you?) The man who was born blind had become someone who would endorse Jesus wholeheartedly.

This is what is missing in the church. Few people are saying that they have found the One who can open their eyes. Every method we use is going to be ineffective as long as this is true. Maybe the church has not been that effective in opening eyes.

Therefore, the man born blind became a believer. Those around him received his recommendation. Every day he walked around seeing was a testimony to Jesus.

Of course, some people will never believe nor will they accept our recommendations. That's not the point anyway. We must be in the business of opening the eyes of people by the power of Jesus if we are to reach out world. It will be on their recommendations (testimonies) that the church will exist. We will stand on fact that Jesus is the Messiah. We will proclaim who He is through our seeing.

Listen to this seeing man's recommendation:

John 9:30-33 (NIV)
30 The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

Monday, September 27, 2010

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

I wonder why some people call themselves Christians? Sure, they go to church and they are fairly moral people but there are plenty of people who live lives better than many Christians who aren't Christians. Many Muslims are more devoted to their faith. They fast, abstain from alcohol, abhor premarital sex and pray several times a day. Most of the people who call themselves Christians don't allow their faith to cause such a different lifestyle than those who have no faith at all. Many more Muslims act like Muslims than Christians act like Christians.

I wonder if many of the people who call themselves Christians only became so because they believed it would make their lives better. That makes a lot of sense when you see the sermons from some of the fastest growing churches. It is hard to find a sermon that doesn't have "victory" or "successful" in the title. There are steps and ways and methods to put the hearers ahead of those who aren't at those churches. Who speaks of commitment, suffering and being "washed in the blood" anymore?

These messages don't seem to be the ones being preached during the New Testament. Jesus said that people would try to give His followers hell even though they were trying to give the world heaven. He said that they would be beaten and martyred for the sake of the gospel. Their faith wasn't one of what they would get out of Christianity. They believed in Someone who brought life. Their lives had received the joy of the Holy Spirit. Many of them would indeed be martyred. Others would see Christians torn apart by wild beasts and placed on poles and used as torches to light the city streets of Rome. Why would anyone believe in something so dangerous?

Many of Jesus disciples left Him after he made some very hard statements. It had to be extremely discouraging. Jesus went to the Twelve and asked if they would go too. But their faith was not one of  trying to get an advantage over others. Their faith was one of commitment that could not be shaken by difficult words. They believed in a way that their lives made their Lord central. This is not a life of God as number one. It is a life that does not exist unless God is central to everything that goes on around it. It is a internal faith rather than a simple belief. It is one that becomes the person rather than something the person outwardly believes.

All but one of Jesus' disciples had this faith.

What kind of faith do you have?

John 6:66 (ESV)
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve: And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confession Is Better than Perfection

I recently read that only 2% of the people who talk on cell phones while driving can do so safely. They have the true ability to give the same attention to their driving as they would if they did not use the cell phone.

I have a prediction, though it has no scientific backing. I predict that 98% of the people who talk on cell phones while driving believe they are in the 2% who can do so safely. Many of us make ourselves legends in our own minds.

This is why we fail to see many of our own sins. We don't notice when we gossip. We may call it sharing or doing so as a prayer request. We don't believe we have lied when we tell a church member that we have prayed for them when we really haven't. We don't notice our own judgment of others by the way they dress or their accent. We fail to notice our own lusts and greed.

I believe that trying to live a perfect life is a horrible way to live. I believe it leads to legalism rather than an intimate relationship with our Lord. However, I would like to be changed from the inside out by His presence so that my actions change. I would like to recognize my own sins so that I can honestly confess them.

I would rather be clean than perfect. I would rather be made righteous by God than to believe that my righteousness comes from my own actions. I would rather my God continually change me than to be without any flaw because of my own efforts. I would rather be His creation than to believe that I am my own.

Of course, getting to this point takes a lot of confession. It means that I can no longer look at my own actions and deem them good or bad. I must have the Holy Spirit who convicts me. I must pray that prayer, "Search me, O God, and see if there is any wicked way in me." This prayer made honestly will bring conviction. Conviction should bring confession.

God does the most miraculous thing when I have confessed. He cleanses me from all unrighteousness. This unrighteousness was already forgiven for our salvation but it still separated us from Him in the present. Its separated us from His word. It was necessary for the cleansing to take place.

Would you pray that prayer? "Search me, O God, and see if there is any wicked way in me."

Then, confess. His word will show itself to be in you.

1 John 1:9-10 (NIV)
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Didn't You Know He Knew?

I have seen it happen so many times before. Someone who has charge of the church money takes some of it. I have seen financial secretaries take hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wonder if they thought that they would never get caught. I wonder why they didn't know that God already knew. Do they think so little of Him that they perceived Him as an old man who didn't care or didn't notice? Do they believe in God at all?

Of course, these aren't the only ones who have been active in church and continued to do something they shouldn't. There have been infidelities and even bank robberies by church people. There have been murderers, pastors who preached against homosexuals but were homosexuals themselves and out and out perverts active in the church and practicing their sins when away from it.

This blog is not an effort for us to look down on these people. Their sins are particular and they have more severe consequences but they are sins. They are no more or no less than what any of us have done to send Jesus to the cross. Yet, they were so hidden and continued that I wonder if these people thought they would get away with it. I wonder if they never thought about God knowing what they did.

This all makes me think that I must be very careful to confess my own sins. I am not going to get caught. I am already caught. God already knows the things I have done. He knows the things that I wouldn't want anyone else to know. He knows the sins that I have committed secretly. He knows my words and my thoughts.

People haven't changed. David thought he wouldn't get caught in his sin with Bathsheba and the cover-up that killed her husband. Ananias and Sapphira didn't think they would be caught. Maybe even Judas didn't think he would be caught. Yes, Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned. I guess thinking we wouldn't be caught goes back a long ways.

The best thing is to confess. Nothing else cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Confession is much better than being caught.

Psalm 51:1-4 (NIV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 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.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Testimony Starts with "A Test"

Matthew 4:1 (NIV)
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Right after Jesus was baptized He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It seems that the purpose of the Spirit is to test Jesus.

