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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hope for the Lost in the Church

The Christian rhetoric is not hard to learn. Church can provide a social outlet. Church is safe. People put up with things in church that they wouldn't put up with anywhere else. Many people became part of the church when they were very young. They did what they were told to do and they were told that they were members of the church. They were asked to serve on committees, teach and serve in leadership before too long. Some of these people do not know the Lord even though they may have been members of the church for several years.

I heard of an evangelist who goes through the congregation asking people personally if they know the Lord. He does so as the congregation sings. When asked who he chooses to ask the question, he responded, "O, that's easy, I ask those who aren't singing!" I really wished it was that simple.

Do the lost church members know they are lost? I seriously doubt it. They see things from the outside. Christianity doesn't look much different from any other religion on the outside. It seems to be a way of doing things.

A personal relationship with someone who died almost 2000 years ago makes no sense to the lost. They reason that it is just a feeling. They have had feelings about lots of things. They have political feelings, familial feelings and other preferential feelings. Jesus is just a feeling to them. They get that feeling every once in a while.

These people will be those who will stand at the judgment claiming that they called Jesus Lord. They will mention their acts of service. Yet, He will imply that they didn't do what He asked. How could they? He never knew them. They had never heard Him ask them for anything. They just did what they thought was expected. Somehow they thought that this would buy their eternity.

The lost in the church have been assured of their salvation throughout their time in the church. They have endured hundreds of altar calls in which they were supposed to hear the Lord calling them to Himself. They haven't heard a thing so they must already have everything they need. How do you convince someone that he is wrong about what he is sure of?

The Bible says that you will know them by their fruits. Yes, there are some that you can identify who do not know the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The believer bears the fruit of bringing others to Christ, too. The absence of these is ample evidence for their lost condition. Yet, the lost in church don't know that their fruit is rotten. There are so many who are also lost around them that it appears very normal.

Only the Holy Spirit can indicate to the lost person that he is lost. God has done that in the past through revivals. True revival is known when Christians come under full conviction to confess their sins and fully commit to live like Christ has called them to live. The change in their hearts makes a clear distinction between the lost and the saved. The lost realize it is more than a feeling and give their hearts to the Lord. Great evangelism follows the awakening of the church because faith can no longer be faked when those around you are no longer faking it.

So, the hope for the lost in the church is for the saved to live completely devoted lives for Jesus.

That, of course, will take a miracle.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Did You Lose Sight of God's Grace?

Each day I am amazed that God would call me to preach the gospel. I did not deserve this honor. It would have been enough honor for me to wash the feet of the saints. However, He has called me by His grace.

A deacon once asked me what I expected of deacons. I told him that deacons were servants. He wanted to be on a Board of Deacons who made the decisions for the church. I told him that deacons served the Lord's Supper and ministered to the body of Christ. His following question floored me:

"You mean we are just glorified table-waiters?"

He failed to see God's grace.

Many times church members do not understand the grace God has in calling them to serve. They do not deserve waiting on tables. In fact, this "glorified table-waiting" is one of the most honored of positions. It is an honor when a family asks someone to carry the body of someone they love at a funeral. It should be an honor to carry Christ to the body who loves Him in the Lord's Supper.

Any service the Lord calls you to do is an act of His grace. Refusing to respond is the evidence of a heart that has no understanding of grace. I suppose this heart believes that salvation comes to those who are good enough or who have worked hard enough for it. Therefore, service is just work.

The woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears understood this grace. She did not have to say a word. She didn't tell Jesus how important she was. She merely came and ministered to Him. She was honored to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.

People often lose sight of God's grace when they fail to notice that the service they are doing is for His Body. The church is the body of Christ. Serving in the preschool is for His Body. Cleaning the church kitchen is for His Body. The serving of food in the church is a service to His Body.

Would you see it as God's grace if you were asked to mop up the blood of Jesus spilled after He was beaten? Would you see this as beneath you or would you see that it is God's grace which allows you to do so?

Years ago I was part of a group that sent a college-age young lady to a state that had a very weak witness for Christ. This young lady started cleaning the houses of people without charge to get the opportunity to share Christ with them. She wrote in her report back to me that she was on her knees in one of these houses cleaning the dirt from the cracks in the floor when she thought how beneath her that this was. It was at this point that a realization came to her: Her Lord had stooped much farther to come from heaven to give her His grace.

Then, she understood that it was by His grace that He called her to clean this floor.

The Apostle Paul was beaten, imprisoned, criticized and eventually martyred. He knew it was God's grace to call him to do this. He knew that any service he could do was by His grace.

Have you responded to God's grace or did you lose it somewhere?

Galatians 1:15-16 (NIV)
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16  to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giving Lies (or Lies about Giving)

Things may change but the nature of people doesn't. This is especially true when it comes to a monetary gain.
There are so many stories that I can tell you of people who have lied about their giving or cheated in their giving that you would be amazed.

