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Monday, February 28, 2011

Jesus Wept

I wonder how many people I have made feel guilty at funerals.

So many times I tell people that we are grieving for ourselves because the one who has passed is much better off than they were on earth. I remind the loved ones that there is no more pain, hurting, treatments and whatever else the deceased experienced before finally passing. I tell them that they should rejoice in the "homecoming" of their loved one. It is almost as if I am saying, "Stop that crying right now. You just dry it up! There's no call for it!"

How sick!

I believe people need to grieve the loss of someone they loved. They really don't need a preacher telling them what they already know. They need to remember the loved one fondly. They need to allow the pain to come to the surface. Buried pain causes all sorts of trouble.

Sometimes there is already guilt without the preacher adding more. There may be words that shouldn't have been said before the loved one's passing. There may be regrets over things done. There may be wishes that more time was spent together. Nothing can be done to rectify any wrongs felt.

So, I have a new approach. I tell them that Jesus once wept at a funeral. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that Lazarus would be brought back to life. He knew that the family would start rejoicing at the one who was no longer lost to them. But He cried anyway.

 If I really wanted to be like Jesus I would simply grieve with them. It doesn't matter that the person is in the best place. It doesn't matter that they are no longer sick, old or troubled. It only matters that the ones left behind know that God walks with them and He hurts too.

John 11:35 (NIV)
Jesus wept.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Church Must Change

People do not always resist change. They hardly ever resist something they want. They generally don’t resist raises or promotions. They generally don’t resist gifts or special dinners.

However, people just as generally cast a wary eye on changes that they feel that are thrust upon them. Many people resisted getting telephones, answering machines, microwave ovens, flat screen tv’s, computers and cell phones. Some people are still resisting some of these things. Maybe they didn’t notice but the world did not stop until they caught up.

The days of a church building being a large room with a pot bellied stove for heat and lanterns for light have long passed. It would be hard to have a growing church today which had no electricity, no air conditioning and no telephones. It is increasingly hard to have a growing church without a top notch website, social media and messages streaming on the internet.

I never dreamed I would write a blog, produce videos that can be seen around the world and communicate personally with people whom I will never meet when I entered the ministry. However, this is an increasing part of ministry today.

Some people would like to have church like it used to be. I always wonder what that means. Does that mean that they want it to sing the old songs with an organ and piano alone? Does that mean that they want the sermons to be forty-five minutes long? Does that mean they want everyone to come in coats, ties and dresses? Does that mean that everyone who comes to church is married, never divorced and will work at the same job until retired? Does that mean that the parents of the children who come to our church grew up in church and want their children to grow up in church too? I am afraid that ship has sailed. You may want a church like this but it won’t be a growing church if it doesn’t realize that the world around it has changed. People are going to hell every day and we must urgently share the gospel with them. We must speak in a language they understand.

Things are changing faster than they ever have before. Technology is driving that change. Last year a student died who attended Princess Anne High School. The students used social media to organize a memorial service to him within twenty four hours. Three hundred of the students came to our church on a Sunday afternoon for that service. That couldn’t have happened five years ago.

So, we keep the same message but deliver it in new ways to a world that is constantly changing. We change our meeting times, our means of communicating with the community and just about everything but the truth of the gospel to reach some. That has been and always will be the business of the church.
1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (NIV)
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.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do You Say, "Good Morning, God" or, "Good God, Its Morning?"

Some people live for the weekends. That means that most of their lives are spent in drudgery. They work five days that are hardly appreciated for two days which are totally appreciated. That makes for a dismal life.

Maybe part of the reason they work for the weekends is because they have no time to do what they want during the week. They take their kids to school, work and run their kids from activity to activity. The weekend allows for some time to be spent doing just what they want to do.

Do they not like what they do during the week? Did they choose a job rather than a career? Do they have a calling or are they simply working  for money? Herein my lie the trouble. Money is never enough to satisfy. It will only cry, "More, more!"

I personally love Sundays more than any other day of the week. It is the day I get to preach the word of God to the church. I spend a good portion of the week preparing this message. I love to prepare and to deliver these messages. Each day the Lord uses His Word to change me. I am amazed at what He is doing in my life.

Each day I read the Bible and pray. Each day is a gift from God. My days on the earth are numbered. I may not die today but I will die someday (unless Jesus returns first). I have 365 days to be the age I am right now. I have so many more days behind me than I have in front of me. Each day is new for God speaks something new into my life.

Each day I see new people. These are a gift from God. Not every one of these people are pleasant but each one is a gift. Sometimes I need to minister to those who aren't so pleasant. Sometimes I need to learn from them. Even learning how not to act is learning.

Every day comes with new opportunities. I simply run into them. My engagement in those opportunities makes them worthwhile.They change me too. They make me more like Jesus.

Today is a great day. Tomorrow will be even better.

Psalm 118:24 (NIV)
24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Root Cause of Dying Churches

The root problem in dying churches is not in growth methods. It isn't in the fact that they get fat and happy and can't remember when it was like to be lean and hungry. It isn't in their lack of young people nor their trying to use 1950's methods to reach a twenty-first century world. It isn't the age of their pastors nor the look of their websites. Each of these things may play a part but they are not the real root issue. The real root issue is a lack of humility.

I have tried to help churches that are giving every indication they are dying. I have called and asked what I can do. I never receive a return call. Maybe they don't think I can help. They might be right. But I sense they are too proud to ask for help. I sense they are unwilling to give up their own ways in order to grow.

I see the lack of humility in the way they criticize the ways of other churches. They laugh at the "seven-eleven" songs of these churches. They claim that these other churches sing seven words eleven times. They claim their method of singing hymns is superior to this childish worship. They fail to remember that each of the gospel hymns has a chorus which is typically sung between each verse. They fail to remember that the Southern Gospel songs typically repeat the same words over and over again.

