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Friday, October 28, 2011

Sure, You Prayed But Did You Inquire of the Lord?

Joshua 9:3-15 (ESV) 3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” 8 They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” 9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
There are lots of times I don't ask for the Lord's will. For example, I didn't ask the Lord which shirt I should wear this morning. My wife would tell you that I should have, or, at least, asked her before I got dressed but I did it all by myself. Which shirt I wear today was not a concern for me so I didn't take it to the Lord. I don't think He was concerned either.

However, many times I need a "word" from God to tell me what I should do. The circumstances may be plain and the evidence on what I should do may be obvious but I still need to ask Him what I should do. These decisions have consequences. They need more than the cursory prayers said at the beginning and the end of church meetings. Those who want the Lord's will have to wait until the Lord answers them. There is a greater commitment here than merely saying a prayer. It takes patience.

Godly decisions cannot be determined by hearing the testimonies of others and examining the evidence alone. Surely, every con man knows that these "reasons" become the basis for running every con. Never forget, the "con" comes from the "con-fidence." Apparent evidence for great gain is at the heart of every con.

I had a member of a church I served come to me with great news. This person had won the grand prize in a national contest which would allow him to have more money than he had ever had. He wanted to give some of it to the church. However, the company awarding the prize told him that he must first pay the income tax on his winnings. All he needed to do was send them a check and the money would come. I told him that this was a scam. I told him that the IRS did not require anyone to pay taxes on money they had not yet earned. I called the police in this person's presence and had a policewoman tell me that this was a scam. He left my office feeling dejected and disappointed.

A few weeks later I learned that the guy sent the money anyway. The "prize awarding" company gave him phone numbers of people who could verify the need to send the tax money in advance. He had made these calls and was assured that the whole process was legitimate. Of course, he never received anything from his winnings.

Now, I believe he prayed about it. That is, I believe he said a prayer. I know he didn't wait for a word from the Lord because he was listening to the lies of the "company" and the evidence of the "testimonies" of supposed past winners.

So, how do you hear this word form God? You first make a commitment to do nothing until you hear from God. This humbles you because you simply can't do what you want when you want to do it. You place yourself as a servant of the Lord who does His will.

Then, listen for the Lord still speaks. Sometimes He uses godly people. Those who are walking with the Lord can bring you His word. Sometimes He uses your quiet time when your heart is fully listening to Him. He brings a scripture to you quiet time. He brings a word from the Spirit to you. He gives you an unexplained peace within your heart. Somehow you know that it is a word from God.

The greatest problems in my life were created when I said a prayer, listened to others and looked at the evidence but did not inquire of the Lord. Yes, I prayed but I didn't honestly ask; I told God what I wanted to hear. I accepted my own prayer as His word. I made sure that I heard what I wanted to hear.

Decisions cannot always be made by testimonies and evidence. They can't always be what others want you to do. Remember that Peter, out of his love for Jesus, rebuked Jesus for saying He would go to Jerusalem to die. This is the same man who, not so long before, had the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus had blessed him for his faith in Jesus as the Christ but he rebukes Peter in the greatest possible way when Peter tells Jesus that He shouldn't die in Jerusalem. He calls Peter Satan and a stumbling block. He tells Peter that his mind is not set on what God wants but on what Peter wants.

Thus, if you are facing a decision which will have consequences, you must inquire of the Lord beyond merely praying. You must be willing to listen.

Are you listening now?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Does Anxiety Run Your Life?

Are you one who worries all the time? Do you worry about your children, your health, your grades, your spouse, your finances, your house, etc.? Does it sometimes keep you up at night or give you a sick feeling in your stomach? Have these anxieties been growing over time?

Let's get something very straight: God does not desire anxiety for anyone. He stands as one who will remove those anxieties. Let's look at some scriptures which address the problem.

Anxiety is a love problem.

1 John 4:18 (ESV) 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Maybe you do not trust God's love. Maybe you have not dwelt in His love but the fact remains that God has loved you with an everlasting love. He will watch over you. He will not allow anything to come into your live that you can He can't handle together. He does so because He loves you. Your love toward Him reveals that your relationship is one of trust. It reveals that you know that He has loved you first and that there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more or less because His love is without merit.

Anxiety is a "not your problem" problem.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV) 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

For some reason people believe they can handle their problems better than God can handle them. Maybe there is a sense of pride which keeps them from giving their anxieties to God. They hold onto these problems like little children who claim, "I can do it myself!"

Is that you? Are you holding onto something that you really can't do? Are you trying to find a solution apart from casting your anxieties on Him? Are you afraid of what God may ask of you if you "cast" your anxieties? Would you rather live with the anxieties you know rather than having faith that God will do what is best without your knowledge? Are you afraid of giving up control of your anxieties by releasing them to God?

Turn them over to God and you will find yourself released from these problems.

Anxiety is a prayer problem.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Everything that you are fretting over must be prayed for. This is both with an attitude of prayer that knows God's love, wisdom, and power for anything that has come in your life and specific requests that God will act to relieve you of your anxieties. This is the best way of unburdening yourself of these anxieties. After all, did the worry make things better? Isn't it better to turn them over to God? He won't worry a moment about your anxieties. He already has a plan and will enact it.

A wonderful thing happens when you love on God and cast your anxieties on Him by taking them to Him in prayer. The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards your heart and mind. Then, you may not remember why you were so anxious anyway.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Law Is for the Careless

This morning I watched a pickup truck barrel through my neighborhood over fifty miles per hour. The speed limit is twenty-five. There were children making their way to their school bus stops in the dark but this careless fellow paid them no regard. I noted the time and resolved to call the police who could post an officer on my street. Speeds in excess of ten miles per hour are considered "reckless" in this area. I hope the resultant payment for his trangression will slow him down.

