Search This Blog

Friday, August 31, 2012

Justifiable Sin?

The posted speed limit on my way to work changes several times as it does for most people who travel to work. The street I live on has a speed limit of 25 mph. The way to work is 25, 35, 45, 35, 45, 25, 35, 45. Its not amazing that I can tell you all the posted speed limits. I speed up and slow down to comply.

Each morning I am passed by people who are traveling at lease 15 mph faster than I. They appear to be decent looking people. They do not fit the description of the wanted hardened criminals whose arrest photos are flashed on the tv screens during the evening news. They are just people going to work like me.

Do they know the speed limits like I do? I suspect that they do. Do they know they are breaking the law? I suspect that they do. Do they feel bad about it? I suspect that they justify their actions. After all, aren't there several other people going just as fast as they are?

So, I'm in a counseling session with a young man who has just confessed that he has committed adultery with a prostitute. He claims to be very sorry that he did so but then starts justifying why it happened. He tells me that his wife wasn't being that sexually responsive to him. He says that she isn't taking care of his needs. If I didn't know better I would think that he was totally justified in what he did. I wonder if that's what he is trying to tell me. Did he know what the limit (law) was before he had contact with the prostitute?

It is very easy to start justifying your actions no matter what is right or wrong. It doesn't take much of a deviation from where you are intending to go to end up in a totally different place. Sin is very subtle. Maybe it starts with looking at someone or something. Maybe it starts with sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Maybe it starts with getting into a car with someone who you know is up to no good.

Of course, many people try to deny what they have done until it is obvious that it has been done. Then they minimize what has been done to make it no big deal. Then, they blame other people for what they have done. The true problem is that they have left their faith behind to pursue something that won't last.

Sin is never justifiable but don't try to tell that to a non-repentant person. He will claim that it is every time.

1 Timothy 1:18-20 (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. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

(Please note that I normally ride my bike to work with the exception of inclement weather and the car I leave at the church being broken down. I must have a car at the church to visit the hospitals or respond to an emergency. The car has been broken down a lot lately so I have driven more times than I have riden my bicycle.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don't Get Practical and Faithless Mixed Up

Each church I have served has people who say they have never heard from God. I have always wondered why they come to church. I think they think of me as a telegraph boy. I get the message and bring it to them.

Does God send His messages to those who won't listen? The days of Eli were characterized with rare words from the Lord. Visions were infrequent. I wonder if the Lord was silent or the people just weren't listening. Maybe the Lord knew they wouldn't do what He said anyway.

These non-hearers of God like to think of themselves as practical. They will invade a business meeting to present their practical solutions to problems. They will take the road of the least amount of faith to address the problems. They often blame the ills of the church on the pastor and staff of the church. They hardly realize that they have made the pastor and staff ill.

So, let's define the difference between practical and faithless. Being practical is doing that which is most pragmatic when there is no word from God to indicate that anything else should be done. This word from God can come from others but should be confirmed in the heart of the people. Faithless is refusing to listen and/or do what God has said. For example, it was practical to stay in the boat as long as Jesus hadn't commanded Peter to walk out on the water to meet Him. It was faithless to stay in the boat as soon as Jesus commanded Peter to come.

Many of the Israelites thought that it was more practical to go back to Egypt than to challenge the peope living in Canaan. They were faithless because God had already told them that this was their land. Many people think that it is more practical to wait until a church is prosperous enough to build a new building. It is faithless if God has said it should be done now.

Last night I told the small group that meets for prayer that a word from God precedes an act of faith. (I didn't use those words exactly but this is certainly what I meant.) An act of faith is going the distance to accomplish what God has said.

Too many people want the church to retire from acts of faith. They generally start talking about what is practical when this happens. They don't realize that they have traded in their faith for what they call practical.

Recently one of the members of my church pointed to the churches that were dying in the area. He said that we could become like that church. He was just being practical. You see, as long as we listen, God will speak. As long as we are obedient, God will sustain us. He is never far away from those who walk with Him.

So don't get practical mixed up with faithless.

Matthew 14:28-29 (NIV) 28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where Are the Men?

I dumped Directv a couple of months ago. I couldn't be happier. I don't spend money for channels I don't watch. I don't surf through endless channels looking for a reason for continuing to pay so much. I hooked up an over-the-air antenna and get channels that I never knew existed.

One of these channels is a country music video channel. One of the videos told the story of a dad who made a point of claiming his son each time he was in trouble. He indicated how proud he was of his son even if he was in trouble.

In one case his son did something that he should have done and a neighbor brings him home so that "dad" can discipline him. The dad tells the man that the son must be his because he was in trouble. It seems dad was proud of his son because he was following in the same bad decisions as he did when he was a boy.