The people castigate the young people who listen to music that is closely associated with gangs. They fail to remember that they listened to the songs of Sinatra who seemed to have a somewhat close connection with the mafia. The only difference I see is that the mafia is dressed much better.

The church is not going to have God's presence as long as it is full of pride. It needs humility to have God's grace. It will need to ask for help from God and others to help it grow. The members cannot demand rights and still have humility. They can't expect special parking, special recognitions, services that suit only those already in the church and service times which meet their schedules and expect to grow.

No church will ever be a praying church without humility. Prayer is an admission that help is needed from God. It is saying that the church cannot do what it needs to do without Him. Humility is necessary to come into God's presence. Prayer is coming into His presence. Prayer is access to the thoughts and power of God. It changes the one who enters His presence and changes the world of the one who has prayed.

There will never be any repentance in the church without humility. Repentance is coming face-to-face with your own sin and declaring it evil. It is turning completely away from that sin. It is going straight for God. It is coming to a purity that mere improvement will never accomplish. Pride hides sin as long as possible. It declares it does not exist until it can't deny it any longer. Then, pride minimizes sin. It points at how small the sin is. When that can no longer suffice, pride accuses others for sin's presence. It is not the fault of the sinner but of the environment, the economy, the parents or any other possible scapegoat. Humility says, "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." (Psalm 51:4)

The church will never seek God's face without humility. The church may seek His hands. They want what He can give them but they will not truly want to have Him carefully look upon them. This would require a complete commitment to God. The church is quite happy doing whatever God wants it to as long as it is convenient. God's total approval leaves no room for attitudes and activities which do not honor Him. A.W. Tozer once said that the church is "politely bored with God."

What is true of the land is true of the church. God would heal any and every church that would have this humility. He would make it a place which so strongly held His presence that people would be drawn to the church. He would straighten out all the conflicts within this church. He would solve the financial problems and set them back on a course of growth.

Humility. It seems like such a simple thing. It is against our human nature. It is the hardest thing that we must continually work at. It is the root of our relationship with God. It can bring our churches to growth.
Yes, I have seen proud churches grow but the growth is very superficial. It is all about the beauty of the building and the elite nature of those who attend there. It isn't God caused and it will not be God continued. These churches will come and go.

Who will be the one in their church to accept this humility before God? Who will be the part of a God made movement which will start his or her church toward humility and growth?

I want to be one. Are there others?

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)
14  if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

They Don't Call Them Hard Decisions for Nothing

It seems that everyone who doesn't have to make hard decisions can make them easily. People who don't worry about their political careers recommend a cut to social security and medicare. People who have nothing to lose will say that education or health care must be cut. Hard decisions are much easier when you don't have to pay for them.

I often sit with families who have to make hard decisions. They come to me for advice. I try to remember that I can flippantly say things which I will never pay for. I try to put myself in their place. These decisions are things like: "Do we continue the life of our loved one artificially or do we withdraw life support and allow him or her to die?" and "How long should I put up with a husband who has had multiple affairs?" and "Should we try to adopt or accept a childless marriage as our fate?" Each of these are hard decisions in which no answer is clearly right or wrong. Each decision has tremendous consequences.

The people are struggling. I do my best to struggle with them. I decide to get in the boat they are sailing. I decide to become part of the process. I decide to support their decisions no matter what it is. There is no clear biblical answer to their decisions.

Of course, each of these people who come to me is hoping that I will be able to give some spiritual, biblical answer to their dilemma. They are hoping that I can explain this decision in such a logical, spiritual way that the decision is made for them. I can't. I often see both sides of each situation. Keeping someone alive artificially for a time may do more than prolong his life for a few days. It may allow the body to heal. Taking the wayward husband back one more time may be the last time it needs to be done. Having no children can allow a couple to volunteer more for mission trips or do other church related activities.

I try to always pray with the people who come to me. I believe there is something that God would have them do. I pray that He will reveal what that is.

I know God loves those who are making these hard decisions and wants them to be comforted. God may be using me to be His ambassador of comfort. I do my best to let them know that God is walking with them through their decision.

And hard decision can be second-guessed. This is the real difficulty in making hard decisions. The first day the decision is self-evident. The next day it is very ambivalent. The third day the opposite decision is self-evident. I try to help people do what they think is right without making the decision for them. I try to counsel them through wavering back and forth.

Let's get this straight: Hard decisions have grave consequences. Eventually everyone has to make some hard decisions. Hard decisions do not have a clear right or wrong, yet a decision still must be made. Prayer is necessary to make the decision even though there may not be a definitive answer which comes from praying. Praying brings God into the equation. He can be asked to stop a bad decision as easily as He can be asked for direction in making a right decision. Support is the greatest need for those who make hard decisions.

The Apostle Paul made a hard decision on going to Rome. He wanted to spread the gospel. The journey was equally important to the arrival in Rome. People begged him not to go. They had already heard from God. The consequences were great. Paul had made his decision. He had already decided he would die for the Lord if necessary. All supported him in the end. That's what has to happen in hard decisions.

Acts 21:10-14 (NIV)
10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" 12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are You Pretending You Are Doing the Right Thing?

Have you ever been doing something that you know is wrong but act like you don’t? You ignore the consequences, the immorality and the estrangement that it has brought between you and God. You pretend that what you are doing is good. Pretending soothes your conscience but down deep you know it isn’t good. You know the difference between right and wrong.

Let’s see if I can describe your actions when you are pretending something is right when it is wrong.