There was the man who wrote a check to the church every Wednesday night for all the cash that was taken in during the Wednesday Night Fellowship meals. Most people pay cash for their meals on Wednesday night at the church. He said he could use the cash in his business. The church didn't mind because he was giving them a check for the cash. However, he was telling the IRS that these checks were contributions to the church. Of course, he got caught. I am not sure if he understood why this was wrong.

There was a man who had a piece of property appraised. He gave a portion of it to the church. He cut out the part that would give the piece of land public access. The IRS allows him to take a deduction for a portion of the gift for five years. He could deduct it based on the per acre appraisal even though the piece he has given is practically worthless since it no longer has public access. At the end of five years, he buys the property back from the church at considerably less than the appraisal value. He waits a couple of years for it all to clear the records and gives the land back to the church. He saves himself thousands and thousands of dollars in taxes.

There was the man who did work at the church and asked for a contribution of his time rather than being paid. The church didn't know any better and gave it to him. He deducted this amount from his taxes even though he had never gotten paid. That is quite illegal but he will never get caught as long as the church isn't audited.

There have been many people who have stood in church business meetings and proclaimed the virtues of tithing who didn't give one red cent to the Lord. No one calls their hand because we keep that information confidential. They are counting on this.

Do they think the Lord doesn't know?

One thing I sure of: The Lord will deal with them.

Joshua 7:1 (NIV)
1 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.

Acts 5:3-5 (NIV)
3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." 5  When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Ask God What He Has Already Told You

I was called into leadership. I was minding my own business when it happened. I wasn't asking God for it. I told Him I would do whatever He asked. He didn't ask. He told me to go into the ministry. I wasn't reluctant to go into the ministry. I just didn't want to be a pastor.

I originally thought I would be a minister to college students. I have always had a heart for students. I served part-time in a Baptist Student Ministry campus. I served as an Associate Student Minister at a large church.

Let's face it: I was terrible. The students didn't relate to me well.

That didn't change my calling. It only changed my location (area) of ministry. I served as a Singles minister. The singles tolerated me but I can't say I really rang the bell. I served as a church administrator. I did okay but the church needed someone beyond my abilities before too long. Besides, it wasn't the ministry of the Word that I always wanted.

Finally, I became the senior pastor or a church. I longed for Sundays to preach. I love what I do. However, this doesn't mean that I love everything I do.

Each struggle brings me to ask God if this is really what He wants me to do. I'm really not equipped to do anything else. I am too old anything much different from what I am doing. I don't know why I should ask God what He has already told me. Maybe I need some reassurance.

Don't you think that its amazing that Moses asked God why he would be called to lead God's people out of Egypt but didn't ask God each time the people questioned his leadership? I believe I would find myself asking God every time they wanted to stone me. Even his brother and sister opposed him at one point. Did they think that Moses had come on his own authority to be their leader?

God calls people to a task and something goes wrong. Joshua was called and he lost the battle of Ai. He goes to God to question what God has already told Him. God tells him to get up and fix the problem or he will not have His favor when he continues in the Promised Land.

Being called to leadership by God does not assure everything will sail smoothly all the time. In fact, many things didn't go well for Moses or Joshua. There was sin in the camp. There were unfaithful people. There was a great desire to go back to the way things were.

But when God calls you should not go back and ask Him what He said if you are certain that He said it in the first place. Why ask Him what He has already told you?

Exodus 3:10-11 (NIV)
"So now, go I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. "
But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Anger-A Foothold for the Devil

Sometimes you have to laugh.

I knew I wanted to write about anger this morning. I had first read the scripture which said that anger gives the devil a foothold. I thought how dangerous anger is. I wanted to tell others to be careful.

Then, my browser decided it needed to do an update. After waiting several minutes, it claimed it couldn't load because it was missing a file. Then I got the "black screen of death." It is related to the "blue screen of death." I think the only difference is color. Nothing happened more so I held the power button until the computer turned off.

Upon rebooting I got a "Windows Update" message. You know the one that says, "1 of 3, Do Not Turn Off Your Computer." I waited until that completed.

Any you guessed it. By this time I was angry!

So, here is a very fresh perspective. I want to do irrational things right now. I would like to use this laptop as a clay pigeon for target practice, take it in the parking lot and drive over it several times and put it in the bed of the CEO of Microsoft as the harbinger of a "offer he can't refuse."

Can we see how the devil can get a foothold here?

It does not matter that I feel justified in doing any of these things. It doesn't matter if I am truly justified. The issue is my anger causing me to do something that will not bring glory to God. None of the feelings I have are honoring to God. There is no righteous anger. There is no anger which will ultimately give God glory because His glory has been marred. I am upset because my own expectations have not been met. It make me feel like a victim. I want to set things right and I have no real method of doing so.

(Yes, I do own a Macbook but it is at my house and I am in my office right now.)

So, I calm down. I know that my feelings of retribution will neither bring about a better computer nor truly satisfy any anger I have had. They will do nothing but give the devil a foothold.

From that foothold, he can control the rest of my day. That's not going to happen.

Gotta go! I just got a message at the bottom of my screen that Windows needs to do another update! (No joking!!!!) That means the computer will turn itself off unexpectedly in a few minutes.

