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Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Inescapable Desire to Be God

We want to believe that we can control anything and everything. We can control the weather if we just get global climate change (formerly known as global warming) under control. We can control the economy if the Federal Reserve gets its act together (This was the reason for the Federal Reserve's creation, right?). We can control morality if we will just accurately preach the word of God.

I heard the latter attempt at complete control espoused at a political rally masked as a concern for morality in America. The sponsors of this rally invited preachers to a two day event in which they claimed our "sad state of morality" could be blamed on preachers not strongly preaching the word of God.

At first, I hung my head as if I hadn't done what God expected of me. It made sense if you didn't think too deeply. After all, wasn't my business responsible for preaching the word? Wasn't the word going to change the morality of those who listened? The short answer is "no."

The Holy Spirit works to convict people. He may use their hearing the word preached to do so. His conviction does not guarantee that they will comply.  For example, I heard that the red light cameras that were set up in France were torn down by the citizens. The country decided not to replace them. Every government relies on the compliance of the citizenry to comply with the laws. Anarchy will reign in any country when a majority of people cease obeying the laws. That is, of course, the definition of anarchy. Compliance, not knowledge of the law or even policing of the law, is the only way a law will be obeyed.

How do you explain Adam and Eve's rebellion? Did God not adequately "preach" the word to them? Is the fall of mankind ultimately God's fault? No, Adam and Eve decided not to comply. Their desire to be "like God" superseded their desire to live within God's will and fellowship.

Why should I believe that my preaching will be more powerful than God's? I can't and don't. I would first have to remove freewill. That is something that God is unwilling to do. That is something I am unable to do. I must preach the word but depend upon those who hear to comply. This is their own decision just as it is their decision to ignore the word. I can only be obedient for myself. I can't be obedient for another person.

Is it possible that we will learn that we will never be God? Our society has never gotten over the original sin of wanting to be Him. Our own religious climate agrees with the secular world: we are gods if we can control everything. This means we control morality as well as the physical world.

This means I must always be aware if I am trying to become God. The greatest parents have had grossly immoral children and blamed themselves. Those who have lived carefree with their finances win lotteries and have millions of dollars coming in every year. We cannot control the world. We can only do our part.

I, for one, believe wholly in doing my part. I, on the other hand, do not believe I can control my world. However, the desire to believe this never seems to leave.

Genesis 3:4-6 (ESV)
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 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 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Just How Obedient Do We Need to Be?

So, King David decides to bring the ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He has a new cart built that will carry it. He celebrates in grand fashion rather short journey to the city. The cart hits a rough spot in the road, Uzzah steadies the ark with his hands and dies.

King David got very angry with God for this but God had prescribed how the ark was to be moved. It wasn't supposed to be placed on a cart.

Doesn't this apply today? Shouldn't we avoid things that God has told us were sins? Shouldn't we obey Him in how we raise our families, run our churches and act in our personal lives? How far can we deviate from what He has told us to do and still be within His will?

Uzzah was a part of the priesthood and should have known that the ark was to be carried. He consented to the cart. He paid dearly for his incomplete obedience. But, then again, isn't that an oxymoron? Isn't incomplete obedience another way of saying disobedience?

Obviously, God wants to obey Him. Obedience is obeying Him completely. Finally, David had the ark moved in complete obedience. He had learned his lesson.

Could we also learn a lesson here?

1 Chronicles 15:13-15 (ESV)
13 Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.”  14 So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.  15 And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is the Joy of the Lord Really Your Strength?

Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)
10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

I have read this many times but I really didn't hear what it said. I may have repeated it. I may have preached or blogged about it but I really didn't let it sink in. "The joy of the Lord is your (my) strength."

I suppose I might have said that I should be mighty in God's word (true). I might have said that I might become mighty in the Spirit (true). But I doubt if I would have said I will be mighty in the joy of the Lord.

I am confident when I have the joy of the Lord. I don't grieve or doubt when I have the joy of the Lord. I celebrate the goodness of God and believe more strongly in His goodness when I have the joy of the Lord. I tell others of my faith when I have the joy of the Lord. I get along with others when I have the joy of the Lord.

I suppose the joy of the Lord can only be known when I am in the presence of the Lord. How could I be strong "in" the Lord when I am separate from the Lord? How can a church service really be honoring to God if the joy of the Lord is absent? Doesn't the joy of the Lord follow true conviction? Doesn't the conviction and obedience lead us to the joy of the Lord? Doesn't the joy of the Lord follow making a commitment to Christ?

Why does the atmosphere in many churches resemble that of morgues? People walk around with faces that look like they have been sucking oatmeal out of gas pipes! Is it fair to say that these churches have no strength if they lack the joy of the Lord?

The joy of the Lord is truly my strength. I must remember this when discouragement, gloom and doom come seeking to knock me down.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Can Christians Make a Casual Commitment to Christ?

I didn't come to Christ because of eternal life or for forgiveness of sins. O, I believe those things exist for those who give their lives to Christ but they just weren't the driving reasons for my commitment to Christ. I was only eighteen at the time and I didn't think I would ever die. I wasn't bothered by my sins either. I should have been but the regret for my sins would come later.

