Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rolling the Dice on Eternity

I have struggled to understand why anyone would gamble with eternity. People hear the gospel and tell me that they are willing to take their chances that I am wrong. They believe a myriad of things which will get them another chance or obtain the grace of God some other way.  Some believe they will have another appeal or that they will be given another chance to prove their worthiness of heaven. They do not understand the finality of this life. They do not realize that they will not make a decision of faith at the last moment. Yes, it is possible but it is a small percentage.

They believe many things which keep them from seeing the truth. That should not be a surprise. After all, a math problem will have only one correct answer but can have an infinity of incorrect ones. Lies can be fashioned to the individual. The truth is merely the truth no matter who hears it.

Thus, we can have preachers saying that no one will go to hell if they are good people. We have social media groups absolving each other's wrongdoings so that sin is no longer sin. Some will use reasoning powers to deduce that God will give another opportunity or that the interpreters of the Bible have been wrong for centuries. The same lie will not be believed by everyone but custom-made lies can convince one at a time.

Our world lives under the principle which states: It must be true if enough people are saying it is true. The majority of the world says that Jesus isn't the way to salvation. The majority is saying to live life without regard to the existence of a holy God. The majority says that everyone will make it to heaven somehow. They don't even try to explain what happens to the Hitlers and Ben Ladens. They know evil exists but they don't want to believe in an eternity for evil.

The Apostle Paul understood that he there were forces working against him as he preached the gospel. That should be evident to every person who shares the gospel today. The world has been speaking a language that has been naturally understood. It points toward heaven on earth without considering another heaven.

People who do not know Christ aren't really rolling the dice. They aren't considering the possibility that they could be wrong. The stakes are too high to roll the dice. They believe they are right. They do so because they have been blinded.

So, I love people that do not love the Lord because I believe that is what Jesus does. I believe that their eyes can be opened but I don't believe it is because I will make a more convincing argument. The gospel is plain. Jesus came to pay the price of sin so that those who believe in Him will have peace with God. Peace is necessary for the entrance into heaven. This is too plain to put it in fancy words which will distort the meaning. It is the truth and it must remain such.

And I pray for people because I know that they will never be able to see the truth unless there is someone fighting for them in spiritual places. The battle is not intellectual but spiritual. No one is ever argued into heaven. They must believe as an act of obedience rather than coercion. They must be able to see the truth. They must have the scales removed from their spirits so that they can see.

Yet, I also hope for I see God bringing people to Himself.

A young lady came to me Sunday after church and told me she had given her heart to Christ. She wanted to follow in baptism. Her friends were around her. They had brought her to church. They had loved her and prayed for her. And she received the gospel because of it.

I'm not rolling the dice on eternity either. I wholeheartedly believe that God is bringing people to Himself. It isn't chance. It is His love.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (ESV)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Real Faith Is Not Casual

People get religion and faith mixed up all the time. Some of them come to me and say, "I'm not a very religious person. . ." and I generally interupt with, "Good, neither am I." You see, I go to church a lot but I don't do it for religious reasons. Church should be an exercise of my faith rather than a religious act.

Faith causes me to worship the Almighty whom I believe to be in the room. You can hardly be casual when you talk to someone that you can't see. And you do this with others who can't see Him either! That's just not casual.

Real faith grasps things that can't be known without the commitment that the faith requires. For example, Jesus speaks of laying down His life for His friends. That certainly isn't casual. Then, He calls His disciples friends. He reveals Himself to them because they have been committed to do what He has asked.

John 15:14-15 (ESV) 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Some people say they are following Jesus but show no actions taken beyond that which is convenient. Following after Him is a denial of all the world says is valuable. It means believing that the relationship with Him is more important than those things which make us happy. That is never casual.

Luke 14:26-27 (ESV) 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Christianity can't be a casual faith. Jesus compared it to selling all that you have in order to have this faith. He spoke of it as having a value beyond anything this world has to offer. He spoke of having this faith to the exclusion of all other things. In other words, you would put it all aside in order to have this faith.

Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV) 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The Apostle Paul never understood his faith as casual. He left all that he was and had to follow after Jesus. He considered his former things as the refuse that is flushed down toliets. He wanted to follow after Jesus. He did so with the same faith that is required of us. He said it was all worth it. That's just not casual.

Philippians 3:7-11 (ESV) 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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.

But there are many people who believe that faith is casual. They will complain if the preacher's message is on tithing and justify their complaints because Christmas is coming in three or four months. They refuse to serve Christ in the church because of the lake house they visit on the weekends. They miss worship services and discipleship classes in order to participate in or attend ongoing sport activities. They stay at home if it rains and go to the beach if the sun is shining.

They have tried to make their faith casual. I don't think it is possible. I believe they "got religion" but have no real faith. What do you think James was asking when he said:

James 2:14 (ESV) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

I don't even wonder about it. I don't believe real faith is casual.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar

Hebrews 12:15 (ESV)
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

There are some scriptures that I keep returning to for they explain things going on in the world. They come to me in new applications as I read them again and again. Thus, it is with Hebrews 12:15.

I have wondered why the people with the most flaws are the quickest to point out the flaws of others. They have the most acerbic tongues, the most critical spirits and, often, have no basis for the castigation they fling on others.

I believe that somewhere they have failed to receive grace. This may have come from a degrading, over-the-top critical parent. It may have come from a long time of teasing because of their physical makeup, i.e. they had big ears, large nose, overweight, etc.. This refusal of others to offer grace has created a refusal in their own hearts.

They have developed a root of bitterness. The root springs forth new plants of criticism which denies grace and forgiveness. Every other person represents those who refused him grace at one time. Every other person receives his vile anger.

Meanwhile this person is longing for someone to give him grace. Yet, people do not commonly extend this grace to someone who is so critical. They have a great difficulty in complimenting and extending grace to someone who has had no grace for them. Then, the bitterness grows deeper.