Another verse spoke of his son starting a fight on the football field because an opposing player took a cheap shot at his team's kicker. The son gets kicked out of the game and the dad yells out, "He's mine!" with extreme prided.

I turned off the tv at that point. I just couldnt' watch such childishness. The dad was still living like a child vicariously through his son. What hope did the son have for becoming a man? His dad surely hadn't become one.

Fathers have a noble task in raising their sons. Their goal is to produce a man who knows what is right, speaks what is right and does what is right. He produces a man who does not allow his emotions to overrule his actions. He produces a man who keeps his word, works with integrity and is honored among other men.

Fathers are to be examples for their daughters in defining what a man is. They should be faithful to their mothers without fail. They should gently lead the family in righteousness.

Being called a man should be something very noble.

Lots of males are producing boys. It seems that only a few are producing men.

Proverbs 23:15-16 (NIV) 15 My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; 16 my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do You Know Who You Are?

I was going door-to-door sharing the gospel several years ago when I asked a young man if he knew if he was going to heaven. He said yes so I proceeded to ask, "If you were to die today, why do you think God would let you into heaven?"
He stood behind the screen door, opened it up a bit and spat his snuff on the hedges. The door closed and he said, "Because I'm making the world a better place."

I wondered if he knew what he was saying. What was he doing that was making the world a better place? I asked but he was very vague.  Was he really making the world a better place? I suspected he was merely a legend in his own mind.

I hear people tell me things that they think I want to hear. They tell me of their work for the Lord. They speak of their benevolence and love for others. Their neighbors tell me a different story. They tell how mean they have been. They tell me that they don't want to have anything to do with church because of these people who "work" so hard for the Lord.

People delude themselves. They believe that they can simply wish they had virtue and this virtue will exist. They say they believe in honesty but will often lie to you. They talk of how they love the Bibles but can't tell you where their Bibles are. Their voices crack as they tell of their love for the Lord but they haven't been in church for weeks.I honestly believe that they think they are the people that they say they are. Maybe this is why they are so duped by others. If they don't know who they are, how can they know who others are?

The only way to know who we are is to look at what we are doing. In other words, if you want to be a man who loves his wife, you need to show love to your wife. If you want to be honest, you need to always tell the truth. If you want to be someone who loves Jesus, you go to church on Sundays and worship Him with others as well as worshiping Him during the week.

Our church has a couple of AA groups. I have been to their meetings. I am refreshed in the honesty that I often hear. Each one of them admitted that he or she was an alcoholic. They did so because they could not control their drinking. They realized that they couldn't by assessing what they were doing. The first step toward health is often admitting that you have the disease. The next step is to change what you are doing so that you can become something else. They call themselves recovering alcoholics.

What if an incredible honesty hit all the people in church? People would say, " I am a person who has been hateful for I have treated people with hatefulness," or "I am a person who doens't trust in God because I refuse to tithe."

Would people knowing who they really are radically change the church? I think so. It could be a very healthy thing for people to simply examine what they are doing. Thus, they could change their doing if they didn't see what they liked. Then, they would be who they really wanted to be.

James 1:22-24 (NIV) 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Christian Gimmick

2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

I want my church to grow. I think that most pastors do. In fact, most are looking desperately for something that will not only have their churches grow but they are looking for something that will have them grow so fast and so big that they will be on the front page of the newspapers. A desire that deep  opens us up to a lot of snake oil salesmen.

So, we hear of one seminar after another which promises to grow our churches. Another book comes out that we all flock to buy, read and implement. A brand new program is introduced which promises to be the last evangelism, discipleship, outreach, grow producing or you fill in the blank program that our churches will ever need. So our churches spend thousands of dollars sending us to seminars, we spend thousands of hours reading books and thousands of our church members go through the last programs we will need until the next last program.

When will we learn that these are just gimmicks with a Christian base? In some cases I believe even the seminar leaders, authors and program designers have duped themselves. They are so convincing because they are truly convinced themselves.

We will never be able to teach, preach or lead people into a forced encounter with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like the wind who comes when He desires. We are trying to imitate Him rather than to depend upon Him in our churches. In fact, we love that idea. This way we can think that we have actually done something significant. Later, we can write our own books and lead our own seminars on how it was done.

But truly great revivals have all come through prayer. Often people have prayed for years with no apparent results. Finally, the Spirit arrives and everything is different. It was the instructions Jesus gave His disciples. He told them to wait until they received the Holy Spirit before branching out. Thousands got saved after the Holy Spirit came without one of the disciples going to a seminar, reading a book or starting a new program.

I am tired of the gimmicks. I have been guilty of going to every seminar, reading every book and starting every program that promised church growth. I have gathered around myself people who would tickle my ears; who would tell me what I wanted to hear.

