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Thursday, March 31, 2011

It All Adds Up

Everyone who really knows me knows how tight I am with money. I hold onto it and send it out to get more of its brothers and sisters. Here are some examples.

Many people believe that the few flights they take a year will never amount to enough miles for any benefit. I thought the same thing for years until I finally signed up for each airline's frequent flier program. Now, I get at least one free ticket each from two major airlines each year. With one airline I have enough frequent flier miles to go around the world. I have flown two of my children to South Africa on mission trips using frequent flier miles. I have taken trips for funerals for my wife's family with frequent flier miles. This is with no additional expense to me.

Last year Discover offered its card holders the opportunity to get an extra $500 back if they would use the card for $2000 per month for five months. That became my exclusive card for those months. I put gas, groceries, utilities and any bill I had on the Discover card. I didn't make any irregular purchases. I just put everything I had on the Discover card. They gave me my regular 1% back too so I got $600 for using the card for five months.

Instead of taking the money from the Discover card, I got gift cards. Discover often offers gift cards for restaurants at a discount if you get them instead of money back. Now, my wife and I go out to eat often at no expense to us. (By the way, I pay the total balance on every credit card each month so that I pay no interest each year.)

My wife and I have been using a Flexible Spending account for the past few years. A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) allows you to set aside pre-taxed medical expenses which come out of your pocket. This means that my co-pays, prescriptions, dental, glasses, physical therapy and lab work which would come out of my pocket will not be taxed by Social Security, the state or the IRS. I just got the reimbursement check from it this past week. (My wife and I fill it out once a year. You can do it all along but we like to see the big check.) We saved over $500 in taxes.

Of course, I drive used cars, cut out coupons and shop the sales too. I am a member of two wholesale clubs and make sure that I can't get a better deal on the internet or anywhere else before I buy. I actually do not know how much money I am saving each year. I would estimate it to be somewhere near $5000 (more if you consider how long I own a car!).

None of these things are huge. They just add up. They take a little more of my time. I must keep up with some records and I must be diligent if I want to reap the maximum benefit.

Now think of this with so many other things in life. Did you know that by gaining one pound a month that you will have gained sixty pounds in five years. That's less than two ounces per day! Did you know that by overspending $100 per month that you will be $6000 in debt in five years. That's overspending less than four dollars a day! (Makes going out for lunch seem like a bad idea. Huh?)

What about the non-quantifiable things? How about not telling your spouse of your love? How about not speaking to your children? How about not having a time alone with the Lord? These things all add up too.

Now, think about your life. You got where you are by taking a huge number of small steps. These small steps have either led you to a full meaningful life or they have led you to something less than you would like to have. I have found that the biggest step is turning around when you are going the wrong direction. Then, it is a bunch of small steps to get where you would like to be.

Believe me, it all adds up.

Proverbs 6:10-11 (NIV)
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- 11  and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don't Look Past Your Next Game

I have seen it happen often. A great team is beaten soundly by a lesser team because they looked past the lesser team to what they considered a more worthy opponent. They looked at the championship game without looking at their next game.

This problem will face each of the teams in basketball's final four in the next few days. They will have to focus completely on their next game without looking at who they may play for the championship. The fact that the men's final four has some very unlikely teams is evidence that some of the teams looked past their next game. Of course, this ensures that there is no next game when you get to the tournament. You win or you go home.

I find that people are often blown away in life because they did not look at what they had to do today. They want to start a business but they fail to do what they have to do today in order to get that business started tomorrow. They want to become doctors but forget that they must first finish their bachelor's degrees. They want to have meaningful marriages but do not treat their spouses lovingly today. These omissions add up to a terrible season for a great team.

Great victories have a tendency to create lofty thoughts. We win over a tough opponent and are surprised by the loss which should have been in the win column. Sometimes pastors work very hard to see their churches grow and have significant ministries but forget to have a daily quiet time with God. The result is a diminished ministry which rests upon its past rather than the power of the Living God. The results are failures in areas which should have been successes. The pastor finds himself wondering what went wrong after so many things have gone right.

Many people think that their wedding was such a success that it will carry them through all that days that follow. It won't. Each day must be played as if it is the championship if there is to be a final victory. You simply can't look beyond today to get to the fiftieth anniversary.

I suppose the mantra of AA must be ours as well: One day at a time. Yes, you must concentrate on the next game so that you can make it to the championship. You must see today as the day you must win. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

By the way, how many former athletes do you know who are overweight and out of shape today? They got that way one day at a time too. I guess both losing and winning are all about what you do today.

In the Old Testament, Joshua overlooked the small town of Ai after having the most amazing victory at Jericho. He didn't check to see if he and his people were in right standing before the Lord before entering the battle. They would be so easy to defeat that he didn't even check in with the Lord. One conversation with the Lord would have prevented this defeat. Joshua started looking at taking the Promised Land without knowing that each day needed to be treated carefully.

Maybe you should take a long hard look at today and ask what you need to be doing today. Victory can be yours but you must not look beyond your next game.

Joshua 7:4-6 (NIV)
4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Should Church Simply Cater to the Desires of People?

