Search This Blog

Friday, September 30, 2011

You Can't Buy a Work of the Holy Spirit

Acts 8:18-24 (ESV)
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

I have gone to many conferences led by church leaders who speak of the successes in their own churches. I  love to hear these testimonies of new churches who have miraculously grown and old churches whose ministry has been revived. There are, however, a couple of things that bother me.

Sometimes the credit isn't given to the Holy Spirit. The leaders of some churches tell what happened and never mention prayer, getting a word from God or being empowered to preach God's Word. They, instead, speak of marketing, new methods and surveys.

If this is a work of men and women, why am I coming to hear what "God has done?" If this is a work of the Spirit, I can't simply buy the work, nor should I expect that doing the same thing in my own church without the Spirit will work. The Holy Spirit is like the wind which comes and goes at will. He does not give in to formulas, repeated methods or even the charisma of the leaders.

Simon the sorcerer didn't understand this either. He saw the Holy Spirit come upon those who had hands laid upon them. He wanted this power for himself. He sought to buy it so that he could repeat it and be seen as great. Doesn't this sound like a bunch of preachers meeting to buy the books and training manuals of those who had grown huge churches? These preachers are looking to repeat these great works.

I know of a preacher who is desperately wanting to be considered among those who have grown their churches to national prominence. He says things that come from the books of those who have huge churches. He speaks of "his vision" as if he is Moses. He preaches the same sermons as the pastors of these huge churches. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he is writing an autobiography so that others will recognize his greatness.

Don't get me wrong. I think we should go to conferences for inspiration and conviction. I am often convicted as one of the conference leaders tells of his own personal conviction which led to church growth. I realize I have the same problem and ask God to remove it. I, also, am inspired that God uses people who are no more called than I am to do such mighty works.

But I also can't expect to copy what these conference leaders have done and get the same results. I am not like any of the conference leaders, I am not ministering to the same people as they and I am not located in the same place with the same set of circumstances. Why should I expect that a different person (me) with a different people (my congregation as opposed to the conference leaders' ) who are in a different place (a different set of circumstances )will have the same results when doing the same things? I might as well be trying to buy the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told His followers to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. He told them that they would receive the power to be His witnesses when that happened. They waited for the Holy Spirit and turned the world upside down. We, on the other hand, seem to hurry to get things done. We don't wait for the Holy Spirit but look at what is happening in another place and seek to repeat it.

I have read that 85% of churches are dying. I believe that many dying churches have pastors who desperately want to see their churches grow.  Many of them will rush to new conferences hoping to find a new method which will revive their churches. I can say this confidently because I was one of these pastors and spoke to many of them at these conferences.

The humbling fact is that we all need the Spirit to work within our churches but cannot make Him do so. We can wait and pray and believe that He will come but we can't buy His work. He doesn't respond well to that proposal. He comes to those who diligently seek Him.

Whatever He does won't be repeatable by man.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

God's Amazing Grace

Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

I should go to hell because I earned the trip. I know its true but I forget. I think of myself as a pretty good guy; a whole lot better than many others. I haven't killed anybody; at least physically. I am fairly nice to most people. I pay my taxes, obey most of the traffic laws and get along with my neighbors. And sometimes, when I am really full of myself, I think God is really lucky to have me.

That is certainly not looking at myself as I really am. I am like the person who has a clear conscience simply because he has a terrible memory.

I was dead in my sins. I could not respond to God's Spirit. I was bound for hell. I had no hope. I had no ability to save myself and, God in His surpassing mercy came to me. His grace was lavished upon me.

Sometimes people tell me that they aren't coming back to church because someone at church hurt them. That is like saying, "I'm going to beat myself until you treat me better." The church is part of God's grace. It exists because of God's love toward us. It is a privilege to attend, to serve, to worship, to pray and to give. When will people realize that they are not doing God a favor by showing up at church? When will they realize that they should look at church as a privilege?

Years ago I was doing a wedding in the backyard of one of the mansions in Nashville. The guests had gotten into the refreshments before the ceremony began.  They were drinking beer while sitting in the white wooden folding chairs and I got mad. I didn't want people drinking at what I considered a worship service. I immediately started griping at God. I even imagined turning over the beverage tables in my self righteousness.

I will never forget what God said to me when I finally took a breath from my griping. He said, "These are the people I have sent you to!" That certainly shut me up!

You see, the problem was that I had forgotten that God saved me while I was still in my sins. I forgot that I wasn't, and still am not, perfect. I forgot how God had invited someone who should be glad that he was getting a seat at the table himself.  I forgot how fortunate I am to be called out of my sins and to be called to be a part of reaching out with the love of God to others. Frankly, I forgot that people are supposed to see a "little Christ" in me.

So, I am overwhelmed by His grace to me. I could still be in my sins. I could still be hopeless. I could be on my own in my journey to eternity. But His love has given me Jesus.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Misunderstanding a Secure Salvation

Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV) 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Many people are afraid of a gospel that can be grasped but not released. It is the gospel which saves us but never lets us go. It is the gospel that assures our salvation even though we fail to live sinless lives. However, it is a misunderstanding of this gospel that permits licentious behavior with impunity. This misunderstanding gives so-called Christians a justification for doing nothing, giving nothing and being nothing for God.

Paul had a clear goal in mind. He was seeking Christ's image to be impressed upon himself. He was continually leaving what he was behind so that he could press forward to what he was to become. He was seeking to complete his calling. He knew that the moment of passing from this earth would be the completion of whom he was to become. It wasn't that he doubted his salvation; he was counting on it!

Our salvation will mature us so that we are never complacent about our present condition. A true salvation does not allow for a secure apathy. It is humbling because it reveals the difference between what we are and what we are to come. It continues to bring us to a new glory of change as we become more like Christ. We praise God for the difference He continues to make in our lives. We know we are not finished until He is finished with us on this earth.

Therefore, we press forward, not because we are hastening the day of our death, but because we are bringing to light His glory through us. We press forward in ever increasing praise as we see what He is doing to complete us. We press forward because we see Him more clearly as we come closer to Him.

I sometimes do funerals for people who have the thinnest of salvation stories. The loved ones will note that the deceased was a member of a church when younger. They will siay that he had no use for organized religion as if that was a justification of living his life apart from a Christian testimony and other Christians. I think, "Really? Do you think that you can ignore the Christ's Bride, the Church, and still get invited to the wedding reception?"