No, I heard that Jesus had a plan for my life. That plan was that my life would have purpose and meaning. Somehow I knew this was true and that my commitment to Him would bring me into His purpose. This is why I find it strange when Christians act as people who don't know Christ. Why aren't their lives centered around giving God glory? How can they continue to treat their commitment to Christ as a leisure activity?

The Apostle Paul thought that his purpose was eliminating Christianity from the planet. He was actively crusading against the continuation of this aberration from Judaism. He met Jesus on the Damascus Road and his purpose changed. His commitment to Christ changed his whole reason for living.

The rest of the disciples' purpose was locked in after the resurrection. They gave their lives for this purpose. They may have misunderstood before the resurrection but their whole perspective changed afterwards.
Some who read this blog may think I am saying that everyone who truly commits himself to Christ will go into the professional ministry but I am not. I think that most who truly commit to Christ will fulfill His purpose successfully without ever going to seminary or entering the ministry. They will not be second class Christian citizens.

I'm afraid that many people believe that they must go into the ministry if they are truly committed to Christ. They may even become missionaries. They do not realize that everyone who commits to Christ is already in the ministry and has already become a missionary.

God's purpose is that we should become like His Son and make disciples. The execution of this purpose is different for each individual. This purpose should be pursued and submitted to. It should be at the center of the individual. It should be not only be at the Christian's heart but it must be his heart. It will never be fully accomplished though it will always be satisfying when it is truly being sought. A true commitment to Christ cannot be taken casually. By definition, a commitment is not casual.

So, does that mean that those who are treating their commitment to Christ as a leisure activity haven't really made a commitment to Christ at all? I can't make that judgment. I only know what this commitment is. Each one of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to answer how we did one day. I know I haven't been perfect either. I won't have any reason to look down on others.

What do you think?

Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV) 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's Not Over Yet

The ultimate comeback of all time must be the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "It is finished," and everyone who knew Him thought that it really was. It didn't seem to matter that He told them that He would come back in three days. They hadn't heard those words as He intended them. We tend to interpret things in ways we understand. No one believed a man could come back to life after being dead . . . especially after a crucifixion. And surely the words of those who passed by at His execution made sense, "If you can save others, come down from the cross and save yourself!" He had not saved Himself. He had no apparent power over His accusers nor His executioners.  Surely, it was truly over.

So, with hope gone the disciples are without direction. They suppose to go back to their professions. Their supposed purpose in following this miracle maker is useless. There had been some good times. They would have be good stories for the grandchildren some day. They could tell of feeding thousands with only a little, of a man who walked on water, dead coming back to life and people being healed. Great stories, but what difference would it make if Jesus was dead and it was all over.

That, of course, makes the Easter surprise even more special. All of their hope had been removed. They had seen Jesus escape miraculously in the past but taking a dead body down from a cross, wrapping it in grave clothes and placing it in a tomb has the tendency to remove all hope of a comeback.

God takes us to the end of ourselves before He arrives. He puts us in places of thinking it ia all over before He declares that, with Him. it really isn't ever over.

On the other hand, I suppose without Him, it is already over.

As for me, I'm going to stay on the "it's not over" side.

Luke 24:6-9 (ESV) 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Has Human Desire Changed?

I read in the newspaper today that the top grossing films include men with twice the speaking parts and women showing the most skin. I laughed. Did someone actually take the time discover what should have been known? I think I will seek a grant to determine if water is really wet!

This study seemed to disparage the fact that an equal amount of women go to the movies as men. They did not give any conclusions why the women would have less speaking parts. So, I though I would send this flash: Nothing has changed in human desire from the beginning of time.

Women want relationships. They build these relationships with other women by communicating the details of their lives. They explore the depth of each relationship by how deep they reveal themselves to their friends or friend. They assume that men want these relationships and develop them in the same way. This is why I tell grooms that they won their brides' hearts by talking to them. They will keep their brides' hearts by continuing to reveal themselves by talking.

Woman may fantasize about sex but it almost always includes a relationship. Men, on the other hand, can fantasize about sex without knowing the woman's name. Many men enjoy the women's skin they see in the movies. They don't care if it is mere acting. It is what they desire.

So, these top grossing movies have hit on something that should be obvious. Men want to see the skin and women want to hear the men talk. Human desire will not change without an outside influence. It will take something greater than social conditioning.

Yet, that is exactly what men and women try on each other. Men want women to act more like men and women want men to act like women. Men are often disappointed in the lack of spontaneous sexual desire in their wives. Women are frustrated with the lack of communication from their husbands. So, each one tries change the other. Ads try to get women to desire skin and men to desire talking. These movies will go to the intellectual nerds who feel superior for suppressing their feelings. They will not be the top grossing movies.

I have heard that brain surgery, deep psychotherapy and religious conversion are the only things that will change a person. I have seen purity come from men and women who have truly given their hearts to Christ. I have seen many pseudo-Christians who talked a good game but were completely unchanged. But even true conversion doesn't change the ultimate desire. Sexual desire remains in men who become true believers. They, however realize unrighteousness and walk away from sexual desire that dishonors God.

