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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Standing on the Backs of Others Won't Make You Taller

I watch two vehicles scrape each other Tuesday. The first, a SUV, was changing lanes.  It was in a right turn only lane and needed to get in the middle lane to go straight. The driver used a signal and began the lane change. The second, a sedan, rushed up to fill the lane so as to force the SUV back into the right lane. The SUV continued to make the lane change. The sedan stayed in the lane and continued to push forward. Neither car was going more than 20-30 mph. The SUV scraped the front right fender of the sedan with his back left fender. The sedan began honking her horn ferociously. The SUV, realizing what had just happened, pulled over to the right. The sedan followed. The whole incident could have been avoided.

I believe the driver of the SUV could not see the sedan. The driver started the lane change when no one was in the desired lane. The driver of the sedan wanted to keep the SUV from making the lane change and get behind her rather than in front of her. She evidently thought she could force the SUV back and did not consider the possibility that she was in the SUV's blind spot. She could see and forged ahead until the two vehicles scraped together.

Now, why did this happen? I suppose the SUV driver was at fault because he made a lane change into a vehicle in that lane. He did not start the lane change with someone in that lane. However, I believe the driver of the sedan owns a significant portion of the blame. She saw the situation and sought to exercise her power of being in the lane. She caused this mishap. (I can't call something so obviously avoidable and so purposely executed an accident.)

What would cause her to act this way? I really don't know but I wonder if it had something to do with pride. Could pride have said, "This is my lane and I am not going to let someone else get ahead of me in it?" Pride just doesn't want the seat of humility. It doesn't want to get behind anyone.

Pride is not always a bad thing. It is good to be proud of your children, your spouse, your parents and your country. You can even be proud of your own accomplishments. Pride becomes bad when it takes a life of its own. The pride that won't apologize, won't give mercy, won't acknowledge the accomplishment of others, won't bow to the needs of others is the pride that the Bible loathes.

Destructive pride respects no profession, no gender, no ethnicity, no socio-economic group nor any physical characteristic. The preacher can be as proud as the pro athlete; the black woman as proud as the white woman, the poor as much as the rich and the short man as much as the tall man. No one is immune. Everyone can easily catch the disease. Even the most humble person can take undue pride in his humility. The rich can take undue pride in his generosity.

Pride is like a pandemic disease which everyone has but can only diagnosed by others. It is always easy to identify the pride in others. However, we hardly ever recognize that our ability to point at others is made so keen by having the same problem. The reason I see the pride in someone who talks so much about his own accomplishments is that I do the same thing and do not recognize it in myself any more than the windbag who is doing so in front of me.

How many of us have thought more of a person because of his pride? We think we have to tell people how great we are so they will believe that we are great. Yet, most of us think less of the person who has filled our time with their self adulation. We make mental notes to end these conversations more quickly in the future. Our choices of seating will certainly be more selective in the future. (I wonder how many people have made these same mental notes about me.) In reality, we are brought low by our pride rather than lifted higher.

Can the reverse be said of humility? Will our allowing others into our lanes, choosing the seat of humility, speaking of the greatness of others bring us to honor? Of course, we know that it does. Who is more popular than the person who takes a genuine interest in others over his own interests? Who is more loved that the one who listens? Are we so afraid of going unnoticed that we can't take the place of humility? Must we force ourselves on others to gain their praise?

Absolutely not! Jesus said the greatest person is the one who serves others. Wisdom from this world says that is absurd. The world seeks to be served. That is why there are so many infomercials which promise wealth and power over others. Pride is appealing but it never delivers the praise it promises.

I kept driving after I saw these cars scrape. I turned and continue on my journey. A vehicle in front and to the left of me indicated it wanted to get in my lane. I slowed down to give it plenty of room. The driver changed lanes and zipped ahead. Maybe no one other than me noticed.

Proverbs 29:23 (ESV)
23 One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is Jesus Still in a Stable?

The Magi gave Jesus their best. They didn't find Jesus is a stable. Sometimes I wonder if Christians want to keep Him in a stable when they give Him their leftovers.

Matthew 2:11 (ESV)
11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I have to watch what is given to the church. People will wear out furniture, upgrade something or simply wish to get rid of something at home and bring it as a gift to the church. There have so many old artificial Christmas trees given to the church that we had to get rid of seven or eight of them a few years ago. There have been so many pianos which need repair, so many pieces of furniture with broken legs, so many junked up cars and so many old computers given to the church that I have lost count. People clean out their garages and attics or upgrade their furniture or electronics and bring their refuse to the church. Somehow, what is no longer good enough for them is still good enough for Jesus.

 I'll see a lot of these things coming in after Christmas. Here it comes right after they have gotten the new stuff.

Jesus was born in a stable. He was placed in a manger for a bed. There wasn't enough room for Him to be born inside. Other people and other things occupied that space. The stable was good enough for his birthplace. The manger was good enough for His bed.

Yes, He was born in humble circumstances but is that where He should be kept? Do people think that He lived in a stable all of His life? Why aren't people giving Jesus their best and accepting something less for themselves? Why aren't people giving Him the best and accepting less for their own lives? Could it be there isn't enough room for Him because of other people and other things?

Yet people are very happy with their gifts. They think they have "sacrificed" for the Lord when they have really just gotten rid of their old junk. They take pride in gifts which cost them nothing.

Many people do not realize that we are inviting a very important person to come to our church this next week. They use the sanctuary for storage. They leave collections of old literature in the hallways. They stuff worship bulletins in hymnals. If I tell them that we need to keep the place tidy because of this VIP, many would ask me, "Who is it?" They don't even recognize the presence of the Lord and, therefore, do not really know He is there.

The Bible says that we will all stand before Him to be judged one day. I wonder how many people will hear Him say, "You gave Me your junk." I wonder how many people will recognize how wrong that is. They will say that it was still perfectly good. (So, why did they upgrade?)