Why do we not realize that the completion of the wedding vow is "until death do us part." The successful completion of a marriage is met at the grave. Why do we not realize that the fulfillment of our vow of salvation is fully realized when our hearts beat for the last beat? What would a marriage be if the bride and groom separated right after the ceremony and, though they never saw each other again, cavorted with others for the rest of their lives? Can we really call it salvation if our Christian lives reflect this type of living?

The Christian knows that his salvation is secure because His Lord holds onto him. But he also knows that his salvation is doing a work within. It gets him up and motivates him to become more like his Lord. It is this that makes the Christian exlaim:

Praise God, that He is not through with me!

Praise God, that He is still working on me!

Praise God that He is coming closer!

Praise God for I will be ready for the end of this life!

I press on toward the goal . . . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Speak God's Commands

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (ESV) 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

It is very easy to have a limited interpretion of God's word. In fact, when you think of it, I suppose every interpretation is limited. I wonder if we could handle the full meaning of any verse at one time. It speaks to us again and again, never contradicting itself, but continually fulfilling its meaning as we grow in our relationship with our Lord.

Thus is the case with the above verses from Deuteronomy. I had always considered the "talking" of God's commands to be to your children. I didn't consider that it meant to talk of them to everyone as we have the opportunity. Yet, in fact, this is exactly what I do with my blog and I am seeing the fruit of this talking.

These commands of God have been impressed upon our hearts. They are not merely superficial bits of information which we use for our own good. They are meant for our whole society. It is through God's commands that people hear that they must "repent and be baptized" and "love one another." It is through God's commands that we know we must forgive and live holy lives. These commands are sharper than any two-edged sword which cuts deeply down to the soul of the individual and brings about conviction, repentance and restoration. They heal the broken hearted and bring joy in dire circumstances.

Who needs to hear them? All who will listen. They cannot be forced on others but they can be brought into our conversations because we seek good for our fellow beings.

But these fellow beings are only part of those who need to hear God's word. We need to hear them from our own mouths. They are impressed deeper upon our own hearts when we share them with others. They become part of who we are and have a more profound affect upon us than those who hear us say them.

Each week I preach and hope that some people fully grasp what God has taught me. But I also preach because it makes me get even more than I would if I were simply a listener. Those who grasp God's word share it with others and get more from the sharing than those who hear them say it.

And God, through the Holy Spirit, increases the application of His word so that those who hear it get more than what has been said audibly. They take this revelation of God and give it to others so that they receive even more than they would have. It becomes so much a part of them as they share it that they cannot refuse its meaning. It becomes a part of them.

There is one other person who must hear us speak God's word. It is God. He delights in hearing us say His commands with the full intention of following them. He seeks those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9) He wants to throw His full support behind us.

So, go out and speak God's commands as often as you have the opportunity. It will impress those commands deeply upon your heart. And you will grow in Him like never before.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Living Like You Are Chosen

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (ESV) 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Any Christian who has studied the Bible has probably struggled with God's chosing those whom He loves. For years I waffled on this subject. I wanted to become a strict Calvinist but it just didn't fit so many other scriptures. I could neither come to Calvinism nor could I ignore these scriptures and keep my integrity intact.

I now understand God's chosing is based on His knowledge. He knows all those what it will take to get those who will chose Him to make that choice. He works all the world to save each soul who will be saved. He also knows that there are those who will not be saved no matter what He does. So, in one sense it is God who chooses. In the other, it is "whosoever will" who chooses. I look at my salvation as my choice. God looks at it as His choice for me. I believe in heaven I will see the latter more clearly.

In the above passage, Paul has looked at this in a slightly different way. He says that the way these new believers are being changed by the grace of God proves that they have been chosen. In other words, their salvation is not dependent upon their actions but their actions prove their salvation.

The gospel came to these believers through the power of the Holy Spirit who brought full conviction. I guess I never thought of the recipients having an affect on the power of the Holy Spirit. Their acceptance of the gospel ushered the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about full conviction.

I have seen so many people make a decision for Christ that did not affect their way of living. They agreed that Jesus is the Christ but did not live like He is their Lord. They are superficial in all their faith. They do not understand spiritual things. They can answer the "church" questions correctly but their is no power in their lives. The power of the Spirit is void because they do not welcome Him into their lives.

These new believers imitated Paul and those who were with him. There was a Christian leader who I really admired. He had a deep voice and when I would teach the gospel I found myself using a much deeper voice. I wanted to be like this man because I believed that no one could walk closer to the Lord than he was. Of course, the danger is that I would be living a vicarious Christian life if I was not careful. However, it is important that a new believer has an example to follow and that he or she follows that example. It should be normal for a new believer.

The imitation of Christ found in these new believers led them to the joy of the Spirit. That makes a whole lot of sense. The Spirit desires fellowship with the Son. The new believer imitates the Lord Jesus so that the Spirit is seeing the Son in the new believer. The Spirit's joy erupts within the believer. This has little to do with the circumstances the believer finds himself in. The joy does not come from looking at the circumstances nor from trying to see the good in terrible things. The joy comes from the Holy Spirit as He fellowships with the believer who is imitating the Son.

These new believers were such examples that Paul really didn't have to say anything to preach the gospel. Their lives were saying so much that the gospel couldn't be contained. Imagine that for a moment: believers living like Christ and being so full of the joy of the Spirit that others decide that they must have what these believers possess. Now, that's evangelism!

These believers eliminated the evil which was a normal part of the lifestyle of those around them. They got rid of the idols which all of those around them possessed.  They put their trust in the return of Christ rather than idols.

Many "Christians" are participating in the same sins as those who do not know Christ. They are not participating because they have had a momentary failure in their walk. They are doing so because they don't think the Christian life should prevent them from participating. Thus, their testimony is in a powerless Christ who has made no real difference in their lifestyle.

What would happen if  Christians would live like these Thessalonians? The nature of the gospel would be understood differently. Those who observed believers would know that the gospel is a powerful force that changes people.

I taught school with a man who had played football while in college. One of his teammates had become a minister with a very close Christian walk. This fellow teacher had not made contact with his former team mate since they had graduated from college and did not know what had happened to him. The fellow school teacher was at my house looking at our wedding album when he noticed that this former team mate had done our wedding cermony. He looked at me and said, "So and so (I am leaving out his name because I am sure it would embarrass him.) is a preacher?!" This "preacher" had not lived a very godly lifestyle while playing college ball.