You avoid people (people with godly spiritual character) who will tell you that what you are doing is wrong. I have seen so many people drop out of church when they began doing something wrong. The girl moves in with her boyfriend and stops going to church. The guy starts drinking heavily with a group of others and drops out of church. A woman is having an affair and drops out of church. A man leaves his wife and family (either figuratively or physically) and drops out of church. Each of these people knows it is wrong and leaves church because he or she is afraid someone will point it out. Reality will not do when you are pretending.

The Bible is never read with any passion. The Bible which was once your guiding light is left in the drawer of your night stand. What used to be something which brought you closer to God is never even thought of. You haven’t really read your Bible in so long that you don’t even know where it is. The Bible will be convicting. You can’t pretend any longer when you are under conviction.

You tell yourself something is true that you know isn’t. You say that “a piece of paper” (marriage license) doesn’t matter when it comes to your happiness. You say, “Even Jesus must have gotten drunk sometime at a wedding.” You tell yourself that your marriage was over anyway. It didn’t matter that you are having an affair with someone else. Pretending depends upon telling yourself lies.

You tell yourself that what you are doing is good when you know it is bad.. For example, you say that he would marry you at any moment. You are glad that he is with you because he wants to and not just because he married you. You say that you are really happier in the affair. You say that you really need this fling to unwind and get your life together. Truth is-- its tearing your life apart. It has alienated you from the people who care about you most. Making the bad appear good is necessary to continue the pretense.

The problem is as old as Adam and Eve. They pretended they were doing something to improve their lives when they knew it was wrong. Of course, you know how that worked out.

Genesis 3:2-11 (NIV)
2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." 11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I Don't Condemn People

I don't condemn people. I don't think I have the right. This is the reason that convicted criminals don't sit on juries. The guilty have no right to judge others. I am guilty of sin. I have no right to judge others.

This doesn't mean that I don't know what is right or wrong. It also doesn't mean that I can't tell people what is right or wrong. I can even tell them the consequences of their wrong actions. This is not the same as condemning people. Condemnation requires a sentence being pronounced upon that person. I have no right to determine to act as judge. That is reserved for God.

The Bible is clear in my judgment. I am not to judge others. I am to get the sins in my life cleared up before I tell others that there is sin in their lives. I may be required to be a part of the consequences for their sins. I should do this in love with the hope that they will return to the fellowship of the body of Christ.

I realize that some people interpret my being a part of the consequences of their sin as condemnation. It really isn't. Any judgment is based on what the Bible says. This is God's Word. It is what He has said. It isn't my right to change what God has said. I am merely His servant who obeys Him.

God's desire is that all people walk with Him. He does this out of His love. His will is that people receive an abundant life. Walking with God is the only means of a truly abundant life. Any addition to what God desires for you is really a subtraction from that abundant life. No one learned this more clearly than Adam and Eve.

Sin has consequences. I cannot change that. I want each person who has sinned to realize that he or she can come home to God at any moment. The consequences are there to bring that person home and to warn others of committing that sin.

Love is the abiding reason for my forgiveness of others. Love is also the reason I must confront people in their sins. I don't condemn them but I must tell them of the consequences. I must do this even if they reject me and what I am saying.

Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)
1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Knowing When to Stand Up

I get lots of email making strong political statements. They are full of innuendo and outright accusations against one of the political parties. The party in question is essentially accused of being un-American, anti-God and demonic. Many of these emails end with a statement that essentially says the reader must forward these emails or the reader is un-American, anti-God and demonic. I always delete these messages.

Don't misunderstand. I don't agree with everything the party who is being castigated. I just don't see this as my call.

My call is to defend the gospel. I do not believe I am supposed to become political. I do not believe that I am to campaign for candidates of any party. I am not called to do this because I do not believe that Jesus came for one party. I don't think He is owned by one party and I don't think He obeys any party. I believe He came to save all parties. Political statements made by me will undoubtedly close off opportunities to spread the gospel.

This doesn't mean that I shy away from preaching moral issues which may have political ramifications. I don't preach these messages because of politics. I preach them because they represent right and wrong. I do not want to alienate people through these messages but I must stand up for what is right. Therefore, I strongly support marriage between a man and a woman and I stand up for the rights of the unborn.

Can this also alienate people? Of course, but here I stand on God's word not on political convictions. I primarily stand up on these "controversial" issues for the sake of God's people. I have no right to condemn those outside the church. I have every right to speak plainly to those within the church.

Truthfully, I don't want another email that accuses me of being un-American, anti-God or demonic if I don't forward it to ten others. I don't think forwarding emails is standing up anyway. I think its hiding behind the statements of those who started the email.

I hope and pray that I will always stand for righteousness regardless of what any political party is doing. I think this is the best way to be pro-American and pro-God.

Proverbs 14:34 (NIV)
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Worship Is in the Heart

I just read an article saying that people were no longer singing in churches. The person who wrote the article had an accurate observation but presented his reasons why people have stopped singing based on his own personal beliefs rather than true observations. Many or all of his presuppositions may be true. My only contention is that he has no real evidence that they are.

Comments from those who had read this article followed his observation. The comments reflected the belief of people who claim that certain songs are not worshipful. They decry the destruction of worship because it is not the worship of the past. I wonder if this happens in every generation.

A teenage boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring to him. They were too far behind the times, with tiresome tunes and meaningless words. The father put an end to the complaining by saying, “If you think you can write better hymns, then why don’t you?’ The boy went to his room and wrote
his first hymn. The year was 1690 and the teenager was Isaac Watts. “Joy to the World’ and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” are among his hymns.

Is it possible that every generation has had these complaints? Is it possible that worship has always been evolving with the times? Have people stopped to consider that the way they worship today is likely to be different in the worship of tomorrow?