The bitter person takes the personage of the devil. He steals the joy, kills the spirit and destroys whatever is going on. The bitter person comes to the business meetings of churches with this purpose in mind. He hopes that people will see how smart he is for pointing out the flaws in every idea. He is joined by the other critical people who pat him on the back. They do not realize that they have really joined with the devil to stop an act of faith by pointing out what was guaranteed or practical. Faith often lacks guarantees and practicality.

Bitter people are allows to rule because they bully the rest of the congregation. Most people don't want to come to church to fight. They want to fellowship, worship and study the scripture. They have too many struggle in their own lives to take on another fight. But the bitter people relish these opportunities to beat on others.

Bitter people flock to the church because no other organization would put up with them. The church members don't know what to do with them because they see themselves as those who must extend grace. The bitter people don't even recognize the grace which is being given to them. They believe their own strong personalities keep people from opposing them. And, yes, many times it isn't grace but fear that allows bitter people to go unabated.

Unfortunately, bitter people generally don't know they are bitter people. They can't see their criticism of others as harmful. They can't see their actions taking the personage of the devil.

There are two solutions and each of these requires a great deal of energy. One is to become the opposing voice to the critical spirits of bitter people It means standing strong during church meetings and giving solid reasons of faith why things need to happen. One must be careful in this response because it needs to be covered with grace rather than bitterness.

The other solution is to offer genuine grace to bitter people. These people live in fear of confronting their own flaws. Opposition keeps them from looking at themselves. Grace has an amazing effect. It can cause the coldest heart to turn to Jesus. Many a hardened criminal has become a spiritually sound person of grace after receive the grace of the Lord.

The solutions are not one or the other. They are both. The bitter people will either leave to terrorize another church or come to the grace of Christ. The former may happen but the latter is the goal of these solutions.

Make sure that even the bitter person receives grace. Grace has changed more hearts than anything else I have known.

Mary Poppins said it well: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Blessing the Children

Matthew 18:5 (ESV) 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,

New Testament parents loved their children as much as parents do today. Yet, children had no status. They were essentially the parents' property which could be done with any way the parents pleased. Jesus elevated their status.

Jesus told those listening (which includes us) that we have a responsibility for these children beyond ensuring that they make adulthood. The phrase "in my name" has two possible meanings. It can mean "for the sake of" or "to bring a blessing to." I choose to believe that it means both.

We should embrace children for the sake of Christ. It will mean that we do so as if we are embracing Him. It will mean that we will bring them to Him. It will mean that we will sacrifice for them and thus for Him. It will mean that we will give them status as if He were with us. We will listen to them even though they may not give us great wisdom. We will care for them. We will give them value and in doing so we have given Him value in our lives.

We should bring blessings to the children. The greatest blessing anyone can share with a child is faith in Christ as savior. This means more than patting them on the heads as they come to church. It means giving so that teachers will have literature and visuals which will help the children hear the story of Christ. It means providing a place to learn and to worship the Lord. It means being a teacher of these children. It means sharing with them the true joy of Christmas rather than only telling them of Santa Claus.

Children are important in the kingdom of God. Our own relationship with Jesus is affected by how we treat children. I believe I can say that I have rejected Him if I have rejected children.

Bless a child today. Receive them in Jesus' name.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Weep with the People of Newtown

I really cannot imagine the hurt being felt by parents, siblings, friends and others of Newtown, Connecticut at the loss of twenty children and seven adults. It was horrible even for those of us who watched the news. What was it like for those who lived it?

Soon, people will rush forward with reasons why this happened and solutions to prevent it from happening again. There will be those who will point out how relatively rare these events are when one considers the number of students and number of schools. That will not matter for the people of Newtown. The reasons and solutions are too late. And as far as the rarity of the event; it's 100% for the people of Newtown.

Right now, these people need something I can't give them. They need comfort and I don't know how one is comforted when a child is lost in such a senseless tragedy. I don't know how to say things are going to be okay. I don't know how to tell them that things are going to get better. None of that makes sense to me either.

So, I pray to the Almighty as He has received these little children into His presence that He will give comfort to these families who are feeling the greatest loss they can know. I don't know how He will be able to do this. But He is God and He can do what I consider as impossible.

I know Satan appears to have had a great victory yesterday. I believe that God will defeat him. Satan has always sought to steal, kill and destroy. Right now, it looks like Satan is winning.

So, I take my Lord's lead when I consider the pain of the people of Newtown. I weep as He wept for those who had lost a loved one.

He must also be weeping with them now.

John 11:33-36 (ESV)
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept.36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 

Friday, December 14, 2012

For the "Least of These"

It is easy to look past people. There are so many. They can blend in with the scenery and you will never notice them. They go to work with us and live next to us. They cross the streets as we wait. They sit next to us on planes, theaters and football stadiums. And, too often, we never notice them.

Sometimes they come to our churches. We greet them without any concern.

I taught a group of people at one of the churches I served to ask a simple question of those who came to church for the first time. I taught them to say, "We believe people come to church because of a need. We would like to help you with your need. Is there anything you would like us to pray with you about?"

And, amazingly, they told us.

Some of the people who started doing this regularly decided to take it outside the church. They went to a restaurant after church and said to their waiter, "You have served us, so now we would like to serve you. Is there any need you have we can pray for?"

At first, the waiter said, "No."

I believe he was shocked and didn't know how to answer. He left but came back and gave them a need they could pray for.

This same waiter brought most of the wait staff by their table the next time they came to the restaurant. Each one had a prayer request. (And they got excellent service too!)

How many times do we look past people and fail to realize that we can do something for them? We can pray. We can welcome. We can give them a glass of water.

Is this important for us? Is what we do with others important to our Lord?

Most Christians simply do not get this:

When we do it for those who are the least, we are doing it for the Lord.

Let those who have eyes see those who are blending into the scenery.

Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
   41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Handing Someone Over to Satan

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV) 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

1 Timothy 1:19-20 (ESV)
19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Thers is a disruption in your church. Either a group or someone is causing problems in the fellowship. They may be corrupting the church's purity or creating a bad reputation for the church or teaching blasphemy. The church however doesn't know what to do with them. The church does not know how to defend herself..

Many times churches and, thus, individuals in the church act in the same manner as the one who is causing the disruption. There are business meetings to oust the troublemaker. There are secret meetings to keep the person off of committees. There is campaign to destroy the person. These are all wrong.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the church shouldn't oust the person. That may be necessary but the removal of a person from a church has one goal: repentance and the subsequent re-entering the fellowship of the church.

This is also the goal of handing this disruptive, sinful person over to Satan.

The church will never be completely pure as long as believers have a sin nature. We have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. We are all in need of repentance and confession to be cleansed from our unrighteousness again and again. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about taking every issue people commit to the church leadership. This would result in a constant witch hunt. The church would never have the time to make disicples.

This concerns the unrepentant corruption of the church. This is a public sin which does not need to be shared with others because it is already known. It should be met with tears and grief at its discovery. It should be handled carefully. It should be an act of love even though the action(s) against the person may be harsh.

The battle must be fought in the realm where it originates. Turning the person over to Satan is an act which removes God's hand of protection from the individual so that he or she will be "sifted" by Satan. Satan's desire is to destroy us all. It is revealed in the Garden of Eden and continues with the murder of Abel. We cannot imagine the evil Satan is capale of and would bring upon us if God did not hold him back.

It is through this act that we learn the charge given to Peter when Jesus told him He would give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The church may bind and loose things on earth and in heaven. Here the church looses Satan to do as much as God permits to bring the recalcitrant person to repentance. (I know this is not the common interpretation of this verse. Most commentators are especially vague when they explain Matthew 16:19. I do not understand this verse as overruling the will of God concerning someone. I see it as participating with God to see someone brought back into God's grace and discipline.) Paul appears to have done this as an individual when he speaks to Timothy. Apparently, he was acting within his own authority as an apostle.

So, there are times when someone who is unrepentant and who is disrupting or corrupting the fellowship of the church should be turned over to Satan. It is really a harsh action to take and must be done with extreme care.

But, sometimes it needs to be done.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Should We Do When Craziness Is All about Us?

Each day I watch or listen to the news. Each day brings a tragedy. Many of these tragedies are acts of violence done by human beings to human beings. Many of them make no sense.

A young professional football player shoots his wife and himself. A man walks into a mall and starts shooting people. He ends his rampage with suicide. Someone is shot while sitting in his house because someone else has chosen this house for target practice. Houses, barns and abandoned buildings are set on fire for no apparent reason.

The world asks why this happens? Prevention is seen as the answer. But how can you prevent something if you don't know why it happened?

I believe that many of these cases come from people who are mentally ill. There were traumas in their lives which left them scarred. These difficulties came slowly. These tragic events caused them to slowly become the people who act in terrible violence.

Many others are chemically imbalanced. They either have introduced chemicals into their own bodies or these chemicals naturally occured to cause a mental imbalance. We do not know what to do with these people as a society. So, we leave them on the streets or allow them to function as marginal psychotics. One day they step beyond that margin.

None of this helps the victims. Often these victims are the ones left behind after someone commits an act of craziness.I don't use this word to condemn. I use this to exemplify the senslessness of the violence and evil. It is craziness to the victims and so it should be.

Unfortunately, the answer to the problem is beyond us. Jesus told us to pray that His kingdom should come in the Lord's Prayer. The world will continue to act in the sin which was introduced by mankind until His kingdom comes.

Does that mean we should do nothing until God intercedes for all mankind? Absolutely not! We should get help for people.

Yesterday a man came into the church and told me that he had a gun. He had been drinking. I let him talk, prayed with him and saw that he left. (Literally walked him to the door.) Almost immediately I knew I should have taken him more seriously. I got in my car and tried to find him since I knew he would be on foot. I couldn't immediately find him so I called the police. (About ten to fifteen minutes had elapsed.) He had come back to the church and the police arrested him right outside. I still do not know if he had a gun since I never saw it. I believe that calling the police was the right thing to do for that man and everyone else.

This does not eliminate evil. It will exist as long as the Lord delays His return.

So, I take whatever action I can and pray for His kingdom to come.

Matthew 6:9-10 (ESV) 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Silence Is Golden

I am a preacher. I make a living by talking. Lots of people tell me that they don't know how I do it. They say that they are glad they don't have to stand in front of hundreds of people each week and talk. It's easy for me. I don't think about it.

I think about being quiet. However, I must not think about it too much because I continue to talk when I really should have been quiet.

Knowing when to open your mouth and when to shut comes from wisdom. It is foolish to speak when it is unnecessary. O that I  would ever learn this!

I like to laugh and make people laugh. This desire overrules wisdom. I say things that are neither appropriate nor funny. These things cause me to look foolish, careless, uncaring, arrogant and, sometimes, like a big jerk!

And you can't unsay anything that you have said. You can say that you wish you hadn't said it but it is still indelibly etched into the minds of the hearers. So is their opinions of what you said.

I don't have a problem talking in front of people I have a problem shutting up.

I keep thinking the pain of each appropriate statement I have made will teach me this lesson. So far, I am still talking when I should be quiet.

I understand the statement "Silence is golden" differently from others. It isn't that I need to hear silence. I just need to be silent.

Proverbs 17:28 (ESV) 28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Reason They Don't Know What Is Right

There is a lot of discussion about the fiscal cliff or avalanche or abyss or whatever you want to call it. The deadline is coming. It and other new taxes will probably send us into another recession.  Most Americans have no idea of the impact. They are like people who continue to party while the ship sinks. Everything seems fine right now. Why worry?

So, the Democrats and Republicans continue to jockey and gamble with the future of the nation. Each one believes his own philosophy. Each one considers his own political future. Each one tries to convince the American people that disaster looms ahead if the other side gets their way. Meanwhile, the ship continues to sink.

The truth is that neither party knows exactly what to do no matter how passionate they argue their positions. They both agree that they don't want to increase the taxes on the middle class. They both agree that the deficit spending must stop (though they have definite differences on the definition of deficit spending). Both parties want a minimum of pain in the solution. The Democrats have determined that the "wealthy" should shoulder a portion of the burden for the sake of the poor. The Republicans have said that taxing the "wealthy" will result in less investments and, thus hurt the working poor since they could lose their jobs. Both have strong points.

This debate can go on until the ship hits the bottom of the ocean. Something needs to happen which will bring the two parties together. I am afraid that there is nothing on earth other than a unprovoked attack on the United States which would unite them. So, the American people suffer because neither party knows what is right.

What could bring us together? A common religion? No,  the Middle East is largely Muslim but has more conflict than America. They are in constant battles with one another. They have factions within their factions. I'm afraid that mere religion will fall inadequate.

But, make sure that you understand that I said "religion." I didn't say relationship. America became a great nation because of allowing people to believe without coercion. But America did believe because faith was held high until the past fifty or sixty years. There was virtue in a relationship with the Lord. Knowing what is right came from prayer and depending on this relationship to reveal what needed to be done. It was through this relationship that the poor were helped.  It was through this relationship that hospitals and schools were established.  People knew what was right because of this relationship.

Sure, there were plenty of fakers. They were the ones who could talk the talk but revealed who they really were by their unloving actions. They were cold. They gave Jesus a bad name. Unfortunately, almost everyone can point to someone in their own churches who were just plain mean. The problem is that these have become the face of those who reject a relationship with Christ. I know. I rejected their religion too but I didn't reject Jesus. That has made all the difference.

There are times when the Bible does not specifically say what you should do. This is when the relationship is oh so necessary. It is then that prayer becomes the means of knowing what to do because simply doing what others say or what "feels" good will lead you to destruction. It's not magic. Its a loving Lord leading His people to do what is best.

Many people will say that faith needs to stay out of politics. I will agree to a point. I do not support candidates publicly because of my position as pastor. I believe that Jesus died for all parties and offers all salvation. However, I will not go so far as to say that a relationship with the Lord wouldn't help those who need to make decisions. I do not understand why the God who helps me find which car to buy my wife won't help a nation find out what is right in much larger matters.

I am convinced that people will continue to make bad decisions as long as they don't know what is right. Just think of both parties coming together and forgetting their own philosophies to look for what is right instead of seeing how they can get popular opinion to go their way.

Do I know the end of this political wrangling? I am afraid I do.

Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Is for You, Too

This is for all the Marthas in the world. You are those people who are working hard to do what you can for everyone else. You are the ones who are preparing the house, the food, wrapping the presents and making the phone calls for family and friends to arrive. You are the ones who don't expect anything nor do you really want anything. You may even feel like you don't deserve anything.

But Christmas is for you, too. Jesus didn't come to this world just so that everyone else would hear of His birth. He did not come so that you would have to work hard to make it a special time for others and never receive the joy of Christmas. He didn't overlook you. He came for you, too.

I know. Some of you Marthas may think it is more important to do all the work than to enjoy the presence of Christ. It isn't. You are very special to the Lord. You are believing a lie if you don't believe that. He crossed over from heaven to earth for you, too.

This is also for all you who haven't been so close to the Lord this past year. You are the people who didn't come to church much. You are the ones whose Christian walk hasn't been that close. You are the ones who want to walk with the Lord, try to walk with the Lord but always fall away after a few days of effort. You are the ones who have rededicated your lives to the Lord but can't seem to get it too stick. Christmas is for you, too.

This is for all of you who do not think Jesus would come for you. You may think you are not good enough. You may think you are so good that you don't need Him. You may think that He has forgotten you or has never thought of you. Let me assure you: He came for you, too.

Jesus didn't come into the world just so that we would go to church or read our Bibles. He came so that our lives would be changed. He came so that we might know that we are loved while we are yet sinners. And since He came for all sinners, He came for you, too.

Sometimes we don't get the significance of the angels coming to the shepherds. They were considered to possess quesitonable character since they nomadicly led their flocks from place to place. It was easy to blame a shepherd when something went missing. It was easy to blame them because they may not have been part of the community. They would not have thought that the Lord came for them. And they were wrong.

So,  Jesus came for them, too.

And if He has come for them, He has come for you, too.

Luke 2:8-18 (ESV) 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Christmas of Joy

Lots of people are under tremendous stress this Christmas. They drive hurriedly in heavy traffic to find a parking place at a full mall to go into an overcrowded store to find the last one of what they are looking for to stand in a long line so that they can go home, make their houses look Christmasy and cook too much food for overfed people. They don't know if they can afford what they have paid for a gift that they don't know will be right for someone who may not need what they are giving. Even if the giftee says they like Star Trek- is that the Original Series or the Next Generation or any of the movies of either?

Christmas joy has become the moment that it is all over. It is only then that people can lament over or congratulate themselves for what they have done. There is very little joy in that.

So, what would make it a Christmas of joy? Why did the angels tell the shepherds that it would be great joy of all the people? It wasn't simply that a baby was born, though that is a cause of some joy. It wasn't that there was a great light show being put on by the angels. It was something more.

Christmas must be a time we remember why Jesus came if we are to have Christmas joy. He came to establish a relationship with us that will last for eternity. He came so that we would have hope for live beyond this life. He came so that we would know Him so that we will never be alone when we face the struggles of this life. He came so that we could have someone to depend upon when our needs are lacking. He came to heal, love and, most importantly, forgive.

But my joy would also be extended if I see others come to know Him. I want others to know who Jesus is so that they can have Christmas joy too.

Last night one of my church members came to me and asked if I ever thought of surveying people after a worship service to see if they "got" what the message was about. I told him that I was afraid to do so because I am afraid of what may be interpreted.

He told me that this is what he got out of Sunday's sermon: That Christmas wasn't just about the birth of a baby. That it was about people receiving salvation. That it is a great time for us to tell others about the true meaning of Christmas.

I said to him that he got it. But he got more than sermon. He got the meaning of Christmas and the key to Christmas joy.

Luke 2:10-12 (ESV) 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Ever Happened to Justice?

The pendalum of public opinion swings. The things which were wrong have been seen with such compassion that they are now considered right. An absent dad and rough environment gets a robber probation without additional time behind bars. The illegal alien is hidden by his neighbors. Excuses are made for the punch thrown by the athelete in the bar.

Sure, there should be compassion but where is the justice?

The radio reported that most Latinos know someone who is an illegal. They feel compassion for those illegals and support them. That is why they voted for candidates who rejected policing immigration. I am all for the compassion but doesn' t this show no compassion for those who went through the legal process of becoming citizens? Is the legal process unjust?

The compassion of our society has led our nation to largely support homosexuality as an approved lifestyle. While I will never support hurting homosexuals, I must take a look at the Bible and wonder if the Bible has forgotten compassion when it states that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. Yes, I have met homosexuals and do not want them to be hurt but I can't approve their lifestyles either. I must have compassion but I also must have justice.

Justice is found in obedience to the law. It is found in the correction of a society to be one of law. Chaos will eventually rule in a society which has all compassion but no justice. Oppression rules in a society which has all justice and no compassion. The two must be balanced.

Jesus did not dispense with justice. He told the woman who was caught in adultery to "go, and sin no more." How was a woman who was well known in this particular sin supposed to make a living if she didn't do what she had done? Everyone wants to see the compassion He had for her in His pardon but not the justice He had for her in His command. The two are balanced.

Yet,the farther we get from a Christian world view, the farther we get from justice. We simply don't know what is right or wrong. We have taken right and wrong as things that change by the minute. They are determined by whether we like the accused rather than whether or not what was done is wrong.

Yes, we don't understand justice. What does that say of us?

Proverbs 28:5 (ESV) 5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Missing Greatness

My wife and I stood in line at the Delta counter in Tel Aviv. We had just taken a group of people to the Holy Land and we were making the journey home. The process was familiar to us. We didn't expect anything other than getting our boarding passes, waiting and boarding. The Delta agent told us that we had been bumped up to first class. It was extremely exciting because it was also our anniversary.

We boarded first and found our seats on the second floor of the Boeing 747. There were about twenty seats in the whole cabin. The two flight attendants began serving us immediately. We had our own storage areas, seat controls which truly laid flat, menu in which we ordered dinner and bunches of other things I fail to remember.

We took off in the greatest comfort I have ever felt on a plane. The flight attendants served our every want. They even made my wife a special dessert because she didn't want the choices on the menu. I had ordered a steak which was as good as I have had. My family has raised their own cattle for some time. I know what a great steak is. This was one of them.

It may have been an hour or so into the flight when the captain came over public address system:

"Good evening, folks, this is Captain (I've forgotten his name.) and I have some good news. It seems that the wind patterns are favorable and we should be arriving in New York about an hour early."

My wife said aloud, "Nooooooooo!"

It felt great to be treated this way but it was not greatness. The people serving us were greater than we were.

People often tell me that they believe they were created for something great. Most of them can't tell me what that is. They have not found the greatness they were created for. Again, I blame the language that the world has taught us. The world says that greatness comes when you are famous, powerful, rich and beautiful. That is why books by the famous, powerful, rich and beautiful sell. People want to be like them because they have been deluded into thinking that this is greatness. Chasing these delusions keeps us from greatness.

Greatness is being the servant of all. It is not writing books, entertaining, being photogenic or being all powerful.

Even Jesus own disciples didn't understand this. His teaching wasn't getting through to them. I understand His frustration. I sometimes think that my own preaching isn't getting through to anyone. I may not have done it as well as Jesus but I have been doing it longer than He did. But greatness is not found in preaching either.

This lesson was so important that He got a towel and washed their feet. They wouldn't understand it right away. It came to them later. How could they be greater than their Lord? If He would wash their feet to demonstrate His greatness, shouldn't they also wash the feet of others?

Greatness does not come because people call you great. It does not come because you are served or recognized or have made what the world would consider an impact. It comes because we make ourselves as the servants of all others.

And that's the reason that most people miss genuine greatness. They want to be recognized by mankind as being great. The truly great person is known as great by God. And maybe God alone.

John 13:3-17 (ESV) 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Condemning God

People often talk about the judgment of God. They speak of it as righteous if they understand righteousness. These are the people who have come to God for their righteousness. They are the ones who have recognized Him as God. They know who He is and that He cannot become unrighteous. They know that what He does comes from what He is.

Another picture of God emerges when you get outside of this group. They see God as evil if He will only take those who have believed in Jesus. They want to see God as taking everyone. They want to see "many paths" to heaven. They want to accept all doctrines of all faiths all the time.

The god who would do this is a very confused god. This god would not know which path is right. He or she would allow everyone to find a way which may or may not come from god. Anything is okay as long as the follower of this way believes it.

So, there is a condemnation for those believers who say that Jesus is the only path to God. The world calls these people narrow minded. They see these believers as radical fundamentalists. These believers are condemned.

Of course, this is exactly what Jesus said. He said He was the only way. The whole of the Bible points toward the sacrifice of Jesus for the propitiation of sins. The non-believers don't understand this because sin has already been removed from their personal dictionaries.

Therefore, the world wants to do whatever it wants and still have eternal life. God is condemned for having it otherwise.

The whole of the Bible is one of God being particular. Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. He didn't call everyone who was in a tomb. Moses was chosen to lead God's people to the Promised Land. Paul was picked out in a caravan of others to be an Apostle. Jesus prayed all night and chose only twelve to be His disciples. Gideon was chosen to bring his people back to faith and overcome their enemies. Abram was chosen to the the father of God's people. Each of these people were chosen out of a group of others.

Shouldn't God have chosen everyone everytime if He is to be the egalitarian god the world wishes He was? Can you see the senselessness in this?

Condemning God keeps people away from the salvation He wants them to have. They are already set in their thinking. They believe they are no better than others. They are right but they take that to mean that they cannot receive anything others might not receive. (Maybe that's where the redistribution of wealth idea is coming from. Didn't we call that communism when it was done in other countries?) Thus, we have become a society which wants everyone to have everything.

All people have equal value to God. The same blood of Jesus was paid for each person for their salvation. There was no extra blood spilt for anyone. Yet, not all people will receive the same things from God because many will reject His gift.

And the amazing thing is that they condemn God even though it is they who have rejected Him.

So, I continue to tell people with all the love of God within me that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Some people call me narrow minded. Others condemn me for it. They don't realize that it isn't me that they are condemning.

And I understand God a little better. I hurt, not because of their condemning me, but because they reject the One who will bring them into a light that would change their lives forever and give them eternal life. They miss the fullness of His love. I want the best for them.

And so does God.

John 3:18-21 (ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where Am I, God?

Many of the people are staring blankly forward. They are not really engaged in what's going on. It is as if they are watching television. It keeps them occupied but they really have no part in the show. It fills their time. They will forget most of the show by the next day. Within a month they will watch a rerun of it and be just as mesmerized.

What are these people attending? The worship service at their church. They love the way the ushers march down the aisles. They love the burning candles and the stained glass windows. They feel good about attending. But overall, they are unaffected by what's going on.

Is this what worship should be? Should people expect to encounter the Almighty in worship? Should they expect to hear Him speak? Should they be so changed by His presence that they live differently after worship?

Yes, I beliieve we should. I believe that is the expectation. Worship is not merely telling God His worth but also being changed by His presence. Those who are not changed must have distanced themselves from God. They must have barriers which prevent them from being truly engaged in what's going on.

What could these barriers be? They center in a hell-bent desire to to what the selfish will of the person who has erected barriers to God. This selfishness veils itself so cleverly among mankind that those who employ it don't think God notices it either. They are wrong. He knows how close or how far hearts are to and from Him.

More than half of the people who attend church regularly say that they have not had en encounter with God. Yes, these are the people who participate with their attendance but are never engaged with their hearts. They don't even know that something is wrong. Too many others are just like them. Too many others are saying the same things they are. They think that church attendance is the end result. They do not see beyond it so that they will hunger for God's presence when they worship.

God is tired of it too. He wants people to join Him. He wants them to continually grow in His grace. He wants them to have true joy though they go through tragedies. He wants them to be victorious in life rather than victims of life.

The question each person should ask when they come to worship is: "Where am I, God?" It is a dangerous question. It may bring rebuke but the rebuke will only come because He loves you. It will only come because He wants you to know Him intimately.

The barriers must fall if we are to worship.

Isaiah 1:12-18 (ESV) 12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. 18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ashamed of the Gospel

I just downloaded the update to Flashplayer. I wasn't paying attention and got Google Chrome with it. I have never used Google Chrome so I can neither say good or bad about it. I just wonder: If it is any good, why do they have to sneak it in with another program's download? Wouldn't my friends tell me how good it was if it was all the rage?

This made me think of all the times Christians and their churches have invited their friends to something that turned out to be a presentation of the gospel. They treated it like they were inviting someone to an Amway meeting. You don't know what the meeting is all about until you get there.

I remember being invited to a Billy Graham film before I became a Christian. My friends took me to the movie. I thought it had some interesting points but when a guy came to the front and made a religious speel, I rebeled. I got up and walked out. I told my friends that I couldn't believe someone could be such a con for religious reasons. I walked out while the guy was still offering the "invitation."

Shouldn't we tell people that we are going to talk to them about the gospel if it is such a great deal? After becoming a Christian I notice that there were people sitting by themselves late at night on the campus. (I didn't know that this was a homosexual tactic to get picked up. This, of course, made no difference except that I thought they were just lonely. Maybe they were.) I got a friend and went out to talk to these apparently lonely people about Christ. Our approach was, "We're out here talking to people about Jesus Christ. Do you want to hear what we have to say?" It wasn't much of an introduction but at least it wasn't dishonest. Most of the people we asked responded positively.

Why do Christians and their churches do this? Is it because they think the gospel isn't good enough? Are they ashamed to tell the truth of the gospel to their friends?

Our church is somewhat strange. We are in a Navy town. There are so many naval bases in the area that a sailor can spend his or her whole career here even though accepting obligatory normal transfers. However, many people do not get that privilege. They come and go within a couple of years.

Thus, I will see someone come to our church for some time. Hear the gospel many times. Finally, they give their hearts to Christ. I baptize them and they are shipped out to another port of call. I rejoice that it is those who are already here who are bringing their lost friends. No one doubts what they will receive when they arrive. They know they will hear the word of God preached. They know that they will hear the gospel. We will not be ashamed of this.

I actually believe that the gospel is so good that all believers will invite their friends to share in it with them. It is so good that it doesn't need to be veiled behind something else.

Romans 1:16 (ESV) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Makes a Great Leader?

This football season several coaches were fired. Each of them had success somewhere at some time. One had even won the National Championship a few years back. That didn't matter to those who decided his fate. They weren't asking what he had done but what had he done lately. Unfortunately that is true for all football coaches. (and preachers and heads of companies and you-fill-in-the-blank leaders.)

Neither the successes nor the failures of these men made them great leaders. Great leadership cannot be determined by circumstances.

A great leader is not someone who has always had success. A great leader may have had significant failures. (Look up the life of Abraham Lincoln if you don't believe me.)  A great leader is someone who chooses the right people and puts then in the right positions. A great leader might even be considered a failure at some time during his or her leadership. Getting the right people in the right position at the right time is not an easy thing to do.

So, a great leader must have an uncanny ability to choose the right people. He or she must be able to see into the heart of others and choose them for the right task. A great leader must overlook what others are saying whether it is good or bad. Yet, most leaders go with the flow. They choose the most obvious person for the position. They listen to too many others who tell them what they should do.

Why? Because they really don't know how to choose. They would be much better off if they would simply admit that. Then, they would have the sense to go to the One who does know.

Jesus prayed all night before choosing His disciples. They were such an unlikely group that the conventional carriers of wisdom thought that He must not be such a great leader. They even questioned Jesus' relationship with God because of His unlikely choices. Yet, when the stakes were much higher than a winning season, Jesus went to the One who would reveal the hearts of those He would choose.

What was at stake? In three years Jesus would die on a cross. He had come to give salvation to all. He would die for that purpose. This good news must be carried to all places in the world. People would so need to understand that this was their purpose that they would die to keep the gospel message alive. Then, he chose people who did not make sense to others. Among the group were fishermen and a tax collector; sinners every one of them.

Most of my mistakes have come from one simple sin.-- I  decide without asking God. I am so arrogant in my own abilities that I decide as if I know what only God can know.

My church needs a vision. It needs to come from its leadership. It needs a leadership team that will carry that vision to fruition. I am tasked with choosing the people who will carry this vision. The vision is greater than I am. I cannot make decisions like I have in the past. I must ask God if I am to choose correctly.

So, I am praying:

"God, I do not know who I should choose. Great decisions need to be made. I need your vision for our church. But I also need your eyes to choose who will carry this vision beyond myself. I cannot do it without your leadership, Lord. Please help me. Amen."

I will always be a mediocre leader without God's answer.

 Luke 6:12-13 (ESV)
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Forget Whose Birthday It Is

Wow! Have you seen all the people out shopping? Even the old, worn out malls are full of shoppers. Of course, everyone is looking for a great deal and, from what I have heard, they are getting them. Conventional wisdom is saying that the prices will just get better all the way to Christmas. That is, if anything is left over!

So, people are buying gifts for each other. No, it won't substantially improve our economy other than its psychological affect. We have to build houses and start businesses to significantly affect the economy. Christmas will help small businesses stay in business. This is positive but it will not necessarily cause them to hire more people. These small businesses have been treading water all year. They have to have this season just to stay in business. So, go shop, you are helping someone keep his/her job.

Christmas Day will arrive and gifts will be opened. Just about everyone will receive something. But imagine with me for a moment going to a birthday party rather than a Christmas party. At the party each of the guests gives each other gifts but no one gives a gift to the person who actually has the birthday. You really can't imagine that can you?

Yet, this Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christ, many homes will do exactly that. They will give gifts to each other without a single gift given to the One whose birthday they are celebrating.

And it they aren't really celebrating His birth, what do they have to celebrate? Is it just a reason to buy someone something? How long will that joy last?

And what should you get? Well, I wouldn't get Jesus something that He can't use. He doesn't need a toaster or a sweater. You have to ask yourself what would make Jesus happy. Maybe your church is in a building phase and you could buy some bricks. Maybe there is a missionary you could help support. Maybe you will fund an evangelism program at the church. Maybe you know will give to your church's food pantry or clothes closet.

I don't know; just do give something that would make Jesus happy.

But don't forget Him. After all, it is His birthday we're celebrating!

Luke 2:10-12 (ESV)
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ever Wonder Where Your Joy Has Gone?

We act like we think the people around us expect us to act about 85% of the time. This is why you must  carefully choose who you spend your time with. If we walk with the wicked we will follow their counsel. 

Thus, the Psalmist points out the journey of destruction. It is the journey of a lack of character. It is a journey of an unremarkable life. It is what it is because it has not been steadfast. It has not gone against the popular wisdom or the prevailing thoughts or right and wrong. It walked with these folks and so walked in their counsel. Let's face it: There are lots more of the wicked than the righteous. And all the wicked are suspicious of the righteous. They ridicule us if we are righteous. It is much easier just to walk in their counsel without making any waves.

The problem is that it doesn't stop with walking. Standing comes next. The person walking is expected to stand. Here the person walking with the wicked doesn't merely act like the wicked; he begins to stand in the same way as they stand. He takes on these values and espouses them to others. What was merely acting morphs into becoming. 

The final stage is sitting. It is as if he has made the inner trusted group of the wicked. He has fully conformed to their acting and thinking so that it takes no effort to be what he has become. He acts like who he is. He is totally immersed in the philosophy.

How many people do you know who at one time proclaimed Christ are now acting as if they don't know Him? How many of these actually say they don't know Him? All of them never saw their transformation coming. All of them never intended to leave their faith and their Lord at one time in their lives.

And what did they forget? They forgot God's word. They forgot to meditate on it. They forgot to act on it.

It was very subtle at first. They simply missed a day without reading God's word. One day turned into two, which became a week and a month and six months and so on. They quit going to church where the word is preached. They missed a week because of a common reason for missing. People often miss church because they have company or rain or a late night the day before. Eventually, they miss church because they just don't think of it anymore.

One day, when no one is around, they wonder why life doesn't have any meaning. Of course, they are sitting in the seat of the sinners so that all those around them are acting like they are living the best life that can be had. They can't let down on appearances. To admit that their lives have no meaning is to come to your senses and look for something better. That would mean leaving the sinners' support group. That may mean that you are all alone.

How do I know these things? I lived them. But one night, all by myself, I came to my senses when I picked up my Bible and read the words that had brought me blessedness. I quit walking with the wicked, standing with the sinners and sitting with the scoffers.

They said, "He got religion," but they were wrong. I got the gift of faith that God wanted to give me. I got a whole lot more, too. I got to walk with Him each day. I got my joy back.

Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV)
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Most Righteous Person in the Room

Believe me, I get it. You have had an encounter with God. You have yielded yourself completely to Him. You have praised Him, worshipped Him and given yourself to complete obedience. You know His righteousness. It is all over you, around you and in you.

Then, if you are not careful, you start realizing that others do not experience God in the way that you do. You consider yourself privileged. You see yourself as somewhat better than others. After all, you are righteous and anything they will say or do which does not match your righteousness must not be righteous.

"Those poor souls," you think, "They don't know God like I know God. If they did, they would do as I do." Naturally, they have nothing to teach you. They don't even realize who you are. You are the most righteous person in the room!

I wish I would realize what I am thinking at that moment. Maybe my own unrighteousness would be revealed and I would listen to others in the room. Maybe I would praise God for how He is making them righteous. Maybe I would realize that they are more righteous than me.

My righteousness does not come from within. I am a fallen creature. I am totally depraved. There is no goodness that comes from me. The only goodness I have is by the grace of God. There is a remnant of His glory left over from creation. This remnant is stimulated by His presence and working in my life.

Through the remnant of His glory, He brought me to faith in Jesus. Through this faith I have been made righteous.  My own righteousness in following Him comes because He has taken the initiative to love me into obedience. He has changed me into a new creation. I have no righteousness on my own. It comes from Him.

Thus, I can never consider myself as the most righteous person in the room. Jesus must be there if I am righteous at all. I must be in the presence of the Spirit if I am exhibiting any righteousness.

Humility is not a virtue that I readily accept. It is one that I desperately need. Only through it will I realize that God is not so fortunate to have me on His side. Only through this humility will I realize that I am the chief of sinners. I believe I might have taken Paul's claim.

Philippians 3:8-9 (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— 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Carefully Watch What You Are Doing

This morning I did something really stupid. It ranks among some of the dumbest things I have ever done.

My wife and I watch the early news as we get up and leave the house. The news reported that someone had sent a woman shirtless pictures of himself. I asked my wife if that's what men are doing now. She said she didn't know.

So, I thought I would have some fun with her. After getting to my office, I locked the door, took my shirt off and sent this message with the picture: "Since all the other husbands were sending these to their wives; I didn't want you to be deprived." I hit send.

The problem was that I didn't send the message to her. I didn't check to see that she wasn't the last person to send me a message. The last one was the Metro in Washington DC. I had signed up for alerts during hurricane Sandy because I needed to go there right afterwards and needed to know which trains were running. I canceled the alerts but they keep coming.

I do not want to know what they thought when they got my message. My wife is not a little bit mad at me anyway. I will not leave the doghouse this decade.

This is a perfect illustration in watching carefully what you are doing. I would never have sent the picture. If I had been careful, I would have checked who I was sending it to. If I had been careful I would have felt a whole lot better about myself right now.

Even huge sins start with little decisions of carelessness. A man spends too much private time with a woman who is not his wife. The result may be adultery and divorce.  A careless decision to go ahead with minimal risk may result in a space shuttle exploding. Neglecting to look both ways at a stop sign may result in hitting a pedestrian.

Many major problems begin with small mistakes. Many sins with great consequences begin by not carefully watching the very next acting you take.

So, my days for joking around with my wife are over for some time. I know I will watch what I send and who I am sending it to much more carefully.

But no bell can be unrung.

Proverbs 4:26 (ESV)
26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Need of Peace

I’m embarrassed. I have no peace in my life and I know better. After all, I preach that Christians should have peace when the world offers no peace. So, why have I lost my peace?

The answer is simple. It is always the same answer. I believed the language of this world. I believed its promises of providing peace. I believed in the peace it offers and have found that it is no peace at all.

The world says that peace can be had when you have enough money or if people love you or if  you have your health or if anything you perceive that you lack is supplied. The language of this world is never about the grace given on this day. It demands future grace. It wants a world without any humbling moments. It wants peace on the world’s terms. That means not having to answer to anyone. Not even God.

God, however, offers peace when we answer to Him. His peace does not depend upon the circumstances in our lives. This peace does not need more of anything more than the needs of the day and a dependence upon God to supply everything needed for tomorrow. This is foreign to the language of the world.

Does the world offer peace? Yes, without a doubt. But the peace never lasts.  It is like living on cotton candy. The taste is sweet for the moment but you can’t seem to get enough to live on. You must have more and more until you just get sick.

The lives of movie stars seem glamorous, but I wonder if they have real peace. They have all the things the world promises as peace. They have money, companionship, fame, love and can do whatever they would like whenever they would like. I wonder if the causes they support are their efforts to give their lives meaning. I wonder if this is their hope of peace.

But who am I to cast stones? I have admitted that I have no peace even though I am a believer. I admit that I have fallen into the trap of this world one more time. I have believed that the peace that this world promises. I have been disappointed one more time. I don’t know why I keep listening to the world.

So, I am back where I need to be. I am humbly coming to my Lord and asking for His peace. The peace that doesn’t need enough money in the bank for tomorrow. The peace that seeks Him and finds Him. The peace that assures me that He is truly able to change everything into good things for me. The peace that knows that He has a plan to prosper me and not do me harm. The peace that says He will never leave me nor ever stop loving me. The peace that says He will be with me for eternity.

Yes, now comes the peace that passes all understanding. I wonder why I left it.

John 14:27 (ESV)
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.