Now I am realizing something that I didn't want to hear. My obedience to what the Lord has called me to do is all that is required. I should daily take up my cross and follow Jesus. I should respond to His commands. I should abide in His word. I should pray without ceasing. I should love others. I should make sure that God remains in the center of my life. My sermons and my leadership should come out of my relationship with Him.

The number of baptisms in my church have increased dramatically over the past year. There were no extra special emphases. We simply share the gospel. The only change is that we require everyone to write out how and why they gave their lives to Christ.

Thus, last Sunday night we baptized twenty people (including the Spanish mission that meets in our church. They baptized eight. ) and those who came heard twenty different testimonies or how and why they gave their lives to Christ. We can't make anyone trust in Christ. We had to admit that it was a "God thing."

Now, if we read that God will build His church, shouldn't we believe that He will do so?

I, for one, want to give up the Christian gimmicks.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

When God Does Not Hear

Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 

God sometimes practices tough love. I know He loves me all the time. I know that I can do nothing to separate myself from that love. Yet, that doesn't mean that God will ignore my sins when He is answering my prayers.

Now, let me first say that I am not talking about being perfect before I can pray. If that was true I could never expect God to hear my prayers. I am not perfect but there are times when I want what God wants. Yet, I should expect silence when I set my heart to ignore His will. I simply cannot walk in my sins and expect to walk in His presence.

People have asked me how a non-Christian can pray to receive Christ into his heart if God will not hear the prayers of those whose sins have never been confessed. I tell them that this is what brings salvation. It is recognizing your own sin and knowing that you need a savior. It is committing to compliance with His will. It is the contrite heart that God does not despise. In fact, I believe these prayers make Him smile. They are the reason He sent Jesus to die for us.

We must turn our hearts toward Him to know He has heard our prayers. And God can't be faked out either. I simply cannot tell Him that I want to be compliant when I have no such intentions. He knows my heart. He knows whether or not I am truly confessing my sins or merely reciting them.

On the other hand, we should know that He hears us even when we have no evidence if we truly believe we have turned our hearts toward Him. We should know that the confession of our sins and the desire to have what He wants assures us that He is listening. It may still be that He will refuse to do as we ask but our own hearts will accept His will if we have truly turned our hearts to what He wants.

So, we (and I to be more specific) cannot take prayer lightly. I cannot be cavalier in my asking and this should add expectation to each prayer. Do people really think God is listening when they pray publicly. They should but I find many of them worried what people think of their prayers. Who cares if the prayer was being said to God?

Therefore, I should never think I am praying when I am talking so others can hear me. I must have my heart tuned into His heart. Then, I can expect that the listening God will do great things.

I guess we should all ask ourselves if we think God is listening before we pray. We should ask ourselves why if we don't think so. Then, we should look to see if our own sins are confessed. The latter may even cause us to change what we are praying.

Friday, August 24, 2012

We're All Looking for Peace

Most people are looking for peace even if they don't know it. They may think they are looking for fame, riches, power or even just their basic needs in life but they are actually seeking peace.They want to make peace in this world. Their definition of peace is: life without struggle.

Most of these people will never realize any peace. They should watch the lottery winners to see that these people often describe the chaos that winning the lottery brought them. They should look at the people in Hollywood or D.C. and see that the fame and power hasn't delivered peace. There are a lot of people with their basic needs met who have no peace. Their struggles do not change simply because they have received what they were looking for.

Yet, Jesus promised that those who truly follow Him would have peace. In fact, He left His peace with us. He said that His peace was not like the world's peace. I wonder what peace the world has or even thinks it has. I believe this peace is a "wished for" peace rather than a realized one.

I have watched so many westerns in which a dying man says that he has made his peace with his maker. I believe this is a good thing to say in a western but I don't believe the character nor the actor really understands what he has said. You don't make peace with your maker simply because you are going to die. Peace is not something that you can order from God. It is more than saying you are going to heaven.

The type of peace that Jesus offers in one of being one with Him. It is to be His as He is yours. It is having a heart that is "after His own heart." It doesn't remove all the worldly struggles. In fact, it may cause worldly struggles. Many of the people who have completely followed Jesus were and are being martyred. They have been imprisoned, beaten and must worship in hiding. The world would never say that these complete followers have peace but those who fully follow Him would disagree.

Their peace comes from within rather than their circumstances. They know their purpose in life and living that purpose fills their lives. They don't like persecution but their peace doesn't crumble if persecution comes.

Sometimes I find myself worried about things I want to happen. I work to see those things happen. I pray that they will happen. I act sometimes as if I will only have peace if those things happen. However, real peace will never be reached this way. Peace is understanding that I am faithful to my God and He is responsible to bring about things He wants to see. I don't run from crisis to another when I am fully aware of this. I rest. I can do so because I know everything is in His hands.