You gotta love it! (and by the way, the program that inserts the scripture in automatically has stopped working too)

Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)
"In your anger do not sin"; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Clock Is Ticking

Many of the games we watch and play have an expiration date. We are aware of these when we play. The clock ticks away away with each moment we are on the field. Eventually time expires and we have either won or lost the game.

This is also true in the ability to play these games. I played high school football. I took off the pads on a Friday night almost forty years ago. I remember asking myself if I would ever put them on again. I didn't. The clock had run out on this time in my life.

Now, let's think of something much more important than a game. Let's think about life. God has placed each person on this earth for a purpose. Every person must know his or her purpose and fulfill that purpose. Each person has been given an amount of time to do what he or she was sent to do. Wasting time could mean that the purpose and the person are unfulfilled.

Paul said that you are being foolish if you do not know what God's will is. He certainly wasn't saying that you must know everything that God is going to do. He was saying that you should know what God wants you to do. Therefore, God's will must be more obvious than most people make it out to be.

He told people that the days were evil. That can't mean that everything in every day is evil. It means that there are other things which will take your time that will not allow you to do what you were intended to do. You have a dream but that dream goes unfulfilled because you are doing other things.

I know a young man who is an excellent musician. However, he spends much of his time playing video games and wasting his days away. Most video games are not evil in themselves. However, these are evil because they are keeping him from God's calling. He is allowing the opportunity to pass him by. He must consider these games evil so that he can get on with God's will.

This takes great care. It means that everything must have an evaluation. Even interruptions. Interruptions to what you are doing may not be evil. They may be God's method of teaching you something that will help you accomplish His will. You must ask yourself if this in an interruption which is leading you toward or away from God's will. Sometimes it is hard to know. It will take a lot of prayers during days with the most interruptions.

Of course, this means that God will also want you to spend time recreating with things that apparently have nothing to do with His will. He may even desire that you play some video games so that you can be relaxed. Yet, each of these must be measured so that you are neither playing too much or too little.

That is the level of care you need to take to do what God has called you to do.

The clock is ticking.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV)
Be very careful then how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How Shall a Pastor Be Judged?

I have heard that no pastor has ever been fired for preaching a short sermon.

No, but these pastors may have to stand before God and give an account of short sermons.

Sermons are neither better nor worse because of their length. Some messages just don’t take as much time to deliver. However, there is a problem when the length of the sermon is more important than the content. In fact, the preacher should spend more time making sure he is delivering God’s message than how long the sermon is.

The evaluation of the sermon should not be based upon what the people applaud or criticize. The preacher should ask if he has done what God has asked. If so, he must know that God is pleased.

That won’t keep the criticism away. It may even get him fired. Many times people do not like hearing God’s word. They want something that is short and uplifting all the time. Many people do not like a message that gets to the meat of the Word. They don’t want to be challenged to be more, do more, or even change what they are doing at all. A few good jokes sprinkled in the sermon makes them laugh. Getting out early will make them very happy.

So, they go to the preacher and tell him that this is what people need. “Keep it short. Keep it light. You’ll run people off if you get too deep, Preacher.”

Somehow churches stopped focused on maturing people in the faith and defined success as a larger attendance each week. In fact, the answer of whether or not Sunday was a success is more often answered with something to do with the number of attendees.

I can’t find that criteria for success being used in Scripture. Whether people like the message, how long the message is nor how many people attended determines the success of a message according to Scripture. The command of the Lord is to make disciples. The question I believe preachers will be asked is, “Where are the disciples you have made?”

Don’t get me wrong? I am neither an advocate for trying to get people mad at me for my sermons or making sure the crowd is smaller next week. That, too, would be a breach of my calling. What I am trying to say is that each preacher will be asked to give an account of his actions someday.

The question you must answer is whether you have made it harder for your preacher to fill that leader who encourages discipleship. Have you encouraged him in the long sermons which are hard to deliver but made impressive impacts on the lives of the hearers? Have you given him an “Atta boy!” for a sermon that was convicting but may have upset the wealthiest family in the church?

This month is Clergy Appreciation Month. (I don’t know what the real title is.) I don’t think you should appreciate your pastor this month alone. In fact, I don’t think we should have a month like this at all. I believe that godly people will always appreciate a pastor who preaches God’s word.

Remember, no matter what you say to your pastor, he will have to give an account some day.

But as far as that goes, so will you.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Your Life Worth Forever?

Life has at least three dimensions. It is external, eternal and internal. It isn’t hard to distinguish between the three.

External life is the life that is seen. It can be measured objectively. Your external life will be recorded at your death: He or she lived eighty-five years, four months, three days. External life is precious. It must be protected. There is a moral obligation to extend it within reason. However, there is a time for everyone’s external life to end.

Eternal life is that life that continues. It deals with salvation. It means that the life of the individual shall continue even though the external life ends. It is forever by its definition. Most Christians live like this is the only life that is worth having.

However, internal life is why eternal life was given. Jesus didn’t merely wish to extend our lives. He wasn’t saying, “Come to Me and I will give you life everlasting but don’t bother Me again.” He was saying that He would give a life that is worth living for eternity.