I believe that everyone that makes a commitment to the Lord will be tested. He or she will have difficult times as soon as they say, "I'll do whatever you say, Lord. No matter what!" It is then that the test begins.

I have had many people tell me that they have committed their finances to the Lord only to have unexpected bills come their way immediately. They have told the Lord that they will always trust Him and soon seen their children sick or their job in jeopardy. They have committed themselves to a mission trip or to teaching Sunday School and been struck with a personal illness which shook their faith.

I am not trying to say that "no good deed goes unpunished." I am saying that we never know the reality of our own faith as long as it is never tested. A testimony starts with a test.

I looked carefully as I read this one verse. The Spirit led Jesus. The Spirit does not tempt us. We are merely led to the place of temptation. The tempter will always stand ready to have us tarnish God's glory. He will tempt with the hope that we will join him in cursing God.

The Spirit led Jesus also means that He was out front. Leading requires you to be out front. He doesn't send us to the place of temptation but leads us to that place. He knows what will happen and therefore stands before us.

The Spirit led Jesus also means that He is with us through the whole temptation. We are never alone. We always have His strength if we will simply stop trying to win our battles without Him.

It is interesting to note that the devil threw his best at Jesus, failed and left Him. This does not mean that he never opposed Jesus again. He just realized that he was defeated and had no further reason for being there.

It was from this point that Jesus began His preaching ministry. He had been tested and proven true. He had a testimony.

Is there a testimony being created for you right now? Have you committed yourself to the Lord only to find yourself being challenged like never before? Please remember these three things:

The Holy Spirit is leading you right now.

The Holy Spirit is before you right now.

The Holy Spirit is with you right now.

Your power can be found in Him. From this testing you will have a powerful testimony.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Listen to a Gossip!

I went to the YMCA early this morning to work out. I have been on their FitLinxx program for a couple of months. I like it because I use machines that tell me exactly what to do, if I am doing it correctly and what I need to do next. The machines are fairly quiet so I can hear conversations around me. Some conversations can't be missed even when you try.

One man said to another man, "Does your daughter go to (a local high school)?"

"No," was the reply, "She goes to (a different local high school)."

"Well," said the first man, "I heard that the new principal is . . . ." He continued to make damaging statements bout the new principal. He had obviously never met this new principal. He was relaying a message he had heard. He then gave his disclaimer, "Of course, this is just one man's opinion."

This is gossip that comes from the pit of hell.

Who says that men don't gossip?!

Why tell the story if it is merely "one man's opinion?" Why tear someone down that you have never met? Why make a statement like this so loudly that I can hear?

I looked at the man making the statement. I wanted to remember him so that I would never do business with him. I never want an employee like him. Gossip comes from and goes down into the innermost parts of a person. This man lacks integrity.

What if what he said is true? What if the principal's character was exactly as he alleged? It makes no difference. He is still carry at tale to hurt someone. That's gossip-plain and simple.

Don't listen to gossips. You will carry their words with you if you do. These words will become a part of you if you embrace their words.

Then one day you will be saying, "Let me tell you what I heard . . . ."

Proverbs 18:8 (NIV)
8  The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Many Pastors Are Surprised by the Grumbling

Church people believe that obeying God will mean that everything will go perfectly. They are told that the reason they are having so many problems is because they haven't obeyed God. They have been given solutions to their problems. They are told that obeying God will solve their problems. Therefore, they believe that God has not been obeyed when something goes wrong.

The pastor of a church must make decisions which he believes are in accordance with God's will. He must make hard decisions. Many decisions mean that other decisions can't be made. Some members of his church may believe that he has made the wrong decisions. They will point to everything that goes wrong as evidence that these were the wrong decisions. They will get others to join them in the grumbling.

Unfortunately, most pastors also believe that success means that the right thing was done and failure means the wrong thing was done. They are surprised with failures. They are surprised by the grumblings. They believed what they were doing was what God wanted them to do. Failure seems to be all they have to show for their faithfulness. There is grumbling all around them.

Many of the people who grumble are those who agreed with their decisions. It seems that they forgot that they were supporters. The first grumblers to leave a church after the calling of a new pastor are former members of the Pastor Search Committee who called him. Many pastors expected opposition but they thought it would be agents of the devil. They never expected their opposition to come from within their own churches.

Should these pastors have been surprised? No.

Moses was called by God to call His people to the Promised Land. The people believed that Moses was God's called to lead them. (Exodus 4:31) They complained when Pharoah required more work of them because of Moses' action (Exodus 5:21). They complained when Pharoah's army pursued them as they left Egypt (Exodus 14:11-12). They complained when they thought they would run out of water in the wilderness (Exodus 15:24). They grumbled when they thought they would run out of food (Exodus 16:2-3). In fact, these people continued their grumblings and complaining throughout their time with Moses.

Now if Moses, who could show supernatural signs that he was God's chosen leader, had grumblings against him; shouldn't most pastors also have grumblings against them when things don't go as the people expect?

The pastor also should not teach or assume that doing the right thing will result in immediate success. Building projects may mean financial difficulties just as leaving slavery meant other physical hardships. Doing the right thing often results in an immediate downturn in production and/or attitude.

The question that must be answered by every pastor is: "Am I doing what God wants?" Everything else is irrelevant. Even the grumblings must be irrelevant.

If pastor and reading this please understand: I am also a pastor and I don't really like grumbling either. However, I know that it takes heat to be a cook. I am called to shepherd the flock; not to fight with them or beat them. I am called to love and care for the flock; not to agree with every direction they would like to go. I am called to lead and leadership means that everything doesn't always produce immediate success. Leadership means people will judge you quickly. I am called to be God's servant just as Moses was. I work for Him, the congregation just provides support for me. If they choose to stop, I still work for Him.

I can say this now because I have been in the midst of grumbling before. (There are always some grumblers anyway. They exist even when things go perfectly.) I have a wonderful church and they are incredibly supportive. I just don't want pastors to believe that grumbling is unusual. Even God's friend, Moses, received grumbling.

If there is grumbling in the church. Please send this to your pastor. He needs to know he is not alone. He needs to know that grumbling may be because he has done the right thing.

