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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Beauty of God's Grace

This week our church had Vacation Bible School. We had more children than we have ever had. It has been a wonderful week.

VBS's purpose is to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It tells children and others of the grace of God. It tells of the love that God has for everyone. He desires that they come to know Him and live within His joy and fellowship forever. It is a message of peace.

It is God's grace that has given us the privilege of getting to know those who came to VBS. Each person is a gift for us to know. They are all endowed with God's love. We are able to share with them in our joy.  We pray that they have good things in their lives and especially that they come to God's grace and know His joy too.

God is at work in the lives of these children. He has somehow gotten them to our church building. They have been surrounded with loving teachers who are sharing the gospel with them. Some are choosing to give their hearts to Jesus. Others consider it and, maybe someday, will do the same. They are exposed to God's grace everyday but this is a more noticeable manifestation of His grace.

But it is also God's grace to see one of them come to know the Lord. One young man came to me one morning declaring he was ready to make this decision. I get the undeserved privilege of hearing this declaration. I am so incredibly blessed and know that it is God's grace visited upon me to hear this young man.

 I know so many people who think of God as the great Rule-Giver who doesn't want them to have any fun but I don't see Him as such. I know Him as the One who wants to give our lives meaning by coming to know Him. He wants us to be full of joy; not sorrow. He wants our lives to be full; not empty.

In God's grace I want  to tell everyone that God loves them. It is God's grace that also allows me to say that He loves me. I didn't deserve this.

That's the beauty of God's grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 5:2 (ESV)
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why So Much Stress?

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV) 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Most Christians know that they are to cast their fears, worries or anxieties upon the Lord because He cares for them. They know this and many of them have done so. They have rid themselves of the whole of their anxieties by truly trusting in the Lord. They are free from this self-imposed pressure.

However, many, maybe even more, Christians have tried to cast their stress upon the Lord but have received no relief. They are just as worried, fearful and anxious as before. Why is this?

Let's look at the previous verse. It says that believers are to be humbled (it is in the passive voice) under God's mighty hand. Humility is certainly knowing who He is and who you are but it is also obedience to Whom you are being humbled. In other words, humility requires obedience to what the Lord has told you to do.

There are stresses that cannot be avoided. A sick child or an accident while driving certainly cause stress. Casting these fears and stresses upon the Lord will give relief. But the stress that comes from disobeying what the Lord has led you to do will not be relieved by any effort to cast them to the Lord. He simply will not take them as long as you fail to do as He has commanded.

You obey, even in the middle of a stressful time, and He lifts you up in due time. You cast these fears upon Him because you know His love. You know that He only wants your best and what He has told you to do is best. You will be unable to cast these fears upon Him if you have not been humbled because humility and trust are in direct opposition to each other. You didn't trust Him with obedience. You won't trust Him with fears.

Many stressful situations come because a person has not done what he should have done when the source of the stress is small. The stress has, therefore, become a crisis. The crisis will exist until something is done.

Someone doesn't thoroughly put out a campfire after he leaves a campsite. The smoldering embers reignite and catch the nearby grass on fire. The fire continues to the tress until there is a full fledged forest fire. Hundreds of people are called in to put out the fire. Millions of gallons of water and fire retardants are expended. Thousands of manhours are spent putting out this fire that one bucket of water from a nearby stream would have prevented.

This is often the case of our stress. The non-performing employee is stressed because he is afraid of losing his job. He has let this come to a crisis. The boss is stressed because he must fire this employee but doesn't want to. The company is stressed because the lack of performance has put them in a financial bind. Of course, everyone can be stressed because of the failure to do what needs to be done.

The Christian should ask what the source of his stress is. He needs to ask if he has done everything that he believes the Lord wants him to do. He must be humbled by this complete obedience or there will be no relief no matter how hard he tries to cast his fears upon the Lord.

Often the thing that must be done is easier than than the Christian believes it will be. It may be to return to school or to apply for a new job. It may be that the Christian speaks to someone who has been giving him grief. It may be confronting a bully. God will give him the wisdom to know what to do if he will only ask.

When I was in school I often studied thoroughly the night before. I was confident that I would do well on the next day's test. I even looked forward to the test. The days I didn't study were always full of stress as I faced each test.