I believe the natural desire to cultivate relationships is why women are generally more spiritually sensitive to God. God seeks a relationship with them. He speaks to them. They respond.

Proverbs 30:18-19 (ESV) 18 Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: 19 the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fear Is the Root for the Lack of Trust

Why is it that people have a lack of trust? They lack trust in those whom they love. They lack trust in God whom they say they love. The paradox is that they want to trust these people and God but they can't make themselves trust.

So, I am thinking about this as I rode my bicycle to work this morning and I really believe I got a word from God. I remembered the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt.  They had been slaves. They had been taught fear rather than trust. They wouldn't have been slaves if they were not afraid of their masters. They were afraid of what their masters, who controlled their lives, would do to them daily. Their work and existence depended upon their reaction to that fear. They could not trust a benevolent God or human leader because their fears overruled that trust.

Therefore, God continues to teach them to trust Him. Trust is an essential element of faith. He shows them His power over the Egyptians with the ten plagues. He shows them His judgment over the Egyptians with the splitting of the Sea. He shows them His care for them with the provision of water, manna and meat.

Yet, when they get to the  Promised Land their fears overtake them again. The refuse to go and turn on Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. They were ruled by their fears. They wanted to go back to Egypt and live in the fears they understood.

Then, God raises a new generation of Israelites who will trust Him The stay in the wilderness while God provides the manna for them each day. Day-by-day, year-by-year, they collect the manna a live off of God's provision. These years of God's provision eventually creates a people who trust Him. (I am sure they were also so sick of eating manna that they would have done anything to get something better!)

The people who lack trust have either been raised in a fearful environment or have allowed their fears to rule their lives. They may have thought that their own actions caused their parents' divorces. They may have been ruled with the fear of physical harm if they did not completely comply with their parents. They may have lived on the brink of financial destruction or suffered emotional abuse in school. They may have been molested. Somewhere, at the root of the lack of trust, is fear.

God's method of removing fear is to create an environment which reveals His care and provision. He did that for the Israelites. He will do it for you. That is also what any person who needs to earn the trust of another must do. He or she should show that they can be trusted every day by providing what the non-trusting person needs. Trust will be built as fear is destroyed.

The Apostle Paul told us that we should be anxious about nothing. We should pray generally, in ways when we don't know what is best, and specifically, in way we believe are best, with thanksgiving. Then, peace will come upon us. Trust is the heart of peace. This prayer will probably not instantly change our circumstances. It will be beyond our understanding. It will be a prayer that knows that God will take care of us.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Redefining Liberal Theology

Liberal theology is often defined: "That which I don't believe." It seems that everyone is liberal who doesn't believe exactly as I do.

My church has women deacons (as well as men deacons) and many people, even within my own denomination, would call us liberal. They see that deacons should be men and only men. The churches who believe this also differ in defining who these men should be.  Some think that it should only be married men (the husband of one wife), some think that it must be men who have never been divorced and some believe that it must be men who have never remarried even if their first wives passed away.

There is obviously a difference between a literal following of the scripture and trying to see what the scripture was really addressing. I find it amusing that those who wish to take a very literal understanding (a man, never divorced and never remarried) often do not balk at the scripture which tells women to avoid braiding their hair, wearing jewelry and wearing fine clothes. They seem to understand what the scriptural teaching is in that verse and forget what it is trying to point out in the one about deacons.

Often, pastors, churches and denominations have litmus tests which determine what is considered liberal. It doesn't matter that the "liberal" ones believe that they are fully following God or scripture. The result is a more and more narrow understanding of who will be included in the select group of those who are truly following God.

I have had to come to some basic understandings which have helped me fellowship with others even if they do not believe exactly as I do.  I used these principles to help me determine who is truly deviating outside of God's will. This is not so that I can judge or castigate them. It is so I can recommend them to others.

1. Is this person or group honestly trying to follow what the scripture says? If not, they are probably developing their theology out of political correctness. This theology will always be shifting sand and cannot be trusted.

2. Are they espousing faith in Jesus alone as the means of salvation? This should truly be the definition of Christianity.

3. Is their doctrine consistent with their preaching? Many groups have solid doctrine but preach a message which does not resemble that doctrine. The presence of the Holy Spirit will seek holiness in the church and the individual.

4. Do they believe what the Bible says? In other words, do they believe it is just fairy tales or actual events? Of course, there were times that Jesus told parables which were not actual events. However, the miracles were actual events. Jesus really fed 5000, healed the sick, walked on water and came back from the dead.

 5. Is tradition more important than scripture? One logical problem is thinking that it must be true because I have always believed it. The Spirit must be able to redefine or confirm what we believe. This belief will always highlight scripture. It will always be surrounded by other godly people.

This list may not be as comprehensive as it should be. It has been valuable to me. People are not necessarily liberal because they do not believe exactly as I do. I like to think I am always right but I have to admit that there are some gray areas that I don't know as much as I claim to know.