Most pastors can relate with the following statement at one time in their ministry:

Exodus 17:4 (NIV)
4  Then Moses cried out to the LORD, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thankful for the Struggles in Life?

It is genuinely hard to be thankful for the struggles of life as long as we are in the middle of them. Struggles often hurt and injure us. They cause us to doubt; they steal our strength. Continuing faithfulness often makes us look foolish to others.

Job's wife thought Job should simply curse God and get it all over with. She couldn't stand seeing her husband in his pain. He had lost his children, his wealth and his health. What was there to live for? This is exactly what Satan told God that Job would do if he was allowed to take away those things that people count precious. However, Job did not curse God.

Somehow Christianity has become a means of making life better. Sermons tell how we can become better leaders, more successful in our lives and better off financially, socially, maritally, intellectually or any other ally. It seems that Christianity tells us that faithfulness will ensure a struggle free life. The message seems to be, "Just get yourself back on track if you start to go through a struggle and you will find yourself better off than you have ever been." This is not the story of those who are faithful in the Bible.

Paul spend a significant amount of his ministry in prison. I really don't think he thought that prison would be better than being free. The early disciples were afraid of being arrested, persecuted and martyred. Some saw their fellow Christians placed on poles, set on fire and used for lighting in Rome. They were used for sport as wild animals tore them apart. They could lose everything because they remained faithful. They would not have agreed with many of the sermons we hear today. They would have known that faithfulness could get one killed.

The rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous. Bad things happen. It is important that we remain faithful during those bad times. The result of the struggle will bring significantly positive changes to the Christian if he remains faithful.

Peter says that these bad times will not last. They will either result in going to be with our Lord in heaven or they will end. The Lord will step in and do things in the faithful Christians life. He will perfect that Christian. The struggle will have broken the Christian in many ways. Job had both his finances and family broken. God restored those things. He gave him children and finances. His brokenness was made complete again.

God will confirm the faithful Christian's faith. Talk is cheap. Saying you believe in the church where everyone will agree with you is not much of a witness. Saying you are a believer and continuing in that faith when you are struggling changes both the world around the Christian and the Christian.

Struggles steal from a Christian's strength. It is hard to get up each day after your spouse asks for a divorce. It is hard to look for a job after you have looked for so long. It is hard to keep praying when your child won't have anything to do with you or your faith. God brings strength back to the believer when the struggle ends. He makes them stronger than they were before.

God establishes a new foundation for those who have been faithful. Israel balked at going into the Promised Land initially. They would not remain faithful for they had a weak foundation. Joshua takes a new group of Israelites into the Promised Land. He takes them because they have had a strong foundation created because they have been in the wilderness nearly all of their lives. The struggle made them strong. God does amazing things with those whom have built a strong foundation.

Yes, you will go through struggles. No, struggles do not come only if you are unfaithful. God takes the struggle and brings you through it.

When does He cause the struggle to end? When it has done everything you need.

I don't think I will ever be thankful for struggles while I am going through them but I am finding myself increasing thankful for them when they are over. I am different more from my struggles than from the good times. Thank God He has used them for His glory!

1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Not Sing?

Our church has both a traditional service and a contemporary one. (I think these terms are outdated but they are the best I have at describing these services.) I stand on the front row during the contemporary service as we sing so I don't get the opportunity to watch the people sing. I sit on the platform during the traditional service and see them.

Many people neither sing nor smile during the whole service. They are unresponsive to just about everything that goes on. Many of these people are senior adults. I wonder if they were told by their parents that they shouldn't move while in church. They are still obeying their parents.

Those who neither laugh nor smile actually do not bother me as much as those who don't sing.

Now, I can understand their thinking that their singing makes a terrible noise. Some of them are justified by being silent. I probably should be silent myself but that should not keep me from lowly saying the words. It should not keep me from moving my mouth so that the singing comes from my heart rather than just my mouth.

Our church uses Media Shout for our songs. I have observed that those who change the slides who sing with us correctly change them at the right time. Those who merely change the slides often get behind and disrupt the singing. One is doing so in a physical way and the other is just doing so mentally. The one who participates physically gets it right. They are more engaged in what is going on.

I believe that those who would move their mouths though they actually remain silent would get more out of worship than those who just stand there while others sing. The singing should erupt from the heart. And sometimes it even comes from the mouth.

Why not sing?

Ephesians 5:19 (NIV)
19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are the Gates of Hell Winning?

The believer stands on one declaration which cannot be overcome. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. He is the One who has overcome the forces of evil. This declaration is more than words. It is a complete commitment to who He is. When the believer makes this statement as who he is the devil cannot have the victory.

Gates where generally the most defended part of a stronghold. The fortress would fall if the gates were breached. The Gates of Hell refers to death. It is death that is the stronghold of the devil. The declaration of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah resulted in Jesus saying the Church would be built upon what he had just said. Jesus said the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church when the Church kept that alive.

I have seen many churches having tremendous trouble lately. I know of many that are on the verge of going out of business. In each case I believe these churches have forgotten what they stand for. As their congregations got old they ceased to take their responsibilities for the gospel. They stopped working in the nursery and stopped inviting people to come join them. They secluded themselves in their homes. They had no witness to their neighbors.

These churches were able to operate for years because their members continued to tithe even though they didn't reach new people. Instead of being a positive witness in their communities, they hoped their communities would just leave them alone. They were afraid of anyone neighboring them. They looked down on those who came in less than suits and dresses. They were afraid of any other color.

In some cases they sent their money to mission agencies so that they could declare they still were witnessing to the world. Of course, that temporarily helped the mission agencies but it makes the church a failure because a church must first reach those around it. When the church dies the mission agency will get no more money to operate. The church must think of ways to reach people in its own neighborhood. It must make sure that it never forgets its foundational statement.

Of course, we should expect that a church will die when it no longer stands on Jesus as the Messiah. The foundation has been eroded. The building must fall. The Gates of Hell will prevail.

That should never be the story of any church. It should revisit why it exists again and again. It should evaluate itself based on whether it is making a statement that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is true of the individual as well. You are either helping your church live or allowing it to die. Do you stand and say that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah?