A friend of mine had an old organ given to his little church a few years ago. A deacon went with him to pick it up. Both the deacon and the pastor saw that this organ was a piece of junk. The deacon said, "Pastor, you go on. I can load up this organ and get it to the church." So, after thanking the donor the pastor reluctantly headed back to the church. He didn't know what he was going to do with this organ and he didn't want to upset the donor.

The deacon arrived soon after the pastor had gone back to his study. He came in and said, "Pastor, I don't know what I was thinking but I failed to latch the gate on my pickup and on that bumpy old road that organ just fell right out on the road. It must have busted into a million pieces!"

"That's okay," the pastor said, "I just appreciate your service to the Lord."

Both of them looked at each other and knew what had really happened. Neither of them thought that Jesus should stay in a stable.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why I Thank God Even in My Wife's Cancer

In August we learned that my wife has breast cancer. At first, the word "cancer" takes your breath away. You know that others get this horrible disease buy you want to believe it will never visit you.

I told my church the week  before Thanksgiving. I was able to give them this testimony.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Thanksgiving is God's will.

It is to be done in all circumstances. I don't thank God for cancer but I thank Him even so because He is still the same God who loved us before we heard there was cancer.

None of us deserve God's grace. We deserve Hell.

Romans 6:23 (ESV) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I shouldn't complain when I have already received God's amazing grace. He gave us life with Him forever when we deserved to be separated forever.

God allows the good and the evil to strike everyone.

Matthew 5:45 b(ESV) For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Some people ask why God would allow cancer to come into our home. I ask, "Why not?" I shouldn't expect that I have been so good that God would protect me from all hardships. He certainly didn't do so with Moses, Job, David, Paul or many others in the Bible. They went through some very tough times even when they were faithful.

Our own righteousness doesn't give us a leg up on others.

Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

I often hear people ask me why the bad things happen. They tell me that they have been good. They want to know what good it has done them. I guess they don't get it. It isn't about us nor does our own righteousness put us at the front of the good times line. Our righteousness comes from what Jesus did on the cross. That's pure grace.

We don't have the right to question God's grace or the apparent lack of grace.

Job 40:2 (ESV) 2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Honestly, I often don't know what God is really up to. I don't know why some things happen. I weep with parents who lose little children and have no answer. I know that some day we will see God's goodness in what has happened but I don't know what it is. I don't believe I will see the good in some of these things until I meet their children in heaven. Then, I don't think it will matter. I think the parents will have their children forever. The time on earth will eventually seem short.

Faith thanks God before the struggles have ended.

Jehoshaphat was surrounded by armies that he couldn't defeat. He declared a fast and received a word from God that the battle did not belong to him or his people. So, he places the choir before the army and goes singing to find the armies who have come against him and his people have defeated each other. And what were they saying? Look at scripture.

2 Chronicles 20:21 (ESV) 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Even when things go bad, we are to continue giving thanks to God.

Daniel did so even when a law was passed which would prevent him from giving thanks to God. Doing so would mean that he would be thrown in a hungry lions' den. But he still thanked God.

Daniel 6:10 (ESV) 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

So, I still thank God. My wife does too.

Thankfulness is at the heart of answered prayers.

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

Why is it at the heart of thanksgiving? Because it expresses our faith more clearly.

We thank God because His love has not left us no matter what we are going through.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV) 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know that it doesn't say "cancer" in the above list but I believe it is included in "anything else in all creation." God's love has not diminished one iota while we are in the middle of the toughest times of our lives.

Thankfulness is the means of approaching God.

Psalm 95:2 (ESV) 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Who really wants to hear someone who comes griping? Thankfulness reveals we still trust in God.

We thank God for His constant presence.

Romans 8:9 (ESV) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

My wife and I know the Lord Jesus. We know He is in us. We, therefore, have His presence continually.

We thank God for His comfort day and night.

Psalm 42:8 (ESV) 8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I suppose we should expect a few moments of fear but it hasn't come. I know it is because of His constant comfort.

We thank Him for His power.

Jeremiah 32:27 (ESV) 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

That means that our God is too big to let cancer defeat Him. I know I don't have a promise from Him that there won't be more struggles or even death someday but I know that if these things come, they will come with His permission. Thus, I know He will be with us through it all. He is greater than anything that can come against any of us.

We thank Him for the good He will bring.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I don't believe that cancer is good. I believe that God will cause good to happen because of what we have had to go through. Maybe the good will come through this testimony. Maybe it will affect someone's life positively.

This testimony was given to the church on November 24.

(On November 27 my wife had some pretty major surgery to get rid of the cancer. Yesterday, the report from the surgeon was that all of it was removed. She will still have to go through radiation in January after she is healed from the surgery. (Radiation will be five days a week for four to six weeks.) I praise God for this report.

Our story is better because my wife has had regular mammograms. I would like to encourage every woman not to avoid this procedure. The cancer was caught early and my wife has a very positive prognosis. God can heal anyone at any time but that doesn't mean that we should tempt Him by avoiding what we need to do to protect ourselves.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Will You Publicly Support Your Pastor?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so like the present period, that some of its noblest authorities insisted on its being received , for good or for evil, in the superlative degree in comparison only.” Thus is the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Wouldn’t you say that we are in the midst of that even now?

Each week we criticize or applaud what is happening. Generally, those in power applaud and those who are denied power criticize. One says it is the best of times, the other says it is the worst. People are acting like little children who believe that their parents are perfectly right about everything or absolutely wrong. The old adage that no one is perfect doesn’t seem to apply. They want a hero without flaw, who is always moral, always powerful, always knowing what to do and always good to the deserving. They want this hero to avenge them of those whom they believe have oppressed them. They throw their support behind the one who has been chosen and either overlook or deny anything is ever wrong. This person may make the journey from hero to goat and never receive forgiveness for his sins.

