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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The "I Can't Help It" Defense

I wonder who is going to go on tv and confess this week.

Confession isn't what it used to be. It isn't what the Bible says it is either. You see, the Bible defines confession as saying the same words as God will say about your sin. These words go something like, "I did it. No one made me do it. It was wrong. I hurt myself and my Lord when I did it." But this isn't the confession that is in vogue today, is it?

Today, confession goes something like, "I wanted to be so good that I did it. . . I was forced into doing so because of the pressures that were on me. . . I only did it because everyone else was doing it . . .Others made me do it!" Take your pick. All of these statements fail to identify the truly guilty person.

No, confession today says, "I can't help it." It doesn't matter how it is said but it is still said. Sin is eliminated because it couldn't be helped. "I was made that way  . . . God wants me to be happy and this made me happy. . . It came from my upbringing, etc."

"Have a heart," people say to me. "You shouldn't judge others." I don't have to. I don't even determine what right and wrong is. God has already done that. I don't want to judge others. But does that mean I can't know when someone has done wrong? Should I say that I don't know if the guy who shot all those kids in Newtown did right or wrong? Should I say that I don't know if cheating on your spouse is right or wrong? How about robbing the bank or killing someone while driving intoxicated? Can't I know what is right and wrong?

The problem is age old. People have been trying to find some justification when they have done wrong for a very long time. You can't repent when you couldn't help yourself. You'll never get any better if you fail to admit your sins and resolve to do something about them.

So, tears will run down the cheeks of someone as they confess publicly this week.

Will everyone watching say, "O, they couldn't help it!"

Genesis 3:12-13 (ESV) 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

God's Surprising Gift

Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (ESV)
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. 

Right now someone has bought a lottery ticket and is praying that God will cause him to win. He thinks that a boatload of money would be the best gift that he could ever have. He wants to pay all his bills, buy the big house, drive the new car off the dealer's lot and quit working forever. He believes this will be the end of his worries. He believes that this will bring him all the happiness that he will ever need. The writer of Ecclesiastes would disagree.

Doing nothing means nothing. Anyone with enough money can do nothing. It will not make anyone distinct. Sure, it may bring fame. Relatives you never knew you had will come out of the woodwork. They will all be asking for a hand out. They will hound the suddenly wealthy. Many have lost their wealth because they thought they could buy the happiness of others too. They were wrong. Neither the ones who were "helped" or those who gave them the money had anything to show for it. it meant nothing.

The only real meaning in life comes from doing what God has created you to do. That seldom takes a lot of money. It often takes a lot of sacrifice which means that it also takes a total commitment to God. But it means something because the one who has been faithful has believed God, faced what the world will consider terrible odds and came out a winner. 

Serving God has enduring results too. Those whom God calls you to serve are not merely helped for the moment. They are helped throughout their lives. They have been made better disciples by the example of the one who follows his calling.

Think about it: How long would you follow a NFL team if you knew that they were always going to win no matter if they worked hard? Part of the reason you follow your team is because you don't know what will happen. You follow them because they work hard. The wins have meaning because of the work for winning would mean nothing at all if there was no hard work.

Now imagine your own life as simply the winner of a lottery. Why should you even be proud of the things you would do with the money when you never earned the money in the first place? How can God call you a faithful servant when you never really did anything of sacrifice? No, it is through the hard work that God blesses us. It is the hard work that He gives us that is a gift.

Working hard at what God has called us to do is a gift. God's gift is to supply our every need and call us to do His will. And when it is very difficult and it takes all our faith to see God work through us, then, that is even a greater gift. These are the things that will go with us for eternity.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12 (ESV)
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

I just walked outside and retrieved a plastic cup that had been thrown in my yard. Why are people so inconsiderate of others that they do this? Too often, I see people heaving their trash out the windows of their cars. They leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot without taking them to the return bin. They knowingly get in the wrong lane so that they can push ahead of everyone who complied with the signs which said, "Lane closed ahead." 

If I would think there were some really bad times coming to these people if I believed in karma. However, I don't. I don't even believe that they will be openly punished for their selfishness. I believe their selfishness is punishment enough.

Jesus gave the Golden Rule right after saying that God will good things to His children. He punctuates it with a command to do what you wished others would do for you. It is the law of love that prevails here so that those who do evil things to others do not love.