The Church has certainly become a consumer oriented entity. Churches are surveying their areas and designing themselves to meet the expectation of those surveys. The membership's expectation drives the ministries of the churches. People stop attending one church and attend another based on "their needs" being met. Pastors rush from one current idea to another trying to keep up with the changing whims of people.

I know that churches are dying in significant numbers. Many of those still operating are on life support. Naturally, pastors are looking for something that will draw people. They see the mega-churches whose weekly attendance is in the thousands. They believe that this could be their churches if they would simply follow the lead of the mega-churches. They fail to see that their community doesn't match that of the mega-churches and their personality does not match that of the mega-churches' pastors. They think it is all about methods. It isn't, but that doesn't keep them from trying.

How did things get this way? Preaching the Bible and bringing people to know Christ for salvation are secondary to getting people to attend. It appears we are saying, "Come to our church. We don't care what you believe. In fact, we don't care if you ever believe?"

I suppose churches have always been somewhat consumer oriented. I am more likely to hear a complaint about the temperature of the sanctuary or the level of sound than I am to hear a member share how he or she has won someone to Christ. They are more likely to tell me of someone I didn't visit in the hospital than confess they haven't shared Christ with one soul all year long. This focus is across the board. Most of the older members aren't any more spiritually mature than the younger.

I wonder if most of the people really believe the gospel. Do they believe that Jesus truly sacrificed His life so that all who believed would be forgiven of their sins? Do they really believe that everyone who doesn't do this will go to hell? Do they know that it doesn't matter how good these people were in life? Do they know that the only hope we have is in Jesus? I don't think they do.

Either Christians believe the true gospel and will do whatever they can to see people come to know Christ or they have become as self-absorbed as their non-Christian friends. They believe that giving to the social ministries is as important as sharing the gospel. They fail to realize that every social ministry helps people during their time on earth. The gospel begins the day it is accepted and continues for eternity.

I, for one, am frustrated with the Christianity we have today. I am tired of trying to follow every idea presented by mega-churches so that my church will grow. I want to share the plain truth of the Bible without having to be concerned whether the consumers who hear it will come back. Don't get me wrong. I love having people attend worship. I love seeing them "get it" when I preach but I don't want their continued attendance to be the basis for my sermons. I want my own faithfulness to the gospel to be my basis for preaching. It seems that the number of people who want this preaching is shrinking.

Someday, I may be preaching in a building all by myself.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Do You Want to Hear the Bad News?

The very title of this blog may have brought you here. For some reason we gravitate toward bad news.  When given a chance between hearing good news or bad news first, most people choose the bad news first. Many people will admit that they go to car races to see the crashes. They turn on the television nightly news to watch the disasters. They love the news channels which depict the country going to hell in a hand basket.

Honestly, why would we want to receive bad news when there is much more good news going on? For every teen who takes a gun to school there are tens of thousands who would never do such a thing. For every day that presents a major disaster there are hundreds in which no disaster occurs. For every person who is unemployed, there are nine who are gainfully employed. Yet, the news focuses on the bad rather than the good.

Let's face it: Good news just doesn't sell very well.

A news cameraman for a tv station once told me the pattern of presenting the news. He said, "If it bleeds; it leads." The worst news comes first. The most graphic is sent to the front. This is how they grab those viewers who might channel surf beyond their station. And what would they be surfing to? Worse news!

Maybe this is why the gospel was preached as bad news for so long. Hell was at the forefront. God's love was diminished. Torment was magnified. People ran forward to keep from going to hell. They didn't see the good news of salvation which healed their relationship with God so that they could knew Him. All they knew of Him was His anger. They failed to see how good He is.

So, you may have come to this blog to hear the bad news but I want to disappoint you this time. The good news is that God loves you all the time. He seeks for you to know Him all the time. He wants you to come into His grace and mercy. He wants to see you love Him too. He wants to give you a purposeful life. He wants you to live with Him forever.

Unfortunately, I am afraid most people will click away from this blog as soon as they get to the "good news" part. Good news just isn't that appealing.

 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NIV)
21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Baptism All That Important?

She just showed up in a church I pastored. We hadn't reached out to her. She was just there one Sunday morning. She looked like she might be from Pakistan or India. She wore western clothes but I wondered if this was her normal way of dressing.  Under her arm was a fairly new Bible. It was obvious that she knew nothing about church but she was very interested.

When I met her she told me of a strange experience she had on her birthday. She said she was mysteriously urged to buy and read a Bible. She bought the Bible and had been reading it ever since. After a while she felt she should attend church. Our church was simply close to where she lived.

The churches I pastor have always offered an invitation at the end of our worship services. We invite people to give their hearts to Christ, join the church or share a prayer request. During one of these worship services this lady walks forward and struggles with the decision to give her life to Christ. She shares how she wants to do so but can't because of her family's religion. They would not understand. I prayed with her and told her that this was a decision she must make. I can't make it for her. I can't assure her that her family wouldn't treat her badly. I could only tell her that Jesus had died for her and that this decision would be the most important one she would ever make.

A few weeks later she came forward again. She was in tears. She told me that her Lord had died for her and she could not deny Him her heart. She prayed to receive Christ. She then told me that she could not however be baptized because that would keep her from attending her daughter's wedding. I told her that this decision is one between her and the Lord. I can neither save people nor give them conviction.