Matthew 16:18 (NIV)
18  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Christian Evidence for God

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." -Stephen Hawking

We cannot seem to get beyond understanding God as someone who acts like us. The Greeks created their gods with human flaws.  Even many Christian theologians want to give God human characteristics. Even the brightest minds cannot fathom a world with God if they have never met Him.

We should not be surprised that God's Word should be continually challenged by those who are seeking to make Him irrelevant. They have discovered that it is impossible to prove that He doesn't exist. It is impossible to prove anything doesn't exist. No one can do an exhaustive study in the whole universe. Therefore, it is more likely that they will say that He is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if He exists or not. Everything would be the same anyway.

Their frustration is that they have no clear evidence of God in which they are forced to say that He exists. They want some evidence that is as reproducable as a science experiment. But God does not perform on cue. He does not appear when you think He should. He appears in the most unlikely moments.

Thursday night I went into ICU at a local hospital to pray for a man who had a stroke during the late service this past Sunday. I had prayed for him while the EMTs removed him from our sanctuary. He had a blood vessel that ruptured in his brain. He couldn't move the left side of his body.

He appeared to be getting better but on Thursday took a turn for the worse. He was unresponsive and placed on a resperator. I placed my hand on his arm and prayed. That night the hospital called his wife to tell her that he was responding to all commands. They removed the resperator on Friday and things were looking up. I believe God intervened in this man's life but I know that others could explain his recovery in other ways.

I never suppose that my prayers are powerful. I only know that the God to whom I am praying is powerful. I have no insight or special powers to coerce God into answering my prayers. I just see Him act and praise Him for it.

I suppose I am not much different from Stephen Hawking in wishing that I could have some physical evidence for God. He remains spirit no matter how much I have wanted to know Him physically. He remains soverign no matter how much others try to get Him to perform.

The only way I can relate to God is through my regenerated spirit. That spirit was dead (meaning that it could not respond to God's Spirit). It was made alive by Him. It is through my spirit that I hear God. I know Him in this way and in no other.

People will always seek further evidence for the existence of God in the physical world. They will do studies on prayer and healings. They will challenge the creation of the universe by natural law. They will seek to get God to perform some miracle.

Still, they will find that the true evidence for God will be seen in their own spirits as it relates to the God who is spirit. Yes, God is spirit and He cannot be made less than what He is. Our relationship to Him is all that we should need to know the great I AM.

John 4:24 (NIV)
24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound

I sat outside the Principal's office on a Monday afternoon. My fourth period teacher would not allow me into class. I had skipped his class the previous Friday. He knew that I had been in school. I played in the football game that night. I had introduced the speaker at the Pep Rally that morning. Everyone, including this teacher had seen me. I couldn't say I had been sick.

This particular teacher was angry partly because he felt that athletes got special privileges. I was one of the captains on the football team (there were three of us). He wanted to bring me down. Unfortunately, I wasn't worried.

The teacher was actually one of my favorites. He taught Physics. I liked the course and appreciated the teacher. I just came up with an excuse to skip for the rest of the day and was pretty sure that I would get by with it. There were several others on the football team with me. If I got busted the rest of them would have to be busted too.

The Principal invited me in and I told him what happened. He wrote me an excuse and sent me to class. I thought the teacher was going to bust a blood vessel when I gave it to him. It really wasn't until that moment that I felt some guilt. I shouldn't have gotten away with it. How did this happen?

We seem to measure right and wrong based on who is being judged. The athlete, the cheerleader, the Student Body President and others deemed privileged. Others, because of  their parents' prestige, get passes while others are forced to pay for their transgressions. This world is corrupt and makes up excuses for the corrupt.

God will not act in this way. He will not take into account that I am a pastor. He will not fret over whether or not I can play on Sunday morning. He is not worried about winning or what others might say. He will judge clearly based upon His commandments and laws. He will judge if I have been righteous.

In the end I will not receive an excuse. I will not be allowed back in class because He has written a note saying that others must ignore what I have done. He will demand the full payment. He must because He is holy. Nothing can corrupt Him.

I wonder if that will be my fullest realization of what Jesus did on the cross. I wonder if God will tell His Son to show me His hands and feet. I wonder if I will see the places where the crown of thorns sat. Will I be shown His back that was beaten or His side that was pierced?

No, my sins are not excused. Instead, I have received grace. Grace that comes from the love of God who neither denies that I have sinned nor left me to be condemned by them. A guilty verdict will be declared in that Great Court of Judgment. But the sound of "Guilty!" will not have stopped echoing throughout that court before the words "Paid for!" and "Forgiven" will also be heard.

Grace is amazing. It does not leave you in your sins. It pays for them so that you don't have to carry them with you any longer.

Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV)
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8  that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surprised by an Old Story

Last night I presented the story of the ax head floating in the Jordan River. I told the congregation that I had no explanation how an piece of iron could float in a river. I also told them what I had learned from the story.
The ax had been borrowed. The head flew off  as it was swung to fell a tree. It landed in the Jordan. The borrower was distressed. The Bible gives clear instructions for us when something we borrow breaks. It says full restitution must be made. (Exodus 22:14) This means that the ax must be replaced at the borrowers expense. He has lost the money for an ax and never owned one either.

The head on the ax was loose. It had been used. The owner may not have noticed. The borrower evidently had not noticed. Of course, the responsibility lies in the one using the ax. However, the borrower would have to replace a new ax for an old one.

I learned that I should borrow as little as possible. I borrowed a pressure washer from a friend recently. I used it, cleaned it and took it back to him in good shape. The pressure washer broke when the next person borrowed it. It could have broken when I was using it. I would have been obligated to buy my friend a new pressure washer or, at least, have his fixed. In either case, I am responsible to the lender for the things I have borrowed. Afterwards, I bought my own pressure washer. I guess "neither a borrower or lender be" fits well here.

Elisha asks the borrower where the ax head fell. I would have retorted, "It fell in the river! That's all you need to know!" Sometimes I give up on things that God can solve. I don't take things to Him. I just assume that's the way things are. I fail to see His solution because I either feel it is too small a thing to take to Him or that there is really nothing that can be done about it.