I have found that people do not slow down for school zones even though they can clearly see the speed blinking at them overhead. That is, they do not slow down unless they see a policeman ahead. Then, they are model drivers. Many people do not stop on red lights but run through them, do not stop before proceeding right on red and do not use their direction signals unless they see someone who can hold them accountable. These people know that there aren't enough police to hold them accountable most of the time so they become extremely careless in their driving.

I know why car insurance is so high. There are so many who will not comply with the law. They text while driving, turn right from left lanes (and vice-versa) and sneak down one-way streets while looking at the signs which say "wrong way." They are physically impared by alcohol or drugs, drive way past being merely sleepy and fully respond to the cries of their children without pulling over.

So, the law tries to prevent these unsafe and careless practices in driving. Yet, the law can't seem to keep up with the ways people can be careless.

And so it is with God's law too. The law is made to make the careless aware of their transgressions. Their sin ( our sin; my sin) is a failure to give God glory. It is simple but needs explanation because people are creating new ways of carelessly commiting this sin. Thus, we have the explanation of this standard of giving God glory throughout the Bible.

Think what the traffic law would be if there were no careless people: Drive in a safe and courteous manner. Sure there would have to be definition so that there could be order, such as: drive on the right side of the road and: the person on your right will have the right of way when arriving at a four way stop simultaneously. Speed limits would not be necessary because no one would drive recklessly. People wouldn't pass the signs which said, "this a lane was closed ahead" so that they could push their way in much further down the line. People would let others in when they were merging on the freeways.

So, more and more traffic laws are coming. They will be written because people choose to rebell against society's laws as much as they do against God's law.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV) 8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Kind of God Were You Looking For?

Mankind is creating a god in an image that this palpable to mankind. This god appreciates being the mankind's servant. He (or she) always brings those who die into his (or her) presence. The only people who aren't in heaven are certain people who wouldn't have wanted to be there anyway. These are people who are either unknown or are historically bad. Thus, mankind believes that Hitler and a few serial killers are in hell but almost no one else is. All sins are absolved by this god because those who know the deceased have forgiven him. Their forgiveness is the basis for entry into heaven.

This god is one who obeys mankind's will. People only need to "speak" something into existence for this god to comply and make it so. Of course this means people must do some things correctly to get their god to perform as they wish. So, they give him a coin so they will receive ten back. They believe in "faith" so that things will become like they believe. They do not have to agree in what makes their god perform. It only matters that the faithful believe; what they believe is irrelevant.

How is this really different from what the Pharisees did in Jesus day? They had the concept of a Messiah who would cause everyone to return to the Law in the same manner as the Pharisees. He would, no doubt, recognize the righteousness of the Pharisees and commend them. He would lead the nation back to its former glory by recreating a religious nation in which God would defend and avenge. He would give them the power to dominate other nations.

The Pharisees dogmatic belief in the messiah they had created kept them from seeing the true Messiah when He stood right in front of them. They knew that both images could not be true so one would have to be killed. They chose to keep their messiah and crucify the One who conflicted with their belief.

Can you see why people are often bothered by the truth of Jesus? He does not allow them to create the god of their choice and accept Him at the same time. Either their image of god or the God of the Bible can exist. They are incompatible.

The easiest way to destroy the conflict is to attack those who believe in the God of the Bible. This is why the God of the Bible is not allowed in schools while other religions have very little resistance. This is why believers are ridiculed for their beliefs. They are said to be ignorant, delusional or charlatans. They are laughed at and taken to court.

So, what kind of God are you looking for? Are you creating this god or is He creating you? Do your beliefs come out of what you want to believe or are they anchored in the Bible? Are your beliefs created so that you can relate (get along) with others or are they changing your life because of  your relationship with Him? Is this a god who obeys you or you obey Him? Does your god have any sense of justice or does He have a standard of righteousness and payment for sin?

I once tried to walk across a frozen lake because I believed the ice was thick enough to hold my weight. One year I did so without any problems at all. The next year I fell through the ice. It didn't matter what my belief was. It only mattered whether the ice was thick enough. I was never safe in walking across the frozen lake because I had no basis for my belief. I would have been no safer if I asked for the opinions of my friends. They didn't know any more than me. I would have to have some measurement that stood beyond my own opinions or those of others to have any safety in walking across the frozen lake.

The Bible is that measurement when it comes to who God is, what He expects, what is righteous or sinful and what the payment of violating His standard is. It is definitive in who God is and we do not create the God who created us. He is firmly established.

Sure, you can believe anything you want. I can choose to believe the ice is thick enough to hold my weight every year. My belief will not make it true and more than my belief in a god who will give me ten coins because I gave him one. Circumstances will dictate that I will sometimes have windfalls which I can choose to attach to my actions. In other words, I can say that my giving resulted in receiving ten more but that will not make it true. These circumstances have nothing to do with my belief.

What kind of god are you looking for?

Matthew 12:22-30 (ESV) 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

God Doesn't Want a "Portion"

"Dear Lord, we give back to you today a small portion of what you have given to us . . . ." Here is the prayer that is so often said as the offering is taken at the church. I am sure that many who say this prayer are mimicing prayers they have heard others say. Many are more concerned that they sound good when they pray rather than really pray. They have no idea that they are teaching while they pray. They are telling the people that everything they have belongs to them and that they are doing God a favor by giving Him a small "portion." They, therefore can do whatever they wish with the 98% (surveys show that Christians attending church give about 2% of their income).

Herein lies the problem. People are always going to believe they are being good Christians as long as they give God anything when, in fact, God doesn't want 2% or 10%. He requires all of it to be a disciple.  This means that all expenditures should be examined because Christians are being stewards of the possessions given to them rather than "sugar daddies" for God.