That may not seem too bad to some people. They think that this means that they also don't have the grief of serving people. They are partially right but they also lose love. You see,  people generally love people who love them. They have a hard time loving people who do not exhibit love. 

I know what you are thinking- Jesus loved but people did not love Him. That was because they really didn't know Him either. They saw Him as someone who opposed them and were taking away something that they thought was theirs. They hated Jesus because of who they perceived Him to be. They did not know He loved them.

People who express love to others are loved by those who recognize this love. 

The Golden Rule is the best policy to have. It prevents loneliness. Those who genuinely love, and are not simply trying to manipulate others by their apparent acts of love, attract people. This is why those who get to know Jesus are so attracted to Him. Even those who never become believers are often attracted  to Jesus. So often they refuse to believe because they have observed the unloving actions of those who claim to be His followers. They reject Him based on what they see in others.

So,  the best policy in life is to love others all the time. Love them by doing what you wished they would do for you. Don't try to manipulate others for that isn't love. Genuinely, love them and you can expect that your prayers will be answered.

I dont' see a downside to this.

Monday, January 28, 2013

God Will Supply! Yes, He Will!

"And we believe that God will deliver us from our sins!" the preacher proclaims loudly.

"Amen!" returns the congregation.

He continues, "And we believe that God will deliver us from death!"

"Amen!" says the congregation.

"And we believe that God will supply everything we need!"

Of course, the congregation shouts, "Amen! Amen!"

"So, we believe that God will deliver us from the stench of death that surrounds this congregation because we have given poorly and have reaped poorly. We have fallen into the sin of selfishness and have not seen God's deliverance. We have been faithless because we have not believed that God would supply our needs. We are as guilty as those who would not go into the Promised Land!" The preacher takes a breath.

The congregation is silent. The preacher has gone from preaching to meddling in the way they like to live.

Why is it that believers say they have faith in Christ for eternity but cannot believe God for tomorrow? It makes no sense. They call their lack of faith "being practical." They don't see it as a lack of faith. They want faith to be something that they do after they have seen all the supply God can bring. They do not want to tackle anything that causes them to give beyond what they can already see.

But this is always God's calling to us. We will never believe He will supply our needs if we do not walk with Him that requires us to give up what we already have. He made the Hebrew people walk out into a wilderness so they would learn to trust Him to supply day by day with manna. Jehoshaphat began to sing praises to God as the armies of the Amorites, Moabites, and Meunites attacked each other. It took these "singers" three days to carry off all the loot left behind by the armies who were opposing them.

Last Sunday we had a man with Alzheimer's get in his car and drive away. His wife called the police and all the relatives and former co-workers went to places he might have gone. His daugher-in-law was supposed to meet with her daughter-in-law for dinner that night but was afraid to do so because he might come over to their house and she would miss him. The man's wife assured her that there was nothing she could do and should go to the dinner. She moved the dinner up by a half hour and set off on a route she had not taken to her daughter-in-laws house. She came to a red light not thinking about looking for her missing father-in-law when he pulled up to the light right next to her.

Let's think about this: she went an unusual route at an earlier time and happened to see her father-in-law at the right moment at the light. Ten seconds either way would have made a difference. I know there are plenty of people who will call this a coincidence but there is a whole family of people I know who will disagree with them! They know God answers prayer. They know He supplies their every need for they had a need of finding this man who had been gone over eight hours. He could have been in another state. He could have been in millions of places where he wouldn't have been found but he pulled up next to his own daughter-in-law at a red light.

The family believes it was a miracle. I do too. They had a need of finding him and they did.

Why can't we believe God will supply our every need? Do we believe that He can't or He won't or do we believe that He is at all?

Maybe the reason we are so reluctant to walk with God is that we don't know His will. We don't know it because we haven't really asked. We have depended upon the preacher to tell us God's will rather than seek it for ourselves.

Could it be that a lack of belief prevents us from knowing God's will? In other words, we can't know His will because His will is so outside of our paradigm for believing He will supply. Maybe that's why so many people say they have never heard from God. They wouldn't believe Him if He spoke out loud.

Sometimes I think we have so intellectualized our faith to the point that there is very little faith. We run churches like businesses that depend upon the consumers of the goods. Churches have to depend on the will of the Owner. He supplies all the salaries and makes all the products anyway.