Worship is not merely an observable action. The church I pastored in Houston had four mission churches. They were Filipino, African, Indonesian and Arabic. Each one worshiped differently. Each one had a rich worship. It would have been hard to explain why they were so different if worship had to follow a certain pattern for it to be authentic worship.

Worship is something that happens in the heart. (That may be the reason that people aren't singing.) It comes from within. It does not matter if the person is singing the words if the heart is not in tune with the song.

I personally do not like liturgical worship but I do not believe that those who practice it are lacking in worship. It doesn't matter if they read everything that is being said if what is being said is a reflection of their hearts. I realize what draws me closer to God may not draw others and that which draws them may not draw me.

When will we learn that worship does not come from the lips if it does not also come from the heart?

Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)
13 The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where Does the Responsibility Lie?

Yesterday I heard that we the US debt had increased by $50 billion last month. The "news" report said that this was because of the "Bush era" tax cuts.

Let me see if I get this right. The problem of our debt is in the amount of money we are making rather in the amount of money we are spending. Doesn't that also mean that my problems with personal finances are caused by my employer and not by my overspending?

This understanding has solved a lot of my problems. I am going to start sending my credit card bills to my boss.  Heck, I'm going to send all of my bills to him. They are his problems. I, therefore, can spend whatever I like because I do not need to take any responsibility. Anytime I have financial problems I should protest, throw fits and demand my employer pony up more money. I have the right to demand he pay me more and more and more and . . . .

This attitude absolves me from all sin. God shouldn't have allowed sin in the world. He should never have let Satan come to tempt Adam and Eve. (No, it wasn't just Eve. Take a close look at the Bible. It says that Adam was there with Eve when she ate the fruit.) Its God's fault. He'll just have to take me to heaven even if I live like a son of hell.

Of course, that means my faithfulness to my wife is tied to how she treats me. She must meet my every want if she wants me to remain faithful. Its her fault if I stray. She should keep things flowing in such an abundance that I would never have never have a thought of being unfaithful.

Just think of the possibilities of this thinking! Nothing is ever your fault any more! You can drive like a maniac, just take the things you want off the store shelves and be as selfish as you could ever want to be.

O, once we all understand that it isn't our fault,  won't it be a wonderful world? It will be heaven!

No, I'm afraid it will more resemble hell than heaven. Hell will be full of people who did not own up to their sins and reach out to a savior who would save them.

Hell will be full of people who did things their way.

Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Only Way to Know How to Be a Christian Is to Be a Christian

Any person knows that he is not a Christian, must have a concept of what a Christian is or he wouldn’t know he wasn’t already a Christian. For example, how would a person know that he was poor if he had no concept of being rich? This knowledge of rich gives the realization of being poor. Knowing you are not a Christian means that you have a concept of what a Christian is. However, the concept may be inaccurate.

Most of our knowledge is borrowed. We do not learn from personal experience as much as from the experience of others. We believe Abraham Lincoln was the United States president during the American Civil War because we are told he was. We have no reason to believe otherwise and have accepted this as fact. It could be that generations of people have been fooled. It could be that there was a great conspiracy to hide the true president from danger during this war. It could be that Abraham Lincoln was merely one who stood in the danger so that the true president to could manage the war without fear of assassination.

Of course, I don’t believe this because I have trusted my teachers and many others to pass accurate information to me. Also, extant historical evidence proves that Lincoln was president. However, I am still relying on information given to me. I never talked with Lincoln and wouldn’t really trust any living person who told me that he had.

Therefore, a person who believes he is not a Christian has a picture of what he thinks a Christian is. That picture may or may not be valid. Those who call themselves Christians may not be Christians themselves and skew the picture of what a Christian is. Others who say they are Christians may act like Christians but present a gospel that does not agree with the Christianity of the Bible. Again, the one who believes he is not a Christian may have a misunderstanding of what a Christian is.

Nevertheless, the person has a picture, whether true or not, of what he believes a Christian is and/or how one becomes a Christian.

The most common reason that people reject Christianity is be their observation of Christians. They see a people who are sometimes worse than the people who do not call themselves Christians. They decide that they don’t want to be like these “Christians.” The would much rather wear their lack of faith than be part of a people whose faith wears on others.

Most Christians are oblivious to the people they turn off by the way they act. I am one of these. I am often a jerk who treats people in an ungraceful manner. I tell people I want them to become a Christian but I don’t want people to become like me. That is contrary to what Paul said. He told people to imitate him. Paul wasn’t afraid that his life would give an inaccurate picture of Christianity.

The only true understanding of what a Christian is can be attained by becoming one. I have heard people say that people ought to try being a Christian and see for themselves. The Bible won’t really support this. It says that once you can’t go back once you have become a Christian. Those who are able to return to their former way of living weren’t true believers in the first place. God holds onto His own.

So, there is no assured way that you will know what a Christian is without becoming one. You have to trust those who tell you to give your life to Christ and trust that He will make you into what a Christian is.
The reason we can’t really know is because we are not merely improved persons. Christians are not just the upgraded model of humanity. We are new creations. That is impossible to imagine or to know without the experience.
Acts 26:28-29 (NIV)
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" 29
Paul replied, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Evangelism: Its in Everything I Do

I have been thinking a lot about evangelism lately. I have especially focused on how I got it wrong for so long. I thought that my job was to pointedly tell people who Jesus is so that they wouldn't go to hell. I believed that the only time I was doing evangelism was when I shared the gospel. Anything else was not sharing who Jesus is.

I have realized the error of my ways. While I still believe we must share the good news pointedly, I don't think that gets close to the whole story of evangelism. That is why churches can send out hordes of evangelists to share Christ in their communities with very little result. People know when you are reciting something that isn't in your heart. They know if you are really caring about them or are just appeasing your conscience. They know who is trying to be a good Christian rather than allowing Christ to change them into someone good. They can recognize the difference between love and obligation. They want no part of in appeasing our consciences or allowing us to fulfill our obligations at the expense of their time.