My wife and I bought a Chevette while I was in seminary. It was really a good vehicle except the clutch burned out frequently. We had very little money and I learned to replace the clutch myself. (I did it so many times that I could do it between thirty minutes to an hour.) Once, I did not have the time to replace the clutch but I still had to use the car. My wife suggested that I give the problem to God.  I laughed and said, "Should I also anoint it with oil? How about 30 weight? Its a clutch! You don't pray about a clutch." However, she prayed and, you know what? The clutch got better! I learned I should bring everything to God.

Elisha cuts a stick and throws it into the water where the ax head had landed.  The iron ax head floats on the water. There is no reasonable explanation for this. Iron will not float on water unless God supersedes the laws of physics. He must do a miracle. Miracles don't need explanations. Miracles just need faith.

God is never constrained to follow His laws. He set them in place as the standard operating procedures until His sovereignty. He did not make them such that He couldn't suspend their operations. It is all His creation. He also created the laws that generally govern His creation. Yet, He is still the Almighty God.
I was called to a hospital room several years ago because a relatively young lady had a stroke. (She was in her thirties.) I prayed over this lady and left. Her sister told me that she was immediately healed. In fact, not only had the symptoms disappeared but all evidence of the stroke disappeared too. This young lady who had been carried into the hospital a few days before walked out a couple of days later. There was no secular explanation for her healing.

I learned that I do not produce miracles any more than Elisha did. There was nothing magical about my words or actions. The decision and power to heal remained in the hands of God. God gave me the privilege of seeing Him work. He strengthened the faith of this young woman. He confounded the learned doctors.

I went into the Bible study thinking: "This is an old story that we have heard so many times. What could we possibly learn from it?" Yet, God continues to surprise me with His word.

2 Kings 6:1-7 (NIV)
1 The company of the prophets said to Elisha, "Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. 2 Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live." And he said, "Go." 3 Then one of them said, "Won't you please come with your servants?" "I will," Elisha replied. 4 And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. 5 As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. "Oh, my lord," he cried out, "it was borrowed!" 6 The man of God asked, "Where did it fall?" When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. 7  "Lift it out," he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Demon Awards Night at the Church

The church was dark but the pews were filled. No, these pews did not contain those who called themselves members of this congregation. The attenders tonight were the demons who had kept this church under their master's control.

Tonight's meeting was very special. It was awards night and the master himself had come. Each one was hoping that his efforts will be rewarded. Deceit sat on the back row. Greed roamed the crowd. Lust perused a slutty magazine. Gambling was wagering his chances of winning an award. Each of the demons had made gains in the church this past year. This had become their church. They were proud of it.

Once this church was a challenge for any of the demons to corrupt. It's pastor had been a praying man. He led the congregation to pray. They had called upon God to lead and protect the church. God had sent His choice angels to battle the demons. They had fled in defeat many times. It seemed they would never get a foothold.

The master came to the pulpit. The murmur that filled the room stopped as if one were turning off a light. There was no sound system yet the master's voice boomed. "Tonight, we honor the one who has made all of you a success. This church belonged to the Unspoken Name before he arrived. He worked silently. He worked steadily. He opened the doors for all of you."

Each of the demons sat closer to the edge of their seats. Each one wanted the accolades this honored one would receive. Each one was hoping his name would be called. Each one believed he had been the reason for all their successes.

"This one has used the phrase," the master continued, "'you must love yourself first or you can't love others' to its fullest advantage."

Absolute Lies who was sitting close to the back sneered and whispered, "Yeah, but there is some truth in that!" His disdain for the truth could be felt as he seemed to have trouble pronouncing the word.

The master, whose hearing was supernatural, raised an eyebrow and looked directly at Absolute Lies. "The best lies contain some truth. Never forget that a partial truth is still a complete lie." Absolute Lies slid down in his seat. He didn't want any further rebuke from the master. He knew that there was no mercy in the master.

"No, the one we honor tonight interchanges truth with lies so beautifully that even the grandest of the saints fails to see what he is doing. This honored one took this praying pastor and corrupted him. He infiltrated the leadership of the church when all others' efforts failed. I want each of you to stand and give your applause in praise of the one to whom we owe our success."

There was a long pause. No one stood as yet because each one believed that he was the honored one.

The master took a deep breath. He let the words roll from his lips. The words being spoken like the announcer at a boxing match, "Are you ready to rummmmble?" Each demon smiled. Each one prepared to accept the award.

"This year's award goes to . . . Selfishness!"

Silence invaded the room. Each demon sat without moving, without breathing. The glare of the master roared. Fear was the first to stand. Cowardice followed. Soon all the demons thunderously applauded. It wasn't respect. It was an obligation.

Selfishness sauntered to the pulpit. He had been sitting on the front row. There had been no anxious moments for him. He knew he would win the award. He had done so many times before.

Envy, Selfishness' mate, was so proud. She knew he couldn't have done it without her.

James 3:14-16 (NIV)
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Is Spiritual Maturity?

This week I heard a very little boy say, "I'm a big boy now." This was his assessment of his maturity. He wasn't saying he was as big as his parents in stature. He was saying his abilities matched those who he considered big. It seems that everyone thinks he is mature at every stage of life

We all thought we knew what we were doing when we got married. It takes years before we realize that we didn't. It takes even more years to realize we don't know what we are doing now. Eventually, we accept it as a journey rather than a destination. We are on the road to maturity as long as we know we have a lot farther to go.

Many people think they are spiritually mature because they have been coming to church for a long time. They would say that they know what they are doing when it comes to spiritual matters. They point to their service and their giving. They don't have milestones to pass as they have had in marriage. Church and spirituality run together.

It's amazing when I hear a long-time church member make excuses for their poor decisions. He will say that he sold his expensive horse because he knew others would ride it more than he was. He won't admit that he was foolish in buying the horse and couldn't afford to board and feed him. The church member will say that he would tithe but believes the church wastes the money. He won't admit that he is being disobedient to God. The leadership of the church will have to answer to God on how the money is spent. What makes this amazing is that the long-time church member believes this justifies his actions.

The flesh is always in opposition to the spirit. This is true in each of us. The flesh appeals to the world. The flesh is sexually, emotionally and personally immature. It seeks to fulfill itself without regard to God's desires. It bends any commandment to get its own approval. It ignores any word from God to fulfill what it wants. It makes excuses for its failures.