His offer is much more precious than most Christians realize. That is why they flock to churches which promise to give them solutions for enjoying their external lives. They merely see the extension of this physical life. They cannot see beyond. They have no vision of internal life.

Internal life is vision. It is purpose. It is fulfillment. It is knowing that you are here to do something bigger than you are. It is connecting with God to see Him do miracles. (I wonder how many Christians actually believe in any miracles.) Internal life gets us beyond our present circumstances. It shows us that these good and bad things have a purpose in preparing us for heaven.

Internal life is the intention of eternal life. It is the “string” theory of life.

Many Christians believe the question to ask is, “Will I live forever?” I believe the question that should be asked is, “Is my life worth forever?” That answer doesn’t come at the end of external life. You can answer that question now.

John 10:10 (NIV)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stop and Listen

Let's suppose you realize that you cannot make a decision without some vital information. There is only one person in the world that has that information and you have an appointment with him.

You arrive at his office and he welcomes you. Before he can say anything you start, "Sir, I know that your time is valuable and that you know exactly what I have been going through. I have made some very bad mistakes in the past and I no longer want to go that direction. That is why I am coming to you. You have the answers that I need and I know that no one else can help me. Since you already know all this I don't need to tell you anymore. Thank you for your time."

Then, you walk out.

At first you feel better about what you have done. You got it off your chest. You have gone to the right place. Then, you realize that things aren't any different than they were before. You're wondering why you went to the guy in the first place. He didn't help you at all.

You never stop to consider that you never stopped to consider. You talked but you never listened.
I hope that hasn't been the story of your prayer life.

Prayer is not just talking to God. It is a conversation. It is also listening.

Yet, for some reason we think we have to keep talking.

Peter notices that Jesus has just met with Moses and Elijah. Instead of listening, he is talking. God arrives in a cloud and says something Peter should have already known. Peter is standing in the presence of God's Son and he is fascinated with Moses and Elijah. It's Jesus he should be listening to. God shows up to point this out to him.

I wonder how many times I have talked without noticing who I was talking to. I wonder how many times I failed to listen because I was talking.

So, today I am going to listen too.

Matthew 17:5 (NIV)
While he was speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them,  and a voice from the clouds said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mediocrity Will Not Grow Your Church

Lots of churches are growing. Many more are dying. Neither statement surprises us. What surprises us is not that there are those who are growing because they are faithful to the Lord. No, what surprises us is that those churches who teach heresy, who ignore the Bible, who make God out to be their servant are growing rapidly!

Let's face it neither mediocrity in serving the Lord nor mediocrity in saying the Lord serves us will grow a church. In other words, you have to be totally dedicated to Him or totally dedicated to yourself if you want your church to grow. You can't be mediocre.

It seems that the Lord builds the church upon one foundation. That foundation is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of the Living God. The Holy Spirit convicts people of the need for salvation. He grows them in their faith. They introduce others to this principle. The church grows.

Many pastors and churches are trying to grow with mediocrity. These pastors and their churches are trying to be almost committed to Him. They fail to give a full tithe. They are mediocre in prayer. They never fast. They are casual in their commitment to the Lord. Their actions reveal that they don't really believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He is not central to their lives. Their churches do not grow because there are too many cracks in the foundations to build a solid structure.

Those who preach and teach that God is their servant grow because it appeals to the lower nature of man. Mankind likes to think that God and all of creation serves it. Mankind likes to believe in a God who will always make you healthy and wealthy. These churches market themselves well. They are well branded. They can grow because they are committed to themselves. Their commitment is not casual. It is not mediocre.

Church growth does not mean that the church is a God-honoring church. It just means that the church isn't mediocre in its message.

What are your options if you are in a self-serving church? You can leave and join one who is completely committed to the Lord or you can make sure that you are truly committed and pray that your church will change. Neither of these is the answer all the time. You have to listen to the Lord to know what you will need to do.

One thing I would ask you not to do. Don't be mediocre. Be committed to the Lord.

Mediocrity is killing churches.

Matthew 16:15-18 (NIV)
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 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. 

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV)
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes You Need to Be Touched

I have heard that more than 50% of church attending Christians say they have not had an encounter with God in the past year. I wonder how that happens. Do they attend church just so that they can check it off their lists?

Shouldn't they expect to meet with the Person whom they worship?

On the other hand, I also know what it is like to hear nothing from God when I have needed Him desperately. I have prayed for relief from something which I believed hurt His church. I have placed it in His hands. I have spend untold hours crying out. I have explained why I believe this is not honoring to His name. I have asked on the basis of being His child. I have told of the testimony which is being lost because of His silence.

And yet, there is silence. Of course, I have to admit that there is silence now. It does not mean that there will always be silence about this matter.

I prayed for eight years and three months to become a senior pastor before I actually became one. There were long periods of silence during that time (about becoming a senior pastor. God often spoke to me, just not about that.) I had more than a few moments of despair. I knew that I wouldn't accept anything that didn't come from Him. I even turned down a few opportunities because they were obviously not His will. I kept waiting.