It was a few months before she came forward again in a worship service. Again, she was in tears. She told me that she had been under conviction to be baptized. She somehow understood what Jesus was saying when he told people that they must hate their father, mother, children and their own lives if they wished to be His disciples. A few weeks later, I baptized her.

And, no, she was not allowed to attend her daughter's wedding.

Is baptism that important? Should this lady simply have continued as a believer without being baptized? Does the Bible make provision for that?

There is no evidence in the New Testament of someone who gave his life to Christ and then refused baptism if he had an opportunity to be baptized. This was the first act of faith after they believed. They knew that it would mark them as Christians. They knew that it put their lives in peril. Yet, they felt it was that important to be baptized.

Many people who call themselves Christian treat their faith in Christ as if it is fire insurance. They make a public statement of knowing Christ but have no other evidence in their lives. They treat baptism as a right of passage rather than an act of faith. They see it as something they will do when they get around to it. I often stand beside graves making statements of those who said they had faith but who were never baptized nor who attended church. These people may have had fire insurance but they have no salvation assurance.

Jesus said that those who love Him will obey Him. He told His followers to make disciples and baptize them. Doesn't it make as much sense that these new disciples must be baptized in order to be disciples?

I don't believe for a moment that baptism saves the individual. I just believe that those who know Christ will be baptized. It is so important that refusing to be baptized either indicates your lack of faith or your rebellion. I am not sure of the difference between these two.

I talked with a man yesterday that I baptized in the Jordan River. He told me that he didn't expect it to be that important to him but it was. He told me that it had made a significant difference in his life. His denomination believes that you are baptized and then profess faith. (They see baptism as a sign of the covenant with God. The previous sign was circumcision. This was done without the consent of the one being circumcised. It is done apart for his faith too. I understand this belief in baptism but I personally don't subscribe to it. However, I have found many of the people in this denomination strong Christians.) He had never been baptized as a result of his faith. I told him that I had a similar experience when I was baptized. It was more important than I imagined.

So, baptism is a very important step in your faith. In fact, I can't see how you can believe and refuse to be baptized.

You may be struggling with this the decision of whether or not to be baptized. This is a decision between you and the Lord. Have you asked Him about it?

Acts 8:36 (NIV)
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Enemy Knows My Fears

Nehemiah 4:2-3 (ESV)
2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building— if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”

I suppose those reading this blog are believers. As believers we know that God has a purpose in our lives. We know that God gives us things to do that we can't do by ourselves. These things are like walking on water to us. We can only walk on water as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. So, the enemy, who doesn't want us to have victory distracts us from our focus. He plays on the fears we have within us. He states the things that we believe if we are not strengthened by godly faith. His goal is to get us to sink in the water. His goal is to steal the glory we will give God with our victory.

Nehemiah set out to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. They walls were torn down and the gates had been burned. He wanted to bring a bunch of ragtag Jews together to embark on an amazing building program. He had little resources and plenty of opposition. The non-Jewish population was afraid of seeing Jerusalem restored. Two of the principle leaders were Sanballat and Tobiah. They opposed Nehemiah from the beginning.

Here is what I see Sanballat and Tobiah saying of Nehemiah and the Jews who are rebuilding Jerusalem's walls and gates:

1. You are too weak to win.
2. You simply can't do it.
3. You will never give God glory with a victory.
4. The work will take too long.
5. It is simply too hard.
6. It won't last anyway. You will just go back to the way things used to be.

I thought of everyone who has made a commitment to lose weight, stop smoking, restore their marriage or stop drinking. I considered everyone who wants to take their company global, start a new business or return to school so that they can get a job in the profession they were made for.

I then thought of myself. I am the pastor of a church whose membership is getting younger every day. I am losing the older members and gaining younger members every month. The church is losing revenue while increasing its expenses. The building is in need of repair and there is no visible means of repairing it.

I am afraid of every one of these statements. I think that anyone who endeavors to do something by God's mandate will fear these statements. That is why the enemy wants to tempt us by saying them in our presence. He wants us to take our eyes off of the victory so that we will fail.

You see, the enemy knows all of our fears and like a lion who wishes to scare us into submission, tempts us with our own fears.

Yet, I will have victory if I can focus solely on the Lord. Fear just seeks to get your eyes looking at the wrong destination. Peter looked at Jesus and walked toward Him. He looked at the waves and sunk in them.

So, my eyes and your eyes must be fully focused on the Lord if we are to have victory.

Lord, I know what to do. Please help me do it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Love Truly Wins

God saved us for a purpose. He didn't save us just to go to heaven.

The Gospel is called the "good news." It is often said to be good news because God sent His Son to die a substitutionary death for our sins. Jesus paid the price for our sins. Therefore, our relationship with God has been healed. We can be in His presence because we have had our sins forgiven. Our sins kept us from God. We could not know spiritual things because we had no spirit to understand them. Our spirits were made alive because sin was removed. Our spirits could communicate with the Holy Spirit who is God.

Yes, this is good news.

Would this be good news if everyone was going to heaven anyway? What if it didn't matter whether or not you believed in Jesus? You would go to heaven without any belief at all. What if didn't matter if you could communicate with God? What if you never had the change in your life that comes from faith in Christ? Would that be good news too?