And this happens as much in the church as anywhere else. The congregation may do that politically or with their pastor. The one they thought to be was the wisest of all is found to have holes in his wisdom. Now, he doesn’t have enough sense to get in from the rain. Everything action taken is either nefarious or abjectly stupid. There is no middle ground. Everything is said in superlatives.

I have talked to many pastors recently who are feeling the pressures of some of members of the churches they serve. They tell me of those who have come to oppose them. Many of these stir up trouble and campaign for these pastors’ removal. These members refuse to forgive when forgiveness is required. They see themselves as those who must avenge the wrongs and take the place of the hero in the story.

How can we believe that God is pleased with this? Who will come to these pastor’s aid against those who would have them removed? Why are the good members silent in these times? I talk with these pastors and give them as much support as I can but I cannot involve myself in the affairs of their churches because I am not a member there. I have no voice.

So, I challenge those of you who read this and are experiencing turmoil in your churches to send this to other members of your congregation. Why? So, you can stand with your pastor and let him know that you are doing so. So, he will be strengthened by you to continue preaching the gospel. So, your church will know that this immoral action of opposition will not be tolerated in your church. So, you may have peace and reach people with the gospel.

Will you do it?

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  

(Please note that I do understand that pastors who have committed egregious immoral acts need to be removed from their position. But make no mistake: This must be done in the open. The Bible says that an Elder should be rebuked publicly.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We Must All Guard Against Becoming Lukewarm

Revelation 3:14-22 (ESV)
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”

What has happened to the people of God? So many come to church without being changed. So many are completely oblivious to spiritual things. They only see what the world sees. They act as those in the world, even adopting the world's view of sin. And they don't know anything is wrong.

I am afraid that many Christians have become lukewarm. They think they are rich in the spirit because they come to church but fail to realize that they have not heard from God in some time. They critique the preacher's sermons on a emotional or worldly wisdom scale. They want to see and hear things which will tickle their ears. They do not realize their distance between themselves and the Lord.

Yet, even now the Lord stands at the door and knocks. He requests an entrance into fellowship with them. He speaks out, hoping they will hear His voice.  His promise is a restored fellowship. But they must open the door.

What will it take for God's people to awaken from the slumber they are in? Their hearing has become dull. Their eyes are dim to the things of God. They have come to believe what they see in the physical world. They see themselves as physical beings who possess a spirit rather than spiritual beings who possess a body.

So, I too cry out to Jesus to continue knocking and calling out.

Yet, I know that He is willing to send whatever is necessary to discipline those whom He loves. What will it mean for a people who have turned away from Him? What act must He allow that will turn His people back to Him? Will He allow something that will remove all of our earthly securities? I know He might.

My concern is also for myself. I can preach sermons and be very far away from the Lord. I, too, must buy His gold. I, too, must be refined by fire. I, too, need to be clothed with His garments.

I continue to pray that I have ears to hear. (Hebrews 5:11)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is It Okay to Hold On to Our Doubts?

I have been guilty of telling people that it is normal to doubt. Of course, that statement may be true but not helpful. There is a tacit approval of doubt when I say it. It is normal to doubt your salvation, to doubt God's provision and doubt God's deliverance but it is not helpful to our faith.

Faith always requires a commitment. We understand something is from God and commit ourselves to it. It may cause us to be calm in the face of a storm or to act without regard to the apparent consequences. The commitment reveals that we believe what we know to be true by God's own word to us. He said it and we believe it. The proof of our belief is found in how we act after knowing what God has said.

Being skeptical is not the same as doubt. A skeptic doesn't know whether or not something is true. They remain unconvinced that what they have "heard" is either good or godly. They question whether or not God has spoken. That doesn't mean that a person can remain skeptical forever. There comes a point when the skeptic becomes the doubter because he knows he has heard God but refuses to admit it. He refuses to make the commitment that faith requires and hides behind his skepticism.

The doubter has heard from God and knows he should believe what God has said. He simply cannot hold onto what God has said. He stands between two ways. He can say the truth but cannot make the commitment to continue in what he has heard. Therefore, he says that God will provide and worries. He wonders about his salvation and whether he knows God at all. He walks on God's path as if he is walking on thin ice. He can only continue on this path as long as the commitment is not too great and he is forced to believe God when sacrifice is required.

God doesn't give us permission to doubt. He has mercy on the doubter but He also works to eliminate that doubt. Jesus came to Thomas and let him touch His wounds to remove his doubts. James says that the person who doubts should expect nothing from God. Peter is rebuked for only being able to take a few steps on the sea because of his doubt. The Bible assures us that the mountains in our lives can be thrown into the sea if we give up on our doubts.

It seems to me that God is not content with our doubting and my words of "normalcy" can be damaging to others' faith. They may assume that they can remain in their doubts when the Lord requires them to act in faith. Thus, I have realized that I cannot simply let people hold on to their doubts. True, I have mercy on the doubter but I also should never let them languish in their doubtful condition.

I suppose I should tell people that they need to act on what they know to be true. They should ask the Lord to help them with their unbelief.

Is faith like climbing a mountain? You simply can't get any higher until you get past the places where it is hard to climb. Thus, doubt arises and we simply can't stay where we are. We will go on or we will go back down the mountain without ever reaching the top.

So, stop holding onto doubt and act on your faith.

Matthew 14:31 (ESV)
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Mark 11:23 (ESV)
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
Romans 14:23 (ESV)
23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

James 1:6 (ESV)
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

You Can't Hide from God

How many of us have played peek-a-boo with a child? We hide our own eyes, uncover them and exclaim, "I see you!" The children must think we are morons. Do we really believe that we don't know where they are simply because we have covered our eyes? No, I think they just enjoy laughing at us.

Somehow Adam must have believed that God played peek-a-boo. He sinned, lost his innocence and tried to hide from God. Did he really think God didn't know where he was? But God asks him three questions which revealed where he was.