The spirit listens to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads the person to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. The mature spirit does not do the things that the flesh desires. The mature spirit obeys God. It confesses when it is wrong rather than making excuses. It seeks what God wants and does it even when the flesh is screaming for something else.

None of us have arrived in our spiritual journey but each day we should be traveling toward maturity. We should be making decisions that will deny the flesh so that we can obey the Spirit. Sure, there will be failures along the way but just be closer to being like the Lord Jesus the longer we walk with Him. We are called to be conformed into His likeness. We are to be mature as He is.

I know people who have been married for a long time who are just as childish in their marriages as those who have just married. Generally, it is the wife who is the surrogate mother to her husband. She provides for him and lets him have his way when he pitches a fit. She is able to control him and have relative peace this way. She even enjoys the jokes of how childish men are. She makes sure that she keeps her man this way. She allows him to think he is in control and the leader of the family but she knows better. He struts around without knowing that his actions are childish. This is an immature marriage for the both of them. They will pass this pattern to their children.

This has been true of those in the church. Immaturity has prevailed for a very long time. This pattern has been passed from generation to generation. Mature individuals are rare.

I have a dream of seeing Christians mature. I dream of a mature group of believers who stop giving into the flesh. I dream of examples whom can be seen that will show people what a mature Christian is. I dream of people hungering and thirsting for growth in their spirits. I dream of people who will make spiritual decisions as Jesus did.

Does anyone else have this dream?

Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV)
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Monday, September 13, 2010

God's Spirit Poured Upon Us

Does anyone hear from God anymore?

I find myself among a group of preachers. They have all bought the same books. They have all gone to the same conferences. They are all at different churches in different towns. They all think they are going to create the next Saddleback or Willow Creek church. None of them even resembles Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. Yet, they say that this is the vision God has given them.

What a crock!

There is no place in the Bible where God says, “I am going to do something great with you. All you have to do is copy what other great people have done.” God talks to people individually. He works with them individually. He doesn’t merely copy what He has done before.

Yes, there are commands that each of us must obey. We are to be witnesses. We are to love one another. We are to worship God alone. These are some of the commands that apply to every person but God speaks specifically and individually to us when He seeks to do something through us. We have no model to follow.

Joshua sees the walls of a great city fall without having a pattern to follow. Moses sees the sea split open. Elijah prays and fire falls from heaven. None of these acts had precedence. Each of these people heard from God and did what He said. It took great faith. Maybe that’s what we lack in hearing God today.

In the Old Testament kings would go to prophets to know what God was saying. God said that He would pour out His Spirit on all believers after the resurrection of Jesus. This seems to be the pattern that many preachers have returned to. They look for a prophet who tells them what they should do. They genuinely believe this is God’s word for them. They fail to remember that things are different now.

The Holy Spirit does not come and go for us. We should be able to hear from God if we will seek Him. Would we rather copy something that has been done before or seek what God wants us to do? Copying someone else’s work appears more secure. However, following God is the most secure avenue. In the first we must depend upon our own ability to mimic the actions of another. Following God requires we remain close to Him and do what He says when He says it.

God speaks to each of His children if they will listen. He calls them to come to Him. He tells them how to do what they must do. He gives them a vision beyond what they can hear in a conference or what they will read from others who have done great things.

Individuals must listen to Him and do what He says. I find they walk out of church without doing what God calls them to do. I find that they I find that they are taking the easy road. They may buy books on how to raise their children but they fail to ask God what they should do. They have watched the video on making their marriages fireproof but they fail to ask God what they should do.

This doesn’t mean that people should stop going to conferences or reading. These may be one of the ways that God speaks to you. It may be that you learn something about yourself or God may actually speak to you as you attend or read. However, you cannot assume that doing everything the conference or book says will bring you to God’s vision for your life. You must listen yourself.

God has something to say to us today.

God’s Spirit in us means we can hear from Him now.

Joel 2:28 (ESV)
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What Is Worship?

How can anyone be commanded to worship? Doesn’t this have to come from the heart?
Yet, the Bible commands us to worship God alone. Is this because we were made to worship? We are bound to worship someone or something. God is simply telling us that it must be Him. 
I hear people saying they are going to worship. It means they are about to attend a worship service. This does not mean they will worship. Worship is much more than attendance. 
I went to a high school football game this past week. There were several hundred children with their parents that didn’t know anything about the game. They went back and forth with their nachos, hot dogs and other junk food. They ran to meet other friends and played. I suppose they could say they went to the game but they were certainly not engaged in what was happening on the field. 
I think most people come to worship services and leave the same as they came. They listen for the preacher to tell a joke or think about how they disagree with him or generally just enjoy the choir or singing but they are not engaged. They will say they went to worship but they left without noticing who was being worshiped. They did not hear Him or even truly acknowledge Him.
A minister of music once told me that music was the only act of worship. He said that the people worship then hear the preacher. I wonder where he believed the message originated. Worship involves giving God worth. We do so with our singing, our praying, our giving and our commitment to what He has said. Sometimes I want to say, “Look folks, this is what God has led me to tell you.” They shouldn’t believe that it comes from my education or study alone. God uses these things, along with my personality and personal commitment to Him to bring a message, just as He did when He inspired people to write the Bible. 
This doesn’t make me equivalent to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul in the magnitude of what they wrote but it does have the same characteristics. I read, pray and read what others have said. I ask how this might be best communicated. It is not a new word from God but the explanation and application of His Word. John said that Jesus was the Word. I am never more aware of that than when I am preaching. I know I am bringing Him to the congregation.  I worship in the preparation. I worship in the delivery. 
I have no idea if I have a voice that sounds like God’s. I sincerely doubt it but I have never heard God audibly and don’t know anyone who has. Maybe this is one-dimensional thinking. Maybe God sounds like everyone’s voice. The sound, however, is not what matters anyway. He speaks in a whisper or louder than the most violent thunderstorm. My voice doesn’t matter. In fact, I should not matter. What God says is all that matters in worship.
Generally, people who worship have prepared to do so. Of course, some simply find themselves in a place where God is and know they must worship as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. The problem comes when that is the only time people worship. They enter a “Worship Center” and say, “Okay, I’m here. Now, thrill me!” That isn’t what worship should be.
The spirit of each person should worship. It should be something that can’t be helped because the person has prepared for it. It should be like swimming in the ocean. You go our so far and you will either swim or drown. The preparation for worship is to go out that far so that you have to worship or run out of the room. The presence of God should be that real. But that will seldom happen unless the individual prepares spiritually.
I have seen so many people who are so encumbered by their past that they can’t worship. They must hear a certain song or kneel or say certain words at the right time or they do not feel as if they have done worship correctly. They have not worshiped spiritually and thus have not worshiped at all. They have become like the Pharisees who carefully followed the traditions of worship, believed they were worshiping but had no contact with God. They have begun to worship their methods of worship rather than God Himself. God is not fooled.
Worship is both the truth of His Word and the spirit of the individual uniting with His Spirit to give worth to our Lord. Anything else is just attendance.
John 4:23 (NASB)
“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Never Far from the Love of God