This, of course, does not mean that I am passive with everything that happens. I am faithful in what He requires of me. I work but I also depend. I wait but I also check my own faithfulness. God never gives me more than He and I can't handle. He just needs me to follow Him. It is here that I find myself in sync with God. It is here that I have peace.

This is not the peace of the world. It goes way beyond that.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not of This World

I have a friend from Scotland that I see from time to time. When I am with him I often mimic his Scottish accent. He knows it doesn't sound Scottish but the Americans around us don't know. Those that don't know me think I am from Scotland too. Of course, I tell them it is merely a game I play with my friend. If I keep up the accent, they are not so sure.

You see, I can act like I am from a place even if I'm not. We took a vacation once to Naples, Florida when my daughters were in elementary school. One day we drove around some extremely wealthy neighborhoods and pretended that we were so rich that our gardners, butlers and maids lived in these houses. We laughed a lot as we made up these stories but we never dreamed that they were the truth. It is absolutely necessary to know the difference between the truth of who you are and what you are pretending.

Many Christians get mixed up when it comes to being of this world. We live in this world and we assume we are of it but we are no more a member of this neighborhood than my daughters and I were of the neighborhood in Naples. We have been moved and cannot claim this place as our home any more. It does not contain our future. It is merely a place to live until we are ready to go home.

Many Christians act convincingly that this is their home. They fake the accent very well. They talk as if they are from here. In fact, they have done so well that they believe it themselves. Their accent comes out in their worries, fears and anxieties who are at home in this world. Thus, they are tossed about with every wind of crisis; with every storm which threatens their lives in this world.

This world considers wealth, fame, power and beauty as its greatest values. These things are always in danger. They come and go for everyone in this world. Thus, this world lives in fear. Home is found in the values of this world for those of this world.

Christians do not have those values. Christians value the relationship they have with the Lord Jesus. They seek His face as the greatest accomplishment. They know that nothing in this world can ultimately harm them. They know it is temporary. They know that any investment made in this world will come to an end. They know that the investment made in their eternal home will last forever.

Most people are looking for peace. They will not find it in this world.

As believers, we are not of this world and thus we do not attempt to have the false peace that this world tries to sell us. We have His peace.

We simply are not of this world.

John 14:27 (NIV) 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

John 17:15-16 (NIV) 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A World with Hope

Ephesians 2:12 (NIV) 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

I streamed Hunger Games a couple of days ago. I was totally unaware of the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. I didn't know that this series is voraciously read by young people. It is second only to the Harry Potter books. And, honestly, I struggled with the movie. It disturbed me so much that it took three days for me to complete it.

I thought the movie was well written, directed and acted. I believe it captured its conflict well though I am not sure that most would understand what that conflict is. I am afraid people will think this is about the complications of love. It isn't. The movie is about hope or rather hopelessness.

I wondered why so many young people would read and watch this movie. Why would they want to see a movie that describes a bleak future? It this the future that they expect? Do they, like these characters, live without hope? Do they strive to simply make it to another day denying satisfaction to those who manipulate them?

I remember hearing , "the future is what you make it," when I was young. I found that to be somewhat false. There are factors which prevent you from making some futures. I was never big, fast or strong enough to play football beyond high school. I couldn't change that future.

But the impossible nature of some futures does not mean that the future must be bleak. I, like everyone else on this planet, must realize that I am a unique individual with a unique future. However, that doesn't mean that my future must be my own making. It means my future is mine to discover rather than make.

That doesn't mean that I have a script that I follow along either. I have a hope that is created in me to live out the life God has intended. It is a hope which causes me to listen. It is a hope that causes me to take another step. It is a hope that is neverending and never really fully explained. I hope for that which I do not see for this is the nature of hope.

Romans 8:24-25 (NIV) 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

This hope has a good future. I got the impression that the characters in Hunger Games were just making it from one day to another until they died. They made statements like, "I will never have children." They didn't want to bring new life into this world for it was hopeless. They could never see a good future.

But why should young people believe in a good future? Haven't they been told that they won't have life as good as their parents? Haven't they been stripped of faith? Isn't the current culture turning away from a God who loves them and creates a life of meaning for them? Don't they understand that life is merely like the television show Survivor? Someday they will just get voted off the island.

I, for one, do not understand how anyone can live in such a state of hopelessness. I do not understand how anyone can be callous about life. I struggled with this future of Hunger Games because I believe that these young people just might believe that there isn't anything more than what they can see. I understood why they would go into schools, theaters or churches killing people. If all these people are hopeless, what difference does it make how long they live?

Yes, things are tough but they are not terminal. Yes, there are struggles but they do not have to spell defeat. But these words take hope if they are to have any meaning. They require Someone who can make things better. They require Someone who can bring hope.