I don't think so. There would be no gospel because God has left us just as we are. Who loves somebody yet is quite alright with their present condition of depravity? Who loves somebody but doesn't try to keep the loved one from hurting himself? Is is really love if this gift of salvation is ineffective until you die?

God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. He sent His Son so that we might be changed by faith. He gave us the faith necessary to believe. He also gave us works to do so that we would be changed. He gave us a purpose on this earth. That purpose is not merely waiting on our salvation from death. It is unique to each person so that he or she will conform to the image of God's Son.

Love truly wins when people walk in God's presence by doing the good works He has prepared for us before the beginning of time. Love truly wins when we are transformed by God's changing of our minds so that we can know these good works. These good works are God's will which we prove by walking in them and thus becoming like Jesus.

I wish everyone would trust in Christ. I wish I would see everyone in heaven. But there would be no love and no good news in a world in which everyone goes to heaven even if they never believed in Christ. God would be so ambivalent about us that we would be hard pressed to understand His love.

No one trusts in Christ because Jesus gave us an example of sacrifice on the cross. Each one of us trusts in Christ because we believe He is Someone who ends our estranged relationship with God. It is not salvation if we have to wait for it until death. Salvation saves us from being separated from God today.

Love truly wins when we are so changed that we cannot explain our change apart from God's love.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Want to See Clearly

I have worn glasses for most of my life. I have one eye that can see pretty well but the other one is hopeless. The one good eye carried me through sports and even the early years of ministry but it started to go south on me around 40. That is about the time that I wore glasses all of the time. Today, I have to put on my glasses to get dressed. I wear them everywhere but the shower.

I tried contacts for a while. They enabled me to see what I needed to see but I had difficulty wearing them for long periods of time. They hurt after extended wear. It seemed that they dried to the pupil putting my eye in a vise. I began to wear them less and less. I rarely wear them now.

So, today I went for the examination which would tell me if I am a candidate for Lasik surgery. The exam was very involved. It took over two hours of testing on my eyes. In the end I found out that I am, indeed, a candidate for the surgery. I scheduled it for this next week. Soon, I will be seeing things much clearer than I could before. Things will not change but how I see them will.

That was true of my Christian life too. I find that I see things differently from those who do not know the Lord. It is the same world yet I interpret it completely differently. For example, I see Israel differently than most of the people who do not know the Lord. Many of those who do not know the Lord sympathize with the Palestinians to the point of wanting to give them the country now called Israel. I know that God has said He will bless those that bless His people. I see the Jews as His people. I see Israel as their land. I want to defend Israel. Of course, I would like to do so without hurting the Palestinians.

I see the change in morality differently than most of those who do not know the Lord. Most of them see morality as a progression into enlightenment. I see that sin is sin no matter what age it was committed. I see that sin is sin because God has called it sin. I know I sin but I can't rationalize it.

I remember the story of Jesus healing a blind man who before being completely healed saw things in a distorted manner. He said that he saw men but they looked like trees. He was only partially healed. It took more so that he could see things clearly.

I don't want things to be distorted in my physical vision nor my spiritual vision. I just want to see things clearly.

Mark 8:22-25 (NIV)
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" 24 He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Crazy Theology Sells

Let's think up a god we all like. Our god should never get angry. He should only count things we can agree upon as sin. He or she should let everyone go to heaven. Our god doesn't need hell. He just loves everyone.

I suppose this will make heaven the same cesspool we see on earth. It will just be more of the same. Why would this god expect us to change in heaven if he never expected us to change on earth? Wouldn't that change the very nature of our created god? If expecting us to change on earth is oppressive, wouldn't expecting us to change in heaven be just as oppressive?

Yet, for some reason people buy this stuff. The books sell out I suppose because people want to create their own god. They don't want to think about the consequences of creating your own god. This god has no sense of holiness. How can anyone be assured of immutability, honesty or any other God-attribute without holiness?

Do we not understand that we can't simply create our own god, then say he created us? God must reveal Himself to us. He must show us who He is by what He has done. There must be a source that can be trusted. It must be preserved carefully. He must be the author, yet He must have used people to write it. This reveals His activity in the world of faith. Actions of faith recorded by and act of faith. This is consistent with how God acts in this world.

So, when you follow after these guys who create their own god, think about who they are. They are writing the story, not by observation or true observations of others. Their stories are created because they want things to be that way. I think their books ought to be in a different section from other authors of theology.

It should be in the section called fiction.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

God Never Hurries

Though Isaac Asimov was an atheist, he presented a particular view of God through his writing which many people believe. Asimov presented robots whose sin is harming their creators. It is the picture of mankind who has violated the rules which God has programmed them with. They have forgotten the "three rules of robotics."

I suppose that the limited view mankind has of the world presents a picture which can be explained as chaotic. The cosmology is missing within our own grasp of things around us. We have a penchant for rushing to conclusions and forming ready answers when things appear to go crazy. We interpret our world by its order. We have a very difficult time understanding things that do not fit into our world view.

For example, most Christians believe that God is good. They, therefore, interpret every disaster as a means to another good end. It keeps their picture of a good God intact.