Mark 9:38-40 (NIV)  
38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Suicide Is Never the Answer

I was just reading the story of Judas' death. He felt such remorse for his part in Jesus' condemnation that he couldn't live with himself. Giving the money back to those who paid him for his betrayal wasn't enough. He could just couldn't see beyond what he had done.

Just think what waiting four days would have done for Judas. In four days Jesus would be resurrected. He could seek forgiveness and know that, while what he had done was certainly evil, it was also necessary in the fulfillment of salvation for mankind. He could have had the greatest comeback of all time if he had merely waited four days.

Each person I know who has been successful in their suicide attempt applied the problems they were feeling today to forever. They could not see beyond the problems of today. They, therefore, had a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

Isn't it amazing that nearly all problems appear permanent when we know that they will be temporary. We see the failure of a class as a inescapable condemnation which will last forever. We think we will never escape it. The truth is that it is temporary and need not haunt us all of our lives.

A girlfriend or boyfriend breaks up with you and it seems like the end of the world. A couple of years later we can hardly remember that we ever had feelings for that person. Bankruptcies can destroy a credit rating but that credit rating can be rebuilt. Even prison can be put into your past if you endeavor to live differently.

Let's face it. Our problems are temporary. The only real problems we have are living like our problems are permanent.

I don't think Judas would have committed suicide if he had waited four days. If you feel real despair just wait and see if things don't all turn around. Suicide is never the answer.

Matthew 27:3-5 (ESV)
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?

This seems to be a hot topic at the moment. People somehow think that God is unjust if people go to hell. I believe that it is not His unjust judgment but His holiness that place people in hell.

There are laws in the universe. Many of these laws preclude other possibilities. For example, we know that under one atmosphere that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. It means that you will always find water boiling at this same temperature under this same atmosphere. It is a known fact.

God's holiness is also a known fact. However, it is a bit mysterious for those, like me, who are unholy. I truly can't imagine being holy all the time. My holiness comes in such short spurts that I hardly notice it. Yet, God is always holy and perfectly so. There is nothing that cam make Him unholy and we should be very glad that for this fact.

God's whole character would have to change before He could be made unholy. What would He be like if He were not the immutable God we know Him to be. He would be untrustworthy. We could not count on what He has said or what He will do. He might be act in love on one day and with a "to hell with you" attitude on the next. We would never know how to please Him. We would not know that He would act in our best interests in our prayers. We might expect that He only answered the prayers of the ones who sacrificed the most to Him. We might expect Him to be just like us.

Frankly, I am glad that He is not changing. I am glad that He is holy. I am glad that nothing causes Him to change from His holiness.

But that also means that the unholy cannot exist in His presence. That, also, is a fact. That is the purpose of Jesus. Our sins are paid in full by the blood of Jesus. We must accept this gift from God so that we can enter His presence. We are washed in Jesus' blood to be made holy in His presence. Our righteousness comes completely by the work of Christ. We enter heaven based on this fact.

I have never been to heaven or hell (I did attend a ballet once that I thought would never end.). I know that one has God and the other doesn't. One exists in the presence of His holiness and the other doesn't. Jesus described hell as a place where the worm never dies nor the fire ever goes out. He was giving a picture of the trash heaps outside the cities in which the dead carcasses of animals were burned. There, the worm never died and the fire never went out. It smoldered always. I don't think hell has to literally be a place exactly like that. I believe that was the best picture for people to understand what hell is like. However, the garbage heap was the worst visual expression Jesus could give at that time. We should assume that hell is horribly bad.

And why should that be a surprise. Hell will exist apart from God? And apart from God entering into hell, what would bring a person to change? Do you actually believe that our faith comes from within us? Doesn't the scripture tell us that our saving faith comes from God?

So, people go to hell because they cannot enter heaven. I think of this as a fact of God's holiness rather than understanding God as vindictively sending people there.

But also, please consider this: God sent Jesus so that people wouldn't go to hell. He sent Jesus to save the world. Why would a loving God send His only Son to a horrible death if the price of sin wasn't that high?

John 3:17 (ESV) 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Changed by God to Change the World

I could go on and on about the dismal state of Christianity in America but I don't think it will do anyone any good. I really don't want to tell the stories of those Christians whose families are falling apart because they showed their children that sports were more important than church. I don't want recite the heartaches of people whose spouses have had affairs even though they appeared to be Christians. I really don't want to relay how many Christians have no Christian world view. They see the world as the non-believers. They relate to everything like non-believers. Their lives are empty and they have no positive reason for any other person becoming a Christian. So, I am not going to tell these stories; at least, not in detail.

I have been in the ministry in one way or another since 1976. I have learned that no one ever was changed by what I said. I have found that God is the One who changes people if they are changed. I have seen Him use my words and actions but I fully realize godly change isn't because of what I have done or said.

I have seen God do amazing work when my mind was focused on the Spirit. The Spirit changed my understanding of the scriptures. He changed the way I think. He changed my words and attitude toward others. He has matured me and helped me believe Him for miracles. He has empowered my words to change lives.

Therefore, I am resolved to make some decisions which will focus my mind on the Spirit. My hope and prayer is that others will join me in this so that one-by-one, by the power of God we can change the direction of Christianity. Our faith has become as powerless as those who have espoused it. It is having essentially no effect on our society. I cannot see how that will change until Christians resolve to do something personally that changes their lives.