I never really thought how much faith and hope have to do with each other. We put our faith in Someone. That faith is one which contains hope. There can be no real separation between the two. I can't simply hope in fate. It holds no future. It merely accepts the odds.

I believe we can have more hope that anyone can imagine. I believe that there is a good future available to everyone. I believe that there is a life better than the one we are living today. I have hope and it holds me as I hold onto it. I believe in a world with hope.

Hebrews 10:23 (NIV) 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beware of the Evil that Follows a Victory

Evil often follows a victory, especially if that victory advances the Lord's kingdom. It was after Jesus had fasted for forty days that the devil tempted Him. It was after David's defeat of the Philistines that Saul became jealous of him. It was after the raising of Lazarus that the plot to kill Jesus was hatched. One would think that there was a plan here.

So, we should not be surprised of the conflict that erupts in a church after a number of people are saved. In fact, we should expect it and be prepared for the Bible tells us who the devil is:

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
He roars to scare us so that we have no more victories. He seeks to have us fearful of him and all that he can do. He plants a fear of following God so that God's people are defeated rather than victorious. He plans on the celebration which will lower our guards and let him get a foothold on defeating us. He roars so he can chase us because we take no defenses against him while we are running from him.

So, how should we react after a victory?

We should expect his attack. We should stand our ground. We should recite God's promises to us. We should claim the power that God has given us to defeat him. We should know that the power to defeat the devil belongs to God who makes us strong. We should know that this will defeat the evil.

1 Peter 5:9-10 (NIV) 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

That doesn't mean we will avoid all suffering. It means we will have victory.

Have you ever wondered why some of the best preachers fall into some of the worst sins? Could it be that they were not aware that evil would pursue them because of their great victories?

I have seen pastors who have led their churches to amazing growth fired soon after that growth came because of their sins. I have seen evangelists who have been anointed by God to win thousands of souls found in multiple affairs. I have seen men and women who have stood boldly for God found siffoning off the money from their ministries. Each one of these did not realize that evil would temp and attack them after their victories.

On the other hand, I have seen very godly people attacked with devastating diseases. I have seen their spouses leave them right after the victories. I have seen their children addicted to drugs. I have seen that evil chases them even in their godliness.

Moses finally is allowed to take the Israelites out of Egypt. The Lord does not lead them by the road which is shorter but through the desert to the Red Sea. Pharoah realizes what he has done and relents from earlier decision. He decides to recapture his slaves. The people are afraid (The devil roared!). They can't see going forward and death lies behind them. Moses tells them what to do:

Exodus 14:13-14 (NIV) 13 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Of course, this didn't mean to physically stand still since the people still had to walk through the sea. It meant that they would not have to fight the battle but should depend upon the Lord to do so.

You see, the devil wants us to believe that the victories were because of our strength. He attacks so that we will respond with our strength. Standing firm means that we rely on God's strength. Standing firm means we aren't running from the evil. We are facing it with God's power.

Then, the evil can't have victory over us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Living Each Day with Your Bags Packed

This world is the only one we can see. That leads many people to believe that it is the only world there is. Of course, that is like saying that microbes don't exist simply because I can't see them. We can't see microbes unless we have a way of detecting them. The next world can only be perceived through the Spirit. He is our "detector." Still, it is easy to forget that this world is not our home. It is easy to make plans like we will be here forever.

What if today were your last day? What if you die today? I know it sounds overly melodramatic but it is possible that this will be your last day. How many people in the World Trade Center towers went to work thinking that September 11, 2001 would be their last day? How many people who are killed in traffic accidents or die of heart attacks today think that this is their last day? Virtually none, I suspect. Even now people who will be gone soon are planning for Christmas, birthdays and retirements that they will never see.

There is nothing wrong with making these plans. You have to. You simply can't live your life without making plans. They are necessary for any business you are in. They are necessary for the church. We, too, are making plans for Christmas, Easter, Vacation Bible School, Camps and other things that will happen in the future.

The real problem comes when we aren't prepared to go onto the next world. We have unsaid things which we needed to say but always thought there was a tomorrow to say them in. We have failed in our commitments.

I remember a relatively young man who died suddenly. His family grieved his passing. His wife was devastated. Then, his mistress showed up at the funeral. I bet the deceased man never saw that coming! His wife and children had a totally different view of him after that. Maybe he could have repented and asked for forgiveness if he knew his shelf life was short. He, like most people, thought they had plenty of time to do whatever they wanted and still make things right later.

How many people walk out of a church service knowing that they should give their lives to Christ? They say they'll do so at a more convenient time. Then, one day they are gone and they never again have this chance.

How many people have angry words with someone which they are never able to correct because one of them passes away before forgiveness can be requested or granted? It leaves both of them without peace.