I said, "He is the strongest Christian I know."

"Well, that has to be the glory of the Lord, " was his reply.

And,indeed, it should be for all of us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Dysfunctional Family of God

The Bible says that the Church is the body of Christ. This is the prevalent picture of the church even though churches want to call themselves families. Maybe that’s why so many churches have problems. They want to act like families. Thus they have:

The Black Sheep. This is the person who has done something that the church refuses to excuse. This person has gone his own way, acting and saying things the church wants to ignore. The Black Sheep calls the members of the church hypocrites because he "honestly" fails at his faith. He says the church just pretends to be faithful to the Lord. The Black Sheep is disruptive.

The Older Brother. The Older Brother tells everyone what to do. He tries to get himself elected to every committee that makes major decisions. He wants to rotate back and forth between the Personnel and Finance Committees. He wants to chair the Deacons. He would love it if he could do all three at once.

The Interfering Mother. The Interfering Mother is never elected to anything. She just wants to stir things up. She is often found in meetings bringing up the sins of others as "prayer requests" because of her feigned concern for them. She works behind the scenes to bring doubt to the integrity of the staff and pastor. She never speaks during business meetings but she has spoken to everyone who will openly oppose the proposals of committees. She is like a dog that barks until she has every other dog in town barking.

The Crying Baby. The Crying Baby isn’t revealed until his wants are unmet. He often complains if he doesn’t get a visit from the pastor while he was in the hospital even though he didn’t let the church know he was in the hospital. He is like the child who throws his bottle on the floor so his parent can pick it up. He repeats this over and over to capture the attention of his parent. Once the parent stops; he cries.

The Younger Brother Who Drinks Too Much. This person is actually a nice guy who is genuinely liked by everyone but no one ever confronts him about his drinking. They are afraid that he will be offended. He is allowed to continue in his problem because they fear that they are being judgmental. After all they all drink a bit (I am talking about sin here; not drinking.). He just does so openly and too much. They are also afraid that confronting him will cause his to stop coming the family reunions (worship meetings).

The Lazy Younger Sister. The Lazy Younger Sister doesn’t inconvenience herself about anything. She likes to go out to eat with everyone but she never pays. She loves to be invited over to a party but never throws one herself. She waits until she is sure that there are no better opportunities before saying she will attend anything. She comes on the Sundays when nothing else is available.

The Rich Uncle. The Rich Uncle is courted by everyone in the church. He gives well and they treat him with kid gloves. They all know that they will have to contribute more if the Rich Uncle stops giving so they want to make sure that he doesn’t. The Rich Uncle is really not the problem. The problem is that the other members treat him differently than they do those who can’t give as well.

Maybe you can see why the Bible makes a point in calling the Church the Body of Christ. A body part that doesn’t function is given physical therapy rather than ignored. A body part that attacks the body is called cancer and is removed. Ignoring either of these conditions can kill a body. A body works together or it doesn’t work properly.

Be the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (ESV) 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Testimonies of the Rich and Famous

I just read the Christian testimony of another celebrity. There was nothing remarkable about this testimony other than his claim to be a Christian. I wondered why we clamor after famous people's Christian testimonies.

A new Christian is hounded if he is famous. Other Christians gather around that person and look up to him as if the acumen that he possesses in what made him famous will transfer to his faith. I don't think this is healthy for us or these famous people.

We all struggle. Being placed under a microscope doesn't help because extreme scrutiny can produce rebellion. Being followed continually by people reporting your every move is a very difficult way to live. Now imagine, you are not only being followed and reported on but you are also being criticized for everything that you do. Eventually, you have to want an escape. You want to tell people to leave you alone. Christians seem to be the last people to notice that you need your own time to live your own life.

One time I got on an elevator with a couple of very famous people. I didn't know who they were but I should have noticed the strange way they were dressed. They were wearing big sun glasses and overcoats. It wasn't that cold. The person I was with told me who they were after we got off. I was not a fan but knew who they were. I wouldn't have recognized them anyway.

Years ago we lived down the street from the lead guitarist for a famous country-western singer. The neighbor had a daughter who was the same age as my youngest daughter. They become best friends. So, there were times my daughter would go over to this CW singer's house and even traveled with him on his bus when he had reasonably local gigs. (Less than 200 miles away. My daughter was six or seven at the time. So, what kind of parent let's his daughter travel like this?)

She came back from one of these trips and told us that she didn't want to be like him. It was not a reflection of his character. She said, "He never gets to eat." They had gone to a restaurant while on this trip. People continued to interrupt his meal and ask for autographs. He literally had no time to eat.

Is this the price of being famous? I guess so. But can you imagine adding the pressure of being watched as a Christian especially in an industry which isn't known for its Christian values? I do not know if the famous CW star was a Christian. My neighbor was and the CW star's wife was. (I have had long conversations with both and am convinced.) Yet, that too is not the point. The scrutiny applied to the famous' most casual action is almost unbearable.

Personally, I don't like testimonies of famous people simply because they are famous. I don't believe they say anything other than even famous people can be Christians. A testimony should be more than that. It should reflect a life that it totally committed to Christ. These published testimonies should be exceptional because of Who they are committed to rather than who is committed.

Sure, there may be some famous Christians who have amazing testimonies. Their testimonies should be shared but not because they are merely famous. They should be shared because they are amazing. I don't think we are helping famous brothers and sisters in Christ by flaunting their faith just because they are famous. We must realize that many of them will never have spectacular testimonies if we keep hounding them when their testimony is rather thin. They are not "born again" as completely mature Christians. They are babes in Christ in the beginning. We should treat them as such.

We all fit together as the body of Christ. Those who are more famous are not more valuable. They are all a part of bringing the gospel into the world. We all grow together and thus we see God's kingdom invade this earth.

I stop each time I hear that someone famous has trusted in Christ and pray that people will surround them who will help them grow in their faith rather than exploit their fame. I am afraid that too many so called Christians will take advantage of them before they can truly set a path of knowing Jesus. It doesn't take these famous new believers to understand that they are being exploited. Why shouldn't they wonder if all this talk of Jesus is a scam when the people they should be able to trust are taking advantage of them.

