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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Free from Your Guilt Addiction

Some guilt is justified. It comes because of sin. Sin is simply a violation of God's glory. We were created for His glory. Falling short of that glory is sin. And, yes, that is much more than merely breaking onr or more of the Ten Commandments.

Yet, for some reason people are not content with feeling guilty for sin which neglects God's glory. They want to feel guilty for things that had nothing to do with their actions. Some women feel guilty after being raped. Some men feel guilty for being molested as boys. Some girls feel guilty for continuing to be molested by someone whom they trusted and loved. They believe that they could have fought harder. They believe they could have told but didn't. They believe they could have stopped it. They are so ashamed of what they didn't do because they were so afraid.

So, they bottle up their hurts and they live with their guilt. It is a false guilt. There is nothing to be ashamed of but they are very ashamed. False guilt just can't be distinguished from real guilt.

What are they really ashamed of? It is the fear they had when they "allowed" these others to hurt them. They want to have been brave and died before they allowed these malicious acts upon them. They wish they had not complied but their fear was too great. Their strength was too small. They couldn't fight off their attackers.

They are ashamed that they didn't do anything about it afterwards. They may be ashamed that it happened more than once.

Some of these people will be addicted to guilt. They don't think they can raise their heads. They don't think they can ever fight off attackers. They think that the bad things that happen to them are their own faults.

Where does this guilt originate? Some of it rests on the fears of the victims. Most of it rests on an evil force that has been sent to keep them under his thumb. He seeks to keep those who could have victory addicted to their guilt for no one is truly free until he is free of his guilt. He never wants you to believe that anyone escapes this addiction. He wants everyone to live forever in guilt.

But this is not the life that Jesus Christ wanted. Jesus died so that everyone could be free from the addiction (slavery) of guilt. He made it possible for everyone to be free from their guilt addiction.

Many have already told themselves that they are not responsible for what happened in the past. They know intellectually that they should feel no guilt but their guilt remains. It comes out in their relationships with others. I comes out in their fears, their lack of trust and/or their accusations of others.

So, what should they do? Tell it all to Jesus. Admit that the fear was so great that they complied with what happened. Admit that they finally got so tired of fighting that there was no more fight left. Then, ask Him, by faith, to take away the guilt by which they have been addicted to. Ask the Lord to battle the evil one who continues to keep them under this addiction. Keep asking until the evil one leaves them alone.

Maybe this isn't a "they" to you. Maybe it is a "me." Please do not live under this addiction any longer. Tell it to Jesus. Let Him fight this battle which He already won on the cross. Fight in the strength of His might.

Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV) 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

For All Who Are in Need of Hope

Not everyone is suffering. Some people are having the time of their lives. Their jobs are doing well. They are growing closer to their spouses. Their children are excelling at everything. They do not think of hope because everything seems so good. God has certainly blessed you if this is your situation.

But does that mean that He hasn't blessed those who are going through a difficult time?

Our blessings are not determined by our circumstances. God has not forgotten those who are going through difficult times. He is using these times to draw people closer to Himself. This, too,  is a blessing.

However, there are many people who are struggling through the most difficult times of their lives which cannot see the blessing. They just want the pain to end. These are people who are about to be evicted, who haven't had a regular job in over a year, who are facing divorce or the loss of a child or have had their livelihood wiped out by a disaster. What do they have left?

They can have hope in the Lord. Hope is believing in something better than you presently have. It is seeing what you cannot see because you know the character of the Lord to love, provide, preserve and protect His children. It is claiming what you do not have because it has been promised to you. It is believing that His love has not left you so that you can know that He will carry you through whatever you are facing.

I suppose that the worse thing that can happen is giving up hope. Without hope you no longer get out of bed. You stop trying to make it. You stop believing.

The night can only get so dark. But every night is followed by a morning. The sun comes up and you can hope in that sun because of all the times it has risen after a dark night. You can recount all the times you have gone through difficult times and know they all had a shelf life. They can't last.

Yes, you are going through a difficult time but your hope in the Lord is that you will again praise Him for the moment He delivers you.

Of course, you can put your hope in other things. You can hope for a better economy or a better set of political leaders or the cavalry to ride up and save the day. I suppose God can use any of these things to deliver you but I assure you that these things will disappoint you. They have no love for you, nor do they care about you at all.

God loves you. He knows you. He died for you. You will praise Him again.

Why should you be downcast when the Lord of the universe loves you so much?

Psalm 42:11 (ESV)
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
        and why are you in turmoil within
Hope in God; for I shall again praise
        my salvation and my God.

Monday, August 29, 2011

God Will Give You Every Good Thing!

Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 
9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

Jesus does not give us a blank check so that He will do everything we ask of Him. That would be harmful to us. We most assuredly have asked for things against His will. Receiving those things would violate the goodness of God. Giving us those things while knowing they would harm us is paramount to a doctor writing a prescription for a narcotic because the addicted patient asks for it. That doctor would not be accepted as good. Neither will God be considered good if He gives us what we ask for apart from His will.

1 John 5:14-15 (ESV)
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

So, we ask according to His will. This means we must seek His will. It is so  easy to miss it. Our own desires get in the way. Our own reasoning as to what is needed gets in the way. Seeking is the process of finding something. God's will is not hidden from us. It is just that we have covered it with our own desires. Therefore, we seek until we get beyond our own will.

Seeking God's will should involve God's word but it cannot simply be God's word. Our own hearts can bend the Scriptures to say what we please. We will find ourselves manipulating verses to do whatever we like. We may even fool ourselves into believing these verses represent the true will of God.

Our concern, then, is in our own hearts in discovering His will. The question must be whether it is completely His or we are reserving a portion of it to do what we would like. The question is whether or not the Spirit is filling us. God always seeks to fill us with the Holy Spirit, however we must allow Him to do so.

This is where prayer and confession enter. Our hearts cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit if they are already filled with something else. We confess, not to tell God about our sins but to agree with God that our sins are evil so that righteousness will be restored. Thus, the obstacles of our fillings are removed. God would never have given a command to be filled if He wasn't willing to fill us. The filling of the Spirit and knowing the will of God are tied together.

Ephesians 5:17-18 (ESV)
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Sometimes we feel as if we have been closed out from God's will. We must knock on the door that is closed so that we may gain entrance to His will. The lack of faith causes us to be closed out. There are times when we have asked for something and sought it but do not receive it because we lack faith. It is here that we must knock.  The one who asks without faith will not receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:6-8 (ESV)
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Now, this becomes a real problem for us. Many think we can simply generate our own faith so that we will believe and receive. This is not the case. We do not have faith simply because we choose to believe. That would make faith more powerful than God. It would require God to muster up His own faith in order to create the world. It would make Him subservient to faith.