There have been times that I have refused to take people with me to the Holy Land because they could not truly experience it. They waited until they were sure they had enough money but were so infirm that I knew the trip would be too hard on them. They would not be able to get out of the bus to see the things they were traveling to see. They simply could not walk well enough to enjoy the trip. They waited too long.

I have to live my life like this day is my last. I must make sure that I am one who confesses my sins before my Lord daily. I must spend time with Him daily. I must love Him with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I must treat people with all the love within me daily. I must make sure that I am ready even when I have no expectation that I will be going today.

It is like anticipating a trip that you know that could come with a moment's notice. Your bags are packed but in the closet so that you simply grab them and go.

Luke 12:16-21 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'

20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Seeing God in the Rear-View Mirror

I suppose that all of us have had a crisis in our lives. Trouble is something that Jesus promised. Our faith does not inoculate us from these troubles. We get them just as those who have no faith. Maybe we get them more since they strengthen our faith.

Most of us wonder where God is during these troubles. We look for Him to rescue us and when that rescue doesn't come quickly we ask for why. Often there is silence. We can't see Him nor do we see Him work. It appears that He is doing nothing.

After the crisis passes we have a different story. We see what God was doing while we were in our trouble. We see what He was doing for us, with us and how He was bringing us out of that trouble. We  can't seem to see Him through the front windshield but we see Him clearly in the rear-view mirror.

Wasn't that the way it must have been for Joseph in the Old Testament? Surely, he failed to see God as things went from bad to worse.

Do you think Joseph saw God working when his brothers threw him in a pit?

Do you think Joseph saw God working when they sold him?

Do you think Joseph saw God working when as he worked as a slave?

Do you think Joseph saw God working when he was accused of a crime he didn't commit?

Do you think Joseph saw God working when he was thrown in prison?

Do you think Joseph saw God working when he was forgotten in prison?

Yet, when things were all done Joseph saw that God was indeed working during each of these terrible events in his life. When his brothers were afraid that he would exact revenge from them for what they had done Joseph said:

Genesis 50:20 (ESV) 
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 

Now, I suppose most of us have seen the hand of God working after the crisis has passed. In fact, I know that I have seen His handiwork all over my crisis after the crisis has passed. I didn't see this during the crisis. So, I'm asking:

Why don't we believe He is working when we can't see Him working when we know He is working for we have seen His work after the storm? In other words, doesn't God's character, which never deviates, prove that He is working even when we can't see Him working?

So, if you are in the middle of a crisis praise God for He is working for your good right now! I know, you may not be able to see it now but you will . . . in the rear-view mirror.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Does Christianity Support a Welfare State?

I just read the parable of the Good Samaritan. The people who were considered to be righteous by society ignored a man who had been beaten and robbed. The Samaritan who was considered unrighteous in the strict Jewish society acted with kindness by taking care of the man. Jesus commanded those who heard this story to do likewise. Why would anyone believe that this supports a welfare state.

People think that the man who was beaten and robbed deserved and was entitled to the kind treatment that the Samaritan gave him. They believe that all of society must do this or we are evil. But I ask this: How virtuous is a person if he is forced to be benevolent? What righteousness does he have if he is forced into his acts? I say that he has none for he is merely looking after his own personal interests.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 (ESV) 
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 

The Bible teaches personal responsibility in daily living. It does not preclude helping someone who is hungry but disdains idleness. The person should take responsibility for their own lives. Yes, there are times when people go through tough times. We must be those "good Samaritans" who help them. That is something that comes from our love for the Lord and our love for others. It is our responsibility but cannot be forced upon us by governments and have any meaning in our faith.

John 3:16 (ESV) 
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Bible teaches us personal responsibility in salvation. The "whoever" is the person who trusts in Christ for salvation. It cannot be forced upon him. It is something that is freely done or there is no true "trusting." I know that salvation is a gift but each person must decide to receive that gift. He cannot make an appeal to the Lord later saying that he did so much better than what the Lord has required in receiving Him. In other words, no amount of work will take the place of trusting in Christ.

Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. The work that follows our faith comes from that faith. 

We do not work for our salvation but we surely work out our salvation. We take responsibility by allowing the Lord who has come to live within us to work within us. Many believers quench, grieve and resist the Spirit when He seeks to work within them. All of us have a responsibility to let Him work.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) 
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 

The Bible teaches us personal responsibility in the judgement. All of us will stand before Christ in judgement. Yes, those who are believers are given entrance to heaven but that entrance comes with a judgement in what we have done with our salvation. Have we squandered it or have we been faithful with it? I believe the Parable of the Talents will be very vivid as we are all judged. Each owe is judged for what he has done. Some have been given more than others to invest in the Kingdom.

God, Himself, does not force us into faith or obedience. He does not force us into love for love can never be forced. It can be wooed. It can be caressed but it cannot be forced.