I knew I needed His touch. I knew I needed His hands on where I would serve. I knew I couldn't do it without Him so it made no sense to start without Him. I waited in His silence.

One day He touched me. The church who called me was clearly God's doing. Let me explain:

I was preaching in the church in Brentwood, Tennessee where I was an associate pastor. The pastor always took off the week after Christmas. It was New Year's weekend. You wouldn't expect many people to attend. That morning seven people made some decision for Christ. One was a little girl who was visiting her grandparents. She came forward to tell others that Jesus was her Lord and Savior.

A church in Houston was looking for a pastor and had received my resume'. They asked for a tape of a sermon I had preached. I always send the last message I have preached because I know I could send something that would be one of my best sermons and wouldn't be a good representation of my preaching. That New Year's Sunday sermon was the last one I had preached.

For some reason the person recording the tape kept it running through the introduction of those who had made decisions. The committee from the church in Houston was startled when they heard the name of the little girl. Her parents were members of their church. They checked with them and found that the little girls grandparents lived in Brentwood.

Now let's think about this. This little girl makes her profession of faith in her grandparents' church on one of the few Sundays I would preach. Her parents are members of the church that requests my resume'. This is the last sermon I would preach before they contacted me so that I would send them the right taped sermon.

I saw this a  touch from my Lord.

One day a leper came to Jesus and ask for healing. Jesus did more than that. Jesus touched Him. I wonder how long it had been since anyone would dare touch him. Jesus could have healed him without the touch but this is exactly what the man needed.

Sometimes we need more than just an answer from the Lord. Sometimes we need to be touched.

I am sure the leper had many days and nights of silence before he was touched. Some of you reading this may have also experienced this silence.

Maybe the Lord is just waiting for the right moment to touch you.

Matthew 8:2-3 (NIV)
2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is the Church Just Another Organization?

Some people in the church don't get it.

They think that church is an organization that exists like any other organization. Joining means privileges. They expect that their contributions of money and work will count for special favors.

Therefore, they see themselves as they would in other organizations. They seek to have the"best" people in the community join. This raises the esteem of the organization. It makes them proud to be a member. In fact, those who have been moved from one city to another seek a church with the greater or same socio-economic level members. They say that these are "my kind of people."

Seeing the church as any other organization also means that they can climb the ladder of leadership. From this perch they can manage the organization to their prescribed success. Here, they manage the members who already exist. They stroke those who have deep pockets. They coddle those who can grant them access to other resources.

Their membership means that they should be given the best seats, the best Sunday School classes and mentioned frequently in praise. They cannot understand the rejoicing in the homeless man who has given his heart to the Lord. They cannot see the joy in a couple who has contributed nothing but has mended their marriage because of their new relationship with the Lord.

These people remind me of the older brother of the Prodigal. He couldn't understand all the rejoicing. He had never left the father. He had always worked. Why didn't he get the privileges?

And this makes no sense to you either if you think of the church like any other organization.

The church is the only group of people who will ever meet for the purpose of those who are not yet members. It should understand its glory is only found in redeeming that which was lost.

Maybe the church can be what it was truly meant to be if members would understand that it isn't just another organization.

 Luke 15:29-32 (NIV)
29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who Has Hope at a Funeral Service?

I can tell the difference.

I look into the eyes of those who have assembled in the chapel of the funeral home. The casket is directly below where I am speaking. All eyes are fixed on the corpse if the casket is left open. But if it is closed I see two reactions.

There are those who look at me with pleading eyes. They want to believe what I am saying about the resurrection of the body. They have heard it in church before. They have never had to believe it until now.. .and now they are just not sure.

There are those whose eyes exude confidence. They know the life of the one who has passed. They know his faith. They are sad but not afraid. They will miss their loved one but they know there is a resurrection. They know the Lord and He has not failed them yet.

There are those who grieve and have no hope. They don't believe any of it. They think the one who has passed is just gone. Their reason for attending was out of respect. They hope the service doesn't take too long. It's a waste of time anyway.

Of course, that last group is totally different when it is someone they love. They have ashen faces. Their own mortality stares at them. They have no hope and they know it.

I have to perform two funeral services today. Which group would you be in if you were attending either of these services?

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)
13  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Created to Give God Glory Today

I have a lot to do today. I don't even need a todo list. I cannot escape these things. They are expected of me and if I will be negligent if I fail to produce them. However, I still have time to read my Bible and pray for a few minutes before I start.

This morning I was reading Isaiah 43:7 (" everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.") and notice that there was a cross reference to Ephesians 2:10 ("For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."). I had never connected the two verses together though given the name of this blog, I certainly should have.

Putting the two together made me realize something about today's agenda. My todo list was prepared before the beginning of time so that I would give Him glory on this date.

Now, imagine that you have just stumbled into an ancient chamber on an archaeological dig. Inside the room you find that your name and the date you entered this chamber has been written in stone. It was prepared in ancient times but the writer knew you would appear on this date. It also says that you are the one who was created to give the Creator glory in all that you do. 