The Christian should know that he has done all that the Lord has commanded him to do. Then, he can rest in peace because it is really in the Lord's hands.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No More Hiding from Trouble

I see people hiding all the time. Some have marital problems and hide from their spouses. Some have work problems and hide from their work They retreat into the smallest, darkest corner and hide. They see nothing but failure in their future. Hiding helps them forget this outcome.

Some of these people use alcohol and drugs to help them hide. Its really hard to concentrate on your problems as you sit in a stupor. Some of these drugs are prescription drugs. These drugs allow them to continue hiding without feeling they are failing somewhere else.

I have seen singers and speakers hide in front of their audiences. They say something like, "You'll have to excuse . . . ," to indicate that there is a reason the speach or performance is not up to par. They are really saying, "I am trying to hide from your criticism because I don't think I am any good."

I have seen people hide in their work. They don't want to face something somewhere else so they work unbelievable hours. Maybe they work because they refuse to face the fact that they have gotten their families is major debt or maybe they work because they have invested in something that will never pay off. Oh, and yes, it could be that they are just afraid to go home and face the spouse. Maybe they already know of an affair that is going on. They are pretending that things are fine at home while they are at work.

Believers have no reason to hide. We may walk through "the valley of the shadow of death" but we will, indeed, fear no evil for God is with us. We may have stress placed on our shoulders at work or at home but we know that God will rescue us from those who would do us harm. God will bring us through the shipwrecks of life.

We have three things we must do in order to see God walk through any hardship, tragedy or mishap. We must love Him, identify ourselves with Him and call out to Him. The failure to do any of these things will result in fearful treading through our tribulations, at best, and hiding from them, at worst.

God Himself has declared that He will rescue the one who loves Him. He has promised to protect those who acknowledge His name. He has assured us that He will answer when we call on Him. He has said that those who do so will be delivered and honored. God can be identified by His word. He never separates Himself from it.

Could we find a more true word that God's word? Could we find someone who would give us a more secure promise? Could we call on anyone who is more powerful, more knowing or more loving? Absolutely not ! Beleivers should never hide.

However, we must always remember that He is our refuge and fortress. He is our safety and strength.

Recently Nik Wallenda walked over Niagra Falls on a tightrope. It was an amazing fete. However, he was tethered so that a slip would mean that he would not actually fall into the falls for his almost certain death. Sometimes God allows us to walk through some very scary things. However, He holds on to the tether to pull us out and rescue us.

There is no greater assurance than God's promise.

Psalm 91:14-15 (NIV) 14 "Because he loves me," says
            the Lord, "I will rescue
    I will protect him, for he
           acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I
           will answer him;
    I will be with him in
    I will deliver him and honor

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are We in the Last Days?

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV) 1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
Each day I watch or read the news. I realize that the media outlets are given to sensationalizing each story, but it still seems that things are getting worse. It was not so long ago that I didn't know what a Ponzi scheme was. Now it is a regular news feature. Many of the athletes lack the humility of those who preceeded them. People are even killing their own children. The lack of self-control is seen in the rampant obesity, alcoholism and drug abuse. People have become so selfish that it is common to see people push ahead in traffic rather than wait their turn. They want to get home to their large screen tvs. They used the money they should have tithed to buy these idols of pleasure.

Many of these people will describe themselves as Christians. They will tell you that they are frequent church attenders but the records show that they attend once a month or less. They talk of having faith but cannot point to anything which reveals their faith. Their faith is based on a decision they made as a child; not what they are doing daily. They have a form of godliness in claiming to be Christians but their so-called faith has no power of change in their lives.

Should we be surprised? Isn't this what Paul said as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit? These are the signs of the last days. Just look carefully at the signs of the last days listed in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 above. Does it appear to you that these things are becoming prevalent?

Of course, 2 Timothy was written to Timothy, Paul's son in the faith. He was telling Timothy that he should look for these things. Evidently, they were just as prevalent in Paul and Timothy's day. Yet, God by the grace of the Holy Spirit brought millions to Christ over the years. I suppose you could say that we have been in these last days for the past 2000 years.

Paul instructed Timothy to continue to do what was right while looking for the return of Christ. Paul believed that Jesus could return at any moment. He indicated that these were the last days.

How should this be any different for me? Shouldn't I also do what is right and look to see Christ return? Yes, these are the last days.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Have Christians Lost the Desire for Holiness?

Some people (even some Christians) believe that there is no foul if you never get caught. They have developed the sports mentality of no call; no foul. Thus, we have Christians who will answer ethical questions much like the non-believers.