Truthfully, I don't know any famous people. I don't know what they are feeling. I just think they would react to their Christian celebrity like I would act.

Colossians 1:3-8 (ESV) 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Necessity of Waiting

I do not like waiting. I wait in a doctor's waiting room a reasonable amount of time before I ask to be rescheduled. In fact, I ask for the first appointment of the day when I schedule any appointments.  I always show up early so that I won't make others wait for me but I also do not tolerate more than a reasonable wait.

My intolerance does not apply to the Lord. I cannot simply tell Him that I would like my new appointment to be His first on another day. I must wait and be glad that He sees me. I must wait and realize that the waitng was part of the plan to change me. I must wait.

That doesn't fit into our lifestyle does it? Don't we expect immediate service when we attend a church, a business or a restaurant? Sometimes we forget that God does not exist to serve us. We exist to serve Him. He has surely waited on us to get to that service.

Waiting is humbling. It puts you at the mercy of the one you are waiting on. That person has control over you. You are captured by the waiting.

Of course, He has ever right to make you wait. You are His. He is not merely more important than you are for that would be putting God at the head of a list in which comparisons are made. There is no comparison between His importance and yours. And it is not that He is more central to everything either. That is like saying that the heart is central to the body. What would our bodies be doing right now if  our hearts were suddenly removed?

Nothing would exist if there was no God. There would be no universe or God or us or even the things which are causing us to worry right now. He is the "I am" because there would be nothing if He was the "I wasn't."

There is no other teacher of His will and maturity if He does not teach. His will is not separate from Himself. He is what His will is. He never acts falsly. His will is true to who He is. He acts holy because that is what He is. His will is holy because that is what He is. There is never a time that His will is unholy. Thus, you can have no other teacher to bring you to this maturity for He alone is holy.

God's timing is perfect. He gives His will, His grace, His provision or whatever else that you need at the proper moment. He waits until you are ready to receive what you need. He gives these to you to teach you that waiting on Him is best. God answers with perfect timng no matter how many tears you shed, how many times you kneel and beg or how many people you ask for prayer.

Learning to wait upon the Lord will eliminate worry. Worry is rushing into the problem with the belief that God will not arrive in time. It is doubt in His provision, wisdom, love, power and timing. Learning to wait teaches you that God's grace is only for today. He gives the grace needed for tomorrow when tomorrow is called today.

Waiting makes you notice the darkness. God allows the darkness so that we can appreciate the light. You should rest in those times of darkness just as your body rests at night. The provision is there but it cannot be seen because it is dark. You wait until the morning so that you can see the provision in the light. Waiting on the Lord is resting in the faith that He knows you intimately, knows your situation perfectly and has already made provision for you.

Waiting grows your faith. Faith isn't necessary when everything you need can be perceived with your senses. That is why so many people walk away from the Lord when they become rich and self-sufficient. But those who wait upon the Lord have the strength of their faith renewed. They can fly into things that seem impossible, run when circumstances are discouraging and walk calmly when all hell breaks loose around them.

I still don't like waiting but I am glad for every time I have waited and seen the Lord's provision. He has taught me through this waiting. I don't think I am unusual in this. I believe God makes all believers wait so that He can change them to be what they would never have been without the waiting.

Psalm 25:5 (ESV) 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hated for the Sake of Christ

John 15:18-19 (ESV) 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

The world doesn't know that it hates Jesus. Mention the name of Jesus and lots of people will nod their heads and claim some affiliation with something that He said. They think that He is all about love with no thought of judgement. They think that His rampage in the Temple (when He threw out the money changers) was an attack on the establishment of the rich and religious. They may even think that they love Jesus but they have no idea how Jesus defined love.

Jesus said that those who love Him keep His commandments. Those who love Him will not pick and choose which ones to obey. They will keep them all because of their love for Him.

Those who love Him, thus, must be followers. (I just read that there is a facebook "not a fan" page. It differentiates between being a fan and a follower of Jesus. I think I will join it.) Followers don't merely tip their hats to Jesus. They become as radical as He is.

Jesus didn't set out to be hated. They hate Him for who He is. He represents a completely different means of salvation. This salvation is not based on the accomplishments of the adherents. It is based on the sacrifice of the Leader. This salvation demands commitment to this leader rather than rituals which are detached from who the person is. In other words, this salvation demands a change from the inside out rather than actions which hope to change the person from the outside in.

Jesus followers will be as strange as He is because they follow Him as their living Lord. These followers will know what He says and do what He says. They will not participate in the things which violate His commandments. The refusal to participate in the actions of the world will be seen by the world as a judgment against it.

A few years ago I refused to go to a certain movie because of its rating. I did not believe that my Lord wanted me to be there or to see that movie. I didn't condemn those who wanted to see it. I merely refused to go to the movie with them. I chose to watch a different movie. The group joined me but one of the group complained loudly of how he was unable to see the movie that he wanted to see.

I don't to say that this person hated me. I think that is too strong a term for an incident over a movie. But I do know that he hated  my convictions which prevented him from doing what he wanted. I can see very easily how the world looks on these convictions. They see it as seeking to prevent them from doing what they would like. They see it as judgment against what they like.

Yet, it surprises us to find that the world is working so hard to eliminate our faith. They remove the presence of our faith wherever they find it. And no one seems to be figuring it out. There is no movement to eliminate any other faith. It is quite alright to invite another religion to speak at a school or civic function with impunity. But watch what happens when a true follower of Christ speaks. The world jumps to its feet and screams, "Intolerance!" Can we not see that this is a hatred for who we are and how the "salt" of a Christian is put on the wound of the world's sins?

Maybe that is why so many people who call themselves Christians are actually followers. They want to go along with the world so that they aren't hated.

I'll admit that I don't like being hated. I, like my Lord, do not seek it. I know that this is what I should expect if I am to be a true follower of Jesus.

Is Jesus your Lord or do you just like some of the things He said?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where Is the Holy Spirit in Your Life?

Acts 1:8 (NIV) 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Many Christians lack power. They fall into every sin. They speak of Christ without conviction. They never lead a soul to Christ. They just go to church ans live wimpy Christian lives. They don't know that it doesn't have to be that way.

Jesus promised that His followers would receive the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit guarantees power for the Christian. So, why do so many Christians live like they have never heard of the Spirit?