The other night I was "impressed" to  read Psalm 37 before going to bed. I didn't especially want to but I didn't think I had anything to lose by obeying this impression. So, I began to read. The whole Psalm tells the reader to stop "fretting." I came across a verse that I know but didn't know where it was.

Psalm 37:25 (ESV) 25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

I thought of this as I went to sleep. I thought of all the times I had fretted over money as if God would not supply. I thought of all the times God came forward and supplied. I was young and couldn't seem to get what I know today. He will supply. People just refuse to believe.

Philippians 4:19 (ESV) 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friendship with the World

James 4:1-5 (ESV)
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 

Somehow many believers do not realize when they are acting as if they have never met Christ. They fight and are filled with the same passions that the non-believer has but do not recognize it in themselves. James calls them adulterous. They have committed themselves to God but are playing around with the devil.

I have always wondered why a prayer meeting is the hardest thing to get people to attend. Why would anyone want to attend something that yielded nothing? This is exactly the sentiment of those who are worldly. They have said prayers but they have not received so they cannot see the power of prayer. It becomes something to begin and end meetings with. 

Friendship with the world seems so benign but James makes it equivalent to becoming God's enemy. It is clear that friendship with the world is opposed to the will of God for our lives. It leads us to expressing what we want rather than what God wants. It changes our prayer lives. I changes the desires for our future. It changes our focus. It takes God from the central part of our lives and places Him in His own little corner. Thus, we can tip our hats to Him when we must but still do as we please.

Friendship with the world seems benign because it is so natural. We all live in the world. It makes sense to make our homes here and work hard to make our lives as comfortable as possible in this world. It is so natural that we might fail to realize that we have made friends with the world.

There is no true communication between those who are friends with the world and the Spirit. God jealously desires this communion of communication. He wants us to know Him in such a way that we can tell when we have wandered from Him. He wants us to desire Him. He has placed our spirits within us for this very purpose. This is why people know there is something missing in their lives but may not know what it is. 

Friendship with the world seems benign because it is necessary to feed yourself and even allow your self entertainment or even have ambitions in your job. These things are not wrong in themselves but they are always near to becoming friends with the world. Too many church dinners have resulted in gluttony. The desire of the flesh overwhelmed the desire of the Spirit. Too many times righteous indignation has turned into unrighteous revenge. It takes more than simply starting with the Spirit. 

Some of this makes me fearful. How many times have I become the friend of the world and never noticed it? How many times did I step over the line between something that the Spirit endorsed to something the Spirit deplored?

I better make sure I am listening to the Spirit.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trading Freedom for Security

Numbers 14:4 (ESV) 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
The Hebrew people had been slaves under the hand of the pharoah of Egypt. They had cried out for God to deliver them. He did. He sent Moses who led them right to the door of the Promised Land. Then, they found out how hard it would be to get into the Promised Land and they lost all their faith in God and Moses. They wanted to go back to their slavery rather than risk what they had by going into the Promised Land. They were trading their freedom for security.

But God doesn't want us to strive for security. He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to realize how great He is. We can't really praise Him without knowing His greatness.

There are two ways that God works with us in growing our faith. He gives us challenges which will cause us to trust Him pr He takes away those things which have made us secure. This brings us back to Himself so that we will walk in obedience and trust Him again. In other words, I will either volitionally walk into the darkness or He will turn out the lights!

Trusting God brings freedom. Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The New International Commentary (Gospel of John, p. 403) makes these statements: "Clearly they were inclined to think that what Jesus said was true. But they were not prepared to yield him the far-reaching allegiance that real trust in him implies. This is a most dangerous spiritual state. To recognize that truth is in Jesus and to do nothing about it means that in effect one ranges oneself with the enemies of the Lord. It means also that there is some powerfurl spiritural force holding back the would-be believer from what is recognized as the right course of action. Anyone in that position is not free but a slave."

Abiding in the word of Jesus brings freedom but it will not bring security in the sense that mankind wants security. The only security that a believer has is found standing in the obedience of the Lord. That takes trust because those who are obedient put their lives in His hands whether it brings prosperity or devastation. They give up the security of the things which appear to make a person secure for the freedom of following the Lord in whatever He says.

For example, each time I preach in another country I give up my security of standing on the ground and get on a plane which will take me where I need to go. I cannot have the security of  the ground and the freedom to get where I need to go. (Even boarding a ship gives up the security of standing on the ground.)