So, I have made the following resolutions:

1. I will read my Bible everyday. It will be very early in my day so that it can continue to affect my day.
2. I will pray in a very purposeful way each day. I will keep a prayer journal which will emphasize what I have prayed and what the results are.
3. I will watch carefully what I allow into my mind. I will stay away from movies, television, music, books or magazines that will move me away from the Spirit.
4. I will confess every known sin each day to the Heavenly Father. I will know that I am forgiven for each of these sins by the blood of Jesus.
5. I will stop and refuse to engage in any activity that is questionable. I will make sure that I have a heart belonging to my Lord in every action I take.
6. I will obey the Holy Spirit in whatever He tells me as quickly as He tells me. I will not procrastinate. I will simply do as He says.
7. I will forgive everyone who has ever done a wrong to me. I will seek to immediately forgive those who wrong me in the future. I will forgive people on the same day that I am wronged even if they never apologize or try to make restitution.
8. I will ask for forgiveness from everyone I have wronged. I will do so as quickly as I am convicted of this wrong.
9. I will make love the primary emphasis for my relationship with others. I will love rather than tolerate those who are unlovely.
10. I will endeavor to love people into God's kingdom. I will not try to beat them up with their sins. I will not try to accommodate their sins either. I will call sin what it is out of love for others.
11. I will pray for a change in my life. I will ask God to make me like His Son. I will believe He will do so.
12. I will trust God to use me for the works He has created for me. I believe He will do amazing things.

I have heard many people say they are scared by the direction our society is taking. Well, we have no reason to be scared. We have a reason to be transformed.

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)  
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Love Is the Only Reason for Forgiveness

So, you have been hurt deeply. The person who wronged you may or may not beg for your forgiveness. Should you forgive him?

The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Maybe that's not the question you are asking. Maybe you are asking why should I forgive. Love is the only reason that will satisfy the question of why you should forgive

First, you should love yourself enough to forgive the other person. Unforgiveness imprisons you. It is the slave who runs the household with such an iron fist that the owners are captured in their own house. Unforgiveness is unrelenting. It must be guarded or forgiveness will break through. It must be protected or it will be stolen from you. It has to employ revenge to keep it alive. The revenge is often the way the person must be treated in order to remain unforgiven. Unforgiveness comes out in other relationships. It become bitterness. It poisons the individual who holds onto his unforgiveness. You would forgive if you really loved yourself.

Second, the love for the other person should empower you to forgive. Forgiveness is sometimes scary. Forgiveness means you will open yourself to the same pain you felt when you were betrayed the first time. The person just might betray you again. But your love for the other person demands that you forgive. I guess that's why mothers are so quick to give forgiveness. They love their children so much that they simply can't refuse to forgive.

Third, the love you have received from your Lord is sufficient to grant any other person forgiveness. He loved you so much that He forgave you. He paid the penalty so that all sins could be forgiven. This includes the sins that were committed against you by someone else. He gave that forgiveness to them and and you forgive because He loves that person and He paid for their sins.

God accepts the blood of Jesus as payment for sin. You have a higher standard than God has if you won't accept it too. In fact, you have made Jesus' sacrifice small if you don't give forgiveness.

The only way you can know God's sacrifice for you is to receive it. That is the way you know His love.

That is the only reason for forgiveness.

John 3:16 (ESV)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 5:8 (ESV)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Grace That Impotent?

Many people misunderstand grace. They believe that it means that God will give them everything they need and never expects them to do anything. They explain salvation as a gift that requires no response. Yet, that is not what I see in the Bible.

Jesus said that the one who "endures to the end, he shall be saved."(Mark 13:13) What does that mean if there isn't an expected work that comes from God's grace? It is ridiculous to assume that because a person can do nothing to gain his salvation, that he will do nothing because of his salvation. The repentant man is bound to his Redeemer. It should be assumed that there is nothing he will not do for Him.

Grace begins and continues through salvation. We are saved in a moment when we believe, we are saved in a lifetime as we work and we are saved in eternity as we worship our Lord. Heaven will have no idleness. It will not be retirement or an eternity with nothing to do. It will be filled with purpose. Purpose requires activity. This activity will require our continuance of life filled abundantly.

Grace motivates us to His work. True grace means we work because of our love. We work because the grace has changed us. Grace makes our spirits alive. We know God through this grace. We respond to God through this grace. This grace makes us into new creations.

I heard a minister tell me that he was going to do nothing when he retired. He said he would just go to church and go home. He had no plans to teach or serve in the church once he retired. I don't think he got it. I, on the other hand, want to do as much as I can for as long as I can. I don't think I am any better than this other minister. I don't want to do these things out of obligation, coercion or expectation. I want to do them because the grace of Christ has changed me into someone who wants to do them.

God's grace has done more than given me a ticket to heaven. It has changed me from the inside out. It has provided me with purpose and work to do.

I will do those things because grace is potent. Very potent.

 Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Before I Understood

We have lots of people come to our church each week who have never been to church before. They are checking it out. I have to remember that they will not understand many of the terms we use in church. I have to remember that they are open to what I am saying but skeptical. I try to remember what I thought before I understood.

It has been a long time but I do not remember being opposed to church. I thought it was boring. I endured it but I wasn't going on any crusades to change how church did things. Most of the pastors I had always told a joke during the message. I thought that most of us waited for that joke so that we had a reason for coming. I realize the pastor needed something that the people would remember. That was his reason for telling the joke.

I went to church so that I could see my friends. I suspect this was the same reason they came. We never talked about church outside of the building. In fact, we didn't talk about it while we were inside the building either. We just went. Eventually, I could recite all the creeds by heart and knew most of the hymns. I didn't really know what they meant. I just said what I was supposed to say when it was time.

Our church allowed the youth to serve communion. This seemed to make the older people happy. They would come forward and kneel while we served them the bread and juice. We prompted people forward row by row. You had to participate even if you didn't want to. I don't think most people understood what we were doing. I think it was just one of those religious activities that people do without knowing why they are doing so. Lots of people will come to Easter services in a couple of weeks and not know why they are there either.

I suppose I would have agreed that Jesus was the Messiah if asked. I am sure I wouldn't have known what that meant. I questioned some of the things that were read in the Bible. I couldn't imagine a sinless man. I refuted that when the subject came up.

Lordship was a foreign concept to me. I thought of religion as an instruction manual. It just told you how to live to get most things right. Living that way would keep you out of trouble and take most of the worry out of your parents' lives.

So, I try to instruct and help people when they come to church for the first time. I want them to have three things. I want them to feel safe. This goes beyond caring for their physical safety. I want them that I will not abuse them verbally. They should also know that there is some predictability. I want them to know that we closely follow a schedule and that they can expect to get out close to the stated ending time. People should expect quality. I don't want them to believe that I whimsically prepared what I will say that morning. I want them to know that it came from careful thought. (It also comes from careful study and prayer but they may not recognized that.) I want people to know that they are in church for a reason.

They aren't interested in whether or not I use the proper terms for my denomination. They just want to know if it is worth their attendance. They are hoping that it is. They need something more than they have had or they wouldn't come to church.

I always have to remember what it was like before I understood.

Acts 8:27-31 (NIV)
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fake Seems to Work Too

Each night in Las Vegas my wife and I walked somewhere. The hotels were absolutely amazing. The fake stuff was pretty impressive too. We saw a fake volcano, a fake Statue of Liberty, a fake Sphinx and a lot of fake Elvis Presleys. People didn't seem to mind. They stopped to watch the fake volcano fake an eruption. They videoed the whole thing and oohed and aahed when the fake magma flowed down the fake mountain. I guess it doesn't matter if it isn't real. I just has to be impressive.

Recently someone told me that his daughter and son-in-law were changing churches. They said the church they had been members of made worship a big production. They didn't feel as if it was genuine any more. They didn't want fake worship. I suppose they are in the minority since this church had obviously decided to go "Las Vegas." Many people must want worship to be a production. Fake seems to work better than real.

Think about it. Do you really believe that the "reality shows" have anything to do with reality? Don't you suppose that they have some contrived drama in them? Do you really believe that it is really about people acting as if they are not being filmed? Or, do you that people who know they are being watched act differently?

However, people watch these shows with a passion. Fake seems to work in attracting people. It seems to all be in the presentation.

So, I am trying to decide. Should I get a dummy, learn to be a ventriloquist and preach my sermons through the dummy? Or, should I learn to balance myself on a high wire and sit in a chair balance on a high wire above the congregation's heads while delivering a sermon?

What do you think? Do think God will care as long as it brings a crowd?

Isaiah 1:12-13 (ESV)
12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Church Could Learn a Lot from Las Vegas

I spent three days in Las Vegas this past week. My wife had a conference to attend. I jogged early in the early mornings, walked around and read in the late afternoons. The first night I was too tired to do anything, the second my wife and I walked the strip and the last we went to a show. Through my observations I learned that Las Vegas is doing some things that the church has forgotten or never thought it had to do.  The church could learn a lot.

Las Vegas seemed very safe. The number of people and the presence of hotel security and police was evident wherever you went. This should not be surprising. Who would come to Las Vegas or any other place if they believed that it was dangerous? Only dangerous people will purposely come into dangerous places. Las Vegas would be vacant if it was unsafe.

The concern for safety extended beyond physical safety. The dealers at the tables seemed to be friendly and willing to teach anyone how to play a game. Their smiles were inviting. They didn't look down on those who didn't know what they were doing. (I say this from observation rather than participation.)

Unfortunately, most churches are not safe. I don't mean that there is physical danger in most churches but the people who walk the church halls are frequently people who have been to church all their lives. They are familiar with how things should go. Those who enter for the first time will find themselves unsettled by the way things are done. They are afraid of being embarrassed because they have done something wrong. The church people shake their heads and look down on the people who don't know what to do next. So, who will come back to church? People who are already like church people. Who will come back to Las Vegas? Just about anyone. It is a very safe, inviting place.