Case in point: I was waiting to turn left at a stop sign while an directly approaching car went straight. We had arrived at our opposing stop signs at the same time. I yielded the right of way to the approaching driver. The car behind that car didn't stop but quickly turned right without even noticing that I was waiting. I turned behind him to see the Christian symbol of a fish on the back of the car. My first inclination was to ask if he would like some help removing the fish. He didn't obey the traffic law nor did he show any courtesy in driving. He was just being a jerk. He was one of the reasons that many people will not come to know Christ. They see these symbols on cars and believe that Christ has made no difference in the lives of Christians.

Or course, there is no one to make this man drive with courtesy or obey the law most of the time. He is able to drive recklessly because others are watching out for him. Maybe he has determined that no wrong is committed when there is no foul.

Next case in point: Virginia Beach has had several traffic lights which take the picture of those running the lights. These cameras actually take a video of the driver running the light. Two of my friends whom I consider to be true believers in the faith got tickets from running these lights. Each of them were sure that they had stopped before turning right on a red light. Both watched the video and admitted their guilt.

Could it be that we assume that we are doing right all the time unless the wrong is pointed out to us? We may be more unaware of our sins than we realize unless we become sensitive to them. I believe this is a product of the understanding of what right and wrong is.

I have heard many Christians say, "It is better to get forgiveness than permission." Can a godly person ever really say that? Isn't that an excuse to do anything you want unless you get caught? Does this mean that we have lost any desire for doing what is right?

Christians were never called out to be like the world. We were called to be holy. We should stand out because of that holiness. The lack of it should send us to the Lord daily in confession. Confession is not telling the Lord of the wrong we have done. Confession is saying the same things that they Lord says about what we have done. He says it is worthy of death. We should also say that and thank the Lord for His sacrifice. We should see that our sin sent Jesus to the cross.

Yes, confession cleanses us from all unrighteousness but that is not a tacit permission to do as we please. It should bring us to humbly thank our Lord again and again for His forgiveness.

I am not sure that many Christians understand what it will be like to stand before the Lord. They do not realize that all of the good and bad we have ever done will be made known. It will be a shameful day for us to realize that we have treated our Lord with such contempt as we went through life ignoring the call to holiness.

Maybe we should stop asking ourselves whether or not we are doing right. Understanding right and wrong have become so conditional that it is really hard to define right and wrong. Whose standards determine right and wrong? Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are being holy. Is holiness the characteristic we desire? Is holiness the goal of our lives? The standard for holiness is not in any question. It is measured by the plumline God has given in His Word.

I know I am not perfect and I do not want to obsess on being perfect. That implies a set of rules that I must comply with each day. I want to be holy. This means that I will recognize and confess my sins. I will not seek to follow rules but seek Him with fervor so that I do not wish to bring contempt upon Him. My actions do not change because I try to keep the rules. My actions change because I love Him and do not wish to be called by His Name in vain.

I am nowhere near perfect. However, I desire holiness in my life.

1 Peter 1:13-19 (NIV) 13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Prayer for Dads

I am the father of three grown daughters. I did some things wrongly and maybe some thing right in the years they were in my home. They are all very precious to me and I want to continue to be a positive influence in their lives. I will always be their father no matter how far away nor how much time has elapsed. Though they are all wonderful ladies I wish I had done a better job. I know there were times I failed them.

So, this is the prayer I want my children and wife to pray for me. It is a prayer that I believe each father needs.

Lord, let him leave his childish things behind and be a man.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Have him stand up for the things that are right; opposing what is wrong and leading his family to serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:15 (NIV) 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
Help him to lead his family in spiritual matters. Don't let him confine his children to such rigid rules without compassion and understanding.

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV) 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

And help his to provide for his family in everything that they need, giving him work and working hard to fulfill his responsibility.

1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV) 8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Now, Lord may you be glorified by the action of fathers to serve you without reserve, to be the head of their homes in leadership and spiritual matters. Give them the vision of fatherhood that they need to do what they must to raise their children to be people after Your own Heart. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Condemn the Sin, Forgive the Sinner

I have no interest in condemning people. However, I cannot be so compassionate that I fail to stand for what is right. Standing for what is right means declaring some actions are wrong. Thus, I would loathe to be on a jury that condemned someone for a heinous crime but I would be under obligation to do so. I must have compassion in the middle of recognizing the crime as wrong and being a part of justice.