How careful would you be in proceeding? Would that give you a special sense of your worth and your work?

Please understand, this message is not just for me. It is for everyone who is called by His name. Everyone was created to give God glory. Everyone who is called by His name must do so.

This elevates today's agenda. It is not the day before the weekend any more. It is an extraordinary day. It is a day full of things that God prepared for all who are called by His name to give Him full glory in everything we do. It is a day that has to be handled carefully or the opportunities of the day will slip out of our hands. It is a day of dependence upon Him for strength and guidance.

Rather than continuing to blather about a day which is so important, I need to get about its business.

Today is a remarkable day. It is going to be glorious!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Order to Save Some

New things are going to have to happen if the church is going to grow- new things that will scare the average church. Fear makes people create demons out of those who are doing new things. It says, "This new music is of the devil!" and "Look at the way these young people dress as they come to church, I was always taught that I was to dress up to come to church!" Those churches who have changed their music style and accepted people just as they are said to be dishonoring and disobeying the Lord.

The Apostle Paul said that he became all things to all men so that by all possible means that he might save some. (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 9:22) So, some pastors are preaching in jeans so that they might reach people who come in jeans. The music style has changed to enter the world of those who are so unfamiliar songs that can be played on the organ. They are going to where the people are in order to reach them with the gospel. Old standards have been abandoned in order to do so.

Many people struggle with the unfamiliarity they find at church. They want to sing their favorite hymns. They don't understand why others don't want to as well. All the saints they have known from the past sung them. They want some security in knowing that the church is the one place that has not changed. They long for the way things used to be.

Some churches have created such an environment. They kept things exactly as they used to be. They kept their songs and their decor and their suits and ties and their orders orders of worship.They fail to realize that they are worshiping the familiar feeling that they have had in the past. They gather those around who feel exactly as they do. The numbers in attendance dwindle so slowly that it is hardly noticed. These churches die of old age.

An evangelist came to our church several years ago and told the church that it was one good flu season from going out of business. At that time the majority of the church was elderly. Admittedly, I did an incredible number of funerals when I first came. The evangelist was right. The church still had good attendance but was on the verge of dying by attrition.

However the church has changed. Those who were here had the vision of starting a "contemporary" service. This service is largely younger people but not totally. There are some seniors who come to the service as well. This service has become the larger service. Our preschool and children ministries are bursting at the seams. Our biggest challenge is finding teachers for them. Young adult classes have already outgrown the size of their rooms. You might even go to some of them and find people sitting on the floor because there just aren't enough chairs.

I thank God for those who had the vision for this service. They have allowed their church to change in order to save some. The church has a wonderful future because of this.

However, I am very cautious of the way we are doing things. I suspect that reaching people will mean that we will change again in the near future. We may have to do things which we have not yet seen the need for. We will have to listen to the Lord clearly. We will have to ignore our own personal preferences to see those whom we do not yet know come to Christ. I fear that there will be those who will say that they do not see the need for these changes. They think that things are fine just the way they are. They will not realize that things were changed so that we might see them saved. This is the way they have always known it.

The difference will always be found in those who have a heart for reaching people. Those with this heart will know the blessings of the gospel. They know the blessings of seeing people come to know Christ.

Do you have a heart for seeing people come to know Christ? Are you willing to change your own preferences to reach them? Do you know the blessings of sharing in the gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two Trees in the Middle of the Garden

Genesis 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Two trees stand in the middle of the Garden. Adam and Eve can eat freely of one and have life. The other has a warning. If you eat of this tree you will receive a sentence of death. Somehow death scared them even though they had never seen it. I guess the fear of death is embedded in them. It is something created to protect them.

I don't know how many times they went to eat of the tree of life but it seems reasonable that they passed by the other tree. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How could knowledge be bad? What was it that they would know if they ate? These had to be some of the questions in their minds before Satan arrived. I think we get the idea that Satan comes to us when we have had no thoughts of doing something evil, wrenches our will away from us and makes us do things we shouldn't but more often we find him arriving when we have already started down the wrong path.

Innocence brings life and knowledge brings death in this case. This knowledge was not the type that calculates the distance to the moon or determines how far two trains will take to arrive at the same point. This is the knowledge of things that will hurt us. This is the knowledge of knowing the pain you have caused your spouse because you have been unfaithful. This is the knowledge of knowing the estrangement you have with your parents because you have dishonored them.

Somehow the thrill of what we don't know gets the best of us. We justify it. We eat of this tree even though the tree of life is still in sight. We are willing to accept the words of someone who promises to give us something better than what God has for us. We challenge the promise of death and accept the lies of greatness.

Why did God have to put that tree there in the first place? I suppose that tree has to exist. There is no real devotion without the ability to be unfaithful. I suppose the marriage ceremony would make no sense if there was no possibility of unfaithfulness. The act of commitment means that you must reject anything outside of that commitment. The act of love means that you can't act outside of love. The act of worship means that you must act within what worship entails.