Las Vegas plans for people to come. Each morning the streets are cleaned. There is no trash, no unpainted places, no broken doors, and no burned out lights that isn't attended to quickly. They know that people are very likely to notice failure. They know that people are impressed with the care that they put into making their city look pretty. They know that people would much rather be in a place where the streets are clean than where they need attention.

The church often overlooks the trash in the parking lot, broken doors, unpainted walls and burned out lights because it is fine with the people who are already attending. In fact, these flaws can continue for months as long as the church exists only for those who are already coming. But the church is the only only organization that exists for the people who are not members. Las Vegas understands that they are not cleaning the streets for the residents but for the visitors. They want people to come back and they just don't want to come back to a dirty city.

Las Vegas has people aggressively passing out invitations to nightclubs or some other type of "girly" show places. I never received any of these invitation but saw the people passing them out and also saw that people had thrown them on the sidewalk. I didn't look closely at these "invitations" but I could tell by the pictures that it involved naked or nearly naked women. I knew that I didn't want any part of it and held my wife's hand as we walked past those handing out the invitations. They wouldn't hand it to us once they saw us holding hands. I suppose they know this method works or they wouldn't continue to hand these out each night.

Why isn't the church this aggressive in getting people to hand out invitations? Why aren't we giving them out to everyone who will take them? Why don't we realize that some people will not come and stop wasting our time on inviting them? It seems that the church could learn a lot about this method of invitation. The people in Las Vegas hand out invitations to tens of thousands of people each night with the hope of some coming to fill their nightclubs. Wouldn't the church have the same results if we passed out tens of thousands of invitations each week? I think so.

Las Vegas taught me a lot. I admire their determination in getting people to come and, then, come back. It is something the church could certainly learn too.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Should You Do with Sin?

We are wonderfully made. We are made with the image of God stamped upon us. His glory, that pre-glory before the fall, still exists within us. That is why sin is defined as falling short of His glory. We deviate from the holiness intended for us and sin invades our lives.

We know something is missing if we are truly honest with ourselves. We are not walking the path which walks with God. We are making our own way. It is a lonely path for we were never intended to hide in the garden hoping that God would not notice our sin. Our existence was made to enjoy the presence of God.

Yet, many people try to fill the God-sized hole which remains when God is removed. It is a futile effort. No one can fill the infinite-sized emptiness with finite things. Yet, you may try.

You may try distractions. Here, you work or play with such fervor that you hardly notice that something is missing. I noticed a large gash in my elbow in the emergency room after a car wreck once. I didn't even notice the pain because I had gotten so caught up in the work the paramedics were doing on me during the ambulance ride. The pain still existed but I was so distracted that I didn't notice it until later. Sometimes you can be so distracted that you simply do not notice the pain that sin brings.

You may try to redefine sin. You may not realize it but that also means you must redefine God too. You must create a god whose standard fits comfortably within your own lifestyle. Then, you define sin outside of your own lifestyle. You may even declare yourself to "sin" so that you can feel magnanimous about your creation. It makes you one of the people who fall but you at least understand it all because of your superior understanding of this god you have created.

You may just live in your guilt. I hate this for people. You don't need to live in guilt. Living in guilt is paying for something that has already been paid for.

No, there is only one way to deal with sin. It is to accept the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has
provided for it. It is to walk again into God's presence and into His glory. It is to have that God-sized hole filled with the only Person who can fill it.

The story of Jesus Christ is the best news ever. He came to bring us back to where we belong. He didn't come to distract, redefine or ask us to live in our sins. He came to save us from our sins.

John 3:17 (ESV)
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Place Where Sin Is Fine

There are, no doubt, many fine people in Las Vegas. Many of those who live here must be very godly people. I'll bet that many of those who visit the city are just as godly. So, what I am about to say is certainly not for everyone.

I came to Las Vegas last night because my wife is attending a conference here. The hotel is fabulous. The city is beautiful. We walked around the city for some time even though I was very tired since my body was still on Eastern time.

We saw lots of normal people. These are those who dressed and acted in a manner I would expect to see in any large city in America. As we got closer to the nightclubs and casinos that atmosphere changed. Many of the women were dressed like prostitutes. They were with men whom I supposed were boyfriends or husbands. I wondered why men would encourage someone they cared for to dress like this in public.

Many of the people seemed to be playing the role of a big shot. I have met some fairly important people in the world and none of them played like they were above the rest of the world. They would not allow others to waste their time but they did not work at appearing more important than others. They just knew who they were. The people we saw also knew who they were. They were just trying to act like someone important.

I think the popular saying, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" has been believed by the general public. They think they can pretend to be someone, act with impunity and return home without any residual sin sticking to them. So they gamble, get drunk and say they had a very exciting time. They don't realize that our lives are really a sum of our days. Being in Vegas neither suspends time nor right and wrong.
I wonder if these people who have been pretending will continue to pretend when they go home. This time they will pretend that what they did in Vegas made no difference. They will pretend that sin does not stick to their souls.