More recently, people have begun to interpret God as more like man. They tarnish His omniscience or even His benevolence to explain their universe. They see Him as someone whose creation has gotten out of hand. The world is able to produce its earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and droughts beyond His control. This world view determines that mankind, His greatest creation, must take the reigns and fix His world. Mankind becomes the savior.

Yet, there is one crucial element missing from someone who believes God has allowed things to get out of control. There is no evidence from the Bible that God has ever hurried. He does things in their proper time without regard to the circumstances. If God had ever truly lost control, His hurrying would be present for He would be trying to restore order as quickly as possible.

Time is a created thing. It has been created by God to help man order the universe. There would be no order in our way of thinking if we could not think of things as coming before, present and after. God, who created time, does not need to hurry because He is complete control of time. This is seminal in understanding of how God is in control. This is more important than the understanding of God's omniscience of all that is going on. God would be at the mercy of time if He had to wait rather than act as He wanted. He would still be at its mercy if He had to hurry.

Time is a mystery that even Stephen Hawking hasn't solved. It cannot have an eternal past because there is no way to create today if there is no beginning. In other words, we must have day one in order to have day two. Time is created in a puncticular moment by Someone who must exist outside of it in order to have created it. Natural explanations of the creation of time are similar to the "chicken and the egg." (Which came first?) We cannot explain time without its creation. It cannot have created itself.

 Therefore, God never hurries. He is still in control but I would be remiss if I said I understood what He is doing all the time. So, I too, explain my good God in terms I understand. I admit there is much more that I do not understand.

But then, I am not God, am I?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Where Are the Winners Today?

Joshua 14:12 (NIV)
12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said."

Caleb is eighty-five years old. He was one of the spies that went into the Promised Land, noticed how many and how big the opposition would be and came out glorifying God for the victory they would have over these people. Of course, ten of the twelve spies said they were too many and too big to defeat. Caleb was forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years until those faithless people died. He has fought with Joshua to take this Promised Land. Now, he wants his inheritance for his faithfulness.

You would think that he would expect the land to be given to him but that isn't the case. He picks the mountain whose army is much larger in physical size than his. He chose the hardest place to defeat for his inheritance.

Caleb is a winner. If he was playing football he would be saying, "Give me the ball and let me run right at their defense. I want to take it to them!"

It seems that most of the newscasts tell of how bad people have it. They whine about the benefits they are losing. They whine about the difficulties they are facing. They whine about the way they are oppressed by the government or the economy or anyone and anything they choose to whine about. I want to know where the winners are.

Winners want to carry the ball. Winners face the toughest tasks. Winners believe when it makes no sense to believe. They believe in something bigger than they are. They believe in Someone bigger than they are. Winners don't wait for someone to rescue them. They get up and take it to those who oppress them. They win because they just keep getting up. They wear out their opponents.

Winners know that their is nothing beyond them and their God.

So, where are the winners today?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Very First Daylight Savings Time

Benjamin Franklin has long been credited as the originator of Daylight Savings time but I beg to differ. There is a story in the Bible in which Joshua called upon the Lord to stop the sun in the sky to give his army daylight to complete the battle. Battles were hard to fight in the dark. It was hard to tell an enemy from a friend at night. The enemy could regroup and retaliate if they could escape into the night. Israel needed more daylight if it was to defeat this enemy at this time.

Joshua stands before the people and calls for the sun and the moon to stand still. What an incredible thought! Yes, this was an obvious need but, no, it is not obvious to consider it. Our problems are solved within our scope of possibility. In other words, we cannot solve problems outside our ability to think. Our past experiences give us what we believe is possible.

I once heard of a truck that got stuck under an overpass. The driver did not realize his load was a couple of inches taller than the clearance and hit the overpass with enough force to wedge the truck so well that everything people thought of failed. They tried tow trucks to pull the truck from the overpass. They tried large fork lifts to raise the overpass. Nothing seemed to work.

A little boy rode up on a bicycle to watch the ordeal. Finally, he said, "Why don't you just let the air out of the tires?"

The men, who were exhausted by this time looked at each other with astonishment. They hadn't thought of that. So, they let the air out of the truck and trailer tires and moved the whole load out within a few minutes.
Joshua came up with the idea of stopping the sun and moon right where it was to finish the battle. It was the first time for daylight savings. Who would have thought of it?

So, the next time someone says that Benjamin Franklin is the creator of Daylight Savings Time you can correct them. No, it happened thousands of years before Franklin. Joshua is the real originator. He was thinking way outside the box.

Joshua 10:12-14 (NIV)
12 On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon." 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Glory of Jesus Christ

Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

I started playing the guitar while I was in college. I thought that I was good enough to write songs. They were pretty close to terrible. If guitars could be shamed, mine was humiliated. I continue to play the guitar to this day. I am slightly better than I was in college. This is not humility. It is exact truth.

The instrument can have someone with talent who practices diligently make music that caresses the ears. A master can touch the hearts of the hearers. He or she can capture beauty and release it through the instrument.

I think of Jesus being like that music that flows from the Father. There are no flaws, no missed notes, just the beauty of the music. It fills the air, the room and the hearts of those who listen.