Thus, we have the problem with tithing. Most people cannot tithe because they see it as giving God what they can. This becomes what is left over after they have spent what they want on what has become necessities. Included in these necessities are: fast food, cable tv, new cars, a bigger house, big screen tv's and the like. So, the "necessities" come out first before God gets anything. And it is true that He is fortunate to get anything so it must be true that God should really thank these "givers" for their generosity.

Somehow theology has been skewed by our society. God gives salvation without merit or payment on our part. He calls people to this salvation to become His people. However, that doesn't mean that becoming His requires nothing in return. Salvation means giving up all that we were to become all that He has desired for us. It is intended to create disciples who are totally His in every aspect of their lives. It isn't a self-imposed hardship which means wearing hair shirts, starving ourselves (as opposed to fasting) or avoiding any pleasure. It is a life that puts God at the center of our lives so that all decisions and actions flow through Him.

However, this isn't the Christianity that most Christians think they have signed up for. They believe they should "accept" Christ as their Savior. (Which, by the way, can be found nowhere in Scripture.) They will go to heaven regardless of anything they do for the rest of their lives. They may never darken the door of the church or ever say another word about Christ and still be saved.

While I agree that none of these things save an individual. This is also not the picture of salvation as presented in the New Testament. The people had a profound change in their lives which resulted in the world being turned upside down because of the way they lived. Thousands of people became disciples because they heard the good news from people who were living differently. These people took others into their homes to teach them to follow their example. They sold what they had to give to others because they realized that it didn't belong to them in the first place. Even their time wasn't their own for they worshiped each day rather than when it was convenient and they nothing else to do.

Of course, Christianity will not the Christianity of the New Testament until there is a return of God's people to realizing that it all belongs to Him. He doesn't want a portion. All of it is His.

And so it is with us too. All of us are His, too.

Luke 14:33 (NIV) 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Maybe We Have Made Disciples

Many churches and Christians in the United States are languishing over the state of those who call themselves Christians. Christians are getting divorced at roughly the same rate as non-believers. They break the law as often and even answer ethical questions similarly to non-believers. Most people don't know who or who isn't a believer. Surely, church attendance can't be the litmus test for proof. Shouldn't there be such a distinct difference that anyone would be able to distinguish between the Christian and non-believer without a verbal confirmation?

Maybe the problem isn't that Christians aren't acting like Christians but that they are acting like the Christian leaders that they know. Maybe they are looking at the rich pastors who live above the people and seek to live like them. Maybe they have recognized the lies that their pastors have told and make lying part of their own lifestyles. Maybe they know that there are Christian leaders who cheat on their taxes, have affairs with impunity and live licentiously behind the backs of their fellow believers.

I remember a pastor bragging to me about one of his members who had a bad reputation in the community. He told me that privately this man was very compassionate toward people. It didn't matter that he had swindled, lied and had underhanded dealings which may have been considered legal but were certainly unethical. It didn't matter that the people in the community thought of the man as evil. Honestly, I didn't care that the man may represent himself as one who is compassionate when he was meeting privately with his pastor. I saw him as dragging the Bride of Christ (the church) through the mud. What difference were his words in private when his character revealed a totally different person?

So, when I look at the condition of the Christians in the US (I don't know if the same condition exists in other countries for I hear of great revivals going on everywhere but the US.), I wonder if we are reaping what we have sown. Are these the disciples whom we have made for they have became like their teachers?

I am afraid our efforts to shun the righteousness of the Pharisees may have put us in an entirely different dilemma. We have wanted to avoid judging others. We have rejected any idea of setting ourselves as examples. Therefore, we have allowed our own state to become lax in pious living. We have not taught our people to live holy lives. We have not shown what holiness is. They have had no vision but our own lives to follow. Of course, the result is what we see today.

Christians must stand up and be counted as those who are striving to live holy lives if this trend is to be reversed. I must. All who are believers must.

I have been preaching a message for the last two Sundays that I want people to hear if we are to be the people who are full of the Holy Spirit.

1. Confess all your sins. Ask the Lord to reveal them to you and make sure that you ask for forgiveness for each one of them.

2. Make peace with others. The greatest hindrance to the infilling of the Holy Spirit is the presence of an unresolved conflict. Ask for forgiveness and forgive others if you want the Spirit to fill you.

3. Proclaim Jesus to someone ever day. Tell others that you are a believer. It will change the way you live.

4. Obey the Holy Spirit immediately. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Do what He says, when He says it.

I believe we would create a different character in our disciples if we would simply follow these points.

After all, we will make disciples regardless of how we live.

Matthew 10:24-25 (ESV)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Matthew 23:15 (ESV)
15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Ground Is Level at the Foot of the Cross

People have made this statement to represent the need for Christ. Everyone who comes to Christ does so humbly with confession, repentance and gratefulness for the Lord's sacrifice for his sins. No one is better than anyone else. No one gets to heaven easier or harder. No one is worthy of salvation. No one is loved more or less to come to Christ. Salavtion is the great equalizer.

We remain in this condition all the rest of our lives even if people tell us differently. In other words, the pastor is not greater than any member of the congregation. The mega-church pastor is not greater than any other pastor. The missionary is not greater than the Sunday School teacher. Greatness is found in becoming a slave to everyone, not in the calling or the gifts God has given.

My life changed in college when I gave my life to Christ. The Baptists seemed to say that there were ranks of Christians. Sunday School teachers were above the ordinary church member,  Deacons were above Sunday School teachers. Pastors were above Deacons and Missionaries were above everyone else. Of course, there were ranks within each of these categories too. But is this how God ranks us?

No, our importance to the Kingdom of God is dependent upon our obedience to God's calling not the calling itself. We are all equal in importance when we are fully obedient to becoming and doing as God desires. No one, and I mean no one, is greater than any other. Thus we are called by no merit of our own, gifted by no merit of our own and talented by no merit of our own to be integral but not indispensible to God's will. We are to be the body of Christ which gives God glory together. Each one needs every other one. There should be no famous celebrities who have greater value than any other. We are simply those who comply to His divine providence.