Many Christians resist the Spirit. Some of these have heard that those who hear the Spirit speak lack authenticity. They have heard that these people are making a mockery of their faith because they act emotionally without their minds.

Surely, an act of the Spirit is often very emotional but it is not emotions that define the act. The Spirit fills the believer, gives him faith and sends him to do His will. The response to the Spirit is a release of the person to the will of God. It is abandonment to God's will which brings the response. The person is no longer afraid of what others think and will do things that their own reserved nature would not have done. The exhibition of emotion may be the reaction of many who receive the filling and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Those watching from the outside often look upon someone full of the Holy Spirit as strange. They determine that they don't ever want this to happen to them. Many preachers support this resistance by telling their congregations that God is not a God of chaos and this appears to be chaos to them. Yes, they are correct; God is not a God of chaos but this is not chaos if you understand that God has empowered this person to forget the world and simply obey Him.

Of course, there are congregations who try to create the emotion and say that it is a work of the Holy Spirit. They encourage people to act outside of their character rather than allowing the Spirit to enter on His own. They promote the presence of the Holy Spirit as they would a celebrity who has been paid to entertain the crowd.Those who fall into these fits of emotionalism have no more power than the Christian who resists the Spirit. They are plagued with sin, powerless in their witnessing and inconsistent in their living. They roll on the church floor to be seen and to feel like they have faith.

The Holy Spirit wants to fill the Christian. Therefore, the Christian waits until he is filled. He removes the barriers to that filling. He is content to act in a calm manner if the Spirit wills it. He is content to act upon the word of the Spirit. The Christian wants his will to be the same as that of the Spirit. He is content to work quietly when the Spirit wills it.

The filling of the Spirit should not be rare. It should be normal for the believer.

The work of the Spirit will be characterized by power. The believer, full of the Spirit, will not necessarily have a booming voice but no one who hears it will be able to ignore what has been said. The hearers of the one filled with the Spirit will listen even if they choose to resist what they Spirit has said. The witness cannot be ignored.

So, what about you? I believe that anyone reading this blog is here because the Spirit has led them here. He is wanting to fill those who are reading these words. So, what about you?

Will you accept the filling of the Spirit right now? Will you obey Him in whatever He says? Will you proclaim Jesus as your Lord to someone right away? Will you renounce your sins (even those that are doubtful)?

The Spirit fills us to receive His power. Where is the Holy Spirit in your life?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Being Godly Is More than Looking Godly

Sometimes we are very careful to look good during religious observances. We make sure that each usher takes the offering with coordination. We make sure that each person being baptized is dressed appropriately, We make sure that the deacons serve communion with military precision. We spend very little time making sure that our hearts are right.

Jesus points the Pharisees often because their outward actions indicated that their hearts belonged to God but their hearts were simply not right. They always had self-promoting motives behind their "godly" actions.

This is what turns off so many people who do not come to church. They know too many people who have made themselves important in their churches who reek of corruption. They see the preachers caught in scandals, the deacons who look down their noses at sinners and the "good" church members who gossip about everyone at their churches. They believe this is typical of all those who go to church and decide that they simply don't want to be like that.

It isn't that they dislike Jesus though. They like what they have learned about Him but their view of church is tainted by the "looking good" corruption they see in church.

One problem we seem to have is failing to admit that we are not perfect. Acting as if you are perfect should be a sure sign of hiding something. Our best response to confess our sins, admit that we have clay feet and earnestly seek to be completely honest in our presentations of who we are. We should strive to present a character of virtue. It may have some flaws but it is always seeking correction and improvement.

Last night I baptized a young lady who is eight years old. I asked her if she was excited about being baptized. She said, "I'm not perfect." That was one of the most precious statements I had ever heard. She knew that her baptism was not a presentation of perfection. It was a statement of doing what is right. Her heart was right. I smiled as I thought how right her statement was. I can't help believing that Jesus smiled too.

Luke 16:14-15 (NIV)
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Later: Did We Forget?

Today people will come to church hoping to hear a patriotic message. They will want to sing "God Bless America," say the Pledge of Allegiance and wave their flags. There is nothing wrong with these things but they do not get us to the heart of what we need to remember.

We need to remember the families who lost loved ones ten years ago. It is easy for them to become victims with others wanting to use them as spokespeople for their own causes. They are paraded across the television screens as a means of being used for ratings rather than truly remembering what they have lost.

We need to remember that Muslims are not our enemies. Christians should know this. We don't agree with the Islamic faith but its followers are not our enemies. The enemy is much more devious and evil.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We need to remember that our days are numbered. The victims of September 11 went to work thinking they would come home. They had calendars with future dates on them. They did not expect this to be the last day of their lives.

Psalm 39:4 (NIV) 4 "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.

We need to remember that tomorrow is not promised. So many people are putting off what they know they must do. They have no idea that they may not be able to put it off.

James 4:13-14 (NIV) 13 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

We need to remember that today is all that we have. Today is the day you should tell those you love that you love them. Today is the day you should forgive and ask for forgiveness. Today is the day of salvation for you may not have tomorrow.

Hebrews 3:13 (NIV) 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

These are the lessons that 911 should have taught us as Christians. Life is precious and those whom we love are precious. We should, therefore, take advantage of every moment and do what we must as if we shall see our Savior that day.

Now imagine that today is all that you have? How will you spend it? What do you need to do?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Light Shines in the Darkness

It is a Saturday morning with no clouds in sight. My house has no power. I am sitting on my deck. I can’t let my dog outside because we have an invisible fence. No power means no fence.
It wasn’t so many years ago that no one had electrical power. They lit their lamps at night. They told stories, played games or instruments for entertainment. They gathered their food and wood to cook on their wood stoves.
What would they think if they were suddenly transported to the days of air conditioning, television, microwave ovens and internet? They may not have believed it was possible until they saw it for themselves.
Do you think this is like explaining the taste of chocolate to someone who has never had it? Imagine making radio contact with someone from a galaxy far away. Their universal translator enables communication but chocolate doesn’t exist on their world. You tell them how good it is but without tasting they will never know. They may try to live on your testimony but it will always be second hand. They will never know because they cannot taste chocolate. You can’t even say that it tastes like something else for you don’t know what things taste like on their world.
This must be what it is like for those who do not know Jesus. They hear the testimony of others. They put it in terms they already know. They will interpret it as superstition if they choose not to taste. Believing in Jesus is so far outside of the logic box of some people. It is a world apart from where they are.
I believe it would be natural for unbelievers to oppose what they believe to be superstition. I oppose superstitions; why shouldn’t they? Superstitions hold people back from the truth. Superstitions ultimately keep people from God.
But it is impossible to overcome something that has been experienced. Life comes into the believer. It is light which reveals things as they really are. It comes from a power that cannot be lost.
Telling people about Jesus is a daunting task. It is telling them of Someone that cannot be known by their mere senses. It is believing in Someone before meeting Him. It is an introduction that steps over the line from knowing about to actually knowing the Person.
So, how do I let others know He is real? I tell them that they must ask Him in. Those who truly ask have nothing to fear. Nothing will happen if He is not real. I am confident that He is. You merely have to taste.
John 1:3-5 (NIV) 
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

What Is Repentance?