Years ago I read a little book called "The Gospel Blimp." It tells a story of a church who wanted its community to know Christ. The members of that church bought a blimp that they flew over their city broadcasting the gospel with loud speakers while dropping evangelistic leaflets. The loud speakers and leaflets, which got caught in the people's gutters, were just a nuisance. Meanwhile, one of the members who had a true concern for his neighbor began getting to know the neighbor by spending time with him. He developed a relationship and wins his neighbor to Christ.

Many people want to separate caring for people and evangelism. I used to be one of those people. I wanted people to give the unadulterated gospel to people they didn't know as quickly as possible so that they could share with more people. I still believe we should use every opportunity but I don't believe that the gospel can be effectively broadcast without loving those it is shared with.

Evangelism is in how I treat everyone. It goes with me grocery store. It happens when I open the door for those behind me. The gospel is there when I create a gap so someone can merge into traffic. The gospel is evident in my treatment of waitress who has been slow refilling my coke. It is evident within me even if I have no opportunity to share verbally with that other individual. I can't turn on or off the gospel and truly be effective in sharing Christ. It must be on and stay on if I am to see people give up this life to accept a life in which Jesus is Lord.

I either treat everyone I know as if he or she is Jesus or I don't really understand the gospel. I will never be able to say one thing while people are observing me do something else and be anything more than someone who is more interested in himself than those he is trying to reach.

Those with whom I am trying to reach already knew this. I am just now coming around.

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV) 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 
40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is Your Life Headed for a Pit?

I turned the corner and the sun instantly blinded me. The windshield of my car reflected the sun's rays so strongly that I couldn't see. I immediately pulled the sun visor down. Vision returned and I could see to navigate my vehicle again. I thought, "Being blinded didn't prevent me from traveling down this road. It only kept me from knowing where I was going. It prevented me from knowing I was going the right direction and, therefore, opened up the possibility of hitting something or someone."

This is exactly how many people raise their families, practice their marriages, manage their finances and navigate the decisions they must make daily. The fact that they can't see doesn't stop them from going down the road; it merely makes disasters more possible.

Recently I was talking with another minister when we lamented the frustrations we were having in performing premarital counseling. We said, "It seems that those who have a firm foundation already know what they must do and will make a success of their marriages. Thus, they do not really need our counseling. Those who do not have this foundation do not understand what we are saying which makes our counseling irrelevant."

There is a difference between hiring a person who has a masters degree in nuclear engineering at your power plant and someone who can't spell nuclear. One can take the job and learn to navigate his or her way to success. The other's success is dependent upon extreme luck. You just hope he doesn't blow us all to kingdom come because he doesn't know what he is doing.

Those who have a strong foundation are those who can see. They are not blind because they have the principles necessary to navigate life's circumstances. These principles are a strong faith in Christ and knowing God's word. The first places the Holy Spirit within the individual. He will help that person in walking the Christian life. The second involves knowing the truth. The truth becomes a light to the path of life. It enables the correct action toward stressful decisions. This foundation stabilizes the tendencies to be selfish in how we think or respond.

The best marriages are those of a husband and wife who walk with Christ daily by reading, hearing, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying God's word. That also applies to all the other things you must navigate in this life. A strong foundation is necessary. This foundation will enable you to see.

Jesus said that people will end up in pit if the blind lead the blind. It is no wonder that this is happening all around us. How many people do you know whose marriage is headed for a pit? How many do you know whose lives are headed for a pit? They aren't necessarily bad people. They just can't see.

Maybe you are headed for a pit or are already in one. Start working on your foundation. It will enable you to see.

Psalm 119:105 (NIV)
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Matthew 15:14 (NIV)
14  Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Loving People into God's Kingdom

The evangelist D.L. Moody said that we love people into God's kingdom. I believe the lack of love for those that do not know Christ is the primary reason we are not seeing people come to know Christ.

We have tried to make our efforts to share Christ a program. We have printed materials, sent our church leaders to training seminars, promoted the latest greatest evangelism program (which will always be the last one we will need) and fed it to those who have either been shamed into sharing Christ or who have a heart for evangelism and want to do anything possible to see people come to know Christ. We taught them a slick sales-talk approach to telling the gospel. They have made cold calls to those who have visited the church. Many of the people have not been at home, many others are already Christians, some are not interested and few pray the "sinners prayer" with the church evangelists. Only about 7%-15% of those who have said this prayer will ever be baptized are become a part of the church.

What was the difference between the early church and what is happening today? They never saw it as a program. They shared their faith with the people they knew. They told the neighbors and those whom attended the synagogues about their faith in Christ. Their motivation was their love for the people they shared with. The Apostles used their preaching opportunities in each instance to share who Jesus was to people who had never heard the story. They confronted people in crowds but shared in deep love individually. They weren't sharing Christ out of shame. They were doing so because they loved Him and His love gave them love for others.

Everything you do is evangelism when you share out of love. You seek to bring others to Christ by how you treat them. You are kind, compassionate, humble and helpful because you have personally been changed by Christ. The change in you seek is to bring others to Christ. You invite them to your church out of love. You help them with a problem out of love. You are kind out of love. You are so characterized by love that you earn the right to speak further to them about Christ.

Evangelism is born out of love. God loved us first. We love because He loved.

I believe I know why people don't want to know about the Christ we have. Many of them don't want to be a part of a group that tells a story of a religion that doesn't care about those to whom the story is told.

D.L. Moody was right. We love people into the Kingdom.