Of course that means that I must also hold all other believers in high esteem. The only greatness I can ever achieve is being the servant of everyone.

In some ways this is a relief. I want my life to count. The measure used by the world is often the measure used by the church. The organization must expand exponentially, show a profit and build magnificent facilities if I follow the world's and often the Church's criteria for importance. But simple obedience is God's measure. It makes us all equal. It makes the ground level at the foot of the cross.

1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (NIV) 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The God of Justice

Sunday afternoon a man broke into our church, stole over $3,000 in cash, checks and stamps, a camera and our music minister's hat. We had to rekey the church since he took keys to the church. Fortunately, our church has video surveillance. Our video revealed him walking down the hall, lurking past people as he took keys and made his way into our offices. It was actually unnerving since we had women who were alone while he hid in the very next room. The guy actually had the nerve to smoke a cigarette while he stole from us!

We called the police who took pictures and finger prints. The next day I discovered him on the video surveillance and made note of when, where and what he had done. The following day I called to get a detective to come see the video. A policeman entered our building a short time after I called. I assumed he was here because of the break-in so I told him about it. However, he was here because of a fender bender in the parking lot. He had been called by one of the church staff. He was the policeman assigned to Princess Anne High. He wanted to see the video so I showed it to him. It is logical to assume that anyone who will break in and steal from a church will do the same to the school next door.

This morning I rode my bicycle to church as I normally do. The robbery was on my mind as I was thinking how we could be more secure. I was especially concerned about the safety of our own people being in corners of the building where they could be attacked. I saw a policeman (the same one who  and the security officer for Princess Anne High School in the church driveway monitoring the school as I rode by.

Then, there, as I rode around to the other side of the building, was our robber trying the doors to get into the building! There was no doubt to his identity since I had watched the video of him robbing us. I asked, "Can I help you?"

He said, "I'm supposed to meet someone about handbells."

I quickly replied, "Oh, I have a key to the other side of the church. I'll go in and walk through and let you in." (Yes, I know I lied. I have already asked the Lord to forgive me.)

I, then, rode around the church, told the policeman and security officer that the robber was on the other side of the building. The policeman took his car while the security officer rode in his golf cart, each taking a different route around the building. As I made my way around I saw the police officer tell the man to put his hands behind his back. He complied. The officer had no doubt who to arrest since he had watched the video with me the day before.

The guy asked, "What am I being arrested for?

"For robbing the church Sunday afternoon," replied the officer.

"I didn't do nothing to the church"

This made me angry and I yelled, "Oh, yes you did! I have you on video!" (Something within me wanted to demand justice.)  This, ended the conversation.

Today, I will sign whatever it takes to have this guy prosecuted. I know we use the word "alleged" when we speak of suspects but I have a hard time using this word. I saw him on the video. I know he did it. There is no reasonable doubt. I believe in justice.

God believes in justice too. He did not allow my sins to go unpaid. He paid for them with the blood of Jesus. I believe in grace. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in justice. They are not incompatible. There are consequences for our sins. Sometimes they are passed on to our children because they do the same things that we do. Sometimes they affect us in different parts of our lives which do not seem to be connected with our sins. The only way of escape is to confess and ask for forgiveness based on the blood of Jesus. And, yes, sometimes we have to make a payment to our society. Satisfying God does not mean that the consequences of our sins disappear.

Honestly, I hope the guy goes to prison so that he won't be able to rob anyone for a long time. I hope that he comes to Christ. I hope that he is cured of any addictions.

Exodus 34:6-7 (NIV) 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Citizen of Heaven

Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In a few weeks I will be traveling to Italy, Greece and Turkey. I am taking a group of people to visit the sites of Paul's second and third missionary journeys. It will be a wonderful time to focus on the Lord's work in anyone who is fully committed to Christ.

Of course, I will obey the laws of those countries while I am there but I will not become one of their citizens. My earthly home is in the United States.  My citizenship here obligates me to taxes and obedience to the laws of the country. It gives me privileges as a citizen in my protection overseas and here at home. Freedom of speech, freedom of faith and protected civil rights are granted to each citizen of the United States. These rights are not granted by every country, even those who call themselves democratic and free.  Many people died so that the citizens could have these rights. I will be grateful as long as I am alive on this earth.

However, I have a greater citizenship than that of the United States. I am a citizen of heaven. I have rights that are granted here as well. I am forgiven and will receive an eternal home and a glorified body because of this citizenship. Only one Person died so that I might have this citizenship. I don't really know how grateful I will be until I have fully realized my home in heaven.

Paul was a Roman citizen. There was no other country which one could have been more proud to be a citizen of at the time. He did not renounce this citizenship but also realized that it was not his eternal home. He called his present body lowly as he compared it to his heavenly body. It would grant the rights of never decaying, never desiring sin, never getting sick and never being injured.

Paul is obviosly looking forward to that transformation. He has said that he had not attained the resurrection yet but that he was mature. He told people to follow his lead and do what he was and had done. He had ministered long and hard and now looked forward to the culmination of all his hard work. He had not earned his citizenship in heaven but he had prepared himself for living there.

Should that be the desire of all believers? Yes, but only because they have been faithful to the work which the Lord has given them. How can anyone look forward to arriving when he knows that he has been disobedient, lazy or even belligerant toward what God has told him to do?

When I was sixteen years of age I wrecked my parents car. It was my fault; no one made me do it. I knew my parents would forgive me but I still had to go home and tell them that I wrecked the car. I felt the pain of the guilt even though the forgiveness was instantly granted. I couldn't unwreck the car.