This music is powerful. It reflects perfectly the magnificence of the Master. It purifies the air and those whose ears it reaches. It holds the world together. It makes life meaningful and gives purpose to even those mundane experience. It takes the breath away.

When this music is played, no other music can be heard. It rests in the hearts of the hearers. There it grows and plays inside of those upon whom it rests. It changes the individual from the inside out. The glory of the Master musician begins to shine through the music that rests in these hearts.

I can't play the guitar very well but I can recognize a master when I hear one. I can relate to the difficulty of playing the instrument as the Master plays with ease. I know what beauty is. I know Jesus is the exact representation of God's being. I know Jesus is the radiance of God's glory.

Do you understand what I am saying?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Value of Solitude

We are never alone. These words have often been used to give people assurance. They have become a curse in this day and time.

The drive to work was once a time of solitude but people have filled it with conversations on their cell phones. I can't help but wonder how many of these conversations are really necessary. Are people afraid of being alone with themselves? Do they need others to distract them? Why not relish a time when they can merely think?

I dodge high school students on their way to school as I ride my bicycle each morning. Their heads are down as they are texting other students. They aren't having conversations with others who walk beside them. Why not engage live persons if there is a need for conversation? Why not walk in silence so that there is a calm before the storm of another day in high school?

Is this a product of day cares? Have so many children been thrust with others at such a young age that they are afraid of being alone when they get older? Does anyone know what to do as he or she gets older?

I grew up on a farm without other children living nearby. I am seven years older than my nearest sibling. I played for hours without other children. I made up games and had imaginary playmates. I loved to travel into town and play with others. I looked forward to every friend who was invited out to the farm for the day. Yet, even today I enjoy my solitude.

I sometimes believe that each church member believes he or she is the only one having a crisis the day they call. They do not understand that I sometimes am being called on my cell phone as the church land line is ringing. They don't understand that by coming over to visit them I am neglecting those others who are also demanding my time. There is nothing evil in all this. There is just a lack of understanding. My whole day can easily be filled meeting the needs of people. This is why I set aside time for solitude.

I come to work each day long before anyone else arrives. The phone does not ring and no one seeks counseling or an answer to their needs. I come to read my Bible and pray. I am not preparing a sermon. I am just seeking the Lord alone. There is no agenda.

Many people know I am here early. They believe I am a "morning" person. There is nothing farther from the truth. I hate getting up early. I would stay up until two and get up at ten if I did what I wanted. No, I need the time of solitude before the day begins. I need to have my personal conversations with the Lord without being rushed. I need to hear Him speak to me.

My time alone is extremely valuable to me. It sets my world in order. It allows me to step back and see things I would never have seen while in the middle of the day's battle. It calms me before I face the day's challenges.

Jesus took time to be alone. Does that mean that we need solitude if He needed solitude?

I think so.

Mark 1:35 (NIV)
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Not Ask for Help?

Nehemiah 2:17-18 (NIV)
17 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work.

Nehemiah had a dream. He wanted to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. No longer would his people be in disgrace if the city could be rebuilt. Ezra had led the people to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah would have to lead the people to rebuild the city. He could not do it all by himself. He must have their help even though he knew that God would be his strength.

I have seen so many people crash and burn before they would ask for help They will allow their finances to pull them into bankruptcy, their weight to shorten their lives, their addictions to control their futures or their loneliness to bring them despair. They will not ask for help even though they know they can't do it all by themselves.

I have seen people in church try to do it all.  They will set out to clear the grounds, paint the fellowship hall or cook for every church dinner without asking for help. They will take on the entire church preschool without asking for another person to help them. Church will become a burden rather than a blessing. They will not be able to accomplish the things God wants of them without help. Yet, they will not ask for help.

God never intended for us to do great things all alone. Moses had to learn from his father-in-law about delegation. Delegation is a means of enlisting help. He was being worn out while he was wearing out the people who would have to stand in long lines all day long so Moses could make a judgment for them. He had to have help or he would never be able to lead God's people to the Promised Land.

The Apostles knew they needed help when the problem with the distribution of food came. They knew it would not be good for them to neglect the word or prayer in order to wait tables. They enlisted the first deacons to serve so that they could continue in what they had been called to do.

Why don't you ask for help in something that you know God wants you to do? Would you ask for help to beat an addiction? Would you ask for help to solve what appears to be an unsolvable problem?

You should . . . because trying to do it all by yourself isn't going to get you anywhere.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Did You Doubt?

It happens more than enough times. I seem to have enough faith for everyone else but myself. I can tell others that they should trust in God during a crisis but I have trouble with my own crises. I doubt when I should be trusting.

This is the story of Simon Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. He just couldn't keep his eyes on Jesus. He had to look at the problem right in front of him. The pulled the problem so close to his eyes that he couldn't see anything but the problem. His mind was consumed with it. All he could think about was drowning. He began to sink until Jesus grabbed him.

I was on a church staff that had not received a raise for several years. My family was young and we were barely able to exist on what I was making. God moved me to a new church in another state. That church had given raises to its staff consistently for over twenty years. The pastor of this church had served there from its establishment. So, I accepted a home loan whose monthly payments would increase in each year for two years.