John 3:16 (NIV)
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:8 (NIV)
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:19 (NIV)
19  We love because he first loved us. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Do You Choose a Church?

Do you choose a church according what it can provide for you or do you choose a church according to what you can provide for it? The answer must be "Yes!"

I used to tell people who were looking for a church that they should seek one believed the Bible. I can't say that anymore. Everyone says they believe the Bible. The trouble is that they don't do what it says. They don't hold love as that which fulfills the law. They don't grant mercy and justice. They are like the Pharisees who Jesus warned us of. Therefore, let's look at the way a church regards the Bible.

The preacher does not make a church but he can often reveal the characteristics of a church. His high regard for scripture will reveal much about those who attend the worship services.

Most preachers read some scripture during their messages. The question is whether the messages he delivers are biblical. Does he read the scriptures, set them aside and tell the congregation what he thinks? Or, does he allow the scriptures to explain the scriptures? Does he allow the scriptures to determine what he believes? Or, does he make the scriptures support what he wants to believe?

Worship is basic in choosing a church. There is no reason you should be at odds with the preacher after every worship service.  You will simply be frustrated. You should keep looking for a new church if you find a preacher who does not have a high regard for scripture.

Do the actions of a church you are considering support their desire to see people become disciples of Jesus Christ? Are they actually doing what the Bible says or are they acting hatefully toward others and ignoring what the Bible says?   A church which has fired its last three pastors is neither Spirit led nor willing to do what the Bible says. They have chosen their pastors wrongly and treated them wrongly. This church cannot make disciples unless that church comes to repentance. It has no regard for the Bible no matter what it says in its doctrinal statements.

What can you offer the church you are considering? They may not have a ministry that you would like to develop. You may be the one to begin that ministry at that church. God calls you to a church as much as a church is called to you. Please consider what you will offer. It doesn't have to be something new. It may be a ministry God is calling you to that the church provides.

Be careful of a couple of things which will make you join the wrong church. Are you realistically going to make the drive to the church you are considering on a regular basis? It may be that this church is exciting and has everything you could want in a church. It may be that your best friends are members there but the distance can easily become an excuse irregular attendance.

Don't join a church simply because the people are friendly. You don't actually need friendly people. You need friends in the church. You have to ask yourself if these are the people with which you will spend time away from the church. Church cannot exist on Sunday mornings alone and be vital in the lives of the membership. They must have times when they go to each others' homes for fellowship and discipleship. A healthy church is full of friends who enjoy each other.

Above all, listen to the Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit telling you about the church you are attending? Is He leading you to join this church? Is He agreeing with the messages being preached? Is He urging you to become involved? Church membership should be a spiritual decision. The Spirit should lead your spirit to join the church.

Don't fret if you realize that you went to the wrong church. You made a mistake. The best thing to do is to look for a new one. However, are you discontent because the Spirit is making you so or are you discontent because something happened that you didn't like? Be careful not to jump ship simply because things didn't happen the way you thought they should happen. It could be that God will still lead that church to change but without regard to your timing.

I suppose someone will say, "All of this is fine and good if you are in metropolitan area with lots of churches to choose from. What if you live in a town with only one church?" Then you have two choices. You join that church and seek to change it for God's glory or you pray that God will grant you the grace to help start a new church.

The church is a body. Choose a church and become a functioning part.

May God bless you in your search.

1 Corinthians 12:18-20 (ESV) 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Is Finished

Maybe you have heard a preacher make the following statement from John:

John 12:32 (NIV)  "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

The next statement goes like this, "So we are going to lift up Jesus here today so that He will draw all men to Himself." You've heard it and so have I. So, let's look at the next verse:

John 12:33 (NIV)  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

The second statement explains the first. The first taken out of context means that our exaltation of Jesus will cause others to come to know Him. The second statement explains that Jesus death on the cross is actually what draws people to Him. The second statement means explains that the lifting up that Jesus experienced was by the people who would crucify Him. We are responsible for Jesus being "lifted up" since Jesus died for our sins.

I want to lift Jesus up in praise but I don't want to lift Him up to the cross. He will never be on the cross again.

He said it all when He said, "It is finished."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beware of the Man Who Says He Is Telling the Truth

The time seems to be ripe for preachers who appeal to feelings rather than the truth. They tell a story that makes people identify with their feelings. They can take their hearers anywhere they want after making this connection. The hearers do not know the truth. They can easily be captured by a mesmerizing story because the errors are not evident. They are given a new reality without regard to the truth.

I am reminded of the con who went to a backwoods general store to try to get change for his twelve dollar bill. "Sure," the clerk replied calmly, "Would you like four three dollar bills or two sixes ?" I am afraid that Christians have accepted so much without verification that they no longer know what is true anymore.

The remarkable thing is that these new reality preachers are telling people that church and the Bible will not lead people to a stronger relationship with God. Their proof is found in the number of people who agree with them. In other words, "It has to be the truth because there are so many others who agree with us."

I suppose that this argument is valid in any cult or organization. The fact that you can gather a group of people who believe the same as you verifies that there must be something to what you believe. However, it only verifies that there are people feeling the same thing that you feel. It really isn't any proof that what you feel is the truth.

The time is ripe for these reality preachers because their hearers could not be more biblically illiterate than they are today. They don't know the truth so they can't know when there is error. They only know their feelings and choose a church or cause based upon their emotions. They don't want to be bothered with the truth. Their feelings overrule observations. Thus, they can still spout claims of being deeply spiritual while never attending church. They can claim to know the truth without knowing the basic teachings of the Bible. They can claim a close walk with God as they pray to nature even though God's word warns against such activity.

Maybe Christians thought that the Bible's warnings of false teachers would be so obvious that every Christian would reject it. They never thought it would come from a teacher who is telling them something that they wanted to hear. They never thought it would come because they didn't actually know the truth.