Jesus has a woman brought to Him on a holy day. It was the seventh day of the Feast of Booths. It was a day of rest. This woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers said that she was worthy of stoning as given by the Law of Moses. They wanted to know what Jesus would do. (The first WWJD?)

The acts of these men were obviously a test for Jesus. He had, no doubt, been preaching compassion, forgiveness and love for others. It was highly popular given that the preaching of scribes and Pharisees who thought that the only justice was hard and unforgiving. Adultery was something that everyone detested. Jesus would be hard pressed to deny the Law of Moses.

Yet, the sentence for this transgression was almost never enacted. It required that both guilty man and woman be stoned. The law required that a careful trial must be held in which both parties are allowed to confess their sin. These men have not followed the law themselves as they bring this woman to Jesus.

The teaching of that day was that guilt would also be applied to those who knew of a sin but did nothing to correct it. In other words, these men must have known this sin was to be committed if they caught the couple "in the very act." Thus, at least some of these men would be as guilty as she and the unknown partner in this sin.

Also, the definition of adultery at that time was contingent on her relation to another man rather than upon the man who committed the adultery with her. She was either engaged or married. It would not have been considered adultery if she had been a single woman no matter what the condition of her partner.

The scribes and the Pharisees would have known this law. They, supposedly, kept the law meticulously. Yet, their desire to test Jesus brings them to their own condemnation.

Jesus ignores these men and writes on the ground. This was a holy day. The law was clear that even two letters could not be written except in the dust on a holy day. Jesus clearly knew the law.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what Jesus wrote on the ground. I would like to offer a suggestion.

Jeremiah 17:13 (ESV)
13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. 

These scribes and Pharisees were rejecting Him. They lacked forgiveness. They lacked compassion. They even lacked adherence to the law. Their act of bringing this woman before Him proved the condemnation of their hearts. They had humiliated her by bringing her into the public and placing her in the middle of their group.

The blackness of their hearts was a rejection of Jesus. This is the real reason that we must forgive others. Our relationship with Jesus must always result in forgiveness.

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

The lack of forgiveness is a rejection of Jesus.  Did He write the names or the sins of the scribes and Pharisees on the ground? I don't know but I lean toward their names since their names were not written in the Book of Life.

However, I do not believe that Jesus simply glossed over this woman's sin either. Forgiveness is not permission to sin. He tells her that she should not sin an more. Of course, this is an impossible command if He meant that she will never commit any sin. He must be telling her that adultery should never be listed among her sins again.

This may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but realize that the religious community was just as most churches are today. People will talk about the sins of others. Especially those sins which they have not committed. The story of her sin spread like wildfire. Her husband or betrothed would have heard if he had not already heard. He would most likely put her out. A rejected woman with such a reputation would have very few resources to make a living. The best option of the day for such a woman was prostitution. Jesus own words of "sinning no more" would have prevented this profession. Her life would be hard.

So, Jesus forgave her but did not permit her to continue an ungodly lifestyle.

Thus, I must do the same.

John 8:1-11 (ESV)
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Want to Serve My Lord Faithfully Even in Tough Times

The school I went to gave a "Perfect Attendance Award" to everyone who was present every day in a school year. Today, schools still give that award but they also give an award for those who only miss two or three times. I guess its called the "Pretty Good Attendance Award." I believe we are giving out so many awards to children today that they don't know what a real award is. Each child goes home with some award because we don't want to hurt their self-esteem. The children know that these awards mean nothing. The parents know these awards mean nothing. Many of them litter the streets before the child gets home at the end of the day.

The Olympics are held every four years. The best athletes across the world compete with one goal in mind. Each one wants to win a medal. The very best want the gold medal. Often these gold medal winners weep as their country's flag is raised higher than the silver and bronze medalist flags and their own national anthem is played. All of their hard work and training was for this moment.

The Christian often goes through very tough times. There are struggles to remain faithful when nearly every thing is going wrong. The Christian continues to tithe even though the economic downturn has caused him to cut back in other areas of his life. The Christian continues to believe and testify in a great God when cancer strikes. He believes in God's leading when he doesn't know what to do. He remains faithful to his church when his children are pleading with him to miss for sporting events. He has a daily quiet time with God when his to-do list is long. He prays for others even though his own needs are dire.