I have to be careful here. I could very easily start pretending that I am better than the people I have observed. I, too, have been stained with sin though not necessarily in Vegas. I would probably do the same things as these I have mentioned if not for the grace of God.

Yet, I know that there is a place in which sin is fine. There is a place that sin will not matter whatsoever. The place is not Vegas. It is called Hell.

Hebrews 3:12-13 (ESV)
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The End of the World as We Know It

The world is changing every day. I just read that several businesses I thought could never fail are going down fast. Landline telephone and newspapers are losing business in enormous numbers each day. It shouldn't be too long before any form you complete will be void of "home phone."

Things have changed so much even in my lifetime. I no longer wait for a tv program to come on. I watch it when I like with a DVR. I read the paper on my laptop. I order from the internet. I don't even watch the movies I get from Netflix anymore. I just put them back in the mail. Instead, I watch streaming movies. I really don't know why one is more appealing than the other but it is certainly my pattern.

I text just about as much as I call on my cell phone. I am able to receive several news reports on the same topic daily. I blog to reach a larger number of people than I would my merely preaching. I stay connected with people through email. (I still have trouble with Facebook. I just don't see the point yet.)

I am writing this blog and publishing to the internet at about 30,000 feet right now. Who would have thought I could have this connection  to the world as I flew just a few years ago.

Can you imagine someone in a coma for the past ten years suddenly awakening to the world we have today? I suspect he would say the world he knew has ended.

I wonder what will happen to the way we worship and share the gospel. Will people soon gather in clusters around their internet enabled tv's singing and worshiping together. The house church would certainly take a new meaning. The large church buildings would be gone. Even normal worship times would disappear since people could choose when they would meet. I suspect there will be a limited number of people who will be employed in the ministry. Nearly everyone will be a volunteer. They will get their education online. They will do their ministry in the same way.

If this happens, it will make the ministry as flat as other businesses. It will no longer be that a person must have great oratory skills to preach. He or she will be just as spirit-led but more gifted in technology to get the message out. I suspect that "preaching check" will be just as available as spellcheck is now. It will automatically correct a person's bad preaching. Now, this is something I can't wait for!

Yet, it will still take dedicated people to get the message out. It will take people who are willing to preach Christ. It will not change the scripture but the applications will surely change.

Of course, I could be wrong about everything I mentioned. I know one thing though. The determination of the gospel must not wane. The Paul shared with the Corinthians will go forward or the gospel will end. And that would really be the end of the world as we know it.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NIV) 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Making Disciples Like Jesus

Matthew 23:15 (NIV)
 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

The church has a mandate. She is to make disciples of Jesus. Jesus' disciples are supposed to obey His commandments. It seems simple enough until you read what Jesus Himself did to make disciples.

Jesus preached on hillsides and in synagogues. He preached beside the sea. Each of these people came to hear this teacher tell them things they had never heard before. Many of them came tto be  healed. No doubt, many came to see a miracle or even eat from the hand of this miracle maker.

They heard things they couldn't understand. They heard things they didn't like. Many of them hated His concept of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many didn't want to have anything to do with Him after that. Jesus let them go. Many of them, no doubt, hated hearing that they could not be His disciples if they didn't hate their own mothers, fathers, wives, children and their own lives. They didn't like turning the other cheek nor elevating humility to a high virtue. They wanted something that took advantage of the world today. They wanted a method of being elevated over others.

The Church often pursues people rather than presents the teachings of Jesus. It doesn't seem to care whether or not people follow Him. In fact, the Church is more about who shows up and gives than making sure it is teaching Jesus' form of discipleship.

Many people ceased to follow Jesus as He taught. He let them go. It hurt Him to let them go. It was more important that the discipleship remained pure than they continue to hang around.

Does this mean anything? I think so. Pharisees pursued people to make them people who sought advantages for themselves. Jesus offered a difficult way of living which rejected this world as home.

Think about it. What kind of disciples are we making today?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Bible Cannot Be Understood with the Brain Alone

I have heard many secular people make fun of the things recorded in the Bible. They point to the times when God said to wipe out the inhabitants in the Promised Land so that His people can have their own land and cry foul. They think that sexual abstinence before marriage is ridiculous. They see that abortion is a viable solution to an unwanted pregnancy rather than a life that is ended. Each of these are clear teachings from the Bible.

The problem is that the Bible can't simply be understood with the human brain. It has been God-breathed as it was written. It must be spiritually interpreted to be accurately understood. Those who do not possess a spirit that is alive to God's Spirit simply can't understand it. We shouldn't be surprised when they act like it is foolish because even the Bible says that they will see things from the Spirit of God as foolishness.

That should also make us be cautious about our interpretations. We don't have to listen to the Spirit of God just because we are spiritually alive. Many Christians try to get the Bible to say what they want it to say. They want it to justify something they want to do. It isn't God's will but they try to make it God's will. And their interpretation seems to make sense with their brains. However, it won't pass the spiritual litmus test. The Spirit of God didn't reveal it to them.

Each of us needs to be cautious when we read the Bible. We need to know that it is the Spirit of God who revealed it to us. Otherwise, we can be just as foolish as those who don't understand it at all.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.