Moses had given up his security to obediently lead his people to the Promised Land. He trusted in God. Even his own people attacked him. His only security was God Himself. But, isn't that the only security we need? I know it is the only one which provides freedom.

You can never be fully secure and fully free. You will always trade one for the other.

I am choosing freedom.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Real Faith Is Expensive

Mark 10:21 (ESV) 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
I have been told that I should never preach on money. It doesn't matter that money is a subject often spoken of in the Bible. They tell me that this will turn people off. They tell me that this preaching will hinder the church growth.

I have one question: "If this is true, why did Jesus bring it up with the Rich, Young Ruler?" After all, wasn't Jesus trying to reach him?

Jesus wasn't after this young man's money. Jesus knew that this young man's money would keep him from ever having a relationship with Christ. It would get in the way of following Jesus.

Jesus could have made this young man happy by never mentioning money. The young man may have given a big donation to Jesus' ministry. However, Jesus didn't need the money nor did He center His ministry on making people happy. In fact, Jesus often said things which caused people to leave Him. He wanted everyone to know that faith in Christ requires a total commitment. Nothing can be held back.

Jesus told the young man to give away his money out of His love for the young man. Love requires the truth. There would never be a walk with Jesus if the young man kept battling his money addiction. Money always cries, "More! More!" when it is an addiction. Everything else takes a back seat to the addiction. Thus, Jesus gave this the same love that parents have had for their children. They have said, "Get rid of your drugs and come let us help you." Help without getting rid of the addiction feeds the addiction. It enables the addiction. Helping someone hurt themselves isn't love.

People want to be told that faith costs nothing but that simply isn't true. Faith costs everything. This is why I tell people not to make God first but make God central to their lives. They think that they can give a certain amount and dole out the rest of everything in smaller amounts. But this is not what Jesus told people. He required that they hate the things that everyone loves in order to follow Him. He told them that it always costs them everything. That means that every penny must go through your relationship with God. So, you give what the Lord leads you to give and you spend the rest of it as He leads you to spend it. Your time is given to God so that He leads you in how you spend your time.

Maybe people don't want to hear that faith is expensive. Maybe they don't want to hear that it will cost them everything.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What Are the Consequences?

Every day we all make decisions. Each one of these decisions may be done automatically (without any thought), disobediently (which requires thought) or spiritually (which requires the Spirit). Most people make their decisions without thinking there will be consequences but every decision has consequences.

The smallest automatic decision has consequences. Today, I put on a shirt that was closest to me when I got dressed. I, then, had to pick out socks, shoes and pants which matched. The consequences of picking out the shirt resulted in the rest of my outer wear. Matching definitely affects how people look at my choices in what I wear. It even affects what they think of me.

I remember noticing what an English professor was wearing one day when I was in college. I can remember because I wrote it in my notes. He wore a green plaid suit, yellow shirt, polka-dotted tie, purple socks and brown shoes. I thought, "Who is this clown?" Indeed, he looked like a clown. It is really hard to take anyone that serious when they don't look serious.

Of course, this in somewhat minor. Many other decisions have dire consequences. For example, do parents know what they are communicating to their children when they irregularly attend church? Do they know the values they are instilling in their children when they keep they continue to choose sports over anything spiritual? Do people really believe they will reap what they have sown?

This morning I was having my quiet time. I was preparing to read in Galatians:

Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV) 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

These verses made me look at the decisions I will make today. These tell me that I must be careful that my careless decisions may have consequences I don't want. Unfortunately I can tell you the logical consequences of my decisions but rarely think that far ahead. I need to look at what I am doing and why I am doing it. Am I responding to the Spirit or the flesh? Do I really believe God is in this?

Anyway, God is already speaking to me about this when I get a call from one of the Sunday School teachers at the church. He asks me if I am open to suggestions. He tells me that he is reading Haggai and thinks I need to preach on it. I really hadn't considered doing so but while I am on the phone with him I turn to the book. There I read while the Sunday School teacher is urging me to preach through the book:

Haggai 1:4-6 (ESV) 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

I was a little dumbstruck. I was reading about sowing and reaping and here was a scripture which dealt with it right where our church is. We are considering renovating our sanctuary. This decision has dire consequences for the whole congregation if we decide not to do so. They will sow much but reap little. It will affect the livelihood of the congregation. It will have tremendous consequences.