The Christian remains faithful when things go wrong because he is looking for the prize. Just as the Olympic athlete looks to stand on the top platform, see his country's flag raised and hear his own national anthem, the Christian looks toward the day he will stand before his Lord. On that day, these difficulties will seem as trivial as all the training the athlete has had to endure because the prize will be in hand. The Lord will receive the praise and honor and glory for what the Christian has done. It will mean everything to the one who loves His Lord.

This prize is not one that will be thrown away on the way home. Heaven is home. The prize will last forever. I, for one, want that prize.

1 Peter 1: 6-7 (NIV)
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire---may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Is "Mustard Seed" Faith

I sometimes have a hard time accepting things that have always been accepted. I drove my seminary professors nuts when I questioned how things were translated. Therefore, I believe many of them decided that I was destined to be a nut myself. So, please read this blog as written by one who questions what has always been accepted rather than as one who knows the answers.

This morning I read Matthew 17:20 as part of my quiet time. I first read it in the NASB:

And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

This made me question what "size of a mustard seed" meant.Didn't the disciples already have a little faith? Isn't this what Peter is accused of when he gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Jesus. He begins to sink because of his doubt but he had enough faith to get out of the boat. Yet, he is said to have a little faith. Why would you use the example of a small mustard seed when speaking to people about how small their faith was if faith was really about size? Are you trying to tell them that the maximum amount of faith to do anything is so very small? I didn't think so.

So,  I went to my Greek Bible and read it again.The words "the size of" are not there. (The NASB does use the word "or" in the margin to give an alternate reading but they placed their commentary in the translation when they used "the size of.") The actual translation should read, ". . . faith as or like a mustard seed. . . ." That changed everything for me.

The mustard seed has all that is necessary to grow into a tree if it is given water and placed in a growing environment. Jesus says that the birds can nest in it when He speaks of the size it can grow to after starting so small. It is not the size of the seed which causes it to become what it will become. It is what it been made to do.

This makes sense to me. Afterall, I have heard so many people claim that the reason that they do not have what they need is because they do not have enough faith. They go as far as saying that people lose those whom they are praying for because they do not have enough faith. I find this to be cruel. This means that the grandmother could have saved her granddaughter with leukemia if she had had more faith. It means that my friends with cancer would all be cancer free if they had enough faith. The reality is that I have seen people with amazing faith die.

Yes, Jesus told the disciples that their lack of healing the demon possessed boy was because of the littleness of their faith. Please consider this for a moment: What if it wasn't the size of the faith but the purity of it that made it truly little? Why else would Jesus say that this type of demon only comes out by prayer and fasting? Aren't these things which purify our faith? In other words, the type of faith the disciples had was not stamped with the purpose of casting out the demons because it was conflicted with the same type of doubt that caused Peter to fear walking on the water.

So, then the size of my faith is not so much about how big it is but how much it is stamped with God's purpose. This comes from knowing Him, hearing Him and believing in Him at His word. Thus, I ask God according to His will rather than according to the size of my faith.

Am I absolutely sure about this? No but I am being convinced.

1 John 5:14-15 (NIV) 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Who Are You Hanging Around With?

I started giving a personality test that I still use almost thirty years ago. The test is unique. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to complete and it addresses two significant factors besides our personalities. It claims (and I can substantiate this claim after careful observation for the last three decades) that we act like we are expected to act 85% of the time.

This means that we will generally act in a way consistent with the people we are with. Of course, that means that we can continue to be with these people because their acceptance of us in contingent on our compliance with the group's social interaction. In other words, we must act like those whom we are with or they will think of us as strange and ultimately reject our inclusion into the group.

I was thinking about this as I prepared for our church's annual Graduate Recognition Sunday. I told the students that their success will be largely based on those they hang around with. They will party if they hang around with the party crowd. They will study if they hang around with the study crowd. They will drink with the drinkers, loaf with the loafers and choke with the smokers.

I told these graduates that their lives will change dramatically after their graduations. They have the opportunity of changing their futures. God has great plans for each one of them (and everyone else for that matter. The first step is to determine who He wants you to be and to hang around the people who are reflect that. Don't be afraid of being the dumbest person in the room. It is a great way to get much smarter. Successful people hang around successful people.

That doesn't mean that you don't love people who aren't like you want to be. God even loves the drinkers and loafers (the prostitutes, drug dealers and preachers are included in there somewhere). We are called to change the world by following the Lord. That means we will spend some time with the ones we don't want to become.