The Bible tells the individual that he owes love to his fellow man but it does not tell the ones being loved that it is owed to them. Each of us must see love as a gift that someone has given us. Yes, they may be compelled by their faith. They may have to work at it. That is their responsibility but it is not something we are entitled to.

So, no, the Bible does not support a welfare state. It supports a loving people meeting the needs of others by taking true responsibility. Yes, that means I give to those who are less fortunate but never because I am compelled to do so nor do I believe that I can be forced to do and claim any virtue.

The welfare state wants to entitle those who have less without any merit. It wants to require that these "less fortunate" receive.

This week someone stole one of the rims and tires off of our Minister of Music's old pickup truck in broad daylight. They left it on blocks. Maybe the person who stole the wheel really needed it. Maybe he couldn't get to work without another wheel on his truck. So, why is it different if the government takes that wheel from our Minister of Music (through taxes) and gives it to that man who claims to have a need? Why do we call one act theft and the other a lawful act of government?

Maybe the person who stole the wheel reasoned that he was entitled to it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

It Takes Faith to Understand Faith

1 Corinthians 1:18-20 (NIV) 
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 

I just returned from trying to visit someone in a jail. There was a time when I could visit someone because I was his pastor. The person at the desk said that the jail administration had decided that a pastoral visit was the same as any other visit. It meant that I couldn't come in unless I had an appointment and I was on the person's visitation list. This person had not bothered to put me on the list. I had never needed to be on it to see him before.

I do not claim to be more spiritual than any other person that visits. However, a pastoral visit has one purpose. It must seek to redeem the person in jail. I can't say that of any other person's purpose who visits. Others may or may not have this purpose.

I wondered if the jail administration thought that pastoral visits do no good. Why make it harder for pastors to visit if you believe that pastors can help the inmates from returning to jail? Of course, if you believe it makes no difference then the logical decision is to make their visits the same as everyone else's.

If that is the case, then we don't need any spiritual help for those in jail. Heck, we don't need it for the people in church either. If there is nothing other than the person himself who can pull himself out of the awful state he is in, then we should merely state that and tell each person that he will simply have to live with his own guilt forever.

The reason people can't understand faith is that they have no faith in which to understand it. They cannot understand the change that comes into a Holy Spirit filled individual because they have never been filled with the Holy Spirit. They cannot understand belief in the power of God because they have never known the power of God.

It would be like explaining colors to someone who has never seen. How do you tell them of blue sky, green grass, yellow flowers and red blood? What is their reference point to understand? All of our explanations have no point to stand upon while they are launched.

And when I ask someone to believe for their salvation, I am asking them to do something that they have never done before. Think about it: I am asking them to trust in Someone who died nearly 2000 years ago. I am asking them to pledge their allegiance to Him. I am asking them to believe that He is still alive and will come to live within them. That takes faith which they do not yet have.

But they do believe because the Holy Spirit comes to convict and tell them what they could never have known otherwise. They no longer see it as foolishness because they have had their eyes opened. They see and are somewhat surprised by their sight. It is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to them.

Sometimes I preach to people who do not have a clue what I am saying. I speak of God's deliverance and they always equate it to circumstances. It seems very intellectual to think of an orderly universe which is its own master. Thus, it must follow the rules without interference. They chalk up hearings and God's miraculous provisions as random acts which will happen to someone eventually. They may even point out times when these things did happen naturally. Saying that they were acts of God seems foolish to them.

I walk in a different world from them and know that my responsibility is to bring them to faith. So, I continue to tell them stories of faith, read Bible promises of faith and pray in faith that God will open their eyes.

And when He does, they suddenly understand faith because they have it for themselves.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Continuing Mystery of the Gospel

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)
26 He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." 

I wonder what Jesus' disciples really thought of the above parable. Mark is the only one who records it. i wonder if the others fully understood it. I don't know that I fully understand but through experience I can certainly relate to it.

I have shared the gospel with thousands of people throughout the years. I have shared it in many different countries. I have been told that no one would respond to an offering of the gospel and watched people give their hearts to Christ. I have preached must better sermons and had no one come to know Christ. While I do believe in preparation and study, I have determined that there is something I can't understand which makes the gospel grow in people that I can't force.

This is my own experience. I heard the gospel many times before I actually "heard" the gospel. I don't really know why it passed by me so many times before. One day I knew it required my full commitment when I had only seen it as a practice of religion before. One day I gave my life to Christ. I really don't know what was different. No one was around. It certainly had nothing to do with great preaching, apologetics or even a desperate attempt to find release from some tragedy. My life was meaningless but practically stress free. I could have been like everyone else but I trusted in Christ instead of everyone else, what they were doing or what I thought would be fun.