I know that I could not look forward to heaven if my character did not reflect one who had prepared himself for citizenship. I also know that I am a sinner required by God to confess and make things right even though I am forgiven. I relate that to telling my parents I wrecked the car. Forgiveness was not in question but I still had to confess. I know that a life that looks forward to heaven must be a faithful life which makes each day a step closer to arriving home.

My earthly life has more behind it that in front of it. There won't be that many years before my home in heaven will come into view. It is good to know that I will have a place.

This lowly body is getting more aches and pains than ever before. I cannot run like I once did. I get up more slowly than when I was younger. But none of this matters because it is not my permanent body anyway, nor is this my permanent home. It is only temporary.

Years ago I had a believer in my church who had a terminal disease. I knew that God would heal him but I did not know if He would heal him on this earth. I wrote him to say that I was praying for him and fully confident that God would heal him either here (and that temporarily) or in heaven (permanently) I could say this because I knew his home was in heaven.

I am going to heaven and preparing for the trip even now. It is my home. I sure would like a lot of people to go with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Two in the Middle

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV) 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

This morning my quiet time was in Matthew 13 where Jesus gives the parable of the sower (though I would call it the parable of the dirt) and interprets it for His disciples. I have always known that the first person who has the seed sown "in his heart" was not a believer because he could not understand it. I have similarly always known that the one who bears fruit is a believer because he the gospel has grown within him to bear this fruit. I have struggled with those in the middle two categories.

Matthew 13:18-23 (NIV) 18 "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

These are people who received the gospel. One does so with joy but quickly leaves the gospel. The other is choked by worries of the world. Neither of these produce any fruit. The evidence is that they are not truly believers because the "seed" of the gospel produces nothing. I have always wanted to say these people were believers and possess eternal life for I know so many people who fall in these categories.

This morning I rode my bicyle to work as I nearly always do. It gives me a lot of time to think as I make my way to work. (It also makes me work on my faith since not all auto drivers are courteous to cyclists.) I rode near a school where I had baptized one of the teachers. She gave every indication of faith. She eagerly grasped ahold of the gospel. I baptized her and she continued to come to church for some time. Now, I don't know what has happened to her. I haven't seen her in church for some time. I wonder if she is one of these two in the middle of the parable for she certainly received the gospel with joy. She may have had the worries of the world make her fruitless.

The Hebrews passage came to light as I thought about this as I rode along. Are the two in the middle those who have tasted the goodness of the word, recognized their sinfulness and though they knew the need for forgiveness through Jesus and wanted to accept Him as Savior stopped short of asking Him to be Lord? Did they taste but never swallow?

If this is the case, there is no hope for those who have come this close but did not make that commitment. It means that there are thousands of people who remain condemned even though they have made a public profession of faith in Christ and have been baptized. They would point back to these events as proof of their faith if asked but their lack of fruit would be a greater evidence that they really never knew the Lord.

Hebrews said that it is impossible to bring them to repentance again since they would have to crucify Christ again. Of course, that just can't happen.

My own life was not one of continuous faith though. I acted like a non-Christian for several months yet I was always "pulled" by the Holy Spirit as I ran from Him. I always knew to whom I belonged. Maybe that's why, all alone in my apartment one night, the Holy Spirit visited me and reminded me of the joy I had when I walked with my Lord. Maybe that's why I got on my knees and asked for forgiveness and asked Him to keep me from coming back to that place (my rebellious life) again.

I am far from perfect but He works within me. I bear fruit because the "seed" planted within me has grown. I am confident that I am not one of the two in the middle. I am also saddened by those who may be.

I suppose the only way to know you are not one of these two is to return to Christ if you have allowed yourself to slide away from His lordship. If you are one of the two, this will be impossible.

So, are you one of the two in the middle?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being Changed by Christ Daily

Romans 8:28-29 (NIV) 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

I wasn't saved so that I would stay in my same condition until I died and went to heaven. I was saved so that I would be conformed to the image of Jesus. Even this was not simply so that God could have a bunch of Jesus clones running around. Becoming like Jesus is the goal of my life. There is an image of what I am to become that God has seen before the beginning of time which He is knitting together through all the things that happen to me.

Many times I hear people say that they can't understand why God would allow bad events to happen to those whom He has called His own. Why doesn't He protect His children from everything evil? The same question my be phrased, "Why does God allow for free will?" Sin entered the world and corrupted creation. Fallen creation is full of things that will go wrong and cause bad things to happen to God's people. God's character is such that He allows this free will of creation. He did so in the Garden of Eden and He will do so in our own gardens. But God's plan goes beyond allowing evil to totally destroy the creation He made as good. God comes before and after these bad things to make something good. He uses all things to bring His children to become like His Son.

Lately, I have been looking at the character which believers should possess. I find that this character is the same as Christ. We are to love like He loves (John 13:34-35), forgive as He forgives (Luke 17:3-4), and give ourselves as He gave Himself (Philippians 2:1-11). Our lives would be nothing but frustration and defeat if it were not for His actions to conform us. Our willingness to be changed by Him and obey in everything He leads us into will bring about our conformation. We are pressed into His mold and we become like Him.

I heard many preachers cry out, "Let go and let God!" I have found that this is an incomplete story for I find my effort is not in simply releasing what I have but also fixing my eyes on Him. The effort is greater when all hell is breaking loose around me. I still come closer to Him when the cries of another crisis call me to focus on it.

Each of the events in every day of the believer are designed to bring the believer closer to the image of Christ if the believer will simply continue to call on Jesus as Lord. The continued obedience will enhance the believer's love for Jesus. The resolve will bring the believer into greater faith as he sees His Lord take those things which were bad and good and use them for his good. He will see the futility of living like the world and the glory in living for his Lord.