No, faith is a gift from God which He seeks to give us. We knock on that door to receive it. We gain entrance to God and it is ours. Even our faith for salvation is a gift from Him.  We did not work up our own faith to obtain salvation. Why should we think that God will stop giving us faith after salvation? We should expect that He will continue to do so but we must also remember that we had to receive that faith for salvation and we must also receive the faith for anything else that we are to believe.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (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.

Thus, we ask, seek and knock. We receive, find and it is opened to us. No good thing is outside of God's will to give us. Of course,we can live like paupers even though we are children of the King but this is not the will of God.

God will not hold back any good thing from us. Believe it!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Be Thankful for the Faithful

This morning's worship attendance was way down ( but it was much better than the churches that canceled their services). Yesterday a hurricane came through. Today many people are still without power.  Many incorrectly assumed that the church would lack power and stayed at home. Many others evacuated and were not back in town. We had both of our services like normal.

I was so glad to see those who came to worship. They were an encouragement. I told them what 2 Chronicles 16: 9 says, "The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose hearts are completely His."  I told them that God has been looking for them and prayed that God would give them an extra special blessing because their hearts belong to Him.

Something happens to believers when those around them are faithful to the Lord. They are encouraged to continue. It is natural to get discouraged when you believe you are the only one fighting, working, struggling for the Lord. This was one of Elijah's problems. He believed he was the last of those who served God and wanted to die.

I ran on a couple of relay teams for track when I was in high school. I always made my best times in those races because I didn't want to let the other people down. We were all much faster than we were separately. Knowing that others are working hard too encourages you to continue to run the race.

Faithfulness begets faithfulness. You don't want to let others down when you know they are doing their best. It makes you do a better job than ever before.

Having people fighting for the same cause as you makes you glad. It means that the cause will continue if something happens to you. There is no greater cause than that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I am incredibly thankful for those who came to church today. God's going to bless them for it. I want to bless them too.

1 Corinthians 1:4 (ESV)
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Peace Beyond Understanding

 Judges 6:22-24 (NIV)
22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!"
23 But the LORD said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die." 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

A hurricane blows outside the windows of my office as I write this. It isn't as strong as it was once predicted. It is called Irene and the sustained winds are around 85 mph. There is enough to do some destruction but not what had been predicted. I like many of my neighbors wonders what we will do with our brand new power generators. We can always drink the cases of water we all bought.

It is as calm as it has ever been inside this office. There is no wind or rain though it can be heard. The storm is just as real even though I am dry and safe. There is peace here.

God says that He is peace. Gideon made that statement about God just before he tore down his family's idols. Gideon declared himself devoted to God even before being devoted to his family. Gideon had stood in the presence of an angel of the Lord and was afraid for his life. He knew that he could not stand in the presence of holiness as a sinner. He was assured by this angel that he would not die. He took this as a word from the Lord. It promised him success in doing God's will and it gave him the resolve to do what he must do.

Peace comes from a word from God. It is a faith that believes that the God who would die for you will also walk with you. It comes when the storm rains outside and the peace reigns inside. True, godly peace comes before deliverance. It comes while in the middle of the circumstances which will destroy your world.
I have found that peace comes when I pray until I hear from God. Then, I have peace. I guess that's why Paul said that we should not be so anxious but pray.

Are you in need of peace? Pray until you hear from God. This may take some time but resolve to have the peace that passes all understanding and you will be guaranteed to have it.

For God is peace.

 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.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Listening to Your Heart Teacher

The first amendment to the US Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The same people who wrote this amendment appointed chaplains, printed Bibles, opened meetings with prayer and put "In God We Trust" on the money. Did they not understand their own amendment or are we misinterpreting it? I personally believe it had a deeper meaning than how many interpret it. I believe it dealt with a basic spiritual fact: You can't make people believe and you shouldn't try to force them.

Faith does not come from coercion but neither does it come from mere exposure. Many people raised in homes where parents know the Lord and serve the Lord do not become believers. They may adopt a religion which is seen in ritual but it will never be seen in heart.

A little girl in our church who recently came to the Lord gave us her testimony of coming to Christ. She called the Holy Spirit her "heart teacher." (Each person who comes to the Lord in our church writes their testimony which is read right before they are baptized.) I had never heard that term before. I am sure that she made it up. I am sure she is accurate too.

People do not come to Christ unless their hearts are changed. They can't simply say the right words. Faith is an action from the heart that changes the person from the inside out. No amount of coercion can do this. No amount of exposure to religion will change the heart. This must come when the Spirit gives us the faith to believe. This must come when the heart hears and acts upon God's urging through the Spirit.

The Christian life is all about listening to your "heart teacher." He brings you to Christ, reminds you of what He has said, gives you the strength to do all things and changes you into a new creation. It all comes simply because you have heard your heart teacher.

No one can make another person believe. God chooses to let us follow or leave Him. He will give us the faith but He does not coerce the faith upon us. No person or government can make a person believe and no person or government should be allowed to.

So, on this day I have the choice before me as I do any other day.

Will I listen to my heart teacher?

Romans 5:5 (NIV) 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Galatians 4:6 (NIV) 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You Don't Always Need the Desired Resources to Do the Will of God

I grew up on a farm. That meant that you used farm implements and those you could improvise to get the job done. We would make a patch for a muffler with a tin can and bailing wire. We would use duct tape to temporarily seal a bucket. We would find old bolts to fit into those which were lost in the field. We never threw anything away. It might be needed to do something it was never intended for.

We just couldn't afford to spend our most precious resource to go to town and get the proper item. That resource was time. The sun was going to set whether we were through with our job or not. The job had to be done.

God's people have always had to listen to God and use what was provided to do His will.  Moses used his staff to convince God's people that he was commanded by God to lead them out of Egypt. It was what he had in his hand.

Shamgar was a judge who used what he had to deliver Israel. He could have sat down and complained about how he needed a proper weapon but he used his oxgoad to do what most could not do with proper weapons.  He did what God willed him to do with what God has already provided.

Did Joshua say that he couldn't defeat Jericho because he didn't have the right equipment. He had trumpets and people. God used what he had and the walls came tumbling down. The Bible is full of such stories of His people using what they already had to do what seemed impossible.

Some individuals and churches won't do anything for the Lord because they claim they don't have the proper resources. They speak of their lack of money, people, machines, and other materials. They act like God wants them to sit down and do nothing when they don't have what someone else has. They lack the character necessary to see God's will done. God really doesn't listen to excuses since He already knows what can be done with what people already have. They simply have to listen to Him and improvise.