In front of all of us stands the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We will set our own destinies by which we choose. One still promises death- the death of our relationships with our spouses, the estrangement from God, dry, dull spiritual lives. The thrills it promises must be met with greater and greater thrills so that we don't notice that it is killing us.

The other tree is life. It is a relationship with the Lord that brings fulfillment. It is hearing Him speak. It is walking with Him in the cool of the evening.

Two trees are standing in the middle of our gardens. Which will we choose?

We can't have it both ways.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Strength in the Struggle

I pray that my pain disappears when I have a pain. I pray that money comes in when I have the lack of money. I pray that that my struggles disappear when I have a difficulty. I want life without troubles. Why would I want anything else?

However, I admit that there is another possibility which I have failed to pray. What if I prayed for strength to handle my troubles rather than that they all disappear? Is there any value in that?

Peter and John went back to the church after being thrown in jail and threatened for preaching the gospel. They had resolved to continue regardless of the consequences. They prayed to speak the gospel boldly even though they were threatened. They prayed that God would continue to do miracles so that they would have the opportunity to point people to Jesus.

Why didn't they pray that they wouldn't be beaten if they preached the gospel? Surely, that would have made it easier to get others to join them.

Is that true today? Are more people preaching the gospel because there are no threats? Are more people coming to the Lord because there are no threats?


Have you ever thought that the gospel may speak louder when it is given by someone who has something to lose for spreading it? Maybe our struggles define our faith so that we know exactly why we are sharing it with others. Maybe others are listening because they know it isn't just a whim we are following. Maybe all the pseudo-Christians leave the church when a price must be paid. Doesn't that make our faith more pure? Doesn't that reveal what we really believe? Doesn't the world stand up to notice those who are willing to lose everything for what they say is the truth?

Are you willing to pray that you can stand for Christ in the struggle you are now facing? Will the strength you are receiving from Him become a testimony for Him?

After 911 the churches filled with people. Within three weeks they had lost their sudden fervor. They went back to their old lifestyles. They said they would never forget but they did. What kind of faith only runs to church in order to lose your struggles? Sure, Jesus can help but does that mean He will always remove the struggle or that He will sometimes make the struggle powerful?

When Paul prayed that his "thorn in the flesh" be removed, Jesus told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Note that He didn't remove it.

When Paul is talking to the Corinthians about their own temptations he said, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Note that He gives the strength to stand up under it rather than removing it.

There is strength in the struggle. I may not like struggles and I don't ask for them but when they come, I praise Him when I remain steadfast in my faith without having the struggles removed.

Acts 4:29-30 (NIV)
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Time Is Now

Each week I watch people struggle with the decisions they know are right. The Lord convicts them. Yet, they can't see anything but the struggles and they walk out doing nothing. How long do they think they can keep that up?

One of the hardest things in the world is making peace with someone who you believe will rub it in your face. It is hard to say, "I'm sorry," to someone who will say, "Of course you are!" Yet, that is exactly what has to happen. Sometimes the Lord tells us to make peace at any cost. The Holy Spirit convicts us. Our relationship with the Lord becomes stale because we delay doing what He has told us to do.

There are many other things that people fail to do even though they know the Lord wants them to. They know He wants them in a vocational ministry but they delay doing so for various reasons. They really don't realize that delayed obedience is disobedience. They don't realize that the opportunity may not be here tomorrow.

Maybe the most important thing is a word from God that tells you to witness to someone.

A friend came and asked me to go with him and visit someone who was in the hospital. This person was dying and didn't know the Lord. I said I couldn't because I was too busy that day. The one in the hospital went into a coma the next day and never recovered. The opportunity came and went.

Many people fail to do what the Lord is leading them to do with their children or their spouses. They are so wrapped up in other things that they fail to notice that time is passing. The opportunities are passing too.

Not everything we are called to do has a tomorrow. There are some things that must be done now. Most of these things don't have indicators which let you know that the time has expired. You think you can do it later but later is not a privilege we are promised.

The Israelites thought they could make the decision to go into the Promised Land after they had already refused the Lord. They were wrong. They had only one opportunity. No one is promised a second chance.

The time is now. It always has been.

What does the Lord want you to do?

Numbers 14:40-45 (NIV)
40 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the Lord promised." 41 But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the Lord's command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword." 44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord's covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah. +

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who Has Ears to Hear?

You know that I ride a bicycle to work if you have read my blog. It gives me time to pray and observe people. I notice more and more that people are not observing me back. In fact, I don't think they are observing anything. They only look left when coming to an intersection, fail to use their direction signals and often turn right in front of me even though I have a light flashing in their eyes. I will never own stock in a company that sells car insurance! These people are accidents waiting to happen.

I don't think this is how they started. I imagine they began driving as those who looked both ways at intersections, using their direction signals and yielding to the cyclist crossing the intersection. Something happened that has caused them to stop seeing others and even noticing what they are doing.

Do you think they have done that it other areas of their lives? Do you think they have stopped noticing their spouses and children so much that their relationships are also accidents waiting to happen?

I believe people do this with their faith too. They may have started with enthusiasm and carefully sought after the Lord but something happened along the way. They take it all casually now. They can hardly remember a true encounter with God. Its all mechanical at this point. Just doing the minimum.