Today, it seems as if the world will continue toward evil. The news of today will contain bad and good things but the general atmosphere will have very little to do with God and His kingdom on earth. But even as hell seems to prevail, God is bringing His children into the likeness of His Son.

Today it seems as if the world will never acknowledge Jesus as Lord but there will come a day when all creation will.

"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Even creation itself will be restored to what God originally created.

It is here that I am today, being changed daily by who He is, what He commands and the things He allows into my life. It is being changed daily though hell reigns around me, though satan roars like a lion to make me cower, though I am called to leave my Lord to "save" myself.

Oh, I can't say that I have arrived nor that I am almost there. This is not my call. I am not a good judge to know how far I have traveled. I just know I am being changed for God's glory. Praise be to Him who is not yet finished with me!

Philippians 1:6 (NIV)
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus..

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Gives Us the Power to Forgive?

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV) 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It is very clear that God expects us to forgive one another. Yet, even as Christians, we often have trouble forgiving others for certain offenses. It is easy to say and even agree that we should forgive but the actual forgiveness is often lacking even when we want to forgive. So, beyond agreeing that we should forgive, what should we do to forgive those especially eggregious offenses?

Forgiveness is based upon the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is through His sacrifice that we understand that all offenses have been forgiven.

Hebrews 9:22 (NIV) 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

It is not our blood which accounts for the sin of others. In fact, it would do no good for us to spill blood for our blood would not be innocent. It would not be a perfect sacrifice for the sins of others. It is on the basis of Jesus' spilt blood that forgiveness is given.

God has given the forgiveness we need to us. The connections is unmistakable. The forgiveness we are given is pure grace. The grace of God comes to reside within us. We are in Christ as much as He is in us. We have been given the power of forgiveness through the forgiveness we have received through Him.

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
His Spirit dwells is us. Thus, we have the desire and strength to forgive on the basis of the blood of Jesus.

Romans 8:9 (NIV) 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
His Spirit dwells in us so that we also do not depend upon our own ability to forgive. We forgive on the basis of the power of Christ who dwells in us. He has already paid for the sins of others and has fully forgiven them. Thus, His forgiveness flows through us to forgive others.

These statements concern our abilty to forgive. They do not encompass the individual's need for forgiveness. He will still have to confess and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. We have no ability to do that for the sinner. Our responsibility is to forgive by the power of Christ who reigns in us while accepting the spilt blood of Jesus as the basis for that forgiveness.

Christians have tried to forgive by their own strength alone but some sins have been too difficult for us. The Christian asks for God to give him the strength and may feel that he has forgiven only to have the unforgiveness raise its head again and again. It is here that we must realize that we do not have the strength to do this on our own. We cannot even receive the strength so that we can do it on our own. We must accept His strength and His forgiveness or we will continue to be defeated.

Next month I am going to Rome. Should I ask God to give me the strength to swim there or should I board a vehicle that will take me there? Of course, I can become a stronger swimmer but that distance is not one that I will ever be able to accomplish. I must ride on a plane that will take me to Rome. Such it is with the forgiveness of some sins against me. I can ask to become stronger but I will never be able to forgive on my own. I need the "vehicle" of God's grace to carry me to forgiveness.

While I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, there are times when I must rely upon Him who is within me to do what I cannot do. In the end, is it me that is forgiving? Yes, but not by my own ability nor even my enhanced ability to do so. I forgive because Jesus died on a cross for me and the person I am forgiving. I accept His forgiveness and Him living through me to forgive.

1 John 4:9 (NIV) 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
Amazingly, we not only forgive but love those who have sinned against us. See, the majesty of the power of His grace and love! We have no choice but to forgive for we live through Him.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cleansed by the Word

John 15:3 (ESV)
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV)
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

I find myself drawn closer to the Lord as I listen to His word and allow it to change me. It loosens the filth of my sin and takes it away. The act is very spiritual though not like those who claim to be spiritual but not religious. The word of God cannot be separated from Him. Listening to Him requires the Holy Spirit. The Spirit insists that the relationship with Him  must be pure of heart. I hear better as I am cleansed. The word cleanses me. I see the world with greater clarity because of this relationship. Things become ordered.

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus rather than help her sister, Martha, as she was preparing food. Many of the "Marthas" of the world have never understood that passage when Jesus said that Mary had done what was right in sitting at His feet. They cannot see how that is right because they have never understood the importance of God's word to cleanse and bring us to Him. No one can stand outside of God's word and understand why it was more important to listen than to work. There will be plenty of work to do when the listening is finished.

Each player on the football field listens to the play that is called. Each one has an assignment for that particular play. Each one must know what the play is before he can perform the proper function. Hearing the play called purifies each player for it eliminates the actions of other plays and clarifies the exact action that needs to follow.

Hearing the word of God focuses the person on what he needs to know. It reveals things that need to happen. It loosens the grip of all other possible actions and brings the person to clear thinking of what must be done. It teaches, corrects, admonishes and trains the person to do exactly as God wills.

Jesus cleansed His disciples and cleanses His Church with the word of God. He speaks it still through the Holy Spirit. Yet, it did not cleanse one of His disciples. The action of the Holy Spirit can be resisted or quenched. He can be grieved by people. The presence of His word is not the same as hearing it for faith comes by hearing.

This should tell us a couple of things about our quiet times each day. First, we must know the importance of listening to His word. It should take precedence over the other acts of our day. Second, we should make sure that we are truly listening rather than going through the motions of simply reading the Bible. Then we will see the cleansing effect it has upon us.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Do You Do When You Are REALLY in Trouble?

Most of our troubles are minor. Heavy traffic on the way to work is more of an inconvenience than a real problem. Losing our credit cards brings more anxiety than real trouble. Even a spat with our spouses is generally forgotten in a couple of days. Let's face it, these are not real troubles but real troubles do exist.