Anyone who lacks the proper resource should ask himself: What do I already have if I can't get the proper resource? Can I adapt or use what I have to do what God wants me to do?

Remember: God is either going to give you what you believe you need or He has already given you all you need to do His will. His will cannot be stopped simply because you don't think you have the proper resources.

Only you can get in the way of what God wants to accomplish through you.

So, look for your oxgoads and see what God can do without the proper resources.

Judges 3:31 (NIV) 
31 After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Has God Led You to Your Temptation?

I cannot avoid temptation. No one can. They are inevitable even though people are not tempted by the same things. God does not protect us from temptations. In fact, sometimes He leads us to them.

Jesus has been baptized. God is very please with Him. It is then that the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. I don't know why I noticed this so clearly this morning. I suppose it is because I always saw temptations as bad things which could have no good purpose. God sees them as ways of declaring our direction.

Jesus gets ready for His temptation by fasting for forty days. Fasting helps are person concentrate his prayers. Jesus would have been strong in prayer though weak in His body. He would have been very hungry.

The devil only wanted Jesus to do one thing against His Father's will. Any one thing would have been an abandonment of His purpose. He wanted Jesus to forget His purpose for the sake of gaining the world. Therefore, the devil tempts Jesus to question God's provision and take matters into His own hands. Jesus will have none of it even though He is very hungry and could use some bread. He could have reasoned that His Father expected Him to have something to eat.

So, the devil tempted Jesus to question God's protection. He tells Jesus to throw Himself down so that God will simply have to catch Him. There is no need to do this. Jesus already knows His Father's love and protection. God had sent Jesus to Egypt when His life was in danger. God would protect Jesus without question.

Then, finally, abandoning the use of Scripture, the devil offers Jesus fame and fortune in exchange for worshiping him. Jesus tells him that He will only worship God. Jesus rejects fame and fortune.

These three temptations are common to all of us. We are tempted to question God's provision and take matters into our own hands when things get tough. We will do things that are not of God to attain what we believe we need if we are not careful to understand that the devil's purpose is to get us to leave our faith behind.

We are tempted to question God's protection and love when we look at the circumstances in our lives. The loss of a job or an illness or a divorce or any number of personal tragedies can make us question whether God is good. We can forget that He loves us and watches over us so closely that He knows the number of hairs on our heads.

Fame and fortune can tempt the most devout of Christians. Many preachers have lost their ministry because they began to trust in fame and fortune. Many are no longer in the ministry because of it.

So, why would the Spirit lead Jesus or us to these things? Each of us declares his allegiance each time he succumbs or rejects temptation. Each rejection makes us stronger. Rejecting temptation must be quick. You can't linger in your temptation and expect to have victory over it.

God never tempts us into evil. He allows the temptation to come because we can access Him and His strength at any moment to reject the evil. This builds our faith and makes us more resolute to follow Him closer than before.

There was another reason that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. God was preparing Jesus for the Garden when the struggle to avoid His will would be more tempting than ever. Jesus had, however, declared His intention to follow His Father. That is why He prayed "not my will but Yours be done."

But, then again, doesn't the rejection of every temptation also declare the intention of following God no matter what.

What are your trials that you are facing today? The Spirit may just have led you here so that you too may be tempted by the devil. Will you reject those temptations and declare your allegiance to the Lord?

You will only by the grace and power of God.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making Hard Decisions

Eventually everyone has to make hard decisions. Being or becoming a Christian doesn't prevent what must be done. Sometimes, those things are hard.

Testimonies of "everything has been wonderful" after becoming a Christian are misleading. These testimonies allude to a life without any hard decisions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Christians have to make as many hard decisions as others.

Don't you think that is the problem with our politicians now? They know that we cannot sustain our current spending pattern but are reluctant to cut spending. The hard decisions that they must make will not be popular. There will be good people who will not receive what they have always received. Many of those hard decisions will include people who will lose their jobs. Others will not have the government help that they have come to depend upon. These decisions require downsizing, saying goodbye to long term programs and seeing people make painful adjustments. These decisions will not make the politicians popular for the populace does not understand the need to cut. Many believe that there is an unlimited amount of money at every government's disposal. They will demonize anyone who takes what they have become accustomed to.

Churches have to make hard decisions at times too. Those who fail to do so die. They have to decide to reach people who are not coming at the expense of those who are coming. Many in the church will not understand this. They believe that the church ought to be a country club which caters to the wants of the membership. Some of these members will leave each time a church makes one of these hard decisions. It is inevitable. You have to go on following after the Lord and reaching people. Jesus did not command us to "go into all the world and become popular." He told us to make disciples. That means reaching people who do not know Him so that they become mature to make disciples of those who do not know Him.

Individuals have to make hard decisions too. A parent may decide that the family will go to church even though there is a sporting event at that time and the children will miss it. The employee may decide not to mislead a client and lose a sale to someone who will get mislead and get the sale. A Single Adult may decide to stop dating someone because he is not a Christian. A person may decide to tithe rather than buy the big screen TV. Each of these decisions may make the persons unpopular and keep them from something that they wanted.

But, where would we be if Jesus didn't make the hard decisions? Where would we be if He had decided that earth was no place for God to walk in human form? Where would we be if He had sided with the Pharisees instead of speaking the truth? Where would we be if He accepted Satan's temptations?

We would be on our way to hell.

Hard decisions are sometimes necessary. A hard decision was made for me, you and the world.

Luke 22:42 (NIV) 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Your Actions Will Follow Your Thoughts

Velcro is a wonder. It has allowed us to hang pictures, keep our iPods in place and gather all the wires together in the back of our stereos. 

Teflon has revolutionized much cooking. Our eggs don't stick. Our pancakes are delivered in one piece. Bacon does not need to scraped from the frying pan.

People have and need to have a combination of both of these marvels. We just need to make sure that we have the right marvel at the right time.

For example, we need to be teflon when someone hurts us. We need to forgive and go on with our lives. Holding onto a hurt does us no good.

On the other hand, we need to be velcro in holding onto a relationship. We should not be fair-weather friends who will leave people at the drop of a hat. 

Problems are increased when a person doesn't know when to be velcro and when to be teflon. In fact, problems will be acerbated when a person is too one or the other. 

A purely teflon person cannot stick to the things worth sticking to. He slides into and out of church, into and out of relationships, into and out of commitments, etc. No one can count on him because nothing seems to stick.

A purely velcro person hangs onto every bad habit, every hurt and every fear. He may be very predictable but not for good. He cannot let go of things which are hurting him or others.

The key is being velcro or teflon when you need to be. The question must be: Is what I am facing something (or someone) that I need to stick to or let slide by? Which of my actions will hurt me and/or others? Is what I am doing leading me toward things that are good or bad?