I simply told Jesus that I needed Him. There was no prescribed sinners' prayer. There was no one to lead me in prayer or what I should read. I didn't know the sinners' prayer. I didn't know what I should read. I just did what I did.

So, since I don't know how (the motivating force) I came to Christ, I really can't say I know how others do either. I know that people hear the gospel at different times. Some allow the Spirit to work and others do not notice the Spirit. Some become convicted and others are bored by the presentation. Some must do something right away and others have no compulsion to do anything ever.

I do know that fruit is the evidence of the growth of the word in me. I do know there is a day of gathering the fruit. I do know that I will be among those gathered.

The new birth of a Christian is fascinating. I marvel each time I see someone "come to know" Christ. A life is changed forever for eternity.

And, no, there is no complete standard answer as to why. Some people come to know Christ, some reject Him and some act as if they have never heard a thing that was said.

It remains a mystery to me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Maybe They Haven't Found the Treasure Yet

Matthew 13:44-46 (NIV) 44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

It is strange how what God uses to speak to you. I was reading a fiction novel speaking of warfare. The main character, a commander, noticed that his troops were deserting their posts at the sight of the enemy. He realizes that they were running because they did not want to give their lives for nothing. He surmises that they don't have anything to fight for.

I wondered: "Could this be the reason that so many Christians are reluctant to serve, give less than they do to restaurant waiters and have spotty attendance records? Could it be that they don't know why they should give sacrifice their time and money?"

I believe the answer is "yes!"

These two short parables by Jesus assumes what we have failed to address. They assume that the people are looking for the kingdom of heaven. It is a treasure hidden in a field. It is a pearl that is not like any other pearl. It is revealed in the search.

Have we made the kingdom of heaven simply something that is served to you. In other words, have we told our children and others that they can ask Jesus into their hearts without any searching on their own? Has it been revealed to them or is it just as hidden because we have said it is before them so much that they have acquiests to our statements? It is like the joke which is laughed because others are laughing rather than with the understanding of the joke? Are they really getting it?

These parables assume that the finder realizes the value of the kingdom of heaven. This is the only reason that a person would "sell out" to the Lord. This is the reason they would seek to sacrifice. They must see the value.

Have we failed to explain that to people when they come to know Christ? Have we told them that they can become Christians by saying a prayer which requires no commitment? Do we water down the word "believe" to mean no more than a belief in church? Do we tell the people that failure to be true to the Lord has no consequences?

These parables assume that the finder will dismiss all reservations in order to attain the kingdom of heaven. He will give everything he has and even his own life if necessary. Nothing else means anything if the kingdom of heaven is missing.

Have we told people that the kingdom is free so loudly that they believe that it must not cause any changes? Have we discounted the kingdom to a "good" effort rather than a total, everything I am and have commitment?

Maybe people are uncommitted because we haven't presented the true kingdom to them at all. Maybe what they are getting is a replica which has been copied so many times that it doesn't closely resemble the kingdom of heaven Jesus talked about.

Now, I honestly believe people would really like to see the kingdom of Heaven. I believe they are tired of fakes and fakers. But . . .

maybe they haven't found the treasure yet.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Too Busy for the Lord

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV) 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" 41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

It happens all the time. There is a special fellowship after church and a number of women skip worship to make sure that the food is ready when the service ends. Everyone of them knows this story about Mary and Martha. They all feel justified in skipping church. I wonder what Jesus would say.

I had a friend once say, "We know that spiritual people are busy so we suppose that if we can get you busy, you'll be spirtual." He said it in jest but it rang so true. Church has become a place where people could spend amazing amounts of energy without sitting at the feet of Jesus. In fact, they could work very hard without knowing Him at all!

Yet, most church members do not truly understand what this story says in Luke. Doing more things does not mean that the right things are being done. Being concerned about things that don't matter is no reason for others to join you. Churches which merely do more things so that people will get involved do not understand what the only important thing is.

Service should not take the place of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Being concerned with too many things will lead you to forget your relationship with Christ. Someday your service will fade. You will be too old to serve like you once did. But your relationship with Christ will not be taken away from you.

This reminds me of the men who work so hard for their families to have everything that they want that they never see their families. They miss the important events in the lives of their children. These events can never be restored. It is good for a man to provide for his family but he cannot equate things with a relationship. He cannot equate working for his family's wants with a relationship with his family. Thus, his family has everything that they want except him.

Yet, I know that my Lord wants me more than He wants my service. He wants me to know Him even more than He wants my ministry to succeed. I am more important to Him that my ministry. Shouldn't He be more important to me than my ministry?

You can be so busy for the Lord that you don't know Him. You can talk more about Him than to Him.

Some people think that they are too busy doing ministry that they can never take any time to really spend time talking and listening to the Lord. I believe they are too busy.