Real trouble comes  when your boss says that the company is cutting back on employees and you have only two weeks of severence pay. Real trouble comes when your doctor says that you have cancer. Real trouble comes when your child runs away and you can't find her. These are real troubles because you don't know where to turn nor what to do. You feel surrounded by the trouble and it begins to smother you.

King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by three groups of people. The Meunites, Ammonites and Moabites outnumbered his army in such numbers that there was no hope in victory. His surrender would probably result in his execution. He would have been humiliated, tortured, crippled and killed. His people would be abused and enslaved. They had only one hope.

Jehoshaphat set his heart to seek the Lord and declared a fast for the whole land. The people came from all around to Jerusalem to seek the Lord. And Jehoshaphat prayed. He told of who God is and what God could do. He asked the Lord to so something about the problem. But none of this is remarkable. We all do the same thing when we are in real trouble. Just look at how we ran to church after 911. No, prayer is not the total answer.

Most people focus on their trouble when they have real problems. They believe that focusing on the trouble will reveal a solution. I suppose that is true if you have some real power to overcome the problem. This trouble that Jehoshaphat had couldn't be solved by his own strength. He, therefore, didn't focus on his trouble. He focused on the Lord!

Now, this shouldn't be such a big surprise to us. Afterall, didn't Jesus say that we should seek first God's kingdom and righteousness to have all that we need given to us?

So, we seek the Lord, focus on Him, and our troubles will be taken care of. That may mean that our lives are taken or our homes or jobs are taken. It may mean that our children run off and stay away for a long time but the trouble itself is placed into the hands of the only One who can really handle the trouble.

It takes a lot of maturity to honestly say, "Lord, I don't know what to do but my eyes are on you."

2 Chronicles 20:12 (NIV) 12 O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Insidious Deception of Sin

My wife had surgery this past week and I have been taking care of her at home. It has given me a break from my routine. The break seems to have opened my eyes.

This morning, on my bike ride to work, I noticed all the trash that has been strewn along the road. There were broken beer bottles, half eaten fast food complete with bags, water bottles and an array of things which must have been tossed out as people made their private trash into public trash. That stretch of road was cleaned not so long ago. It didn't take long before it reverted to its deplorable condition.

Littering is a crime and carries a stiff penalty in Virginia Beach. It takes public tax dollars to clean up this trash. So, why would people blatantly throw out their trash? The answer is closer to home than you would think.

I have noticed that people disobey the rules as if it is something that must be done. They travel ten miles an hour over the speed limit when it wouldn't save them more than a minute to their destination. They leave their shpping carts in the middle of the parking lot when they need the excercise of taking that cart to the collection spot. They park in no parking zones just to avoid a couple of steps to the entrance of a store. It seems that mankind is wired to break the rules.

It is as if our DNA was changed after Adam broke the first rule. He ate the fruit and we have been slipping on the banana peels ever since. Sin is so deceptive that it makes us believe that we are actually free when we commit sin. The truth is that we are under its power when we commit it. It not only controls our future, "The wages of sin is death," but ensures that we have no power to overcome its effects. It dooms us while we are proclaiming our freedom to commit it.

Sin is like a drug that makes us feel more alive but is in reality killing us. We think of it as freedom but it is slavery. The only real freedom is the freedom of being released from its affects.

Those who are throwing out their trash, speeding or leaving their shopping carts think that they will not be caught and they are, in small ways, exerting their "freedom" to break these rules. They do not realize that these infractions will not satisfy them soon. They will increasingly want to break greater rules. The path is one of unfaithfulness and unfaithfulness to their fellow human beings in a general way will lead to an unfaithfulness in a specific way. It brings lies, thievery and adultery at its apex.

In the end the person wonders how he ever allowed himself to become this person who would do such things. Of course, sin will give him an excuse. It was because he never had anything nice or his parents didn't treat him right or his wife never really met his needs. Sin can be continued once the guilt is absolved. Guilt which has been covered makes the sinner less likely to feel future guilt.

So, it is necessary to realize sins hold on you and pray that the Lord Jesus will be your strength to defeat it. You must flee from temptation, own up to those things you have done wrong and repent of them by placing them in the hands of Jesus.

The only real freedom is walking with Jesus. Sin is just a deception that makes you believe you are free.

Romans 6:17-18 (ESV) 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Redefining Success for the Church and the Pastor

I have read that 85% of the churches in America are shrinking or are showing no growth. 98% of those who are growing are doing so by taking members from dying churches. This means that only .3% of the churches are growing because they are reaching the unchurched. Are these the only ones who are being successful?

Let's ask the questions that need to be asked. Should we count those churches who are growing at the expense of other churches as successful? Their pastors are often reaching people who were attending dying churches. They are often baptizing those whose traditions didn't include immersion as a means of baptism. Their baptism numbers are up and their churches are growing. Is that success?

If not, are we saying that only .3% of churches and pastors are truly successful in seeing the majority of their church growth through new believers? That seems like a slim number and it also declares that nearly all churches are disobedient to their Lord. Is this really the case?

Jesus had many people leave Him because of His hard words. They didn't like His ideas of full commitment. There was a small handful of His believers who hung around during His trial and execution. Even His most devoted followers doubted who He was before the resurrection. Was Jesus a failure as a human being and only successful as God?

No, success cannot be determined by numbers. It must be determined by faithfulness. Obedience is the heart of success as a believer. Jesus never defined it otherwise nor can we find any other definition no matter how hard we try to make the American church into the corporate model. A business defines success by its profits. A church must define its success by her listening to her Lord and obeying.