Sometimes it is hard to make an accurate assessment on your own. You may need a velcro friend who will give you advice. This person needs to be able to share honestly with you. This person needs to have a godly perspective. This person needs to help you begin thinking in a different way.

Sticking with wrong things follows wrong thoughts. Leaving behind wrong things follows wrong thoughts. The converse is true as well. Sticking with right things follows right thoughts. Right thoughts make you better. They allow you to go on when things want to stick. They allow you to stick when things want to leave.

I was driving by a school this morning and remembered a teacher who teaches there. She gave her life to Christ and gave every indication that she would follow the Lord. I haven't seen her in church for some time. She had such great potential but she missed two things. She did not stick to others within the church to hold her accountable and take care of her when things got tough. She re-stuck herself to her old patterns in life. I can't read minds but I know that it takes a thought to get us to an action. Changing our thinking is the best way to change our actions.

So, how are you thinking right now? Notice I didn't say "what" are you thinking. That's important too but what you are thinking will also follow how you are thinking. Are you thinking so that things will improve in your life or stick you in a rut that is not easy to climb out of? 

You must change your thinking if you are to change your life.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) 
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Is Authentic Worship?

I heard one preacher wearing a velcro suit jumped on a trampoline and stuck himself to a wall during his sermon. He was illustrating connectiveness. At least, this is what I was told.

I heard a church was using a smoke machine before and during their worship services so that it appeared that the Praise Band was playing and singing in the clouds.

Sure, I love a great illustration. I love a video that makes a point or a "prop" that makes the words make sense but is it authentic worship when there is more time spent on the illustration than the whole message? It is important that we entertain in order to worship?

Many worship services have become outreach events without regard to worship. There is no reverence for God nor is the focus on Him. The attention is put on the attenders. The preacher and all those on "stage" are performing for those who sit in the pews (or stadium seats, chairs or bean bags). The worship if void of spirit and truth.

Worship should not be boring but it cannot focus on the world or the things of the world and be pleasing to God. It must speak to the spirit of the individuals attending so that the message turns the attenders toward Christ.

True worship can have no hidden agenda. It may not be intended to be offensive but the Cross is often offensive to those who hear of it. They would like to think that they can come to church and continue in their sinfulness with impunity. The Cross speaks of a separation of man and God because of sin. It mends the tear by the blood of Jesus. It brings conviction. The person who hears the story of the Cross is either convicted to give their lives to Christ or reject Him.

Authentic worship does not run people off though some may leave. It cannot be all things to all people all the time. Nothing authentic can do that. People that are searching for something which makes them feel good all the time will not always enjoy authentic worship. Authentic worship is true.

So, this morning you may have gone to church. Would you say that the major  goal of those leading was to make you feel happy and good about your life or bring you closer to Christ? Who was the audience? Were you the audience or was God?

Authentic worship is spirit and truth. At least, that's what Jesus said.

John 4:23-24 (NIV) 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Letting Go of This World to Have the Desires of God

Indiana Jones is searching for the cup Christ used at the Last Supper in the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." The cup was found but could not be taken from the entrance of the place where it had remained for hundreds of years without causing the earth to split open and swallow everyone around. Olga (at least that's what I think her name was) who was working with the Nazis wanted the cup for herself and reached for the cup as it fell into one of the chasms caused by the removal of the cup. Indiana tells her to give it up and take his hand. She is so enamored with the cup she loses are grip on Indiana Jones and falls to her death.

I thought of how many people want to say they are seeking the Lord but can't seem to let go of this world. You just can't have both. You either let go of the world and truly seek the Lord or you hold onto the world and never truly know the joy of your salvation.

Let's say, for example, that you want to be rich or famous or powerful. There is no way to seek these things in this world while seeking the Lord. You may become rich or famous or powerful but you will not have sought them. Solomon had these things because he asked the Lord for wisdom rather than riches or power. God gave him the riches and power anyway.

Let's say you want to ask God for something that He has already prohibited. It can be an illicit love affair or lying in order to make a sale or anything else that God has prohibited. How can you expect God to answer that prayer when your face is turned so completely toward this world? How can you say that you are seeking the Lord's will when you are violating it?

No, the hard part of seeking God is letting go of this world and all that is in it.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray for God's kingdom to be here on earth as it is in heaven. No one in heaven seeks this world. Why would they want a cheap imitation while holding that which is genuine and priceless?

We must let go of our love for this world and all that is in it. Then, and only then, are our desires so changed that we know the desires of God. We know them because we have them.

Most church people act like this world is real and the kingdom of God is a fake. Some day that will change for every one of us. Some day every knew will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. It won't be just words. It will be the truth lived out.

I let go of this world again today. Then, I seek Him and His desires rush in.

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Would You Be Satisfied with the Lord Alone?

This morning I reflected the concept of seeking the face of the Lord while riding my bicycle to work. I came to McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin. I like to come here to write my blog because their music is so bad that I don't hear it at all. I watch those around me as I write.

One gentleman acted rudely as he gave his order.  He ate his meal despondently and left. Two older men were very glad to see each other. I have seen them meet here for breakfast several times. They are good friends. It isn't hard to tell.

This is just a place to get something to eat for most people. They come by themselves, eat rapidly and leave. It has no meaning to them at all. They will not be able to remember that they ate here tomorrow.

The majority of the business is drive-thru. These are base runners. They have to tag this base on the way to somewhere else. They won't even notice what they are eating on their way to wherever they are going.

Are any of these people satisfied. McDonald's placed a bell on the counter to be rung if customers feel they have received good service. I haven't heard the bell ring yet. What kind of service would make people ring the bell? I wonder if people are ever satisfied. I didn't ring the bell either.

I am a great believer in ambition. I believe we should continue to improve what we are doing. I believe we can do more than we have done; can be more than we have been. Yet, I understand that I should also know satisfaction. This satisfaction cannot be a lethargic reaction to my dismal state of self righteousness. It must be a satisfaction in the Lord for there is nothing more than Him.  I can want more in all other areas of my life but I cannot seek more than His face. In His face I shall receive satisfaction.

I look around and do not see the faces of satisfaction. I see the worry; the frazzled faces of people who are just trying to make two ends meet without enough rope. They look like I do much of the time- thinking that this world will satisfy me. Each new accomplishment, provision of money or moment of rest is followed by the desire for more  of each of these. This world cannot provide true lasting satisfaction. I am deluded when I think it can.

So, I seek His likeness; His face. I want to go into His presence.  Then, I am truly satisfied.

Funny, but just now, the bell rung at McDonalds. (I am not making this up!) What timing!