How much does God think of me?
I have heard so many people apologize for bothering God. They think He is merely a man who is much stronger and wiser. They cannot understand that all things are on His mind at all times. They cannot understand that God never stops thinking about them.
This means that He never leaves us alone. 
I am not just talking about those who are believers. God knows the person who never trusts in Him as well as He knows the one who humbly walks with Him. The difference is in the two people, not in the presence of God. He is always present though the “God detector” is dead in some people. These are the ones who never know God’s presence. They assume their experiences are the same as all others. They might as well assume that everyone likes to eat liver if they like to eat liver or hates it if they hate it.
This means He is available 24/7.
I know there are times when I cannot seem to reach God. This has something to do with my heart. I may have pride or failed to forgive someone or continue to be unrepentant and not have my prayers answered. I may be asking for the wrong reasons or lack faith and not hear a word from God. His silence does not mean He is absent. He is here (or there in your case).
Just how concerned is God?
He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. 
We don’t know the number of hairs on our heads (unless you are completely bald). They  are ours and we haven’t thought they were important enough to count. God, on the other hand, knows us so well that He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He even knows how many will fall out today! Not many of us will languish over the hair that we lose in one day. We won’t even notice it yet God knows. 
Does that indicate anything about how much He cares for us? Does that tell us something about how much He is involved in our lives? Does God’s interest in us give us any idea how much He really loves us?
You know it does.
Luke 12:7 (NASB)
“Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Does God Really Require?

Many preachers can out-preach me with one tongue tied behind their backs! 

They can mesmerize crowds with sighs, bring people to their feet by the cadence of their voices and produce hundreds of “decisions” with simple invitations. In most cases, they show no signs of fasting, deep spiritual struggles or extended times in prayer. They ride in expensive cars, live in luxurious houses and dress in opulence. Am I doing something wrong?
I wish I didn’t envy these preachers at times. I would like to have the security that their wealth seems to provide them. They don’t visit hospitals and nursing homes. They don’t do funeral services. They are not called on to counsel people to remain married. They are not criticized for forgetting a name. They lead their organization of paid people. They  ask for funds from their followers without having to do anything other than preach. 
People seem to love these preachers. They buy their books and dvds. They drive hundreds of miles to hear them speak. They pay admissions and stand outside arenas for hours so they can get good seats. Those who come to hear them, do not covet the back rows. They push ahead to sit up front. They bring their cameras, hoping for a chance to get a good shot of their hero. They laugh at all their heroes’ jokes and never fall asleep as they preach.
Do I lack the charisma these preachers have? Of course. Do I lack their ability to tell stories or create elaborate illustrations. Assuredly. Will I ever be able to produce the results these preachers have? No.
Fortunately, my job is not about big crowds who are raptured at my every word. It is not about producing mammoth numbers of people who have made decisions. It is not learning to preach so that no one falls asleep. My job doesn’t  entail criticizing these famous preachers (though I may be called to point out their heresies).
My job is simply to do what is right, love with a kindness that appears supernatural and walk closely and humbly with my God. Sure, I would like other things but this is what I am called to do.
In fact, it is what we are all called to do.
Do you find yourself looking at those around you who seem to be more successful but less spiritual than you are? Do you wonder why they seem to do so well while you are left behind? Well, maybe you’re not as behind as you think. Maybe you are using the evaluation methods of this world. You may be exactly where you should be in the eyes of God. 
Is this hard to accept? Yes, and it will continue to be so as long as you keep looking at others to measure your success.
Micah 6:8 (ESV)
He has told you O man what is good,
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Commitment to Christ Goes Deep

Conviction comes without warning. 
 I have been on vacation this week and have had the time to read. I never have this much time to read when I am at work. I believe my work ethic is actually weakening my own spiritual walk. I believe efforts to do the ministry are actually keeping me from the ministry. I believe I am holding onto the world through the church. I believe I am not living up to the commitment I made to Christ when I came to know Him.
Salvation is free but it also requires total commitment. While there is nothing that I can do to earn my salvation, there is a required action to take hold of that salvation. This has nothing to do with earning that salvation. It is an act of faith. 
Christians are not perfect. They still do things they shouldn’t. They sin. This does not negate their salvation. It seems hard to understand that a Christian can give himself totally to God and still sin. They seem to be incongruent. One should preclude the other.
Therefore, giving oneself to God must be a commitment rather than a completed action. It is much like a marriage. The wedding represents the commitment that the couple makes toward each other. The way they live together after the wedding is unequal to their commitment to one another. It takes a great deal of forgiveness to make a marriage work. It is always ongoing. The commitment must remain the same throughout their lives or the wedding is merely a ceremony. Their failures represent their continued fallen nature even though they have been made new by their commitment to each other. Their forgiveness and continuing commitment represents their original commitment. It later not only makes a marriage work but it is the marriage.
Trying to hold onto the world while remaining a Christian resembles trying to remain a person who seeks his own satisfaction while being married. The married individual likes the benefits of the marriage but still seeks to live as if he is single in respect to his own wants. The spouse is merely a convenience rather than the object of a commitment.
Christians often live like those who do not know Christ with the exception of their attendance at church and their admission that they are Christians. They want the benefits of being a Christian but lack the true commitment that makes them Christians. Their efforts to live as Christians come from their own flesh rather than an empowerment of the Spirit. They have lived lives of trying to please God by making their flesh more alive than by crucifying the flesh.
I am convicted that I have lived without a full commitment to Christ. I have been trying to please God through my flesh rather than by fully giving my life to Him. I believe I have always held something back rather than giving Him my all. I have made the utmost effort to please Him as long as I could hold back something in commitment. I have known others who were no more or less committed to the Lord than I who are very successful in the ministry. I have believed that I did not have to be any more committed than they to be just as successful. 
God will have none of this watered-down faith in me. God has a deeper, more fulfilling success for me than to be recognized as successful by other worldly Christians. 
There is only one answer for me. I must cry out to God rather than make another superficial commitment. I must ask Him to help me let go of myself and the world. I must, as He did, seek my own cross. I must be crucified. I will never see the things God has for me in the state I am in. 
I am under this conviction. I asked the Lord about others who seem to be so successful. He told me that this was none of my business. I was merely to follow Him.
Am I alone in this or is God bringing others under the same conviction?
Luke 9:23 (ESV)
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Growing in Grace