"Where are you?" Of course, God knew where Adam was but this is a question that Adam had to answer. He came out of his hiding place to reveal his presence. He told where he was. He was naked. This revealed where he was. It is always important that we answer this question. We can try to hide by putting our distance from God out of our minds or by denying we have gone anywhere. But this question, when answered honestly will either bring us to repentance or cause us to run rather than hide from God.

Once I got lost looking for an address. This was before GPS's and I had no idea where I was. I had a cell phone but knew I couldn't ask anyone for directions to where I was going until they knew where I was. I had to get these bearings first. Only then could I call someone and ask for directions.

"Who told you that you were naked?" No one could have told Adam that he was naked except Adam. This should have brought Adam to conviction. In fact, it made Adam squirm so much that he blamed God for what he had done. This question is pointed to who is at fault in sin. Adam missed the question but we mustn't. The road to repentance must include an admission of sin.

So many times I have heard a man tell me the reason for his affair had something to do with how his wife treated him or his lack of interest in her or how he she wasn't taking care of herself physically or - you get the point. He says he wants to repair his marriage but he won't admit who is really at fault. He can't take the right road back until he is willing to admit that he got himself on the wrong road. Admitting it was wrong is not enough. He has to admit that he made it wrong.

"Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat?" God knows the answer but Adam needs to say what he has done wrong. This is what the word confess actually means. It is not telling God something that He doesn't know. It is admitting to God that we have done what He told us not to do. It is another place that Adam would try to hide in. He knows that God knows at this point. He must say what he has done.

"I was wrong." Are these the three hardest words to say in all the universe? How many marriages would be healed if these words were said more often? How many jails would be empty if people would have said these words much earlier in their lives? How many churches would be full if people would admit their sins and come home to God. These are the words that the Prodigal Son had to say. "I have sinned. . . . ." The Prodigal came to himself and said these things. Isn't it interesting that the father didn't need to hear them as much as the Prodigal needed to say them?

God knows exactly where we are at all times but do we know where we are? Do we need to answer these questions too?

Genesis 3:8-11 (ESV)
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stressed People Make Bad Decisions

We live in a moment-by-moment news reporting world. I get updates on my phone for each "Breaking News" story. Many of these stories are upsetting.

A young man begins to shoot people, a young woman is shot while using her car like a weapon, another person sets himself on fire, a group of bikers violently beat a man- each of these stories flash across my phone. The news reports look for a reason why. Often they chalk it up to some sort of mental illness.

Shouldn't we be concerned why these people became ill rather than looking at the illness as if there is nothing that can be done? Nearly every case reveals that those who commit these acts have been under long term significant stress. They lost their jobs, were bullied, live in depression or somehow believe they have been denied something they deserve. This stress multiplied by time has caused them to become mentally ill if even for a moment. They are stressed and have no outlet for relieving that stress.

Think of Saul in the Old Testament. He didn't believe he should be chosen as king. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the humblest of the tribes. He hid among the baggage when called out to be recognized by the people. Later, he would offered a sacrifice that was not his to offer because he was afraid that Samuel the priest wasn't going to get there before he lost to the Philistines. He kept the best spoil from a group of people whom God told to destroy with everything that belonged to them because he was afraid of the people. He opposed his best general when he wasn't given as much praise as that general. He lost his kingdom because he made bad decisions. He was a man under stress.

Each day I watch people burst into road rage. I believe that most of these people are normally good neighbors and good citizens. What causes them to explode over the insignificant slights of others? I believe they are under such stress that any added stress sends them over what they are able to take. It is like a balloon that can't take an ounce more air. It simply explodes.

This is so unnecessary. The Bible tells us to pray and turn it over to God. The Bible tells us that God loves us so much that He wants us to give Him our fears and anxieties. But I have observed that few Christians are having Quiet Times with God. They aren't turning those things over to Him and, therefore, are carrying their stress on top of everything else that stresses them. Eventually the balloon must pop.

So, I urge you to make a very needed decision today before you make a bad decision. You may not do something violent but the decision may be just as harmful. (You might continue to bite your husband's head off until you have added so much stress to him that he leaves- another bad decision!) Tell your stress to God. Put all of it in His hands. Trust that He will take care of it and you.

Then, laugh for He has healed you from your bad decision.

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

1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Carefully Choosing Words to Bless

Sometimes the most important thing that happens when someone delivers a message from the Lord and this person isn't the preacher. The words, "I have been praying for you," can go a long way toward bringing someone into God's will, increasing faith and encouraging that person to walk one more day. Those words may be more important than the words of praise which are sung later in the worship service. They may certainly mean more to the person who hears them and they also may be a greater praise to God than the offering we bring.

Yet, there are those who think that their words can be caustic and self-serving without any consequences. They do not know that our words can bring light into our souls but they can also shut out the light. They do not know that you can't use your words to stand on the back of others in order to "be" taller. Maybe that's why gossip is listed among some of the worst sins. The person using his words to "curse" others is far from God.

Sunday after Sunday members greet each other in church. They generally go to their friends and say something about the weather, a sporting event or some recent activity each has participated in. The person with the unfamiliar or downward face is avoided. These are the lepers of the church. No one should have to touch them, right? The members do not know what it would mean if someone would say something more than perfunctory. What would happen if someone would just make a point of meeting this person after the service and take an interest in him?

I don't think we realize that we cannot bless God without blessing others and we bless God when we bless others. We don't seem to make the connection.

What would happen if we started to notice our words? What changes would take place within us if we made a commitment to say nothing but good things to and about people for a week? How often would we have to check our tongues before we said something we shouldn't? What if that included our responses to others who said bad things about us? How would we be perceived?

I must admit that I am under conviction about my tongue. I have used it to bless God and curse others. As James says, "These things ought not to be so."

What about you? How is your tongue?

James 3:9-10 (ESV)
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Keeping the Number at One

We live in a world of more than one. Each news report becomes more important as the number of people directly affected rises. Each success at church is accentuated with the number attending, making decisions, being baptized or giving. The casualties of war are pronounced at certain milestones of losses.