Does that mean that God is not concerned about church growth? No, absolutely not. His concern is in reaching people for eternity but there are those who will never give their hearts to Him. This was seen when Jesus physically walked this earth and has never changed. Why would it be easier to hear the stories of Jesus and believe when you could see Jesus perform miracles as a basis for belief? His miracles were dismissed as much in the first century as they are today. In other words, God sent Jesus to save the world but there are always those who will never believe. Our obedience is found in sharing the gospel; not in the saving of souls. That is His work. We are merely the message carriers; we did not write the message.

This is why it is so important for believers and their pastors to arise each day and spend time with their Lord for instructions for the day. Each is taught, inspired, corrected and trained through God's words. Each is given the task of obedience.

Too often we all look at those who seem to have more success than us and ask why we can't have what that other person has. We ask, "Lord, why don't you put my name in lights, have me do conferences for others and be well know and revered among others because of what I have done?" Most pastors would like to be those who have written books because they have seen success in church growth. They would like to be seen as the sage who can give all instruction to others and who can "spiritually" look down on others who have noe had their success. We simply can't be content with obedience, we want fame and fortune!

The true test of faithfulness is continuing to be content in obedience even if the Lord should have you minister in a church which never sees growth. It may be that this pastor has one great task to win and disciple an individual who will raise his family to be strong believers. It may be that they will pass this faith down for generations but never gain notoriety for the pastor or this family.

The world has so influenced the Church that most pastors can't be content with this. They beat themselves for not having those churches which are mentioned on the nightly news. They consider themselves failures.

I am not saying that we should give up trying to see our churches grow. I am not saying that we shouldn't continue to share the gospel whenever and however we get the opportunity. But I am also saying that our obedience may not make us superstars. It will just make us successful to our Lord.

And that should be enough.

(Read the scripture below carefully. It defines success as not looking at what others have or have done. Success is following Jesus.)

John 21:20-22 (ESV)
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Solid Rock

Ecclesiastes 3:14-15 (ESV)
14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

I have been leading a study through the Bible verse by verse. We are in 2 Chronicles and our plan is to finish either in 2024 or 2025.

We find in our study an interesting pattern that reveals that mankind has never changed. No one from Adam to present man is really that different. The same desires, same sins and same virtues remain constant. God Himself remains the same so that we can rely on His word and His actions.

God began a process of creation to bring mankind into fellowship with Himself. He gave His creation a hope in a Messiah. He fulfilled that hope in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. This hope remains for all those who trust in Jesus as Savior. Nothing has changed this from the beginning of time until present day.

Western cultures are leaving this hope but all other cultures of the world are embracing it. Over 86,000 people a day are giving their lives to Jesus in the world. Only a small percentage of these people live in Europe or the US. God's word is being proclaimed as mightily as it was in the first century with results that exceed that of the first century. The western cultures are ignoring His word just as those who felt "enlightened" did in the first century. Nothing has really changed.

Prayer was and is the most powerful tool of the believer. It reveals the faith of God's followers to seek what God seeks and do what God wills. It is heard by God the same as it has always been heard. He still seeks to strongly support those whose hearts are completely His.

The message of Christ has never changed. It is preached, broadcast, blogged, emailed, tweeted, face booked, published and podcast and while the methods are varied, this message remains. It has the same power to change the soul as it always did. It moves people into a new eternity and that eternity has never changed.

God has changed the chaos of the universe into a cosmos. That cosmos is not changing no matter how different the landscape of morality seems to change. Man cannot change morality no more than he can change the color red or black to be other colors. He can declare that they look different but he cannot change the way they look. Their "color" is engraved in their definition. God's morality is engraved in His holiness. Whether or not mankind approves or disapproves of this morality is irrelevant. God's holiness is the standard which cannot be changed by man. Sin will always be sin because the standard of right is set upon God's holiness rather than man's culture. Thus, nothing changes in right or wrong.

The very nature of an immutable God secures a constant universe. His attributes will never change. He will always be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, holy, righteous and all that has ever been attributed to Him. He has not lost any measure of who He is. He is the Lord who sits on the throne who holds the whole world and every part of it in His hands. Nothing ever slips through His fingers.

So, I have a salvation which does not depend upon how hard I hold on but on how God holds onto me. I have a hope that depends on the God who has never lied nor will ever lie. I have a Savior who continues to work on me to make me into His image. I have a confidence that my God who has never changed will not ever change and I can always know this no matter what my circumstances.

This is the solid rock on which I stand. It is the immovable God who brings His creation to Himself. He is that Solid Rock. And with this I sing:

On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thank God for Mondays!

The work week for most people in western cultures begins on Monday. Many people dread the day because it represents doing something that they must do rather than what they would like to do. Monday begins a five day journey which must be completed to get to the weekend. The weekend represents freedom and joy.

That's not the way it should be. Monday is a day which God has given to us to minister in our work. It involves knowing what He wants us to do and doing it. It will bring an immense joy when it is done within this context. On the other hand, it is a drudgery when it is merely a means of making money that we can spend on the weekend.

The work that God has given to us is a gift. It does not matter where we work because there is God's ministry within in that job. God calls us to be His witnesses in construction, accounting, teaching, healing and even preaching. There is no profession outside of God's calling to do His work.

Those who are living for the weekend maybe outside of God's will in what they are doing. They just might have taken the easy task of making money rather than using their God given talents to work at a job within those talents. Therefore, they will not find the fullness of God's ministry in their work. They are trying to minister to people whom they have not been called.

Most people, however, are where they should be in their professions. They just don't know that their profession is supposed to be a ministry to accomplish God's will. These people may see their employment as a means of earning a living so that they can do God's will. They have failed to see that they don't have to wait to get to church to do ministry. They can do their most significant ministry in the employment that they already have.

Joy invades the individual who sees God's will being accomplished as they do their work. It makes work an opportunity to see God's glory. It brings pleasure in that work which could have been mundane without this purpose being seen. It gets the person up to look forward to the day of employment for it is here that he finds the glory of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (ESV)
12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.