The people we hand around with, however, need to be those whom we want to become. The social pressure to act consistent with a group is enough to change our reputation from being mediocre to being everything that God wants us to be.

Over the years I have had many husbands tell me of their marital problems. They tell me that their wives are getting more and more distant from them. They tell me that their wives are hinting or actually asking for divorce. I have consistently asked these men who their wives were haning around with. All of these women without exception were hanging around with other divorced women. These divorced woment were counseling their friends to get a divorce and join the ranks of the singles.

None of the men who have come to me were innocent. Every wife had a legitimate complaint about her husband but I do not think she would have considered divorce so confidently if she hadn't been hanging around divorced women. Divorce is almost guaranteed if another man woos her during this period of time. She will start acting single because this new man expects her to act this way. (The same could be said for men in this example.)

So, be careful who you hang around with. It can change your future for the better or the worse.

Psalm 26:4-5 (NIV) 4 I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; 5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do You Want to Be Healed?

John 5:2-6 (ESV)
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed waiting for the moving of the water4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever he had. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 

Isn't this an unusual question? The man is waiting for the stirring of the water. Jesus knows that he has been there a long time. What would the man be there for if he didn't want to be healed? Is it possible that some people get so caught up in the steps which should bring healing that they don't know what they would do if they were truly healed?

I have a Jack Russell Terrier. As a younger dog she would chase any animal that had the misfortune of entering our yard. I noticed that she chased with veracity until she got so close that she might catch her prey. I think she enjoyed the chase but didn't know what to do if she was ever successful.

Some people want to be healed in theory but not in practice. They will come to healing services and seem to desire healing but have no plans what they will do if they are healed. They like the chase but don't know what to do if they ever caught healing. They may even like the attention their illness provides. Healing means giving up the sickness handicap. It means going to work, helping others and filling your time with healthy things.

I don't know if every ill person knows this. They might not realize what they when they are healthy. This man's time was filled with waiting and trying to get into the water. Others' time may be filled with chemotherapy, radiation, dialysis, psychotherapy or any other treatments. And these treatments may be the hand of God touching them for healing. God also uses treatments like these to heal.

But what happens when you no longer have to go for treatments after you have done so for so long? You can get addicted to the treatments too.

So, I believe Jesus asked a very important question to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Asking whether or not he wanted to be healed makes perfect sense.

How about you? Do you want to be healed? Healed from cancer, heart disease or mental illness which you may not have caused? Healed from drug, alcohol, pornography or sex addiction which you may have caused? Healed from an injury or a mental breakdown? Healed from a hurt so deep that you can neither sleep nor eat properly?

Do you really want to be healed? What would you do if you are healed?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In Spite of the Preacher

Genesis 11:6-7 (ESV)
6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Acts 2:7-12 (ESV)
7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Often someone tells me of something I have said in a sermon that I never said. That is not always good. Sometimes they tell me that I have espoused a heresy. Sometimes they tell me something so profound, so godly, that I wished I had said it. The two biblical events mentioned above help me understand where the understanding comes from.

I can expect that some people will be confused when I speak ungodly things. I wish I could say that every sermon I have preached has come straight from the heart of God. I have never consciously tried to say something I didn't think was godly during my sermons but I have done so without thinking. These words came from my fallen condition; out of my fallen heart. I wish everyone would walk out confused rather than take what I have said as God's word when this happens. I hope they have godly discernment when listening.

Lately, I have been asking-no, pleading with God- to be filled with the Holy Spirit before preaching. I know I should ask for this at other times but the need to convey a message from God is paramount in my life. Preaching is the time I have the greatest opportunity to introduce people to God's word. It is then that I have to have my mind completely set on the things of the Spirit if I am to have the power of the Spirit's delivery. It is then that I must humble myself to wanting what He wants so that I might see what He wants in me and through me.

An astonishing thing is happening. I am seeing more people asking how they might come to know Christ. They are doing so even though my sermons haven't been evangelistic. I tell them of the Christ I know and they are asking how they can know Him too. They are hearing the path to the Lord without my own words truly explaining it to them.

I know that I am not the most amazing preacher but I am hearing people tell me things I have said that I never really said. God is putting the things He wants them to hear in their language. He does that in spite of the preacher sometimes.