The pastor of this church left for a new ministry ten months after I came on staff. The church decided that the finances would fall during the interim. They decided not to give the staff a raise. This meant that I would not receive any more money even though my house payment was about to go up in a couple of months.

I began to gripe. I doubted. I was in fear of not being able to make ends meet. None of those words I had said to others about trusting in the Lord made any sense to me. I felt like I would drown in the needs I had for my family.

Soon afterwards things began to happen that amazed me. I would go to the mailbox to get the mail and find an envelope with hundred dollar bills. Over the next year this would happen several times. The envelopes were not addressed so that whoever placed them in our mailbox had to do so personally. There was no note and no indication as to who had given us this money. After tallying the amount I had received from the mailbox I realized that I had received more than I would have gotten if I had received the normal raise the church would have given.

The next year the staff was told that the church was excited that it could again resume giving raises. I wasn't so sure I wanted them to. I was doing better without the raise!

Why did I doubt? Why did I look at my problems instead of looking at Jesus? I don't know. I just know that I haven't gotten over this problem yet no matter how many times the Lord provides for me. Doubt seems more natural for me than faith.

Yet, I know the truth. My God meets my every need even if I don't fix my eyes on Him.

However, it would be nice if I would just fix my eyes on Him rather than my problems just once.

Matthew 14:31 (ESV)
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fewer People Are Singing in Church

I have noticed that fewer people sing in church and that it has nothing to do with music styles.

Our church has two services which represent two different music styles. One service has hymns. It is supported instrumentally with a piano and pipe organ. Frequently a flute, trumpet and clarinet add to the singing of the hymns. The other service has the music played on the local Christian radio stations. The instruments are lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums, violins, keyboard and mandolin. The styles are not the problem. Many people have just stopped singing.

Is this a reflection of our society or our faith? After all, we no longer sing the National Anthem at sporting events. No, we get a rock star to ruin the words! (The only song we regularly sing is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame.") Are we developing a audience mentality in just about everything we do?

Many people no longer mow their own grass, clean their own houses, change the oil in their cars or even wash their own cars anymore. People are hired to do all of this. They simply pass over their credit cards.

Could this be the results of watching television for generations? I have heard that a person burns more calories sleeping than watching television. Television encourages passivity. Even the worst of news is hardly cause enough to get up from the couch.

Isn't it funny that we blame McDonald's for obesity when our grandparents who ate nothing that was fat free were never overweight. The difference is that they worked off all those calories they had taken in. I'll admit that Americans take in way too many calories daily but I will also state that they are making no effort to burn off those extra calories either. They don't get out and do. The stay in and don't!

Does the lack of singing reveal a flaw in our worship? The person who sings a solo is generally better than most of the congregation. Have we communicated that these solos are the standard each person must reach in order to sing?

Maybe church has become an activity that people take casually. In other words, they go to church if nothing better comes up. Therefore, they sing casually too. They don't feel compelled to be at church and don't come. They don't feel compelled to sing so they they don't. They don't have the testimonies that these songs portray. Therefore, singing these songs has no meaning.

Actually, it may be all of these reasons that people don't sing. I just don't think it is healthy.

Psalm 30:4 (NIV)
4 Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name.

Psalm 47:6 (NIV)
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.

Psalm 59:16 (NIV)
16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

Psalm 89:1 (NIV)
1 I will sing of the LORD's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.

Psalm 101:1 (NIV)
1  I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Do You Sometimes Feel Like God Has Turned His Back on You?

It seems like some people get all the breaks. Their lives are full of successes. They get to do exactly what they like when they like. Their businesses flourish. Their lives are full of joy.

You, on the other hand, work harder than they do. You pour your heart out to God. And what do you get as a reward? More and more defeat. It seems like you shall never have a victory. It seems like your lot in life is despair.

Do you sometimes think God has turned His back on you? Do you think that He has either forgotten you or has turned against you? Maybe you don't need to have a victory every day but you would certainly like to have one every once in a while.

Have you ever thought that instead of this being your fate or that God had turned His back on you that He is really doing more in your life than those who seem to have the amazing victories? You have produced some fruit and God is pruning you so that you will bear even more.

God has not chosen us to be famous or gather large crowds of admirers. He has chosen us to be disciples and to make disciples. Being a disciple requires that we become like our Master. Our character should match the character of Jesus.

We are instantly changed when we become believers. Our spirit becomes responsive to the Holy Spirit. We are changed from inside out. But we are also in need of change. We become like Jesus by the removal of the things that are contrary to who He is and accepting the things that are like Him. Unfortunately, both of these require a painful transformation.

Character flaws are removed by challenging our status quo. Patience is brought to us by exasperating situations. Our tested patience fails. So, it is tested again and again until we have patience as a character trait. Impatience has been removed by producing patience. If we are full of pride, we are humbled until humility becomes a character trait. If we lack peace we are given troubling times until our lack of peace is replaced with peace.

Not only has God not forgotten us when these things happen; He is actually working more directly with us that we have known before. He has seen in us what we may not have seen in ourselves. (He is never wrong.) He sees us as truly fruit bearing believers who will be changed positively by the pruning He will do on us.

I suppose most people would rather there was a different way to become like Jesus. I know I would. But I have never seen the lack of resistance produce strength. No Olympian has ever won a medal by sitting on a couch.  It required a lot of hard work and pain.