Acts 2:37-38 (ESV) 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance is normally described as turning away from the direction you were going. This is true but this defintion doesn't encompass all that Peter meant in the above passage. It required some action.

The people at Pentecost heard the gospel story told by Peter. They fell under conviction. True conviction demands action. They asked what they must do. They knew that their previous actions were damning. They wanted to believe.

Peter tells them that they must repent.-- But repent from what? Most say this means to repent of their sins but it has to mean much more. They had to repent of their former belief that Jesus was merely a man. They had to repent of following their religious leaders who presented Him as such. They had to see their former actions of works to produce a right relationship with God as wrong and accept the gift of salvation given by this new faith.

Baptism did not save them but it was an outward action that revealed an inward faith. It was necessary to have this outward action to cement their faith. An outward action provides a physical memory of their faith. The New Testament statement is clear: Every believer who had a chance to be baptized did so. It did not save them but allowed them to declare that they had repented of their former way of life to walk a new life in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit came to inhabit the repentant heart. The heart was clean of its former inhabitants. It was made ready by the acceptance of Jesus Christ. The Spirit received the heart of the new believer as home rather than as a place to visit. This was new to the world. They knew that the Holy Spirit came upon people but He did not stay. Now, those who believed possessed the Spirit.

I find that many churched people do not understand repentance. They think that it means that you want to believe. They want to believe so they come to church. They want to believe so they are dunked in the water meant for baptism. They want to believe but they really haven't believed because they do not exhibit a life of repentance. They are not new creations.

Those who want to believe but never repent are like those who want to take a trip to Israel but never go. They look at the pictures, listen to the stories of others and even read the history of the land. In order to go to Israel, you have to leave where you are (unless you are already in Israel while reading this). You have to repent of where you are. You can't simply talk like you have been when you haven't.

Churches have many members who want to believe but have never repented. Thus, there are the problems in understanding spiritual things. How can they understand spiritual things when they do not possess the Spirit? Of course, this does not eliminate preachers who have merely wanted to believe. They may have charismatic personalities which draw people in but their lives do not reveal those who walk in the Spirit. They, too, merely want to believe without repentance.

The question for each of us is whether we have repented and believe that Jesus is Lord. If we repent, there is nothing we won't do for the Lord. In fact, we can do everything because He inhabits us.

Have you truly repented? Have you been baptized? Do you possess the Holy Spirit?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Some People Will Never Know God

I want people to come to know my Lord. They will never be coerced into this belief. Therefore, I strive to understand why anyone would reject Him. Surely, some have never truly heard the message yet. They have not rejected Jesus but neither have they responded. They will when they hear of Him.

The people who perplex me are those who refuse to believe. They have a predisposition against hearing the gospel.Their minds are already made up before they have heard a word. In short, they are satisfied with their own belief. Their belief is: "there is no God."

I wonder if those who do not know the Lord are afraid of listening. And by listening, I don't mean with their ears alone. Are they willing to consider what is being said? They certainly ask if I will consider what they have said. Why shouldn't they return the favor?

Those who refuse to listen believe that they already have all the facts necessary to make an intelligent decision. They are like the person who says, "I want to buy this car. I like it and I don't want to know any of the reasons I shouldn't buy it." The decision is made. Don't muddle things with other facts that won't support the decision.

Those who refuse to listen are therefore confident of their own belief. Therefore, they have faith in it. This faith supports them when seemingly contrary facts slip through their defenses. They rush back to the safety of this faith rather than consider contrary facts.

Their faith is supported by pride. They take a great deal of pride in knowing that there is no God. Those who believe in God are ridiculed. They gather around others, who like them, support their faith by laughing at the poor ignorant believers in God. This becomes their own worship. Their pride makes them gods.

They would never seek after God. There have been too many people who have succumbed to Christianity who made an honest attempt at refuting the claims of Christianity. Again, pride comes to their rescue. An honest search is beneath them. Any search would reveal a crack in their faith. They are proud that this godless if faith is flawless.

So, they concentrate on their belief. "There is no God," they repeat again, "there is no God."

I try to understand this but I admit that I don't. Why would someone choose to live without God? Why would they choose to live without knowing the meaning for their lives? This is really more pride than I can fathom. Their pride keeps them from ever knowing Him.

So, I pray that God will soften the hearts of souls who are trying to keep Him out. I pray that I will love those who do not love Him so that they will listen and believe.

Psalm 10:4 (ESV) 4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Are You Faithful with a Little?

Luke 16:10-13 (ESV) 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

There is one word that most congregations do not want to hear. They tell their preachers to stay away from that word. Many preachers who are compelled to speak the Word of God on this word often warn their congregations the week before they preach on it. They tell them to stay away if they don't want to hear it. Many of these so-called believers will.

The word is money. and most preachers would rather mention politics than money because their people are more likely to fire them for speaking about the proper use of money than for telling them who they should vote for at the next election. The first is a matter of the Word of God which cuts through to the heart of the sinner. The latter (telling them who to vote for) is mostly opinion and can be taken or left behind.

Money in itself is not evil or unrighteous. It is merely a tool which can be used for good or evil. A firearm is neither good or evil. It can bring home a family's meal or it can take the life of another person. It is only a tool.