Psalm 11:7 (ESV)
7 For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 17:15 (ESV)
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Lasting Impression

Several years ago I went to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the first and only time. My wife came with me on the trip so we decided to drive over to the Mall of America. We looked at a map and took off. We drove very near the speed limit but, knowing we needed to get in the left lane to exit, got in the lane early. A man in a pickup got ride on our rear, blew his horn and started making gestures at us. Since I didn't know how soon I needed to get in the exit, I stayed put driving at or very near the speed limit. He gave me one parting gesture as I exited.

I wondered if he knew that he was a representative of the area. How could he know that I might one day be his employer? I might have been there to bring business to the area which would increase his bottom line. He left a lasting impression. I have never seen him since that day.

No one gets a second chance to make a first impression but they also can't know when they are making their last impression. The last impression is the lasting impression.

Two men made bad decisions the night before Jesus was crucified. Judas betrayed Jesus. He later hung himself and is only remembered as the one who betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Jesus. He later re-affirmed his love for Jesus and is known as the leader of the early church. The difference is in the last impression.

Think of how the Apostle Paul would have been remembered if he had continued to prosecute and have Christians killed. Think of how King Solomon would have been remembered if he had continued in faith to the Lord rather than being affected by his many wives.

There are many stories of people who are remembered by their last impressions whether or not they did bad or good at another time in their lives. Even Samson who broke every part of his vow to the Lord is remembered by his last act rather than all his other actions.

Many people will never know what their last act will be. A man will not know that his harsh words to his wife may be his last any day. He may not know that ignoring his child will be the last thing he may do so that is how his child remembers him. A woman may not know that the gossip she has told will continue to be told to lasting damage even though she may move from the area. She may not know that she will be remembered as the one who disrupted her church or destroyed a friendship.

I did a funeral service a couple of years ago for a lady who didn't have a church. The funeral home called me to ask if I would perform the service. The woman had no church, was not a member of any organizations nor did she have any family. A couple of neighbors were holding the service for her. I arrived at the grave about an hour early. I found the grave with the funeral director and casket prepared for the service. The two neighbors arrived about forty minutes before we were supposed to begin. I thanked them for their faithfulness to the lady. I felt they had honored her when there was no one else left.

They said to me, "Look, the only reason we're doing this is because we promised we would do this for her before her husband died. We liked him and he asked if we would do this a couple of hours before his death. But the truth is, she didn't like us; she didn't like any of her neighbors. She had no friends and we didn't like her either. So, let's just get this thing over with!"

I went through the service but I was struck with a profound sadness. This woman had alienated everyone is her life. Her husband had to know how she was so that he asked his friends to fulfill his last request. He was remembered as a faithful husband. She was remembered as a bitter woman whose impact on her world was negative.

What is the lasting impression that you are leaving? Are you known as one who is faithful to his Lord and to his family? Are you known as one who works hard and can be trusted? Are you known as kind to others? How would you be remembered by those who know you if you were to die right now? Do you need to ask for forgiveness or grant it to someone?

You never know when you will make your last impression. It just may be a lasting impression.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (NIV)
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Much Can You Take?

I once had a guy tell me that all hell broke lose right after he became a Christian. He claimed that his problems were small and life was pretty good. He wanted to return back to the way things were before he made his decision to follow Christ. I don't think he is alone. Many people return to their former ways after experiencing unfortunate events, spiritual attacks and tragedies.

I wonder if this is what happens to many of the high profile people who say they have given their lives to Christ. Many of them can't make it stick. They go back to everything they once were. It is so much easier, especially when you are rich and famous. You really don't need another god who ushers struggles into your life when you already have riches and fame which can buy you out of anything you can face. I mean, why depend on Him if you don't have to?

Am I saying that God has a part in the struggles? Absolutely! While I do not believe He is the author of tragedy, I do believe Him to be the editor. He allows things to happen in our lives to grow us into people who will have more than a superficial faith. We can either be mediocre and lack any useful purpose or be fully led and dependent upon Him.

Yet, sometimes even the most faithful of believers is challenged so severely that he believes that he can't take it anymore. He believes that the struggles are too hard. He thinks that he will not be able to get up if he gets knocked down again.

I have been there. There was a time that I asked God to take my life rather than let me live in misery. I didn't think I could go on. But I did.

Somehow I received the strength for each day. It was the grace of God which kept me going. It was the strength He applied to me for each day. The pressures were still there but I stood up under the weight of them. I made it week by week, then day by day and, sometimes, hour by hour.

And God gave me a way out. His grace surrounded me. He met my needs.

How much can you take? I can tell you that I didn't think I could take what I took. Of course, by myself, I would have never been able to stand under the struggles. It was His strength that sustained me through the struggle and His grace that rescued me.

Now, I know that those who might be reading this and are in the middle of their own dark night of despair cannot see that God is working. I know He is. I know He will give the strength to make it day by day and, when necessary, hour by hour.

I know that those in the middle of a struggle are hoping for an immediate release from all their problems. God may work that way but many times He doesn't. God has already given each struggling Christian His answer to their struggles. He is asking them to apply it right now. He is asking them for more than a superficial faith.

His answer is that He loves each one of us. He loves us enough that He will not let us languish in mediocrity. He wants us to know Him more fully than those who simply give Him a mental ascent. He wants us to depend upon the love He has for us.

He wants us to walk with Him. But first, we have to shake off the encumbrances of this world. We have to stop believing that all our answers are in this world. We must stop trusting in this world's answers or provisions.  He wants us to know peace in the middle of a storm.

God is fully able to bring any of us out of any struggle at any time. He loves us too much to neglect us getting the full effect of what we are going through.

How much can you take? You will take more than you can take. You will walk when you didn't think you could stand. You will be a testimony of growing faith when you want to be released from your struggles. You will be changed.

And God will deliver you.

I know.

He deliverd me.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Justice among Sinners

Everyone has a sense of justice. Its what allows them to do whatever they do when they say something is or isn't right. Thus, people can riot and steal in England because they are out of work with no unemployment benefits. The media puts these stories up so that people can see that these "looters" were just trying to feed their families.

But where is the justice for the shop owner whose store was destroyed while being looted? Oh, I hear that the big bad insurance company will now have to pay. Where is my justice then when the insurance company raises my insurance because of the looting?

There can be no justice without establishing right and wrong. Stealing is wrong all the time. You simply can't say that it is justified under certain conditions.

Punishment is another matter. The same punishment does not need to be administered at the same level for everyone. This is where mercy should be shown.  A genuinely repentant person who sees what he has done as wrong should be shown mercy.