All of these numbers are further emphasized as they are compared to previous numbers. The news will focus on years past when we had whatever numbers and generally seek to report an escalation in problems. The church will point to previous years on how many attended, gave, were baptized, etc. with an effort to show success.

As Christians we find ourselves no different than the non-churched when we look at numbers. We want greater numbers. We focus on making sure those numbers are greater each year. We glorify the mega-church. Even if we merely visit one of these churches we tell of their facilities, their magnificent worship or their ministries. Most of us wish our churches would grow like them. We want to see success too. And success is most often defined by the numbers.

Yet, this is not the way that God sees people. He sees each and every one of us without looking at the numbers. He sees the needs of the one and goes after one of us at a time. His plans for us are specific to us. His method of reaching each one of us is unique.

Isaiah 49:16 says, "6 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; " Doesn't this speak of our God who loves us individually?

Sometimes I don't have anything to write on when someone gives me his phone number. I write it on my hand so that I won't forget it. Jesus wrote my name on His hands when He died on the cross. No, He won't forget me. But not only me. He has written the names of all those whom He died for.

Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost one sheep. He left his other ninety-nine sheep to find the one that was lost. When he found it, he threw a party to celebrate with his friends. I can't help but think that I, too, must make sure that no matter how large my church may grow that I can't avoid seeing each person as having the importance of that one sheep.

No matter how many come to church each one must come to Him. I am His instrument of reaching the one. Yes, I would like to see my own church become much larger but somehow I can't let the number that I am concerned about get larger than one. Each person is that valuable to God.

Luke 15:3-7 (ESV)
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do You See the Lord during Communion?

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 (ESV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
  27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

The Apostle Paul was very serious about the Lord's Supper or Communion. He understood the presence of Christ in the elements which were eaten. He knew that it was much more than a ritual that churches performed as part of their responsibility. He saw it as vital to their faith and he saw the disregard for the preparation of the Lord's presence as blasphemy. Let's make sure we grasp the Lord's Supper.

There can be no denial that Jesus is present in the elements. This does not mean that the bread becomes flesh nor that the wine becomes blood. This is totally unnecessary for His presence. The Jewish people believed the blessing said before a meal ensured the presence of God. There is every reason we should believe that Jesus is not present in this meal which is served in "remembrance of Him."

The knowledge of His presence in this meal is much more than a perfunctory response to the act of taking the meal. He is actually present. Therefore, there are dire consequences for those who have unprepared hearts when taking the meal. It is seen as disloyal as mocking a king in his presence. The person doing so is in danger of losing his head. It is made worse by failing to acknowledge Him as king. Thus, the danger of punishment is as real as the presence of the Lord in the meal.

This presence we have in the meal must suffice until He returns and we no longer need to take the meal together. We proclaim His death until we see Him face-to-face. Then, we will proclaim His present presence. We remember what He has done until we see Him. Of course, all that He has done on the cross will mean so much more when we see His Coming. We will have remembered so that this Coming, which should be anticipated each day, will be more glorious.

These elements represent a real death and the real spilling of blood by our Lord. They tell the gospel story each time we take them. They point us to our own salvation. They renew our faith. Thus, they prepare us for the life we have with Him until we have the life with Him at His Coming.

My fear that is many people fail to "see" the Lord as they take communion. They treat it as any task they need to accomplish without realizing the special place it is intended to have. I say this as one whose life is changed by the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Just What Does Complete Commitment to Christ Look Like?

Matthew 10:37-39 (ESV)
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I normally believe in the minimum commitment. I pay the minimum each time I buy something. I give them the asking price plus tax.I don't pay more. I guess this applies to following Jesus too.

The minimum commitment for following Jesus is everything. There are no reserves left. Their is no one you love more. There is no one you serve more. There is no one you give more to. All that I have and all that I am is committed to Jesus.

Is that what salvation is? Is this the true measure of knowing Christ? I believe so. Jesus doesn't require perfection for our salvation. He requires commitment without reservation.

That doesn't set well with our easy faith of walking an aisle, verbally professing Christ and being immersed in water baptism. These ought to be an outward sign of our commitment. For many, I'm afraid, it is their total commitment. Their faith in Christ does not touch the rest of their lives. It is like mowing the grass. It is something that has to be done so you might as well get it over with. It isn't intended to ruin your whole Saturday.

Not that a complete commitment to Christ will ruin any Saturday. It may require something that isn't easily sacrificed. Like loving Jesus more than parents or children. Even a lot of Christian leaders want to say that our love for parents and children should extend beyond our love for Christ. Of course this talk is placed under a vale. It says something like, "I don't want to neglect my children so . . . ," but really it is placing Christ lower on the list.

Funny thing: Christ really never sits well at number 2. In fact, He doesn't really make the list at all if He is no longer at the center. He is followed more like a sports team than Lord. Commitment follows game time. You have to be seen supporting the team during game time. But just how much commitment can you give during the off-season? Everyone wants to show up fro after game victory parties. Who wants to be there after the losses? Where are you when continued commitment requires sacrifice?

A total commitment means that I belong to Christ. Everything that has been entrusted into my care belongs to Christ. These things include every member of my family, all of my possessions, every penny I have and all of my time. I will love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. A total commitment means there is nothing left over.

Are there people who are saved who have not made such a commitment? I believe there must be but I have no true evidence. Jesus spoke of the Pearl of Great Price. The one who sought that Pearl paid everything he had to receive it. What does that say of salvation?

What difference would it make if salvation was nothing more than saying, "Jesus is Lord, " publicly and being immersed in water as a sign of a commitment to Christ? This shouldn't limit me when I know that He desires a total commitment to Him.

I guess being His is really nothing more than being His, after all. (How many understand this?)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Can't I Let Go?