Jesus was speaking Aramaic though the original text is presented in Greek. All translations carry a measure of interpretation though, in this case, the translator is the Holy Spirit. The word translated for "dishonest" in the NIV is the word "adikos" in Greek. The word means unjust or dishonest. It is not necessary to be dishonest in order to be unjust with money. A person can pay someone for an assasination. The act is unjust but may not be dishonest. Therefore, I think the better translation for the sake of English is "unrighteous." This word carries the flavor of being unjust and can include dishonest. (As soon as I say the NIV is a weak version, I find a passage where it seems to have gotten closer to the original meaning than any other. So, this time I will not say it.)

The unrighteous use of money means that the money was not used in the "right" way. The proper use of all money is for the glory of God. That is our whole purpose and all that we do and use should include God's glory. This is not a passage to tell us why we don't have a lot of money. It tells us why we don't have that which is more precious than money. It tells us that the unrighteous use of money will result in receiving nothing of that which is precious.

So, what are these true riches? They are the things of God which most people do not understand as precious at all. It is God's word being revealed through the Spirit. It is the faith necessary to bring you to salvation. It is the faith necessary to walk in the peace of God when all hell is breaking around you. It is the faith that knows without doubt that God will sustain you even when there is no evidence of it. It is hearing God speak clearly so that you know what to do when there seems to be nothing that you can do. It is the joy that comes from the inside of the believer which can be known even if you are persecuted for your faith.

Money is a little thing. The problem comes when you make it large. Its importance will keep you from the true riches that God has planned of you. You cannot serve God and money. There can be only one God.

Thus, many churches die for the lack of the word of God. Neither their preachers nor their congregations have been faithful with that which was little. So, they never got that which was truly precious.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Can Money Keep You from Jesus?

Luke 16:1-9 (ESV) 1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

This is one of the more difficult parables to understand. I appears to praise a worker for his dishonesty but I think there is much more here than is initially revealed. Those who originally heard this parable would have had the larger context which would have revealed it more clearly than those reading it in the 21st Century.

Let's try to put it in context. The manager has mismanaged the accounts. There is no indication that he has stolen anything. He has done a poor job of keeping the accounts and is about to be fired. He knows that he has had a nice "desk job" for some time and cannot work as a common laborer. He apparently has no friends or family who will take him in. He moves quickly before he loses his job.

He goes to those who owe his master and cuts their bills so that they will pay quickly. He has learned the concept of "today and only today the price is . . . ." The people are glad to have their bills cut to the point that they will pay gladly and be very appreciative of this manager.

The master praises the manager for his shrewdness because he has made a way for himself after he is no longer employed. No master would praise a manager for losing money no matter how shrewd he was. Therefore, I believe manager was discounting the price of these bills according to his own commission. This way the master gets all that is owed to him but the soon to be fired manager has a means of surviving.

The parable deals with money and eternal life. Those who claim to have faith often hold onto their money as if it will give them peace. No one ever takes the money of this world into heaven. The shrewd use of this money is seen in giving it away so that a place for life after this life (which was the present employment of the manger in this case).

Jesus was saying that the people of the world understand this. They will get favors from others with their money so that they can be sustained or even make more money later. They see beyond their present circumstances. Religious people often fail to understand this. They hold onto their money and do not prepare for eternal life. They cannot see that holding onto their money can prevent them from eternal life.

Thus, the manager is shrewd for he has given up the temporal gain of his commission for the long term gain of obtaining favor.

Money is not evil but the want and hoarding of it is. Many will never see Jesus because of their desire for money.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Living on the Word of God

Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread by the devil. He knew that He did not live by what He ate alone. He knew that He lived by every word that came from God.

I have heard many sermons gloss over Jesus response. Those sermons emphasize that Jesus did not give into temptation but they fail to recognize living on God's word. Maybe the preachers didn't understand this.

Jesus had just fasted for forty days. He was extremely hungry. I don't think that he was significantly overweight when He began His fast. I suspect each day of the fast contained extreme physical discomfort' It is during this fast that these words our of Deuteronomy made the most sense.

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIV)
3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 

I have fasted for forty days a few times.  I read a couple of books on fasting before I did so the first time. My experience was nothing like those in the books. Though I was not obese, I was also not extremely thin at the beginning of the fasts. The feelings of hunger would come and go. I found that I would completely forget hunger when I worshiped. This world and its hunger would fade as I got closer to my Lord.

The words of the Bible became richer than ever. The background noise of this world faded. I hungered after God's word and the Holy Spirit taught me. I obtained a new energy that was not physical.

I believe that Jesus would have feasted on God's word during His fast. He did not have pounds of fat to sustain Him like I did. He would have grown physically weak much faster than I did. He would have also been humbled and much stronger than I was. His Father's words would have been life to Him.  He spent His days and nights in the wilderness meditating on God's Word.  He understood through experience the power of living on the Word of God.

I do not believe that "food" hunger is the only type of hunger. There may be a hunger for finances or a career or children or marriage or any other thing for which a person longs for. Many of those who feel this "hunger" will curse the hunger rather than understand it as a means of truly listening to God's word. They will seek relief rather than God.

This is why people do not understand why Jesus said:

Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

The things of this world are not merely circumstances by which God must operate. God is still sovereign and could take any moment to make sure that anyone is well fed, clothed and getting everything that he or she wants. He seeks for us to turn our hearts toward Him and seek what He seeks. He urges us to walk with Him. He wants us to listen to Him and in listening know through experience that we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The way of the world is to feast on something that will never remove your hunger. The way of God is to seek after Him so that your hunger may be satisfied. Thus, our lives are full of worries while we seek to fill our hungers.

Very few Christians will read their Bibles today. Most will not pray or have any thoughts on what God seeks for them. They will live this day hungry even though they could have feasted on God's Word.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How Is Your Worship Working Out for You?

I enjoy worship. I look forward to Sundays. I like singing with a congregation because I can blend in so that most people don't know how bad I am. I enjoy both contemporary Christian music and the hymns which represent the heritage of our faith. I would probably come to both of the worship services we have on Sunday mornings even if I wasn't the pastor.

But something else has been going on in my heart lately and I wondered if I am the only one. While I am not displeased with the current worship design, I am sensing that there is more that could be had in a different way.

Current worship is completely directed. The leaders tell the congregants when to stand, sit, sing, pray and listen. It has a pattern and is very predictable. People who have never been to church see it as fresh but I often see it as a template which can be used every week without much effort. Just plug in different songs and a couple of different people and you have a new worship service. Therefore, if you have been to one; you have been to all.