But justice cannot be balanced with mercy in a fallen world which neither knows right from wrong nor when or how to show mercy. Thus, we have a conviction without a "reasonable" doubt. Please, could someone define "reasonable" for me!

We will continue to see ever increasing injustice as we get farther and farther from God's Law and His presence in our society. We will never have true justice and proper mercy in a fallen world. The only justice that can be administered must have a clear right and wrong which is always being blurred in a fallen society. There must be a standard which cannot be moved which firmly holds this line.

So, our tax system has more and more injustices because it comes from a fallen people who do not understand justice. Our courts are full of people who are convicted because they could not afford the expensive lawyer. Guilty others are released because their lawyers could produce reasonable doubt. Doctors are sued because everything didn't turn out perfectly rather than because of true malpractice.

We shake our heads and wonder where it will lead us. These injustices will invade our lives to bring chaos to our society until we return to God and establish His word as a standard for living.

Pluralism sounds wonderful until you try to make it work. You can't have a society who believes that all things are right and wrong at the same time. This guarantees injustice.

And, of course, that's what we have much of the time.

The Bible has a lot to say about justice. God wants us to be just.

Exodus 23:2-3 (NIV)
2 "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.

Deuteronomy 16:19-20 (NIV)
19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.  20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Psalm 106:3 (NIV)
3 Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the Church on Life Support?

I am listening a lot more lately. I want to know the future of the Church. I see people giving it less and less value. It has gone from vital to something I attend if I don't have something better to do. It is like many of the people I once called best friends. My lack of contact belies the truth that they are no longer best friends. People are leaving the Church behind to live their lives void of church involvement.

So, I spend time at local shops listening to people talk to one another. (Yes, I know this is eavesdropping!) I don't want to interfere in their lives. I want to know what is important. I want to know the method which will help me get them the message that Jesus died for them. I have a mandate to do so.

I hear people talking about their day. I hear them talk about "now." I don't hear them talk of their planning for tomorrow. My message has been one which talks of the future. I am not hearing that as a concern.

This makes sense to me. We have a hard time getting people to sign up for events in advance. It makes planning very hard for us. It makes budgeting impossible. We have no idea how many people will participate in something until it happens. People aren't planning. They are arriving with the notion that they can show up when they please.

Isn't that what our society is doing? Don't people decide to eat out just moments before they do? Don't they often decide which movie to watch on the way to the theater or even at the ticket booth? Don't they flip through the tv channels to see if anything is on? Don't they expect to receive whatever service they want when they want it?

I continue to listen and have not come to conclusions. I believe Church is going to look very different in the next few years or those churches who remain unchanged or either in rural areas or they will be quickly dying.

I am also listening to God. I believe He is working. I believe He has a plan. I believe He will share it with me. I believe that the Church is not dead but there will be many churches that die.

Many churches are already on life support. They will continue to do what they have always done even though it isn't working. The church is one of the few organizations which will continue to pour resources into a dead program. Some programs need a DNR (Do Not Resusitate) order. It is the dead program that is killing the church. It is gangrene to the body. It must be amputated and the church must go through rehab.

Our church is going to make some radical changes in the next few weeks. The economy has forced us into those changes. Fortunately, it is giving us the opportunity to let some dead programs die. Otherwise, we would soon be on life support.

God has a plan. I am sure of it.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Jeremiah 31:17 (ESV) 17 There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

All Talk; No Walk

A car passes by with a Christian symbol on the back. It is severly exceeding the speed limit. Some churches have business meetings in which members call each other names. People send emails bashing the president and others along with ones proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. "Faithful" members of a church are seeking to oust their pastor.

My problem is that these people do not know that their walk doesn't match their talk. They don't know that they are hurting their witness and the Lord. (Originially I wrote "their" Lord but I realized that wasn't true.) They don't know that they have been used as an instrument of the devil. They think they have the right to do whatever they please even though they claim to be Christians.

On Wednesday nights I do a Bible study. I started in Genesis in April of 2005. We were in 2 Chronicles 7 last night. There is the famous verse that I have preached so many times:" If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I wll hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." I told those attending that this is what I call the "almost verse in the Bible. We make a mental assent to the validity of the verse. We know that God will heal our land if we would simply do so but we are unwilling to go the full distance in order to accomplish it. We are only humble on the surface. We only pray as long as we believe others are watching. We seek what is in God's hands rather than His face. We mostly turn from our wickedness. In fact, we can't even see our wickedness because that would mean that we had fully humbled ourselves, fully prayed and fully sought His face. We "almost" do what this verse says. Of course, "almost" means that we never did.

The disconnect Christians have between our faith and our actions is the reason that we are having such a small impact on our areas of influence. Our own families have rejected our faith because they couldn't really see it lived in the home. They saw it as a show rather than a belief because we acted the part as long as others were watching. We say the right words but we don't back them up with a character that looks like Jesus.

The fact that we will never reach perfection has become a great excuse for continuing in sin rather than eliminating it. It is like never really cleaning your house because you know that you can't get it perfectly clean. You simply hide the dirt when others come over.

Are we dismayed by our condition? I think not. We seem to be satisfied with being better than others rather than totally committed to our Lord. We want to look down on others, criticize them, shake our heads and say that we wish they were like us. We pat ourselves on our backs and believe the Lord is lucky to have us.

Now, honestly, I wish I could say that I know that I am fully committed to my Lord. The truth is that I am not sure. I have made commitments which I believed to be real in the past and forgot about them. What will I do? I will commit again. I pray it sticks this time.

James 2:18 (NIV) 18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How about Forgiving Yourself

None of us are perfect. Trying to live like we are perfect is an unreachable goal. We fall down and get up. We skin our knees with our sins. We ask for forgiveness, receive it and go on again.

Yet, many people return to their sins. They look at them as if they are incurable diseases which cause permanent deformity. They languish over what their lives could have been if they had not committed these sins.

Some of these sins are substantial in the eyes of those of this world who will judge them. They have committed adultery, lied, stolen, murdered as they violated the rest of the Ten Commandments. Others sins caused their divorces, lost the trust of their children, caused them to be despised by their former friends or left them lonely. They wish they could take it all back but that is just not possible. You simply cannot undo any act you have ever committed.

 The forgiveness of Christ seemed too good to be true. It is more good than they ever deserved but it still is true. They accepted Christ's forgiveness but they have failed to forgive themselves. They act as if the blood of Jesus is just not enough.