This morning I will preach to a congregation which will contain some of these people. There will be those who will hear a word from God and obey. There will be some who will know it is a word from God and will choose to ignore (disobey) that word. There will be some who will construct something that was neither said by me or the Holy Spirit. There will be some who will sleep. And there will be some who will stay awake but not hear anything that was said even though they have perfectly good hearing.

Why is this? I believe it is because they chose to disobey for so long that they no longer have the ability to hear. They are like the driver who consciously begins to look only one direction when approaching an intersection who later does so naturally. Disobedience to the law becomes the norm. It doesn't even occur to this driver that he or she should look both directions anymore.

Of course, a wreck changes that for some time. One wreck because they didn't look both directions will result in looking both directions in the future. . . at least for a while.

Will it take a wreck for people to start hearing the Holy Spirit again?

I don't know.

Matthew 11:15 (NIV)
15  He who has ears, let him hear.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Infinite God of the Infinite Universe

Genesis 1:1 (NIV) 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Do you ever read the Bible and find that the same verses have deeper meanings each time you read them?

That happened to me today. I read the first verse in the Bible and got an "a-ha" moment. I have always thought of the universe as finite even though I don't know where the end of it is. I guess I just couldn't get my head around infinity.  There is an end to everything I know. Therefore, my universe has always demanded to be finite.

But that's before today. That is before I looked at the Creator rather than that which was created. That change my whole focus. I have always thought of God as infinite. He was not created. I have never seen Him. I don't think of Him as in one place at a time. I don't even think of Him as physical though I am sure He could take physical form. He did with Jesus, right?

Now, the question that struck me today was: Why would an infinite God create a finite universe? He didn't even create finite humans. We will all last forever. (Some to a resurrection to heaven and everyone else will go to the other place.) We are infinite. The word says that all of creation groans for the return of Jesus when it will be redeemed. Of course, that means that it will be placed back into perfection.

It also means that it will be different yet still last forever. Thus, everything that God creates is infinite. The universe was created by an infinite God who could not have created it to be finite because He is in all the universe and He is infinite.

Sometimes I look at the stars and realize that the light from many of those stars took hundreds or thousands of years to reach my eyes. I think of how small I am. I look at the earth and know that it was created just right so that life would flourish. I realize that God created it for me and billions like me. I realize how small I am. I am convicted of my sin and know that Jesus, God's only Son died for those sins. I realize how important I am.

You see, God created me to be infinite. I will last forever regardless of whether I accept Jesus or not. He died for me so that my infinity would be with Him.

I know that the infinite God of the infinite universe loves me personally. He knows my name. I am His child.

One of the amazing things is that I am not puffed up by this. I am humbled. Why would the infinite God do this? It doesn't really make sense. No, it doesn't unless you factor in love.

Yes, His love is infinite too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Goes Around . . .

You have heard it before but did not know that it was a biblical principle: "What goes around; comes around."

God's justice gives back what has been dished out. How we have treated others will be how we are treated. How we have judged others will be how we are judged. What goes around; comes around.

I have observed this principle while on several church staffs. I have seen someone who fired someone unjustly get fired unjustly. I have seen those who have gossiped about others have others gossip about them. I have seen those who lied to others have also been lied to.

But you know I have seen good things happen to. I have seen those who gave grace receive grace. I have seen those who were kind have kindness extended back to them.

I wonder how many Christians realize what they are doing when they treat the waitress or the clerk or anyone else without respect. Do they realize that they also will not be respected? Do they realize that what they are dishing out will come back to them? How many idle words would be said if people knew these words would come back to them?

When I was young and newly married I went to work for a man promised me a raise after working for three months. Four months passed with no raise. Finally, I went to my boss for what had been promised. He told me that he was not going to give me a raise and I could quit if I didn't like it. At this point the business was doing very well. It was buying other businesses. It certainly could afford my little raise.

I couldn't afford to quit. I honestly wanted to stay and hurt the business as much as I could. However, I got a word from the Lord. He said plainly, "Do not do anything. I will repay." I worked cheerfully until the Lord move me into a ministry position in another town. I had not done anything to the man or his business.

Not long afterwards I came back through this town to find that this man's business had failed. He was in his fifties and I knew that it must have been hard to look for a job at that age. I actually felt sorry for him but I knew what had happened. God had kept His word. The man was repaid for the way he treated me. (He may have treated many others the same way. I may have just been part of a group he had treated badly.)

I have observed this happening to many others over time. I have allowed it to be a principle for how I have treated people. I have had to fire people whom I supervised over the years but I never wanted to. I made sure that it was their decision rather than mine. They were fired because they would not comply with what needed to be done. I have asked God to never let me forget the pain of almost being fired myself (and mine was because I asked for something that had been promised to me). I have never forgotten and have tried to treat people with the utmost grace.

My actions are not entirely altruistic. I know that which I give to others will also be given to me.

Think about this as you interact with people. How do you really want to be treated?

Luke 6:38 (NIV)
38  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."