You can cruise through a worship service without having one thought about God. There has to be something wrong with this.

So, I have been talking to God about it. I asked what I could do to change worship without ripping it out by its roots. I am sensing that He wants me to start something new rather than change what we already have. He wants me to listen to Him rather than copy what someone else is doing.

I have wondered if there are others to whom God is speaking to in the same way. God often speaks to several when He wants to do something new. This is why revivals have a tendency to break out in different parts of the world simultaneously. He is all over the world at the same time bringing hearts to Himself.

I simply  don't want to worship God with my lips while my heart can be far from Him. So, I am thinking:

What if worship didn't involve so many bands and instruments but was merely recorded music that could either be used to help focus meditation on the word and contemplation of someone's relationship with God?

What if worship involved spontaneous prayer, Bible reading and giving?

What if worship wasn't always on Sundays' traditional times?

What if worship was interactive rather than one directional?

I have been praying and sensing a worship that would go something like this:

Worshipers would enter the sanctuary and be given the instructions of what is going on. They are told that there will be music playing and the words will be on the screens. They are told that they may sing if they want or they can do a list of other things. They may want to read their Bibles or the one in the pew. They may want to pray. They may even want to come forward to pray for someone or even for themselves.

They are told that they should greet a couple of people and will be asked to repeat their names at the end of the worship time. They will introduce themselves to these others who will define who they are at the moment.

Each person is given plenty of time to sit still if he or she wants. Each person is given the time to stop the madness of their schedules and seek God. The message that is given is not long but it seeks to apply a scriptural truth rather than merely define it. Those who come will be given an opportunity to implement a piece of  this message before they leave.

I love worship but I am sensing there needs to be more. I would love to hear from others. I would love for them to express their frustrations and what they love about worship.

How is your worship working out for you? I'd love to know.

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

God Calls Us to Inconvenience

Have you ever thought how different the lives of the heroes of our faith would have been if they had not answered God's calling? Moses would probably been a rich man with sheep, camels, goats and cattle. Paul would have risen in the ranks of Judaism and died an important man. Peter would have fished every day and died an old man with many grandchildren.

Yet, each of the people who followed after God gave up what they were doing in order to do what God called them to. Noah spent a hundred years building a boat. Abraham left the land he knew. Gideon opposed his own family in order to follow completely after God. Elijah challenged a king. Paul went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. God simply calls people out of their convenience to His inconvenience.

And why would you do this? Isn't it easier to tell the church you won't teach Sunday School so that you can go where you want each week? Isn't it easier to spend your money on the things you want rather than tithing to God? Isn't it easier to worship the Greens at the Golf Course than God at the Church House?

Yes, it is much easier but no one ever walked with God without walking in His calling.

The Christian life requires a total commitment which will always be seen as an inconvenience to those who refuse to walk in the Christian life. The cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is your life. You give it to Him to receive the life that He will give to you. Only those who have accepted this life that He gives can explain the pain they endure so that they may know Him more.

Someone will walk to a pulpit this Sunday and tell people that everything has been wonderful after he gave his life to Christ. He will neither understand what he has said nor has he truly experienced giving his life to Christ. He has walked an aisle, made a verbal commitment, been baptized by water and striven to continue his life without any inconveniences that this "faith" may bring. He criticizes his pastor, refuses to tithe, ducks opportunities to serve, avoids true spiritual worship and puts a Christian symbol on the back of his car.

Are we Christians merely because we say we are or because we accept God's calling?

I really can't explain why a person would go through the life of inconvenience if it weren't for the surpassing greatness of knowing His Lord deeper and stronger because he has followed God's calling. The life of inconvenience in God's calling is a priceless taste of heaven for those who grasp it. It is hell for those who refuse it.

Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV) 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places

People are seriously looking for God. They want to see measurable data which can be perceived with their natural senses which prove His existence. They clamor for books or the testimonies of people who say they have seen Him. They claim His presence in the healing of someone who they have prayed for but ignore all those who they prayed for and were not healed. They want God to perform on que, at the command of words,  so that they may prove His existence. They want His spectacular appearance which will eliminate the doubts they have harbored.

So, down deep, they know they are covering their own doubts. They know that they have not seen Him nor have they truly known Him. They are merely hoping that the stories these who say they have died and gone to heaven are true.They want to believe that the stories in the Bible really happened. They hope that God truly provides salvation for they have nowhere else to turn.

And sometimes their doubts overwhelm them.

You will never find God in someone else's testimony. God may use that testimony to reach you but He must reveal Himself to you. God has no grandchildren. Everyone who knows Him does so personally. Another's testimony will not prove the presence of God. You must find Him for yourself.

God does not perform for anyone at their command. His healing or any of His works are done with His purpose in mind. He does not have to reveal His purpose to you. You may pray and God does something miraculous. Your testimony soars at His magnificence. Then, you pray again at what seems the same circumstance and there is silence. Nothing out of the ordinary happens. This is why Jesus taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Prayer is not really about us telling God what to do. It is about His will being accomplished.

God rarely reveals Himself in the miraculous. He has the capacity to bring fire down from heaven, cause a whirlwind to pick you up and transport you to another place and raise someone who has been dead for four days but He rarely does so. Faith would not be necessary in a world where the miraculous is common. Frequent miracles would actually make miracles common. They just woundn't be miracles anymore.

God, more commonly, reveals Himself in a still small voice rather than the earthquake and fierce wind. He reveals Himself when we earnestly seek Him. He proves His own existence in our hearts rather than observable events.

People who claim to know Him say that they have not experienced Him. That seems strange. How can you say that you know someone who has never spoken to you? I have met many famous people but I don't know any of them. They would not return my calls for they don't know me either. Why is it that believers have a similar relationship with God? They have met Him but they don't know Him.

We live in a world that fills our minds. We are stimulated and active from the moment we awake to when we retire at night. We take no time out to listen to God. We take no time to simply be still and know He is God. This is true in church, as well. We are commanded to stand, sing, give and listen to the preacher. We are rarely asked to be still and seek God. No wonder we have such a hard time finding Him.

You see, finding God requires the whole heart. This takes tuning a heart from listening to the world to the frequency that allows it to listen to God.

You, too, may have looked for God in all the wrong places but seek Him now with your whole heart and He promises that you will find Him.

Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV) 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.