Yet, most people have given reasonable reasons they don't want to renovate the sanctuary. They haven't given spiritual ones. Here is one that is. It also gives the consequences. Some of those against the renovation believe the consequences will mean the church will not have enough money to do other things. I now believe that failing to renovate the sanctuary will result in the church not having enough money to do other things.

There are always consequences.

Monday, January 21, 2013

White-Haired Babies

Hebrews 5:11-14 (ESV)
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 

Some people think that their age makes them mature. The marketing world uses the word "mature" to describe them because "old" has become offensive. But many church leaders know the difference between maturity and getting older for many churches are filled with white-haired babies who have grown very little despite their many years of knowing the Lord.

You see, I struggle with people who come to church regularly but do not apply anything they have heard to their own living. They do not have a biblical world view. Many times my sermons make absolutely no sense to them when I speak of their spirits being made alive and able to respond to the the Holy Spirit. They do not understand that benevolent work through a civic organization fails to share the gospel message.  They participate freely in the activities of their co-workers and friends without any thought of whether their activities violate their commitment to Christ. They adopt the world's view of morality and swing whichever way the group they are in goes. They don't know the purpose of church and only read their Bibles when they are looking for a way through a crisis. They live so closely to the world that they cannot seem to escape being just like it. 

These people have claimed to be believers long enough to teach others but they are always in need of being taught the same things over and over because they never seem to get them. Church carries no importance. They only decide to come to church if it is expected like at Christmas and Easter or if there is nothing else going on. It is a social activity at best.

So, I've griped enough, right? I would like to know what to do. I would like to know that these people who have become dull in hearing. They do not understand the constant practice of distinguishing good from evil. Therefore, they cannot grow as believers into maturity.

Should these people be treated as those who do not know Christ? The writer of Hebrews didn't treat them this way though it would be naive to think that all those who claim to know Christ are believers. (Jesus addresses that in Matthew 7.) I genuinely believe that most of them are believers. They just don't grow.

I have interviewed many people during my time in the ministry. I have found some people who claim to have twenty years experience in the ministry really only have one year repeated twenty times. They have never worked beyond what they do within the first year of their ministry. Once established, they just repeat what they have done over and over.

The question I have to ask myself is: Why does anyone want to grow in their walk with Christ? My answer is to become His glory. I want and need my Lord's support. Why would He support me if I am not seeking Him?

The next question is: Why do those who have not grown fail to desire growth? This is the bigger question.  I'm afraid I am so far removed that I don't know the answer. 

Years ago in a counseling session with a married couple the counselor said, "Next week . . . ."

The husband interrupted, "There will be no next week. We're not coming back. I'm as happy as I want to be in my marriage." His wife didn't look so sure of this.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid this may be the answer for those who never grow in their walk with the Lord. They are happy with the way things are.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

More Than One Way

There is only one way to salvation. I know that makes me narrow minded. You are exactly right if you think that of me but I didn't create my own narrow-mindedness. The One who grants salvation did.

John 14:6 (ESV) 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

However, that doesn't mean that the message of Jesus only comes one way. It takes many ways to present this message. We, as believers, need to stop thinking that our way is the only way.

For example, some people came to believe in Jesus. Nathanael, an Apostle, believes merely by meeting Jesus.

John 1:47-50 (ESV) 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Others come to Christ because of the signs He performed.

John 2:23 (ESV) 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

Still others came because of the testimony of someone who had met Him.

John 4:39 (ESV) 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

It took more than her testimony for those who came out to meet Him because of her testimony had to have a more real and up-close encounter with Jesus.

John 4:40-42 (ESV) 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Many came to Him because of the preaching of John the Baptist and their observations of Jesus.

John 10:40-42 (ESV) 40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

A bunch believed in Him when He raised Lazarus.

John 12:9-11 (ESV) 9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

But others refused to believe even with Lazarus before them.

John 12:37 (ESV) 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,

Some hear the word and believe.

Acts 4:4 (ESV) 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

And other examine the Scriptures to believe.

Acts 17:11-12 (ESV) 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

I have always heard, "There is more than one way to skin a cat." I never understood why anyone would want to but the adage certainly applies  to sharing the message of Jesus Christ. There is more than one way to share Him so that He will be received. 