If you are a believer with sins that haunt you, please take this into account: Your sins are not justified by your actions but by the blood of Jesus. Your lack of forgiving yourself is a great indicator that you do not know the extent of the cross. The highest authority in the universe is God Almighty. He has accepted Jesus blood as the required payment for your sins. Your refusal to accept that price means that you do not count Jesus' blood to be worth as much as your sins. You are wishing that your sins never happened. This is an impossible wish. You must instead realize that God has made your sins count for nothing in condemnation through the blood of Jesus. You must claim His forgiveness and know that this is the only forgiveness that counts because you are not God and have no right to condemn. You must tell yourself that you are forgiven until you believe it.

The fact is that the lack of forgiveness sounds more like the devil than like the Lord. The devil is unforgiven because he will never repent. The Lord accepts those who repent and never holds their sins against them.

So say it: "I am forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ!"

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV) 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It Is Always about One

People often make something over the number of soldiers killed in a war. They make a point when the number makes the news. They are silent when wars take one person at a time. They wait to make a big deal when it reaches a certain number. They fail to recognize that it isn't when the media finally raise their heads to the number but it becomes politically correct to make some recognition. Then, we want to do something. Then, we want to help the families. Then, we bow our heads and pray.

We fail to acknowledge that it is always about one and not the many. Those families who have lost one person in a war are just as devastated if there was no other person killed. They are just as affected and we make a big deal about the number and not just the one.

You can understand why people are not concerned about the neighbor who is going to hell either. We talk in terms of millions who will go to hell and never talk about the one. We ask how many are being baptized and do not get excited about the one. We design programs to reach multitudes without considering the one. Therefore, we let the one go to hell.

I heard someone tell me that the preacher asks one of his members if he would give $100,000 if he received $1 million. The member said "Yes." Then, the preacher asked if he would give $10,000 if he received $100,000. The member again said "Yes." Then, the preacher asked if he would give $1000 if he received $10,000. The member said, "Wait a minute preacher, you know I make more than $10,000!"

You see, a person could reach one other person with the gospel but would rather talk about the millions because that allows him to abdicate his responsibility. What can he do to reach millions? He could do a lot to reach one.

I am always dismayed when we pay such close attention to the multitude of soldiers who have lost their lives when we haven't paid attention to the one. I am always dismayed when we speak of those millions who have not come to Christ when we have never shared the love of Christ with our neighbors.

Please remember, you can't do everything and don't try. Do what you can do. It is always about the one.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 (ESV) 7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How Do You Recognize Forgiveness?

Very few people will actually say that they will never forgive you. It makes them appear small. However, they may just refuse to forgive while telling you that you are forgiven. How can you spot the difference?

Forgiveness is not trust. Trust must be rebuilt after forgiveness is granted. Forgiveness gives the other offender the opportunity to rebuild the trust. It verifies each action in order to prove that the person is trustworthy. The lack of forgiveness may look very similar but the motivation is much different. A lack of forgiveness verifies to prove the person is untrustworthy. It is seeking to prove the failure rather than prove faithfulness. You may ask, "Doesn't either one come to the same conclusion?" No. The unforgiving person will find a flaw in the one he chooses to leave unforgiven. No one is perfect. He will continue to point out the flaw rather than the faithfulness of the one he doesn't trust.

A forgiving person does not bring up the unfaithfulness in order to hurt the one being forgiven. Yes, the incident may be brought to the forefront. No, it will not be forgotten no many times someone says that you must forgive and forget. Deep hurts are not forgotten. Forgiven hurts are not purposely brought up. Some people rehearse the offense in their heads and get angry again and again. Bitterness raises its ugly head. Forgiveness refuses to rehearse those hurts.

Forgiveness is cautious. It treads slowly back to where the relationship was before trust was violated. Unforgiveness may appear to be healed in an instance. Of course, the deeper the hurt the slower the return to trust but the journey is honest with no facade of normalcy.

Forgiveness does not hold the offense against the offender. It is not a bargaining tool which allows the offended one to be bullied. It does not whine about the hurt. It lets it go.

Let's say someone hurts you. You forgive him and you go on. Then, he does it again. And again. And again. It does not matter how many agains there are. You forgive. That does not mean that you continue to allow the person to hurt you. You forgive him and avoid him. You do not think of him nor do you try to hurt him. You wish him well and pray for him.

Fogiveness is a gift. Forgiveness proves the size of the person when it is matched with the size of the offense. Little people will not forgive. They just say they have.

Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) 21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Will God Do Something New?

When God knew the changes of His people He planned to do something new to provide for them and keep them from evil. We cannot deny that His people are the Jews but we, Gentiles, have been adopted to be His people as well.  But when does a person become God's own possession? Is it when he receives Christ into his heart or does God always consider him to be His because He knows that he will some day pray to receive Christ? I believe it to be the latter.

God knew me in my mother's womb. He knew my birthdate and the day I would finally give my heart to Him. He knew what a sinner I was but offered Himself to me anyway. I believe it is because He knew I was His long before I knew I was His.

This means that God has a plan for those who are His but have yet to receive Christ. He is working to create something which will bring them to Him. I have been sensing this lately. I have been in prayer.

It comes down to this: Many churches are dying because they continue to do what they have always done. It worked in the past but it doesn't work now. God, though, knows what it will take to bring those whom He has claimed because He knows that they will claim Him. He will do something new that I would never have considered without Him.

Will other Christians join me in prayer to see what this new thing will be? I am convinced that our message cannot change but our methods should always obey what God is telling us. Unfortunately, we have to clearly see what we are doing as failure before we are willing to come to God for new instructions.  We should have been there earlier.

God can fundamentally change how we worship without changing the message. He can change the ways we interact with others without changing the message. I don't know what He will want to do but I do not believe He is content with leaving things as they are. He has plans for those who are His. These are plans for hope and a future.

Isaiah 43:19 (NASB)
19 "Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hollywood Doesn't Have a Clue about Love

I am an incurable romantic. I actually love romantic comedies but I treat them exactly as they are: fiction. Real love doesn't resemble what Hollywood makes it out to be.

Real love is founded on a right relationship. This doesn't mean that those who started wrong can't build a right relationship. It just means that real love can't be built upon manipulation, impulses, sex drives, great looks or nice bodies. It can't even be built on having the same hobbies, liking the same music or having the same interest in foods. The relationship must build upon giving honor to the other person. It is being more than considerate. It is more than accommodation. It draws boundaries so that neither person is asked to violate their values. It fits the two people together as one as their values of faith mesh together. They become inseparable even when they are apart.

Real love is determined by commitment. There is no real love when there is a reservation of commitment. The commitment is to the death. Real love notices the flaws in the partner but does not hang onto those flaws. Real love confronts without threats. It expresses itself without walking out.