I have read the same scriptures as you. I know what I need to do. I know that God cares for me and expects me to pray and cast my anxieties upon Him.

And I try. I even think I have succeeded at times. But then those old anxieties come right back. They are like friends who come over to your house without ever knocking on the door. They just walk in knowing they will be welcomed.

But this isn't the way I want to live. I want to have the peace that passes all understanding all the time. It isn't that I never experience this peace. The fact that this peace doesn't continue always bothers me. Shouldn't I know that God always keeps His promises? Shouldn't I know that He handles every concern that I have? Shouldn't I know because I know Him and His word?

And, yet, I embarrassingly admit that I deny all that I say that I know by being full of anxiety about so many things in my life.

Does this negate God's word? Absolutely not! The validity of God's word is not determined by whether or not I act like it is true. Something is true because it is true. It doesn't matter if I act or believe as if it is true.

So, I end up going back to the words that God has said and acting on them again.

Matthew 6:33-34 (ESV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

I seek His righteousness.

1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I cast all those cares that I have. I watch my hands to make sure I haven't grabbed them back.

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

And I pray earnestly. 

And, yes, the peace that passes all  understanding has just come on me again. The things which have made me anxious are still there. They just aren't mine to carry anymore.

I'm afraid I will have to do this again soon. Why can't I just let go?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Peace in the Middle of Our Troubles

Matthew 6:34 (ESV)
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
I am in Singapore on vacation. It is a vacation that I have looked forward to for a long time. My wife and I are visiting our daughter, son-in-law and new grandson. Of course, the new grandson is the ultimate reason we are here.
I have looked forward to these days for months as if arriving here would make all my troubles go away. They haven’t. Each day has troubles. It is part of the curse of a fallen world. The things which plagued us in the US didn’t go away by coming to Singapore. They may be put out of our minds or they may be replaced with new troubles but we just cannot escape trouble.
Take for example the person who wins the lottery. These people may believe that their money problems are all gone. They may even say that all their problems have disappeared. Yet, history has proven that those who win large amounts of money may have even more problems afterwards than they did before. The problems they thought were insurmountable may seem small once they are gone. They have simply traded the troubles they had for new troubles.
The inability to escape trouble can be depressing. Most of us would like to believe that there is a day coming when all our troubles are gone. We speak of retirement, going fishing, playing golf , spending a day in a spa or some other leisure activity as if engaging in these activities will make troubles go away. Forgetting about a trouble is not the same as having victory over it. Jesus said:
John 16:33 (ESV)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus came to give us peace in the middle of our troubles. He did not promise to take all our troubles away. Those who truly walk with Him daily are granted peace because they put the troubles in the hands of the one who has overcome the world. Simply put: Jesus can handle the fallen world we are in. We don’t need to be troubled with the troubles.
That’s hard to accept. Our nature demands that we hold onto our troubles because they belong to us. Jesus words tell us to release our troubles because He can truly take care of them. That goes against the language this world has taught us. The world says that your troubles are your own and you either hold onto them tightly or forget them through distractions. (These may include drugs, alcohol, sex or anything else which completely captures your attention.)
Christians are a peculiar lot. We say we can trust our eternity to our Savior but we are wont to trust the troubles of this day to Him.
Each day does indeed have enough troubles of its own. That is why each Christian must daily place his or her troubles in the hands of the man who calmed seas, raised the dead, fed 5000, healed the sick and came back from the dead. He has proven He has overcome the world.
Why not truly trust Him and place your troubles in His hands right now?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Longing of Creation

Romans 8:19-22 (ESV)
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Yesterday, our little Jack Russell Terrier died. She got up, went outside and just couldn't make it back in. Evidently, the tumor around her liver bled out. We knew it was coming but we just didn't expect it to be so sudden. She had gone to the beach the day before and had a good time walking. The next day she is gone.

She had been our little dog for over thirteen years. It was hard letting her go. We took her to the vet knowing that this would be her last trip. We petted her as she passed away.

It made me think of the corruption of all creation in which death with its tumors, tornadoes, diseases and other tragedies. Creation wasn't intended to be like this. It has a glorious purpose. Any serious look at it reveals that there is purpose embedded within it. A simple look at birds will make anyone realize the purpose of feathers. A look at the eye will make anyone realize the purpose of sight. All of creation has a purpose. It, like us, was created for God's glory.

I don't believe for a moment that creation has a mind which understands this purpose. I don't think my little dog longed for the day when the sons of God will be revealed. I do believe that the purpose for which creation was created reveals a longing to be restored to the purpose of creation. I believe that we will someday see the full glory of God's creation when that happens.

Yesterday made me long for it. I know I should have been longing for it all along but losing a part of creation that you love awakens you to this longing again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ten Things to Remember While Riding Out a Crisis

I suppose I have always thought that thing should go wrong when I am not doing God's will. It just makes sense. I should reap the consequences of my bad behavior. It serves as a future warning if I am tempted to violate God's will again.

Yet, this isn't always true. Often, it seems that the consequences for bad behavior or so hidden that I fail to notice them until things get seriously wrong. It is only then that I notice what I am doing and return to God. 

On the other hand, there are times when I am completely committed to God's will; close to Him spiritually: listening intently and careful to carry out everything He has commanded which do not go well. I am surprised by the bad things that happen to me and those whom I care about. I wonder why these things happen if I am truly following Him.

I am not alone in this wonder. Many of the Lord's servants wonder why they are tested so severely when they are fully obedient to Him. We all wonder why these things happen and have no real, solid reason. 

So, if you are following God intently but having a terrible time of it, I would like to suggest some things I have learned from the scriptures and personal experience which may help you understand it all.

1. Neither you nor God is finished yet. We are looking at the moment in time as if that moment will never change. It is like saying that it is dark at night and it will never be morning. Of course, there will be a morning but we must wait. (Exodus 6:1- God tells Moses what He will do now. God was not finished.)