Those who follow these reality preachers have "itching" ears. They appeal to feelings rather than the truth. They tell the person that their feelings are valid and even laudable. These feelings will actually make the hearers stronger if the feelings are explored. They point to superficial improvements without pointing out the downfall of chasing the feelings.

The new feeling "converts" don't have to accept the Bible as the truth. They can stay at home, do what they want when they want and even explore other faiths because nothing is more true than their feelings. They can blend new heresies while claiming conversations with Jesus.

People would think these reality preachers are a joke if people knew the truth. They would openly laugh when these preachers spoke. Knowing the truth would have changed their feelings. They would know that verification cannot come from feelings. They would know that this "preaching" will put people under the bondage of a lie.

Beware of the person who tells you that he is telling the truth when he backs it up with feelings. He may bend scriptures to add to his proof but his premise is always based upon common feelings. Make sure that you question his use of scripture. Look at commentaries which verify the meaning of a verse by what other verses say. Let the truth of the scriptures explain the scriptures. Don't be captured merely by the preacher's denomination or those who agree with the preacher.

Set a goal that you will know the truth. Jesus said that you must remain in His word if that is to happen. Then, when the reality preacher arrives you will openly laugh, point out why this isn't the truth and help others find their way.

Most importantly, knowing the truth will set you free from the lie.

John 8:31-32 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Unreasonable Gospel

The Gospel is really unreasonable by the world's standards. It does not present itself in a manner that the world can really understand. Let's use John 3:16 as an example.

John 3:16 (NIV)
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The world says we love those who love us. The world says to hell with the people who don't love us. God says that he loves us before we love Him. God's love is unmerited. It is unlimited. It means that God loves prostitutes, drug dealers and people who talk during movies as much as He loves the preacher and deacons of a church.

The world says that we earn everything we get.  God says He gives without regard. Earthly employers are in debt to their employees before they pay them. They expect the wages to be earned before they are paid. God gives to us without accounting what we have or haven't done for Him. He gives to us just as we are.

The world says that we should grab all we can get. God says that He will sacrifice His own Son for us. The world says, "Get all you can, can all you get and sit on the can!" God says, "Come to me and I will give you rest." His gives rather than pays. The world tells us that the one who earns the most gets ahead. God puts everyone at the front of the line.

The world says that people will only do what you make them do. God offers us a choice. He asks. He allows us to be as sinful as we want. He asks us to come to Him. He never forces His will upon us.

You know, I understand what the Apostle Paul was saying when he said that the cross was foolishness to those who were perishing. It doesn't use the reason of this world.

Maybe, that's because it isn't of this world.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How Are You Judging Your Preacher?

Judging preachers is not new. It has been around since New Testament times. I have been on the good end and the bad end of that judgment.

There seems to be one pastor who made a tremendous impact. Everything is held to his standard. People tell their pastor that this "annointed" pastor would always visit, was always there in every crisis and always had an altar full of people who wanted to join the church. They wonder why their present pastor can't do as well.

I would like to defend your pastor if this is what is going on in your church.

First, let's ask when this perfect pastor was at your church. How old was the congregation at the time? Most new churches start with people in their twenties, thirties and forties. There are a few exceptions to that rule but you will find this age group more likely to start something new with the understanding that they must go to work if the church is going to survive. This group is ready to work and serve. Few of them are sick or dying. Sick and dying people just don't start new churches. They require very little pastoral care. The pastor of one of these churches does two to three funerals a year.

Now, let's look at the present age of the church. A fifty year old church will have a significant number of people in their seventies and eighties. There will even be a few in their nineties. This congregation will have a large number of people in the hospital and many of them will have terminal diseases. The pastor will do twenty to thirty funerals a year. He simply won't have the time to give the care that a pastor who is doing two to three funerals a year with very few people in the hospital.

Let's look at the time in which the perfect pastor served. A church generally builds a new building as soon as it can. It is a stretch for the congregation but the excitement overtakes them and they build a nice new sanctuary and other buildings. The community is new with new families moving in. They are attracted to these new facilities. They come to get their children involved in church. They also come with the idea that they must give to the Lord because that is what they have been taught all their lives.

The present pastor is in buildings which have seen better days. In fact, the whole community has seen better days. The community is filled with older people and those who are significantly different than the congregation of the church. The younger people are looking for something more lively. They like new buildings too and are willing to drive outside of the community to find them. The younger people give eighty percent per family less than the members of the congregation. Each member who dies needs five younger members to join in order to replace his giving.

Let's take a look at the situation the world is in. The best means of contacting people during the age of the perfect pastor was home visitation. Today many people live in gated communities. They see an unannounced visit as an invasion of their space. They see no difference between a call from the church and a telemarketer. Younger people like websites, facebook, and twitter. They want to get involved as quickly or as slowly as they would like without anyone pushing them. They don't especially like altar calls. They want to involved in a couple of churches at a time. They want to keep their options open.

Now, let's look at the pastor himself. He probably doesn't have the same mannerisms or personality of the perfect pastor. He may not be a hugger and will be judged to be unfriendly if the perfect pastor was a hugger. He can be judged as "strange" if he is a hugger and the perfect pastor was not. He may wear conservative clothing and be deemed dull or be extremely sharp dressed and be called flamboyant. He may not like wearing a coat and tie and be judged as disrespectful. He may only be thirty years of age when the perfect pastor retired at seventy. Why should anyone expect the new pastor to come to the standard of someone who has been known for what seems like forever? Yet, congregations do it all the time.

So, the new pastor does not have the same situation, the same resources nor the same qualities as the perfect pastor, yet he is judged as if everything is the same. Does that make sense?

Don't be surprised if he responds negatively to your criticisms. He is merely defending himself from the onslaught of painful words which are said of him. He is being judged unfairly.

Shame on you if you don't give him grace.

1 Corinthians 1:11-12 (NIV)
11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12  What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crisis of Faith?

Christians hate to admit that they occasionally have a crisis of faith. They read something that explains the origin of life or the creation of the universe without the acts of or the need for God. Many of their friends, co-workers and family members believe these scientific "facts." They feel like outsiders when saying they believe that God created the universe and life. Sometimes they secretly wonder if there is a god when though they put up a good front. They have a crisis of faith because they are receiving so much information and subtle peer pressure and believe that their faith is just a sham.

Then, the circumstances that people must live in are considered. There will be so many people who will die each day by starvation. Many others will die in senseless accidents. Evil people will cause the death of so many more. Disease will attack the young. Children will be born blind. Cancer will strike millions. The question will occur: How can there be a god when all of these bad things keep happening? This stops even the most ardent Christian in his tracks. Most give some type of explanation if they don't want to admit their own crisis of faith. The truth is that no one really knows why these things happen. They don't know why God doesn't swoop in and rescue everyone. They don't know why bad things happen at all. Most efforts to explain them are lame attempts to get God off the hook.

So, there is a crisis of faith. It scares some. They try not to think of it. It causes some to jump off the edge to faithlessness. Others, have their faith strengthened by it.

A crisis of faith is a battle for the heart. It is not the mind that convinces us what we believe. The mind is a conduit to both the spiritual and the flesh. We fill the mind with the desires of this world and we will act accordingly. We fill our minds with the things of the Spirit and we will do as the Spirit desires. The heart is what we are. Our minds can fill our hearts with the right or wrong things.

All beliefs are acts of faith. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to be a faithful atheist. Here, the explanation for all things must be proven by observable evidences. The atheist struggles to explain what science has deemed impossible. They cannot understand the complete healing from the point of death. They cannot know how a person can be so completely sure of their faith in Christ that he or she will give life itself to defend it. They have to admit that science incorporates a great number of extrapolations to explain the things it says are facts. They have to admit that science has had a great number of blunders which were considered facts at one time.

Yet, they believe in their athesim because that it their faith. It comes from their hearts.

This may be why we have so many agnostics today. They don't know but at least they have the courage to say they don't know. They have neither accepted nor rejected God by faith.

The crisis of faith is made worse because Christians believe they must create their own faith. Yet, we see the man whose son is demon-possessed asking Jesus to help him with his unbelief (Mark 9:24) We find that God gives faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) Still, we think we must make our own faith if we are to believe.

Remember that the mind is a conduit to the things of the world or of the Spirit. Doesn't it make sense that God gives us faith to fill our hearts? Shouldn't we go to Him in our crisis of faith admitting that we might not understand while committing to live by the faith He gives us? Wouldn't we be saving ourselves if we could make our own faith for salvation?

Personally, I don't have some measurable evidence for my faith. I believe because He came to me with faith. I believe because He has continued to speak with me. I believe because I know Him. I believe because He believed in me first.

Yes, I have had crises of faith in the past. These caused me to return to the faith in my heart. This is the faith that He has given me. It is the faith that has grown. I don't have all the explanations for the things of the world. I don't need to know. Maybe that's all we need to admit when we have a crisis of faith.

Psalm 92:4-8 (NIV)
4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. 5 How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts! 6 The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, 7 that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed. 8  But you, O LORD, are exalted forever.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How Do You Make a Wrong into a Right?

Do you have a sin that you remember as being especially horrible? I do.

One time my wife and I had just watched a movie in a theater when the credits began to play. I wanted to leave badly. I can't recall why. She wanted to read the movie credits. I got so upset that I left her in the theater. I should never have done so. It was selfish on my part. It was more than unloving- it was hateful! I am so sorry I did it. I have apologized but I have never forgotten what I did.

How do I make things right? The truthful answer is that I can't. I can apologize but not remove the hurt. I can grovel but it won't erase the act. I can give elaborate gifts and walk across the widest desert to prove my love for her but it will not erase the memory. I can't make a wrong into a right.

Yet a wrong can have good consequences. I will never leave her anywhere no matter what I would rather do. I will keep her feelings in mind before my own.

I have used this failure to explain sin itself. Our sin against the One we love is like leaving Him when He has other plans for us. The pain I cause Him is comparable to what I did with my wife.

My wife has forgiven me even though she didn't have to. I see my Lord's work in her life as He has forgiven me when He didn't have to. I grasp grace much better now.

Do these positive results make me glad I did wrong? Absolutely not! I wished I had never been so selfish as to have me way at the expense of someone I love so dearly. I can't take back anything I have ever done. I can't make bad things good nor turn wrongs into rights.

God's grace working through others provides their forgiveness. That doesn't change the wrong into a right.God's grace brings good out of bad. The bad remains bad. God uses the bad (and good) to make the good.

I think that people like to say that the bad thing that happened to them was actually good when they what they mean is that the bad thing had good consequences. God is always doing that. He is taking the x-ray for the cracked ribs to reveal the early stages of lung cancer. Neither of these are good but catching the cancer early allowed for treatment that eliminated the cancer. God is taking the diagnosis of strep throat to have the doctor examine the heart. The heart is irregular and allows the person to get treatment long before there is a heart attack. Strep throat is not good but God uses it to bring about good.

And God uses my own sins to bring about good. They are no good sins. God uses even sins to bring good into the world. I can't do this. God never changes a wrong to a right. He does make bad actions have good results.

That's His grace. Plain and simple.

Man's sin killed Jesus. Jesus death brought salvation. Think about it.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.