Real love makes each person very vulnerable. The lovers open themselves up to each other. This is why the commitment needs to precede the act of sex. Sex opens the two to each other. The lack of commitment makes sex cheap. The presence of commitment makes it precious. Many married people have sex problems after being married because they made it cheap before marriage. They make it just as cheap even though they are married because it does not represent opening up to one another. It is just as biological as scratching an itch. It does not have the lasting effect that it should have. It merely relieves the tension for the moment.

Real love is more beautiful than Hollywood has made it. Maybe that's why movies rarely go beyond the wedding. They either don't know what comes next or they believe that what comes next isn't interesting at all.

I am an incurable romantic who is totally in love with his wife of nearly thirty-five years. I believe Hollywood would never be interested in a story like ours. They would claim it is boring but I would disagree. It is the most exciting love possible.

Genesis 2:22-24 (ESV) 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Is Our Real Responsibility to the Poor?

I have a lot of people ask me for money. I don't have a lot but many of them believe that I am an easy mark They believe that every preacher will believe any story that is told. That is not who I am. I question the people and often catch them in lies. Some of them have told so many lies that they do not recognize the truth.

I am torn by this questioning. Do I have a responsibility to discern which people really need help and those who are just con artists? Am I helping people with addictions when I merely give them money without such discernment?

I have heard so many preachers say that they merely give money without any questions because any lies which have been told will be judged some day. I believe that is abdication of responsibility. I believe we have a responsibility to those around us to discern whether there is a need. I believe we must stop helping people destroy themselves.

Imagine that you are a rope salesman. Someone asks you to give them a rope. Do you ask what he wants to do with it or do you merely give it to him because you have so much extra rope? What if he hangs himself with the rope that you gave him? Did you neglect your responsibility to him by failing to ask him why he wanted it? I think so.

I used to give money to people after asking them if they would use it to buy alcohol. They would deny that they drank. Afterwards, I followed them to the liquor stores. They didn't waste any time. They went directly there. I have been asked for gas money. I have gone to the gas station with them to find that I couldn't get much gas in their tanks because they were already full. They thought they could get money for gas without my appearance at the station.

 I bought a meal for a man who told me that he hadn't eaten in three days. Having fasted from one to forty days I know what it is to be hungry. I knew what I would do if I got a good hot meal after having nothing to eat for three days. Three days is the height of hunger. I sat with him to observe that he wasn't hungry at all.

I can continue with story after story of those who have tried successfully and unsuccessfully to scam me. I have been appreciative of our church's policy. We feed people. We do not give money, pay rent or utilities nor do we pay for hotel rooms. We have found that we can feed thousands of people with the money which would have only helped a few. Yes, we are still getting scammed but we are not helping people with their addictions.

I wish that we had the time to investigate every person who came to us for food. Many of them arrive in new cars carrying cell phones, sporting new tattoos and expensive nails. Our volunteers often put food next to food that has been collected from other churches. I suspect that we are paying for their cars, cell phones, tattoos and nails.

I wish that we could give these people their honor back. I wish that we could allow them to work for a little while to earn their food but we can't afford to do so. Any work would make them an employee. The compensation of food for work constitutes them as an employee with workman's comp benefits. Merely turning their ankles in our parking lot would cost us dearly. We would also have to exact F.I.C.A. It would just be too expensive.

So, I believe we must help the poor but we must not help them with their addictions. We must discern whether they are going to hurt themselves or refuse to get a job because we have given to them.

Helping the poor is a greater responsibility than merely giving them money.

Proverbs 28:27 (NIV) 27 He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (NIV) 6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where Is Your Heart Today?

I have seen so many people rush to the church altar and tell God with sincere tears in their eyes that they want Him to be their Lord. They give Him their hearts. The commit and re-commit their lives to Him. They say and think that they will never have to do this again. They are living in a dream world!

Our hearts tend to wander. They drift without an anchor. The movement is almost inperceptible. Others do not notice and the person drifting does not take the time to notice.

However, it always follows the same path. The word of God is forgotten little by little until it is not mentioned at all. The person who was like a tree planted by streams of water appears to be a log drifting in the stream.

The person could say that God owned his heart completely. Now, he will say that God owns his heart mostly, some or that his heart is far from God. He wonders how he got so far away. He thinks that drifting from God is so normal that only weird people stay close. He is right.
Yet, God comes to that person to call him home. He asks the question that He asked Adam, "Where are you?" God already knows the answer. He question calls the person back to God. The answer reveals an axiom:  I can't get directions to where I need to go if I can't determine where I am.

So, the question is asked again today: Where is your heart?

Take two pieces of paper with one representing your heart and the other representing God's heart. If stacking them perfectly on top of each other revealed a heart that was like God's own heart, where would you put the two pieces of paper and what direction would you say they were going? Would they be moving toward each other or farther away? Are they close to each other of far away?

Where is your heart today? Will you answer or keep hiding from the Lord?

Genesis 3:8-10 (NIV) 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Is Not Paying Your Debts a Spiritual Problem?

There is no prohibition against debt in the Bible. There are times when debt is the most practical choice a person may choose. It is practical when buying a house or even starting a business. However, it needs to be entered into carefully and with every thought of how it will be paid.

While in college I knew a guy who couldn't pay all of his debts. He was afraid of having everything he owned re-possessed. So, he went underground. He disappeared from the grid. He paid for everything with cash and sent money orders to his creditors. He said he was going to continue to do so until he had completely paid his bills.

Today, creditors would love this guy. Sure, they could repossess his equipment and sell it for immediate cash but the chances of being completely paid would be slim. They would be much better off taking less money over more time. It is much better to work it out with their customers.

Many people think they can simply walk away from their debts without any mark on their Christian life. The Bible does not support this. In fact, the Bible does not support paying only the interest or even refinancing for more and more money. The Bible says that the wicked do not pay their debts.

I have debt. I owe on my house and on a new heating/ac unit for my house. The latter came because the company gave me a ten percent discount without interest if it was paid in full  within a year. I set up the payments so that the debt will be paid within a year.  The money was already in the bank so I didn't have to worry about paying for it.

I refinanced my house by putting a significant amount of money into the closing so that I cut my debt. I pay off every credit card in full every month. I save the money before buying a car. I haven't had a car payment since 1982. I want to make sure that debt never controls me. Debt is evil when it controls you.

The Bible says, "The Lord will provide." Often people do not wait for Him to provide and get into debt that they never should have entered. They buy things that they never really needed. They do not wait for His supply and accept what the world provides.

I do not say that people shouldn't have debt. Surely, there are good reasons to do so. Car payments do not make you evil. Borrowing for a house does not destroy your relationship with God. Debt that controls you will.

Yes, debt can be a spiritual problem.

Psalm 37:21 (ESV)
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives;