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Monday, April 30, 2012

It's Not Just Fire Insurance

What is salvation? Is salvation's only purpose to keep us from going to hell? Or is it something a whole lot more? Is it possible that going to heaven is more of benefit of salvation rather than salvation itself? Could salvation simply be the relationship we have with God that lasts forever?

I see lots of people who say they believe in Jesus so that they won't go to hell when they die. They don't live so much differently than the rest of the world who have no religious ties. They go to church a couple of times a year. They don't seem to have any relationship with Jesus even though they say He is their Savior. Church is a social event if they attend church. Faith is something that is talked about. Prayer meetings are avoided because they can't imagine spending any real time in prayer. They can't tell you where their Bible is nor can they tell you the last time they read it.

But if you ask them about salvation they will tell the story of coming forward in a church service. They will tell when they were baptized. They will state categorically that Jesus is the Son of God who died on a cross for their sins. Heaven must be their destination because they can answer the questions correctly.

Can you have salvation without really knowing Jesus? Did the thief on the cross next to Jesus really know Him? How well did the three thousand souls know Jesus at Pentecost? Were they introduced to Him by faith and expected to get to know Him more and more as they lived?

I gave my life to Christ because I believed in Him. Of course, I would also say that He is the Savior who died for my sins. I would say He created the relationship I have with God. Sin was blocking that relationship. He cleared that aside. I gave my life to Christ because He made my life have purpose. I really wasn't thinking of dying. I was only eighteen. I didn't know anyone who had died at eighteen. I didn't think it would happen to me for a very long time. Why not wait until you are older if salvation is just about avoiding hell?

I trusted in Christ for the first time almost forty years ago. (You really need to trust in Him every day. That's not about salvation. It's about trust.) I have gotten to know Him a whole lot better. The relationship has grown. I am a different person because of it.

I know this is a double negative but I don't know how to really express it in another way. I was saved from not knowing Jesus. My salvation began the first day I trusted in Him. I haven't completed the journey yet even though I know He holds onto me so that I can't slip out of His hands. But I hold on too. I don't want to be arrogant about this, but I believe I will hold on to the end. He means that much to me.

No, it's not just about fire insurance. It isn't merely that I am going to heaven when I die. I am headed to heaven right now. Maybe I need to change the way I tell people about salvation.

Philippians 3:10-12 (NIV) 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Rest Is Just Details

Two weeks ago my wife and I went to her uncle's funeral. Her dad had two brothers. Of course, we went to her dad's funeral. We went to the first uncle to die. It made sense to go to the last one's. He is a believer with a strong faith. The funeral was a celebration which urged others to become believers.

The journey had to be planned after we made the decision to go. We needed to make airline arrangements for the 1500 one-way trip. We needed to rent a car. We had to call relatives to tell them we were coming to stay. The dog needed to be taken care of. The people at our workplaces had to be told. We made arrangements for the mail, newspaper work that we would have to do when we came back. It was a lot of details but they were relatively easy once the decision to go was made.

Somehow I don't think that is the case for people who claim to have made the decision to follow Christ. They don't seem to be busy in working out the details of the journey. Many are like those who say they will go to Hawaii some day but never save any money, never make any airline arrangements nor look for hotels in which to lodge. They say they are going but they never do. Do you think they have made the decision to go or that they that they wish they had made the decision to go?

The decision to follow Jesus is a fight. There are always forces that are trying to divert your journey. There are those who will try to have you follow them. They will entice you to forget your journey altogether. You have to make the decision to follow Christ. That means you must keep Him in sight so that you can follow.  You must be like a ball carrier on the way to the goal line. You must get us and run the ball toward that goal no matter how many times you get knocked down.

The decision to follow Jesus is faith. There are times when all that your human sense tell you to do something that He would not lead you to. It seems that it would be to your greater advantage to deviate from His leading. Faith is a gift from God. It draws us to Him. It keeps us on the right path.

The decision to follow Jesus is one of good conscience. Down deep we know what we need to do.We have to justify every action we commit. We have to claim a need in order to do what we do. But answering the need of the moment rather than that of eternity will mar our consciences. We can claim the need to be unfaithful to our spouses when we feel neglected but our consciences are severely damaged after the acts of sin are committed. (I have not personally committed these sins but I have spoken to many who cannot shed enough tears because of what they have done.)

Our faith is shipwrecked when we do not work out the details of our decision to follow Jesus. Our ship is sunk. It must be rebuilt if we are to continue the journey. This is not an easy task.

Recently a captain in the Mediterranean took his ship too close to the rocks so that he could recognize an official on the shore. He took his eyes off the journey he had to do something for which he knew better and sunk the massive ship. He lost his livelihood. Many people lost their lives. The ship was lost to its owners. It all happened because he deviated from the journey. He forgot his decision to guide the boat.

The decision to follow Christ must be like a captain who has made the decision to take his boat to a certain destination. There should not be any deviations once the decision is made.You follow Him wherever He leads. That is the result of the decision. Once that is made:

The rest is just details.

1 Timothy 1:18-19 (NIV) 18 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What If God Said He Wasn't Coming to Church?

I certainly have spent enough time trying to get people to come to church. Others have done likewise. But I got the thought this morning whether or not God has any obligation to show up Himself. I mean, why should God come just because we sing songs, say prayers and listen to something a preacher says? Do we assume that He is always at church?

Of course, God has no obligation to show up. I am not challenging His omnipresent character. I am simply stating God's presence is more than simply being there. He is completely aware of what transpires everywhere, all the time. But some worship experiences I have been in have been dead. I fail to see the presence of God. I see the attempts of individuals to present rituals which fulfill their own need to "feel" as if they have met their own worship obligations.

Many of you know what I mean. There have been times when you have been in a worship experience that you "knew" that God was there. You knew something was going on that was not necessarily seen. You could see it on the faces of many of the people. You could see it in the hearts that were changed during the worship. You walked out praising an awesome God.

Not everyone wants this experience. They are quite happy fulfilling their own obligations yet continue being unchanged by the worship itself. They do not believe that God will change them. They believe that the change comes from their own actions rather than His. They see Him as a passive participant in worship. They watch the singers and the preachers perform. They give God much less than they do to an individual waiter at lunch after the service. They walk out glad that the experience is over. They wait until the guilt of their neglect of church exceeds their distain for the service itself until they return.

Of course, none of this is verbalized. They may never have analyzed their worship attendance. They just know that there are times that they come because they haven't been in some time. It helps if they can blame someone else for their lack of attendance. So, they are offended by something that happened and church and absolve themselves of all obligations to worship the Savior who gave Himself for them.

Do you think that God is present for some while others miss Him at church? That has to happen some times but there are also times when almost everyone knows that something special was going on. There are times when almost everyone says, "God was really here today." What do you think causes that?

I do know when God hides Himself from people. He does so because they have failed to connect worship with the rest of their lives. They act like they don't know Him the rest of the week. He, therefore, is weary of attending their worship services.

Could it be that our hearts either welcome or reject the presence of God when we act in ways either honoring or displeasing to Him? I think so. I don't think He will be at worship when we act in ways that fail to give Him glory. I believe we welcome Him when we do.

Isaiah 1:10-20 (NIV) 10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the Lord. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals 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 in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 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 as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Would You Give Your All in Sharing the Gospel?

Acts 4:18-20 (NIV) 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

 The Apostles truly gave their all in sharing the gospel. Most of them were executed for their beliefs. They were all persecuted. Yet, they did not allow the adversity to keep them from sharing.

There are many believers in the world today who are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel. They are being imprisoned and executed. But they continue to share the gospel no matter what threats, imprisonments or observed executions they must endure before they are finally executed themselves.

Why are these believers giving their all when people who call themselves believers in other countries aren't even tithing a tenth of their income? Why will they walk miles through treacherous weather so they can worship with other believers while many others will stay at home simply because it looks like it might rain? Why is it that many of these believers will stand for hours in worship while others vow to change churches if the air conditioning is too cold one Sunday or the pew they normally sit on is taken by a visitor?

These things don't make any sense to me if a person calls himself a believer. How can you stop getting the gospel out to others when their eternity depends upon it? How can you neglect worshiping Jesus when He gave His life for you on the cross?

I know this is not a new problem. I know that the church faced apathy, lethargy and apostasy from the beginning. I know there were people who said they were believers but really weren't. It just seems that those who hold their hands high and worship on one Sunday ought to do so the other Sundays. It seems that those who say that they have given their hearts to Jesus ought to understand that saying that you give your heart to Jesus just words that must be said as an initiation rite.

So, this afternoon our Worship Pastor leads the devotion for our staff meeting. He read out of Amos. He spoke of the Day of the Lord. It was not a great day for those who had trampled the courts of the Lord. They had not been totally devoted to the Lord. He called their songs noise. He did not delight in their offerings. They were at ease when they should not have been at ease. They should have devoted themselves and worked for justice. They should have sought righteousness.

As he read from Amos I remembered what Paul had written to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV) 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

I believe we have so emphasized the forgiveness of Christ that we have thought this forgiveness was a license to do as we pleased. We have thought that our actions did not matter because we were forgiven anyway.

While I do not believe in earning salvation. No one could ever do enough to erase the sin which must be paid for in blood. Yet, I do believe that the Day of the Lord will not be such a positive day for those who have been saved but neglected commitment. I even wonder how many of these people are truly saved. How does salvation come to one who only gives the Lord lip service? I don't think it does.

Those who are martyred are looking forward to the Day of the Lord. They do so because they are committed. Those who are so capricious in their faith have nothing to look forward to. They do not understand it as a day of judgement.

So, I will give to get the gospel around the world. I will share at each opportunity. I will risk imprisonment or persecution for the gospel. I must give my all.

After all, He gave His all for me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is Your Pastor Depressed?

1 Kings 19:10 (NIV) 10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

Does it ever seem like you are alone in your endeavors to serve the Lord?

Elijah is having a "woe is me" time. He has prayed that it would not rain and it did not rain. He has challenged the king, his wife and all the prophets of Baal and won. He has called for rain and the rain has come. He has ordered the people to execute the prophets of Baal and they have done so. But Jezebel, the kings wife, has sent a messenger saying that he has twenty-four hours to live and he has taken off running. Now, he thinks he is alone.

I have always wondered why Elijah would feel this way. Did he believe that God had abandoned him? Did he believe that all these things he had prayed, called forth and commanded were done at his own word? Surely, he had to know that God was with him or none of these things would have happened.

My wife has often told me, "You have lots of people tell you good things but when one person complains, you focus on that one person and that complaint. You forget all the good things because you just don't believe them." Is it natural to focus on the negative like I do? Is this what Elijah was doing?

God had a plan for bringing new faith to His people. He had Elijah come against incredible odds to do what He prescribed. Elijah, himself, said that he did all that he did at the word of the Lord. (1 Kings 18:36) How could Elijah believe that the God who had brought fire and rain from the sky at just the right moments would now abandon him to the evil of Jezebel?

Elijah believed the word of Jezebel's messenger over the power of the Lord. This seems strange but he says words to that effect. He said negative words to himself which reflect his depression. He asks for the Lord to take his life. (Sometime your own pastor has probably said these words to the Lord. I know I have.) His words reflected his faith in the words of Jezebel's messenger.

Elijah was worn out. It takes a lot of energy to oppose others even if you are doing so because God has commanded it. Physical weariness is a prescription for negativism. Elijah needed rest. So, he slept.

He needed to eat. God provided food for him. He ate before he could take another step for the Lord. It seems normal to go without eating when nothing is going right. Extreme stress inhibits the desire and even the ability to eat.

Elijah had no purpose left. He had done everything that the Lord had commanded him. There was nothing else he knew to do. There was no need to continue. Why not die?

But God was not through with Elijah. Elijah was not the last prophet left. He had not completed all that he would do. God would speak to Elijah in a way that Elijah had not expected. Elijah had heard God speak through the spectacular; now he would hear God from a gentle breeze. It was just as awesome.

Elijah had to pass the "mantle" to his successor, Elisha. He had to anoint new kings. He had to confront the present king of Israel. Elijah had much more to do. He set about his tasks and no longer spoke as one depressed.

Isn't this so like many people who serve the Lord. They obey and get opposition. The opposition may only come from one powerful person but they believe the ones opposing them more than they believe the Lord. They say words of defeat to themselves and become depressed. They fail to eat and get proper rest. They do not know what to do next. They feel all alone.

But they have never been alone. Just because they haven't seen God speak in a spectacular way doesn't mean that He isn't speaking. It may come from the most unassuming member of the church or even from a child but God speaks to bring new meaning into the ones who serve Him.

The God of the spectacular is the God of the gentle breeze. The God who is with you in the greatest challenge you face is the God who is with you when you are opposed. The God who has given you His instructions is the One who is still instructing.

At any given time, many godly men and women who serve the Lord are facing opposition which threatens to remove them from their places of ministry. Sometimes it is there own faults but most of the time they are being opposed because they have done what the Lord has asked of them. They need to hear what God is saying through who God is. They need to be given encouragement to face their oppositions. They need someone who will pray for them and send them encouraging words.

Take a few moments and think of your own pastor or someone you know who is serving the Lord. Is this person facing opposition? Do you need to give him or her a message of encouragement? Do you need to remind him or her that God is the Almighty who loves with an everlasting love? Will God ever leave or forsake the persons He loves?

Good intentions don't accomplish very much when they are delayed. Delayed good intentions are frequently forgotten. Contact that person right now.

You may be the gentle breeze he needs to hear.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why Doesn't God Prove His Existence through Miracles?

Luke 23:8 (NIV) 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.

I watched a PBS program last week which debated whether or not the world would be better off if religion was eliminated. There was a survey taken before and after the event in which the audience either believed it should be eliminated or not. The predictable result was that the world would be better off if religion was eliminated.

The predictability is found in those who are selected for such a program. It is like selecting individuals who will comprise a jury. Do you look for those who are more likely to go in your favor or those who are able to make objective decisions from subjective content? The answer is obvious.

There is no way to "scientifically" prove that the world would be better off without religion. Isolated incidents can be chosen to present the case either way. But somewhere on the list of "reasons" the apparent absence of proven miracles arises.

Jesus could have performed a miracle before Herod and escaped His execution. His miracle would have prevented Herod's soldiers from treating Him badly. His miracle could have stopped the religious people in their tracks. His miracle before Herod could have sealed a belief in Him that would not be challenged. But He did not perform a miracle.

Obviously, He could have if He did what the Bible says He had done. Simply walking across Herod's swimming pool (as Jesus Christ, Superstar suggests) would have been sufficient. So, why didn't He?

Jesus knew what He had to do. He had to be innocently killed so that He could be the Savior of the world. He could not do anything selfishly for His own protection or noteriety. He saw the greater picture of God's glory which would come through His death, buriel and resurrection. He did not live for the moment. He lived and died for eternity.

Still, there are people looking for a demanded miracle. These miracles must be perfored on cue. These miracles have no more purpose than to prove that there is Someone greater that exists beyond the sight of human beings. The secular community says, "Produce a miracle and we'll believe you." Is that really true?

Look at the miralces that most believers cannot explain. I have seen a stroke victim completely and istantly cured after prayer. The doctors examining the person did not understand what happened. There was a stroke and then there was no evidence of a stroke. I have a person in my congregation who went to be by the bed of his sister who had been brain dead for four days. After turning off the resperator, she awoke and told everyone she was hungry. (The hospital called her Lazarus after this.) The doctor wept. He said it was a genuine miracle.

The problem with miracles is that an unbelieving group will either dismiss it as originially having faulty information (the lady must not have had much of a stroke; the lady must not have been truly brain dead, etc.) or they will choose to ignore it altogether. There is no number of miracles which will cause an unbelieving group to believe. They will always point to the times when miracles were needed and weren't performed. They will either question God's goodness, His knowledge or His power. Ultimately they will question His existence. They cannot understand why He would refuse to perform a miracle when the question of His existence is at stake.

God is always seeking true believers who will commit themselves to Him without having to see a miracle. He seeks those who seek Him and not His miracles.

Mark 8:11-12 (NIV) 11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Building Your House on the Sand or the Rock?

Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV) 24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

Never put your trust in something that can be taken away. It doesn’t matter what it is. The things which you lack that cause you insecurity will also be the things which you cannot have enough of to give you security. If you are insecure about money there will never be enough money to make you secure. If you are insecure about your abilities, no amount of compliments will suffice to heal your insecurity.

Trust proceeds obedience. The reason people fail to obey the Lord is a lack of trust in Him. They believe that doing what makes them feel good for the moment is better than what God has commanded them to do. In other words, they do not trust that God has their best interests in mind. They see Him one who demands for His own purposes alone. They do not see His purposes as also best for those who serve Him. They may think of Him as such because they fail to obey Him when it is either inconvenient or circumstances appear unfavorable.

Thus, they fail to obey God with a tithe because they do not believe God will supply their needs. They fail to pray because they do not believe He will answer. They fail to have any real peace because they are always fearing that they will lose the things they have put their trust in. They fear for retirement because they don’t think they will have enough money. They fear for their health, their children, their jobs, their marriages and everything else they have trusted in which can be lost.

Of course, this also means that they fail to “know” God’s will. The reason they fail to recognize God’s will because they cannot grasp doing something outside of their past experiences. Their lives are filled with their hard work which has resulted in good things. They do not trust that God has given them their jobs or health or anything necessary to accomplish their work. Though they may say they trust in God, they act like He doesn’t exist.

So, they have a very immature faith. They believe in eternal life only because they have no known alternative but reject almost every other act. An act of obedience from faith rather than a forseeable future is met with words of absurdity. They ridicule those who speak of reaching any number of new believers outside the numbers they have previously seen. They do not understand the spiritual aspect of giving as a God who moves in the hearts of others to raise any amount of money needed. They do not grasp that real prayer results in people being healed, jobs being given or God giving direction in what should be done.

Their lives are so full of anxieties because they believe that their anxieties would be relieved if they only had more of what they are anxious about. This is the real reason they do not obey God. This is the real reason their lives sink, shake and are blown around. They are always victims of circumstances. They never have the peace of God.

Their houses are always subject to a great crash.

It is not so for those who trust in God. They listen for His commands and do them. They have already given up trust in those things that can be taken away. Unlike the “rich, young ruler” they have counted all that they have as being subject to the Lord’s command. They would sell everything they had and give it to the poor if the Lord commanded. They can do so because they are not putting their trust in these things.

Their trust in the Lord is very stable. They hear His commands because their past experiences are full with hearing Him. They trust more readily because their past is full of times of trust. Their circumstances may not be so different from the untrusting but they are not tossed back and forth like straws in the wind. They can be characterized as mature.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This Is the Day

"Same old; same old," is reply sometimes. At other times it's, "Not much." Of course, the question is either, "What's happening?" or, "What's going on?" Each day passes without ceremony; without noteriety if we don't pay attention.

The psalmist said:

Psalm 118:24 (NIV) 24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Does it seem strange to you that "this" is the day? Didn't the Lord make all the days? What makes this one special?

Every day we live is special. Every day is a day of rejoicing.

Yesterday, my wife's last living uncle died. He knows the Lord. It was an exceptionally good day for him. I know he is still rejoicing to be in the Lord's presence. His family knows this but it is easy to forget rejoicing in times like this.

Sometimes I look out at the congregation and see people who look like they have been "sucking oatmean out of a gas pipe." I think of what my mother used to say to me when I was a little boy and made sad faces. "Do you want your face to freeze like that?" I wonder, "Do you think their faces just froze in those frowns? Maybe they were happy people but hit their thumbs with hammers, made an awful frown and they it just stuck.

I don't think so. This is the day God has given to us as an act of grace. This is the day that we must decide to rejoice in. It does not matter our circumstances. Our faith remembers an Almighty God who can change cirucmstances. He can rescue us from the most dire scenes. He can reveal Himself when there is no other hope.

Bad circumstances make us forget these things. We forget that it is the day that the Lord has made We forget His grace in this day. We forget that we must rejoice in Him rather than focusing on bad circumstances.

I don't think of myself as a Pollyanna. (I wonder, though, if any Pollyanna thinks of himself as a Pollyanna.) God does not take away the bad circumstance because of my own perceived pain. He acts much later than I would like. But James told us to rejoice in these times:

James 1:2-4 (NIV) 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Even these bad times are a time of rejoicing.

So, (I laugh out loud right now) this is the day that the Lord has made. I have determined to rejoice and be glad in it. I hope you will, too.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A New Commandment

Let's imagine that you went to a highly touted lecture but when you got there it was only a detailed instruction on how to start your car. Starting your car is something that you do each day, maybe several times a day. You know you don't need instructions on how it is done. So, you have only a couple of choices: you can sit bored throughout the lecture or you can leave before the lecturer finishes.

Now, let's imagine that there are people who have never been in a car before. They have only heard of cars and look forward to driving one. They lean forward, take notes and ask questions. The lecture is not boring at all to them. The time passes quickly and they all stay to the end of the lecture.

One group takes the lecture for granted. The other sees it as vital. This may be the reason so many people are distracted as they drive too. They are taking things for granted without realizing that they need to pay attention.

Christians have the same problem with love. Many of them would be bored to death in a Bible study on loving their neighbors as themselves. Most of them have heard this since they were children. This isn't new news. Thus, they often are unaware when they are not practicing love.

I personally don't believe that people are trying to run over me as I ride my bicycle to work. I think they fail to see me because they aren't expecting a man on a bicycle. I don't believe that most people are hateful. I think they aren't expecting to love others so they ignore them and do thoughtless things to each other.

Therefore, normally loving people will park in front of your mailbox so that your mailman refuses to deliver your mail. They leave their shopping carts strewn all over the parking lot causing some to run into others' cars. They step in front of others at the grocery store line. They dominate a conversation so that no one else can speak. They say hurtful words about you that eventually comes back to you.

Jesus told His disciples that He was giving them a new commandment when He told them to love one another. Surely they thought He was joking. Loving one another wasn't a new commandment. Loving like Jesus loved was.

Jesus pays attention to love. He always acted in a loving manner; even when He rebuked the Pharisees. He wanted them to break out of their legal living and come to a relationship with Him. He had been around them for thirty years before He began His ministry. He knew exactly who they were.

We must pay attention if we are going to love like Jesus loved. It is a careful kind of love. It means asking yourself several times each day if your actions are loving. It is acting as if the commandment to love one another is new each day.

The people who had never seen a car would act very carefully as they got into one to drive it. They would do exactly what their instructor said. They would adjust the seat and the mirrors. They would carefully put the key into the ignition. They would put their foot on the brake before putting the car in gear. They would look carefully before they proceeded. They would be very safe.

We must take the same manner of precautions if we are to love like Jesus. We should see the people all around us. We should ask ourselves how we can practice love. Some will receive smiles, others handshakes and even others hugs. We look to see how any action might enhance our actions of love. We would be very careful.

So, Jesus did give a new commandment to His disciples. Our job is to keep it a new commandment.

John 13:34 (NIV)
 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Finishing the Boat

I just read the story of Noah and the ark he built. I guess I had a Hollywood depiction of what happened in my mind. I imagined that Noah was frantically building the ark because he knew on a certain day there would be a flood. That isn't the story in Genesis.

Noah builds a huge boat, the largest ever built for a long time. A hundred years lapsed between the time Noah is commanded to build the boat and the flood comes. A hundred years doesn't reflect desperation. It shows determination. Noah had to build the boat as it had been prescribed. He had to procure the wood and work on the design. No doubt, he needed his sons help to build this monstrous boat.

The ark was finished and an indetermined time lapsed. Of course, I don't know whether he finished the boat on one day and was ordered to enter it the There was a week between this order and the coming of the flood. The animals were gathered and filled the boat.

Water came from the sky and from below. It didn't take long to flood everything. Noah, his family and the animals were safe. They were safe because of their obedience. Noah had not convinced one other person of God's coming judgement. Everyone must have thought he was a fool.

Now, here is my thought: Are the things I am doing today in obedience to the Lord going to result in seeing God's protection, proclamation and glory in the future in a way that I cannot immediately determine?

Not every thing I will give immediate positive results. My job is to do what I have been told. God will use what I have done to protect me, build a testimony for Himself and show His glory.

Sometimes the Lord's work is extremely tedious. Hard work often seems to produce no results. Shouldn't obedience to God's commands always produce immediate positive results? Of course not. Noah had a hundred years of working very hard before he really saw what he was working for.

One day, Noah looked up and must have said to himself, "The ark is finished." He knew he had done what he was called to do. He was not responsible for causing the flood nor those who would be drowned. God called on Noah because He knew Noah would becompletely obedient. How many people start out for God and quit before their boat is finished? God calls all of us to finish our own boats.

I suppose I need to look at what I do in obedience to the Lord each day in this way. I am not doing what only God can do. I am merely called to finish the boat.

2 Timothy 4:5-8 (NIV) 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Damned Convenient

God says over and over that He loves us. Each person is His creation. He wants each person to know Him. He wants everyone to trust in Jesus and live forever in Heaven.

However, many choose to ignore His calling. Many do not respond to the message of His salvation. They go their own way. God does not stop them.

There are many questions that I cannot answer definitively. I don't know what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus. I don't know why one person accepts the message of Christ while another rejects Him even when they have heard the exact same message. I don't know why it appears that God makes special efforts to see some come to know Him while others get only a cursory message of salvation.

I believe that God knows everything. I believe He knows who will give his heart to Christ. I also believe He knows who won't. He can't avoid knowing these things if He is truly omniscient.

Some have answered my questions by explaining that God will "save" everyone in the end. He will take with Him everyone no matter their religion or belief while on this earth. They make damnation a total rejection of the Holy Spirit. That rejection is a refusal to go with God in the eschaton.

This addresses the argument of those who say that God should open His doors to everyone without any requirements. They think He is unjust to send people to eternal hell. They believe He should let up on some of the requirements. They want Him to let go of some of His holiness to welcome those whose sins have not been washed in the blood of Jesus enter His Heaven. They blame God for their own damnation.

I see this like blaming gravity for your skinned knees. Gravity does not change because someone trips yet they believe that God must change to accomodate those who will not accept His forgiveness given through the death of Jesus Christ.

Of course, those who believe this must see that the martyrdom of the Apostles was either a mistake on their part of an example to get everyone's attention. And, they have to ignore some scriptures too.

But just think, this eliminates the real need to tell others of Christ. It eliminates the financial support of churches. It eliminates the need for missions. It makes things very convenient.

I believe its damned convenient.

2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Hebrews 9:27 (NIV) 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Making the Dead Live

Ezekiel 37:1-4 (NIV) 1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!

I graduated from seminary about thirty years ago but I have only been a senior pastor for the past seventeen years. I thought that I would preach and revival would sweep the nation . . . or at least my church. That didn't happen. It took me a long time to learn that I can't make dead bones live.

I am the servant of the Most High God. He makes life out of lethargy. He replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He works on my heart too.

Let's call the lethargic in a church "dead" just as a way of designating them. They are not everyone in the church. They just comprise the majority of most churches. The dead want things to be peaceful. They do not like being aroused from their sleep. They don't know they are asleep.

But God seeks to awaken the dead. He calls people to come with Him by the Spirit of the Lord and be set among the dead bones. Most preachers would rather be placed in a church with brand new buildings sitting in a new housing development.The new families join and its all claimed to be a work of the Lord. The truth is that it feels alive because of the newness of the building and the community. No one knows each other very well because they have all moved to this new location. Everyone is fresh to everyone else. This is why so many churches would rather move to a new location than to continue in their present location.

The preachers who are set among the dry bones are called to do only a couple of things. They are to believe that God can make dead bones live and preach God's word. Preachers are the tools of God who, when allowing God to fully use them, awaken people from their sound sleep. The most critical functions of preachers is hearing and obeying God's words to them. Nothing else allows  preachers to be used to the fullest of their abilites and see God awaken His sleeping people.

So, why isn't God making the dead live everywhere preachers are listeing and obeying the Lord. Sometimes its because we preachers fool ourselves into believing we are listening to the Lord when we are really listening to the world. Listening to the commands must always proceed obedience.

Of course, that doesn't fully explain the lethargy in churches. The dead resist the wake up call too. Those without Christ (yes, there are some of these who have become part of the church) resist the Holy Spirit. The believers, however, quench and grieve the Spirit. Both of these groups are so full of themselves that the Holy Spirit has no place.

Though these people are not possessed by demons they are possessed by their own selves. Jesus said that there were some "spirit" which would only come out by prayer and fasting. This is almost always the means of making the dead live. Something must break through the well defended sleep of the dead. Someone must reach into their spirits to awaken them.

Preachers cannot reach into the spirits of people. The cannot make people stop resisting, quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. Preachers must speak the words of God and call those who are awake to pray. Preachers will not awaken the dead in other way.

Many churches and preachers are being counted as successful because they are able to bring in huge numbers of people. Is that what Jesus called us to do? Did He say, "Go, therefore into the world and fill up church buildings so that your preachers will be leading seminars on church growth?" No. He told us to make disciples. We have been content with converts. Maybe that's why we settle for counting dry bones.

So, who will listen to the call of God and follow Him into a valley of dry bones? Who will believe in God's ability rather than his own in bringing these bones alive? Who will listen to His word and obey it?

Who will be a part of making the dead live?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Satan Enters In

Luke 22:3 (NIV) 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.

I do not believe that every evil can be blamed on Satan. I believe that some evil is committed by us from our greed, lust, selfishness, etc. Many times Satan has nothing to do with it. It is our fallen flesh which has sinned.

Yet, that does not explain all evil. There are times when Satan himself is the author of the evil. There are times when he inhabits a person to personally bring evil into the world.

I have seen this happen in a few people. There eyes appear haunted. Their demeanor is non-human. There is no compassion for their hearts become rock hard. They can do any evil imaginable. They will say evil things about others in order to steal, kill and destroy. There is no reasoning with them for they have the heart and mind of Satan himself.

Thus, we will hear about those who murder without prejudice as very normal at other times in their lives. They will lie without regard to whom is hurt even though they normally tell the truth. They will be violent when they are normally passive.

How can you explain Judas remorse later?

Matthew 27:3-4 (NIV) 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."

Judas realized what he had done. I have wondered if Satan departed after doing what he wanted with Judas. Like so many people who have taken a gun and murdered people at their schools or workplaces, Judas commits suicide. He can't live with what he has done. This is a common scene when people do such evil that it carries such grave consequences.

Judas was filled with remorse and confessed his action as sin. He did not seek forgiveness. He thought he could work off the sin he had accumulated. He gave back the thirty pieces of silver but realized that it wasn't enough to pay for the sin. He confessed it before the priests but that also wasn't enough to eliminate what he had done. The pain of what he had done was too great. He wanted to end it.

So, Satan truly claimed him in his suicide.

The clever Satan managed to kill two of God's beloved creations. He took the lives of both Jesus and Judas in a single act.

Satan continues to use his own tools of destruction when seeking to steal, kill and destroy. He has tempted mankind to fall from the glory of God. He continues to use that corrupt nature to work in the lives of people. But he inhabits some who have entertained his nature.  He uses accusations, false testimonies, hatred and murder to harden the hearts of those whom he will enter into.

Many of the people I have counseled have had their own hearts broken by their own sinfulness. They repent rather than try to repay. They confess rather than simply admit their sins. They fall on their knees before Christ rather than running from Him in suicide.

I know that many people don't believe in Satan. They will claim that certain acts of evil can be explained with abnormal psychology. I will admit that this evil is certainly abnormal but I also find that this measure of evil requires "outside help."

All hell breaks loose when Satan enters in.

I believe that some who will read this blog could be entertaining Satan. I think it is interesting that they think of him as beneficial to the things they want in their lives. He gives them a sense of power over others. But the truth is that he is using them. Judas was stolen away from walking with the Lord. His faith was killed. Then, Judas was destroyed.

Satan enters in when  he can.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Beauty of Good Friday

I just read the story of Judas hanging himself after Jesus has been sent to Pilate for execution. I wonder exactly what went on in his mind. What did he think would happen when he turned Jesus over to the religious leaders who had made it known that they wanted to execute Jesus? Surely, he knew their hearts.

Did he think that Jesus would be proven innocent once all evidence was presented. Maybe he didn't count on Jesus' compliance with the religious leaders in their accusations. Maybe he expected Jesus to stand up for himself when he had evidence which would support His case and to be silent when He had evidence otherwise. Maybe he thought that the other disciples would speak up for Jesus.

Of course, none of that happened. These religious leaders would not have allowed it to happen anyway. They had already made their minds up. They were going to execute Jesus. They just had to figure out how to justify their action.

So, Judas brings his thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders. He has betrayed innocent blood. He wants to buy back his innocence. But thirty pieces of silver will never buy back innocence.

With nothing left to restore his soul, Judas is in such despair that he can no longer live with himself. He believes he has finally done something which cannot be forgiven. The only apparent solution is to die. He hangs himself.

Many years ago I sat with a young lady who confessed to me that she had an abortion. She told me that she had finally done something that she couldn't be forgiven for. I told her emphatically, "You're wrong! You're wrong! Jesus died on a Friday to pay for your sins."

This young lady came to the realization that she was, indeed, forgiven by Jesus. She realized He paid the price of her sins and for all others who will accept Him.

Months later she went with our church on a mission trip in which several people went door to door to tell the good news of Jesus forgiveness and salvation. at the end of one day she was not at the place I would was supposed to pick her up. Each woman had been partnered with a man so that there would be some measure of safety. I found the two of them walking toward the rondezvous point. She was crying. As she got in the van I asked her what was wrong.

She said, "I was talking to a lady named Betty and I told her that Jesus had paid for her sins no matter what she had done. Betty said, 'I wish I could believe that, and I told her, 'It is true, Betty, it is true!' but she just wouldn't accept it."

This young woman knew something that Judas never realized. It was good Friday because the sins he, I and everyone else have committed were forgiven forever. Judas was right in one thing. The price was much higher than thirty pieces of silver.

Romans 5:6 (NIV) 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Making God into Our Image

One means of communication is to take that which is known to explain that which is unknown. Thus, Jesus told parables which related to what people knew to explain the things of God which they did not know. However, parables cannot be used to explain all things. Metaphors such as "as far as the east is from the west" are used to explain the action of God. But all the parables, metaphors and adjectives fall short of explaining the attributes of God. Why? Because we have no example or anything that approaches who God really is.

The Greeks created gods in their own image. Their gods showed jealousy, hatred, greed and all other human failings. They murdered and cheated on each other. They were powerful but not any better than their subjects. Holiness was an unknown attribute to the Greek gods.

Many people today wish to believe in a god but cannot fathom a god who is like our God. They cannot make themselves believe Him to be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. They cannot understand His absolute purity in holiness, mercy, justice and love. So, they make up cute stories of how busy He is when they pray. They don't ask for some things because they believe it is too much for Him to do. They claim that they are alone when they can't hear Him. They make Him of the same character and attributes as themselves.

This is not lessened when speaking of holiness. Since they cannot imagine a god who is purely holy, they excuse their own sins. They gossip about others and say it is merely telling the truth. They judge as if they have the right. They do not understand that they do not have the right to judge because they are not holy and capable of judging. God, on the other hand, is holy.

Humanity judges holiness by its impurities. We say that a person has a "holier than thou" attitude toward others because this person believes himself to be more pure. God's holiness cannot be described this way. His holiness is described by its purity.

Mankind can hardly imagine pure evil or pure holiness. There are really no examples for man to relate to for each person known who is considered to have exhibited the greatest evil has also had moments of kindness. Each person who has shown himself to be of the highest moral character has had moments of evil even if that evil is well hidden. God has no impurities. He is absolutely holy.

Mankind cannot fully understand the need for death of Jesus as the sacrifice for sin without some understanding of holiness. Sin is falling short of God's glory. Sin has a penalty of death since the holiness of God cannot tolerate sin. Sin cannot go unpunished. The holiness of God cannot be tarnished. Thus, the record of sin must be esponged from the sinner. Jesus' holy blood was spilled to pay that penalty which allows for holiness to enter the life of the believer. The glory of God returns to the believer.

Each and every sin has one payment. It is always the holy blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are saved by the blood of Jesus but we also will be saved by the blood of Jesus when we stand before our Lord. Our reconning of our sin is inhibited by our softing of holiness. If we make God like ourselves our sin never looks so bad. We rarely confess these sins because they are hardly considered sins if God is not so different.

And then we stay out of His presence. We are like those people who travel to Nashville and take tours of the country music stars houses. They feel they have experienced something of their country idol because they have seen his or her house. My wife used to lead a Bible study next door to one of these famous stars. She told me that people would get out of the tour buses and pick the flowers in the country stars flower beds to take home with them. But even though they had seen the house or even picked their flowers, these fans had never met the star. That's about how close some people get to the prescence of God.

The Bible records that Isaiah found himself in the Temple with the Lord. He heard the angels singing. He noticed the majesty of God. He was devastated by his sin. He knew that there was a difference. He knew he was undone if God did not purify him. He was either going to make God unholy by his presence or God must make him holy. An angel takes a piece of the burning sacrifice from the altar and puts it to Isaiah's lips. He is made clean by the sacrifice. We, too, are made clean by the blood of Jesus.

Therefore, if we continue to make God into our image, we shall ignore our sins, refuse or forget to confess them and find ourselves unable to really worship in His presence.

True cleanliness comes in the recognizing of dirt and the desire to have it eliminated rather than tolerated. Knowing that there is no one like God in His holiness should reveal our own dirt. It should create in us the need to confess and be cleansed of all unrighteousness.

Trying to create God in our own image is no god at all.

1 Samuel 2:2 (NIV) 2 "There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

Isaiah 6:3-7 (NIV) 3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

1 John 1:9-10 (NIV) 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Where Is Your Head Today?

I hear a lot of pop theology. People tell me what they think of God, the Bible, miracles, angels, the end of time and whatever other theologies they have developed by watching tv and talking to nutty friends and family. I hear lots of things which do not come from the Bible.

That's probably why so many televangelists are able to get away with some of the nutty things they have said. They say things which amaze me .(sorry, I can't quote because I am not sure of the exact wording). They tell of revelations from God which led them to believe that God looked exactly like they do. They tell of Adam being able to fly above the birds. They give theologies of God having to have faith or He would lack the ability to create. They claim great powers and appear to see changes in people's lives.

People fill stadiums to hear this malarky. These televangelists are great showmen. They work the crowd. They take a new "revelation" and massage it until the people are worked into a frensy. They give exhibitions of miracles and say the name of Jesus enough times to entice their followers to fully believe in their "anointing."  I wonder how this could happen until I remember that lots of people believe the show put on by professional wrestlers is real.

Those that believe in these "shows" are like children who can be manipulated by the uncle who appears to pull off his thumb. The amazement they should have for their Lord has been transferred to these televangelists. Thus, they will travel untold miles and give untold money to this person. The televangelist has become the head of the body.

I suppose that this can happen with any famous preacher even if he or she doesn't desire this devotion and admiration. My congregation often tells me of watching solid, biblical preachers on tv. They also will send money and travel great distances to hear these preachers.

Is it really okay to follow a preacher with extreme devotion? Not if that devotion puts this preacher in the place Christ should occupy. Christ is our head.

I grew up on a farm. Occasionally, we would raise a number of chickens which would one day be killed. plucked, cleaned, bagged and frozen. My job was to catch and kill the chickens as a child. I would remove their heads and watch them get up and start running. They had no eyes in which to see nor brains to give them direction but they would run, fall and collide with things for several minutes until they died.

Christians do not need to run around without their Head. Christ Jesus is our head or we act as if we are headless. We will also run around without direction and sight. We will run in circles or into each other or just go nowhere at all. We will be blown about when we hear theologies that meet any need of our belief system for the moment. We will never grow up.

Maybe that's why so many churches are filled with people who are fighting each other. Paul said that Christ, the head, grows and builds the body (the church) in love as each part does its work.

After doing something especially silly, I have been asked, "Where is your head today?" I have never thought that was an appropriate question until now.

Where is your head today?

Ephesians 4:14-16 (NIV) 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Encouragement for All Pastors Who Are about to Be Thrown into a Blazing Furnace

Pastors are called to stand in the gap. They are called to holiness, doing what is right and facing persecution because they have allowed God to be the center of their hearts. They must be the first to give God glory in all that they do. They must be the ones who will be fired for their devotion, castigated for their values and named as evil because of their righteousness.

Often these attacks come from within their churches. There will always be religious people who are bothered by purity that exists beyond rituals. They will play politics in order to undermine the work of the pastor. They will attack the pastor and his family in order to destroy his ministry. They will get in the way of what he believes God is doing. They seek his surrender from doing things which they dislike. They do not care what God really wants and have not asked.

I am not in this situation today but I have been. I know how these beaten down, beaten up pastors feel. If you are one of these pastors I would ask you to look at a passage of scripture with me. I am writing this as one who has realized what I had to do, didn't like going through it but glad that I did when I got to the other side.

Daniel 3 tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to call something or someone god who was not God. They did not bow to the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar when the music played. Here's how it went:

They were accused as being unfaithful when they were purely faithful.

Daniel 3:12-13 (NIV) 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king,

Astorlogers came forward to point out to the king that these men were not doing what was publically accepted as the right thing to do. There is no mention whether anyone could worship God. The command was to bow to the image of gold that the king had set up any time music was heard. In other words, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego  could continue to worship their own God as long as they also worshipped theirs.

Pastor, many people will allow you to carry on with church as long as you pay homage to the things they want to worship. They ask you to bow down to a family or way of worship or a stained glass window or anything they have decided is valuable. They ask for this worship in addition to your worship of God. As far as they are concerned you can do what you wish as long as you do what they wish. They have already compromised their faith; why shouldn't you compromise yours?

But you can't. You must be obedient to the Lord alone. You must stand firm and not allow any erosion of your faith.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego responded with a full acknowledgment of the penalties for their faithfulness.

Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV) 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Their faith knew that God could save them from the blazing furnace but they also realized that He may not. That did not change their decision. They continued to refuse to the bowing down to a golden image.

Pastor, you may be fired. God does not necessarily remove you from the blazing furnace. He sometimes allows the ones coming after you a temporary victory.

Years ago a pastor friend of mine welcomed an African American family into the church he was serving. The church leaders fired him right away and took his furniture from the parsonage and moved it to the sidewalk that night. I am sure that it looked very bad at that moment but God has had the victory. That pastor has been incredibly blessed by God in the past thirty or so years. I don't think his former church can say the same.

Shadrach, Meschah and Abednego were thrown into the fire. Nebuchadnezzar made sure that the fire was seven times hotter than normal. Surely, it must have looked like this was their end. But God had other plans.

Daniel 3:19-23 (NIV) 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Pastor, we sometimes say that God will rescue us from the blazing fire but that is not always the case. He, instead, uses the fire to bring glory to himself. You just may be put in a position which will appear unconquerable. Take heart. Just when faithless people say its over, God is not finished yet!

There were four in the fire even though only three had been tossed in. Even Nebuchadnezzar could tell the difference. He could see that One was not like the others. He could also see that they were walking in the flames rather than being burned by them.

Daniel 3:24-25 (NIV) 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." 25 He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."

Pastor, God will never allow you to be place in the blazing furnace alone. He will go in with you. He will give you a means of standing up though the pressures against you demand that you be crushed. I know He will. He has done so for me.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were taken out of the furnace to the glory of God.

Daniel 3:26-30 (NIV) 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way." 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.   

God gave Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego a promotion for their faithfulness.

Pastor, God has a supply that will meet your need. He will supply it through your faithfulness rather than because of your faithfulness. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego would never have received their promotion if they had simply gone along with the king's command while also worshiping God. They took a stand which put them in the right place to receive the promotion.

Pastor, there is no shame in asking God for strength to do what you must do to bring purity to your church. There is no shame in being thrown into a fire. (In your case it maybe why they call it being "fired.") But never forget that God is with you. He will allow you to walk where you should be crushed. He will give you blessing where you should be cursed. He will promote you when you should be devastated. Stand the gap. Keep up the good work. Let your heart be His alone.

(Please forward, copy and or send this to any pastor who is going through a difficult time. I am sure you pastor knows all the things I have written but sometimes we need to hear them again. Also, tell your pastor that you will stand with him. It will make all the difference in the world.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Love Desires Forgiveness

I wrote a blog a couple of years ago entitled, "When Someone Will Not Forgive You." Nearly every week since then I have gotten an email from someone who is heart-broken because someone will not forgive them. They recount to me stories of spouses, children, former best friends and even pastors who hold back their forgiveness.These emails reveal an anguish of broken relationships and desires to make things right.

I'll admit that my responses were often supporting the one who had been wronged. I wanted the ones seeking forgiveness to understand why trust was so hard to give. I wanted them to realize the overwhelming grace that comes with forgiveness.

But there is another side. It is the side of love. It is here that the person who has been wronged needs to look. Love seeks to forgive the person who has done the wrong.

The Bible says in its description of love:

 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

That word translated "keeps no record" could also be translated , "put down to one's account" or "brood over." I think of it more in the latter for I find that those who refuse to forgive must continue to hold the wrong before their own eyes in order to refuse forgiveness. This is especially true if the person in a Christian for he  must know that Jesus has forgiven greater sins than what he is refusing to forgive. He, therefore, rehearses this sin. He takes the sin out as if it is a collector's item that no one else can behold, caresses it, feels the hurt all over again and gets more angry than the last time it was held to his eyes. Bitterness fuels the remembrance of the wrong. Hatred replaces the love that was once held. Emptiness fills the gaps.

Of course, holding the wrong so closely to his eyes is a coping mechanism. He doesn't want to be hurt like was hurt again so he makes sure that he never lets the person get close again. He was stabbed in the heart so he must keep this person a knife's lunge away.

Love, on the other hand, isn't self-centered. It turns its attention to the one being loved. It is love that has a mom washing the clothes of the child who has just said that he hates her because she has made him clean his room. It is love that brings home the alcoholic father. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. It does not rehearse the things which have hurt. It seeks to forgive. It is not self-seeking.

The problem of those who refuse to forgive is found in the lack of love. They will not allow the love of Christ to flow through them if they are believers. They, therefore, have no more love than the rest of the world. The rest of the world says, "To hell with others!" and they agree with their lack of love and lack of forgiveness.

I have found that I cannot walk with my Lord and refuse to forgive. I can't tell Him that I love Him while I am hating someone else. I can't walk in His light while I am trying to walk in the darkness.

The person who refuses forgiveness also refuses the Lord. He loved and told us to love like He loves.

There is no reconciliation in knowing that others are in pain. There can be no joy in knowing that the one who refuses to forgive you is also suffering because of their lack of forgiveness but you should know that their lack of forgiveness is distancing them from their Lord. It is becoming something that diminishes the love they have for others.

Refusing to forgive is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

If you are a believer and have been wronged, please seek the love of Christ to help you forgive. It is not only best for the one who wrong you. It is best for you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Should Churches Raise Their Standards for Membership?

I have heard it so many times. "It is easier to be a member of a church than a member of the country club. At least they have membership requirements." Yes, those requirements are generally a recommendation from a current member and enough money to pay the membership dues. The fact is, I'll bet that the latter requirement outweighs the former.

So, people who think of themselves as mature want to raise the standards. They want to keep out those who may not be committed. They want to eliminate those who cost more than they contribute. They want purity in the ranks.

Now, I don't want to judge (but often find that I am doing so) but doesn't that sound just like the Pharisees? Didn't Jesus say that they would search the whole earth for a convert and make him twice the son of the devil that they were? Was raising the standard to some observable level a prerequisite during the New Testament?

Let's see. There were over 3000 baptized  the same day as their salvation after Pentecost. There does not seem to be more of a standard than a personal belief in Jesus. That standard allowed them to be baptized. That baptism made them part of the church.

I have baptized hundreds of people during my ministry. It is not an act someone performs on themselves. Truthfully, I have a much harder time baptizing someone who wants to "help." Baptism is an act of submission rather than commission. It is hardly a standard administered upon oneself.

Are churches who raise their standards growing? Yes, at least in some cases. They are growing because there are other "mature" believers who want to be a part of a church where everyone has a significant commitment to the Lord.. They also baptize their own children in high percentages. Many of their baptisms come from new members who come from churches that didn't baptize by immersion. In other words, a large percentage of their conversions are their own children and believers who converted to their denomination. In fact, 98% of growing churches are doing so off the backs of other established churches.

There is inherent danger in raising these standards too. Churches which raise their standards may be keeping the new believers from becoming part of the church. If the steps are too tall only the tall can enter the church. If the requirements are too steep only those who can pass the entrance exam will be permitted in. Thus, there is no foothold for new believers to stand upon so they can grow. They have been eliminated from the church.

Essentially, we have torn out the wheat when we tried to tear out the tares.

Jesus parable says that there will be those who are not committed at all in the church. They have never made a true commitment to Christ but they have been admitted on their word. They will never produce any fruit and are represented as tares.  They do not look any different than the true believers represented by wheat. Tares and wheat look the same as they grow together but tares have no grain of wheat.

Jesus tells His followers to let them grow because tearing out the tares will also result in the elimination of some wheat. Is this the same as raising the standard for membership and eliminating those who do not meet the requirements?

My church has former child abusers, prostitutes, people who have had abortions and a host of other "shocking sinners." I see these people make deep commitments to Christ and change their lifestyles because Christ is in them. It does not come because we have raised our standards. I want to love on people so that they can have the joy of Christ rather than the burden of religion.

So, I do not want to raise the standard. I want to open the door.

 Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"