I have misunderstood grace. I have always thought that grace was something that I would believe that grace was good in every moment. I have thought it was something I would long for a hope would never pass. But grace is much greater than my ability to discern its goodness or its duration.
Grace is sometimes the hardest thing that you can go through. It is the loss of a job, the criticism from people with whom you are doing your best or condemnation when you desperately believe you need encouragement.
I thought I wanted to be a Baptist Student Ministries Director on a college campus. I worked toward that end. I entered seminary as a part-time director. That was a very discouraging year. The year ended with one someone from the state office chewing out all of the part-time directors for an hour and forty-five minutes. He said that we should do something else (other than becoming directors) if we could. He was absolutely right. I quit soon after that meeting. It was God’s grace though I didn’t recognize it at the time. (This does not mean that his actions toward us were godly. God uses the ungodly to accomplish His grace. This is also a hard lesson to learn.)
So many people talk about surrendering to the call of the ministry. They act as if it is God’s punishment. I will admit that there are times when it is so difficult that it seems to be punishment. I have often tried to leave the ministry but God would give me no peace in my efforts. The calling into the ministry is an act of God’s grace. It is a great privilege. It is the hardest work you will ever do when it is done at God’s call. (I have worked in oil field supply, been a school teacher, bank teller and farm laborer. I have worked from the from the rising of the sun to way passed its setting. I have worked from the setting of the sun until way passed its rising. I have known other work. There is nothing harder than the ministry. Yet, there is nothing more rewarding to those who have been called into it.) 
The ministry never releases you when you take a day off. It remains on your heart at all times. Those who treat it as a job are not called. They simply have a job that involves ministry. Those who are called know that God is the center of their lives at all times. He is the heart of who they are. Nothing comes from them unless it flows through them from Him. Both the calling and the walking in the ministry of the gospel is an expression of God’s grace.
The hard things are often produce the greatest evidences of God’s grace in my life. Life does not guarantee success. Sometimes success fails to appear even when everything is done right. Grace is present even in the most severe defeat. It is still working on the hearts of those who love the Lord even when they can’t see Him. It is still accomplishing His pleasure when the believer feels no pleasure.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each of these requires grace. Each of these is proved by a testing with fire. Each of these is formed in a furnace. This fruit becomes rare because of the avoidance of the difficulties required to grow this fruit. We turn from the grace of God find ourselves no more than we can produce in ourselves. We accept the difficult things and discover they are the grace of God because we see the fruit produced in our lives.
The Apostle Paul said that he was called by grace. This grace blinded him, stoned him, imprisoned him, shipwrecked him and had him called names by those he was trying to reach. Yet, he saw it as grace. If he did, then so must I.
Grace is what God is making me.
Romans 1:1-6 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of the name among all the nations including who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Living as a New Creation

I hear people say that the old ways are the best ways. This generalization is seldom true. I don’t like the old ways that computers worked as much as I like the new ways. I don’t like the old ways of getting information from newspapers, tv and radio alone as much as I like getting it from the internet which allows anyone to report. 
This is true in my relationship with Christ. I think often of the things I did before I came to Christ. I know I am forgiven but I am ashamed of these acts of sin. I can’t change them. I can accept forgiveness. 
I think I misunderstand my life as an improvement rather than something new. I can remain in my shame if I am an improved model of something that is flawed. I can’t own my shame if I have been made into a new creation. I am not that person any more. I have been changed by the presence of Christ. I think differently. I act differently. I have a different heart. My mind has been renewed. I understand spiritual things. I bear little resemblance to the person I was before. 
Sometimes it seems as if those sins are calling to me. They are either shaming me or trying to lure me back to repeat them. They seem comfortable from the outside. This is because I carry the memory of what I was with me. My memory does not make me who I am. It tells me who I was. It remembers things with nostalgia so that I remember things better than they were. It forgets the slavery and remembers the security of Egypt just like the Israelites in the desert. They remembered things much differently from what they once were. They wanted security more than they wanted the insecurity of walking with God.  This thought always longs to bring me back to what I was.
Yet, that would be the ultimate failure. I am not the same person. I would not fit in the world I once lived in. I would be disappointed in myself. I have tasted the goodness of the Lord. Only the abandonment of my faith would allow me to continue in my former self. I would have to cut off the friends, church and other spiritual activities in order to go back to what I was. I can’t help but believe that I would know the truth but seek to live in a lie for the sake of sin. I really don’t think I could live that way.
However, I see people who seem to have gone back to what they once were. I wonder if they were ever truly made new or if they just got so close that they said the same things as believers. They tasted His goodness but never truly made the commitment to it. They walked so closely to the Lord that they appeared to be with Him. They were somewhat like Judas. They may not have betrayed Jesus to be crucified but they betrayed Him when they went back to their former life.
That is not becoming a new creature. It is an improvement that doesn’t last. Heaven doesn’t have merely improved individuals. The inhabitants of heaven have been changed. They have been made new. They cannot go back to what they were even if they commit the same acts. 
I must always remember that I have been made new. 
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.