2. We don't know how these difficulties we are facing now will turn out. Never forget that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, accused of a crime he didn't commit and thrown in prison and forgotten in prison after he served others. There were over twenty years between the time that he had a dream that he would have his family bow down to him and seeing God preserve his family because of all of his terrible experiences. (Matthew 6:34)

3. God knows exactly how much you can take. This is often more than we think we can take. It seems that just the moment that you tell God that you can't take another step that He gives you a push and you are forced into another step. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

4. God will make these bad things result in good. That doesn't make bad things good. They remain bad but God will make something good happen out of them. (Romans 8:28)

5.There are always people watching to see how you are going to handle the bad times. Faith cannot be tested without pressure. Genuine faith stands true under pressure. Many people who will never read the Bible or permit you to tell them about Christ will watch how you respond to the negative things happening to you. They can deny the plan of salvation and the words of the Bible but they will be confronted with faith that stands true under fire. (1 Peter 2:12)

6. Bad times are great excuses for God to perform miracles. Miracles enhance our own faith. (Exodus 4:21)

7. God's will is more often understood looking backward at events than looking at the events while we are in the middle of them. Joseph saw his brothers' actions as intended for evil but knew them as God's act of goodness after these acts were instrumental in preserving his family. (Genesis 50:20)

8. God's character does not change. He is still as much the loving, omniscient, omnipotent God in the middle of a crisis as He was in the middle of a blessing. God must have a plan or He wouldn't let you go through this crisis. (Hebrews 13:8, Romans 8: 31-39)

9. You are not the only one God is working on through this crisis. Many people will benefit from what you are going through. (Exodus 12:36)

10. This will not last forever. Be assured there is a glorious end. (1 Peter 1:6)

Some of the greatest servants of God have wondered the same things as you have while they were in the middle of a crisis. I guess we all believe that doing God's will means we will always receive gumdrops and lollipops. Not true, is it?

Exodus 5:23 (ESV)
23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Has God Entrusted to You?

I haven't heard to many sermons on the Parable of the Talents. I wonder why.

The story is of a master leaving his servants in charge of his money. Each one is given according to his ability to manage. One is given five talents, another two and the last one. All but the last doubled the money which had been entrusted to him. The last dug a hole and hid it in the ground. It seemed to be the safest way to go.

A talent was approximately twenty years wages for a laborer. Let's say for easy math sake that a laborer makes $7 per hour for forty hours a week for fifty weeks out of the year. That comes to $14,000 each year. Even the man receiving one talent had $280,000 to manage.

But investments involve risk. At that time, even the banks were risky. The safest option is guarding the money and giving it back. What would have happened if the first two had lost their master's money instead of of doubling it? Would the master have been more pleased with the one who had hidden it in the ground?

Of course, this isn't the point of the parable but it is the point of all those who have been given gifts and opportunities by God which they refuse to use. They either stop serving the Lord or they never started. They do not understand that all that they have been given is to be invested even if it means there are risks.

I remember hearing of a young man going to the same college I attended. He studied or was in class seventeen hours each day. He barely made the dean's list each semester. His professors got word from his former high school that this young man was mentally challenged. He certainly wasn't motivation challenged. He took the one talent he had been given and used it to the fullest. How many who were gifted with a higher IQ either flunked out, dropped out or barely remained in school?

Why is it that believers think that investing what God has given them is easy? Why do they want to take the safe route and believe that they are the voice of prudence within their churches? Why is it that these people grab the attention which keeps their churches from growing?

The parable explains that the one given the one talent was afraid even though he knew that the master used every opportunity to make more with what he had. The result of his fear was damnation rather than reward.

I really don't know what God has given you/ I just know that I and you better not simply hide it in the ground. A day is coming when He will ask us what we have done with it.

Matthew 25:14-30 (ESV)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Everything Changes When You Become a Christian

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

There are many scriptures that I have read often but have failed to grasp the full meaning. Each time I read them something new is revealed. And so it is with 2 Corinthians 5:17.

I wanted this scripture to say that my relationship with Christ changes how I act all the time. I wanted it to say that I was incapable of acting like the person I was before I knew Christ. I wanted this scripture to stand alone as the proof of my transformation into a totally new being who stood for Christ. The result was failure in my ability to perform up to the standard of that scripture.

The first phrase which changed my thinking was "in Christ." That has come to mean a great deal more to me than formerly. I understand it to mean that I have identified with Christ so strongly that He is not only in me but I am in Him. I understand it to represent the covenant relationship we have. I understand it to be like a symphony in which I play my instrument in accord with the conductor. I am a part of the music but not the only part and can no longer play without direction.

Of course, I always focused on "new creation" but failed to understand it. This was my hangup. This creation is instantaneous but is not fully realized instantly. For instance, I married my wife in a ceremony over thirty-six years ago. I went in as her fiance. I left as her husband. I was changed completely because my relationship changed me. I had new responsibilities and a new way of acting that I did not have before. I could have walked away from her before the ceremony without legal ramifications. I could have chosen to forget her financial needs before the wedding. I could have back out of the relationship. That changed after the ceremony. I had new privileges and responsibilities that changed me from the inside out.

I learned how to be a better husband as time went on but my relationship with her did not change. I was and am her husband. I have been made into a new creation in a sense. What was there before was gone. I could not indiscriminately hang out with the guys. I could not think anymore without thinking of her needs.

My wife has never forced me to do these things. I did them because I love her and have a marital relationship with her. I just do them. I can't imagine doing anything else.

Have I ever messed up? Of course! I have done things that have hurt her and made her angry. I have done them because of my selfishness. I have regretted them and have apologized. I want the relationship to be whole.

Everything changes when you become a Christian. You are no longer able to be the person you were before. You can act like you are but it only causes you pain because you have hurt the One you love. You have been changed so much because you have become a new creation. The old desires don't fade away but they no longer provide enjoyment.