So, the next time that you think God has turned His back on you remember this: He is giving you His full attention as He brings you through the process of becoming like His Son.

Unfortunately, the process means we have to go through significant challenges.

John 15:1-2 (ESV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Way Things Look Depends upon Where You Are Standing

I just finished a book that castigated preachers who didn't agree with the author. Not so long ago I would have agreed with him. I am standing in a different place now. I am a preacher. I see the flaws in this author's reason. I can see them because I can't sit in judgment without knowing what is really going. I know because I live out what these other preachers are being criticized for.

This author says that preachers are not giving serious exposition to the scripture in their messages because they don't want to do the hard work of study. I laughed out loud as I read this. This author thinks that biblical exposition is hard! I know I would rather study the scriptures than do many other things that take up my life. I don't study like I should because I am in the hospital giving comfort to a family, counseling a young person on what direction his life should take, doing a funeral for a long time church member and/or sharing the gospel with someone who doesn't know Jesus. So, there are times when I "shoot from the hip" as this author has stated. I make some mistakes in my biblical history. I don't believe I have ever taught a heresy but I have certainly been guilty of inadequate preparation.

Do I believe that the preaching of the scripture is a sacred trust? Yes, but I also understand the necessity of taking care of sheep. Jesus said He was the truth. He didn't say that He merely told the truth. The fact that He is the truth means that I must interpret scripture and all of my life in the light of who He is. He is my Lord. I am obedient to what He says. I don't have the time to give every nuance of scripture. I must depend upon Him for giving the essentials of the scripture. I must depend upon Him to give me the essentials of life too. Everything is interpreted through Him.

So, I am not so critical any more when it comes to preachers who make mistakes from the pulpit. Yes, they get some things wrong. So do I. This has certainly given me much more grace as I have listened to others. I find that most of them have good hearts that seek after the Lord. They may not be intellectual heavyweights. They may not have had the time that this author has been afforded to prepare his messages. They may not be as good as him in their delivery. So what?

I guess my whole perspective was changed when I became a preacher.

Matthew 7:2 (NIV)
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.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where Is Truth?

I have asked people that question. Where is truth? Most don't have a clue what I have asked.

I want to know how anyone can know what the truth is. We must have a place that allows us to know truth or our world will constantly change with right and wrong. We will be confused and stay confused. We will always wonder if we are doing what we should.

This is why children need structure in their lives in order to feel secure. They need to know what is right and wrong. That right and wrong must come consistently from both parents. The child is secure in knowing that he can play in the yard but will be punished if he wanders into the street. The consistency of right and wrong allows the child to play freely in the yard without fear of being punished. The child has learned that truth comes from his parents. Inconsistency from parents results in the child being confused. He doesn't know what is right if he plays in the street with no punishment. He is insecure in his understanding of truth.

Truth cannot be that which is accepted in society. Society changes constantly. It will say that big cars are the desire of everyone in one decade and denigrate those that own them in the next. Society says that sheer numbers of people who support and idea, lifestyle or morality determine what is right and wrong. This creates a very insecure people. They have to read the latest poll before they can determine what they will support or deny. Eventually they will have no personal convictions. In fact, society itself will have no convictions.

So, when I ask where is truth I am looking for a specific answer. I want to know where the person finds truth. I know where I find it and want to see if the person agrees with me. I know that Jesus is the truth. All of life needs to be interpreted through Him. Scripture is interpreted in the light of Jesus. It sets me free to relate to all other things in my life.

I find truth in the person of Jesus. Therefore, I find that living in His words reveal the truth. I know the truth experientially when I live within His words. It is more than merely an intellectual assent to the truth. It is a practical practicing of that truth. In other words, I don't simply know the boundaries but I live within them. They bring me to security and give me freedom to act within them.

John 8:31-32 (NIV)
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There Is Time for Everything You Need to Do

I find myself rushing more than I ever did when I was younger. I rush to the hospitals to visit the sick. I rush to committee meetings, luncheons and appointments. I write articles as quickly as possible. I spend almost every waking moment working. I am getting less done than I ever have.

Maybe I am giving the same emphasis to everything I do. Maybe I am trying to do more than I should. Of one thing I am sure: God does not want me living my life this way. He has given me twenty-four hours in every day to do what He wishes. Sometimes He wishes me to sit and listen without doing anything else. Sometimes He just wants me to relax. He always wants me doing the right thing at the right time.

This is one of the reasons I must have a time alone with Him every day. I need to know what I am supposed to do without rushing everywhere trying to do everything as if  everything had the same importance. Some things I will not get to do because I was never supposed to do them. Some of the things I must do.

I guess I don't think of God telling me I shouldn't be doing something that seems perfectly legitimate. He simply doesn't want me leading all the Bible studies or preaching all the sermons. God gives me enough time to do everything He wants me to do. My trying to cram other things into my schedule has nothing to do with Him. It has everything to do with me.

Maybe that's your problem too. Maybe you have been trying to cram too much into your day. There is time for everything that needs to be done. You just don't have to do it all yourself. You may need to do it at a different time or not at all.

Have you ever thought thought that maybe the universe really doesn't revolve around you?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.