Say it to yourself: "I am in Christ. I am a new creation. The old things before Christ that gave me pleasure will not give me pleasure anymore. The new has come!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is There a New and Improved Jesus?

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Nothing has really changed. People need the same Jesus who was needed in the New Testament. He is the same Jesus who sacrificed Himself for them in the past. He is the same Jesus who walks with them in the present. He is the same Jesus who is coming for them in the future.

I wonder if people believe there is a different Jesus whom we have today. Can this new Jesus provide for thousands with only a few loaves and fish? Can this new Jesus heal? Can He give direction to those who seek to follow Him? Can He teach the world how to treat each other?

Maybe that's why so many try to explain away the miracles they read in the Bible. They want a Jesus who is nothing more than a natural man who taught good things. They can't imagine One who has authority over the world. It is much easier saying that Jesus was near the shore walking where He knew the rocks were than to say that He walked on water. It is much easier to explain His resurrection as a mass illusion or the raising of Lazarus as the burial of a man who only appeared dead.

So, Jesus is carefully formed into the image of the society who wants to make Him a man who may have had some contact with God but was no different from any other man.  People have no trouble with Him being fully human. They struggle with Him being fully God too.

This should reassure us but when our prayers aren't answered with the immediacy of a microwave we say, "See, He isn't all that the Bible says He was."

How many testimonies does it take to convince people that Jesus is the same as yesterday? I don't believe that some people will ever be convinced since they have already made up their minds.

So what do I know of Jesus?

He is the same Jesus who heals me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who loved me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who listens to me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who speaks to me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who walks with me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who works miracles yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who provides for me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who raised me from the death of this life yesterday, today and forever.

Personally, I don't want a new and improved Jesus who is nothing more than a great man. I wouldn't want a Jesus who was the greatest man who ever lived if all He was is just a man.

I didn't need a man; I needed a Savior.

He is the same Savior, yesterday, today and forever.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God Will Never Leave You Nor Forsake You

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NIV)
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

I suppose all preachers go into their new churches thinking that they are God's gift to the world. We think that we will be the ones who will be so faithful that God will bless everything we do. We will soon all have mega-churches, write books that no sane Christian can refuse to read and be asked to speak at conferences all over the world.

I have heard of preachers who appear to have this type of success but I don't know any of them personally. The rest of us appear to be people with feet of clay who struggle daily with the work. The challenge of making disciples in today's world seems as great as taking the Promised Land from a people who are already entrenched and armed to the teeth to protect their land.. It is very easy to believe that God has forgotten about you some days. There are even some days you can believe that He has forsaken you.

Moses had to have felt like that at times. It was his own people who gave him the most grief. They elected another leader to take them back to Egypt because they hated his leadership. They sought to stone him. They criticized and spoke badly of him. They complained at every bend in the road.

Yet, Moses tells Joshua in front of the people that God will never leave him nor forsake him. Was this just wishful thinking? Is this just a ceremony to get Joshua to take the leadership?

No, this is a man who is not looking only forward to what God will do but looking backward at what God has done. We clearly see God's hands on our lives as we look backward. Each of the things we saw as challenges we could never overcome seem small. Even the hurtful words of people can be seen as a means to keep us humble and coming to the Lord for our strength.

Unfortunately we can't give our experiences away no matter how many times we talk of them. I can tell you how many times God has provided, healed, given direction, changed people's hearts, changed my own heart moved to do the impossible and, while it may encourage you for a while, it will not substitute for your own walk with the Lord to see Him do all these things for you. Somewhere down deep you have to keep believing that He will not leave you nor forsake you even when the night is dark and it seems like there will never be a morning.

Come and let the Lord give you rest. Know He is with you and working on the challenge you think is impossible. Turn yourself over to Him fully. Then, turn this thing which keeps you up at night over to Him. Confess and do not hide anything you have done wrong. Commit yourself anew. And sweet communion will come to you.

Then, you will know in your heart that He never leaves you nor forsakes you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

God Desires Our Trust

Is that so hard to believe? God wants us to trust Him because that is the only way we will know Him like we should. It is the only way to have true fellowship with Him. It is the only way we will truly be obedient.

In the beginning God told Adam and Eve not to eat of one tree in the whole garden He had created for them He wanted them to trust Him in this very small thing. Everything else was theirs. But Satan came along and questioned whether God had their best interests at heart when He told them not to eat of this tree. They didn't trust that God had their best interest at heart and ate. Of course, we know and experience the consequences.

God came to Abram and promised that he would have descendants like the stars in the sky. He allowed Abram and his wife, Sarai, to get so old that it was impossible by human means to have children. Of course, God could be trusted and Isaac was born. Then God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham trusted God and headed out to do so. God stopped Him. Abraham learned He could trust God.

God has his people preserved in Egypt by sending Joseph through some very tough times. Eventually a Pharoah comes along which did not know Joseph and puts God's people under slavery. They cry out to God and He sends Moses. Moses administers ten plagues on Egypt to give the Egyptians the grace of knowing who God is. He also shows His people that they can trust Him.

Exodus 14:31 (NIV)
31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 He takes them to the Red Sea and parts it so they will learn to trust Him. He gives them water and food in the desert so they will learn to trust Him. But when they spy out the land, they fail to trust Him and He takes them into the wilderness for forty years while He continues to feed them.

Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV)
2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

I guess I could cite numerous scriptures which reveal God's desire for us to trust Him. And I'll bet that you say that you trust Him right now.

Let me ask you: Do you trust God to really take care of you? Then, are you obedient to what He tells you to do?

Then, tell me why most Christians who say that they trust the Lord don't tithe? How can they say they don't trust Him to provide for them when they are obedient but run to the Lord when they need provision for a job or healing  or direction or meeting a bill? Isn't that inconsistent?

God doesn't need our money. He desires for us to trust Him. If we can't trust Him in giving our money to Him, we aren't really trusting HIm in anything that really matters because our fruit reveals our hearts, doesn't it?