It is clear that the message remains true. There is no new message but there were many ways for people to hear that message. Many Christians want to criticize the methods of another church for their way of presenting the gospel. Some of these churches are using dance, movies, elaborate props and even pyro-technics to share the gospel. This is not my method and I could easily point to the fact that Jesus didn't use these methods. No, He just walked on water, raised the dead and fed five thousand with a couple of loaves and fish. Those aren't my methods either.

So, I praise God that there are those who are sharing the gospel differently than I can. I praise Him for those who are being saved.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Have You Thought about Wrestling with the Lord?

Jaccb was in a disastrous situation. It appeared that his brother, Esau,  was coming to kill him. Esau had good reason to be angry with Jacob. Jacob had enticed him to sell his birthright for a pot of stew. Then, with the help of his mother, Jacob tricked their father into giving Esau's blessing to Jacob. A blessing was more that hopes and wishes. It contained the power to accomplish what was blessed. Thus, once said, it could not be taken back. So, Esau vowed to kill Jacob as soon as their father was dead.

Genesis 27:41 (ESV) 41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

Jacob fled to live with his uncle Laban. His uncle does some of his own trickery on Jacob but eventually Jacob prospers and runs from him. As he is traveling he hears that Esau is coming his way.

Genesis 32:6-8 (ESV) 6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

It doesn't take a mental heavyweight to figure out what Esau's motive is for arriving with four hundred men. Jacob, goes into crisis mode.

He prays but also starts working on human means to appease his brother.. He sends out his family but stays behind.  I believe that he stays behind to pray because his prayers had already started.

Genesis 32:9-12 (ESV) 9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”

It is here that we have the story of Jacob wrestling with a man until daybreak.This wrestling match is very indicative of prayer. It engages closely with Someone who is much more powerful but still doesn't let go.

Genesis 32:25-26 (ESV) 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob has a dislocated hip. It is clear that this was a tremedous struggle. The person wrestling with Jacob could have ended the fight but chooses to continue. Anyone who can dislocate a hip with a touch can defeat the opponent at any time. Evidently defeating Jacob wasn't the reason for the battle.

And Jacob received a blessing because he held on. It came in his name.

Genesis 32:28 (ESV) 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Jacob knew he had been wrestling with the Lord.

Israel means, "he strives with God" or even "one who wrestles with God." Most people don't get the significance.

God never wastes His time. Those who struggle with God in prayer will be blessed because God does not have to listen nor does He need to continue the struggle.

Many times people never engage God when they pray. They say a few words and never think another thing about it. They don't even expect an answer. They may or may not even notice if their prayer is answered.

But those who truly wrestle with God in prayer are either assured that God has heard their prayers and will do as they have asked or that He has another plan for the situation. The one who wrestles is satisfied with the blessing because he realizes it is the best answer he could receive.

One who wrestles with God is changed. Jacob limped away. Many know God like they have never known Him before. Others accept His will in a way they never could before. Somehow each person who wrestles with God is changed.

Something happened to Esau before he gets to Jacob. Both brothers weep when they meet. It appears that the bonds of brotherhood have been mended. Did God work on Esau? I think so.

Of course, we can't know what would have happened if Jacob hadn't wrestled with the Lord. Neither can we know if we don't wrestle with the Lord ourselves.

So, if there is something that seems impossible, somthing that spells destruction, something that is such a need that it will keep you up all night, why not wrestle with the Lord over it rather than just wrestling with it yourself?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Just One More Sign, Lord

Matthew 16:1-4 (ESV) 1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

I speak with worried believers all the time. The tell me of their faith in Jesus. Some of them tell me of healings and other times when Jesus has provided exactly what they needed. But somehow this crisis which is right in front of them is different. Their faith wains. The need one more assurance that He can deliver them.

I just don't that another sign will take away the doubt in a crisis. Faith is continuing to say and act when circumstances indicate disaster. Jesus shouldn't have to prove Himself one more time.

Jesus is the Lord. That means a whole lot more than He died on a cross. It means more than He is your master. It means that all authority on heaven and earth has been granted to Him. It means that He is able to do all the works of His Father. It means that He will never be stumped by a problem too big for Him. He is the Lord of creation and creation must obey.

We pray rather than worry when we have faith. Prayer with thanksgiving for what the Lord has done will result in peace. It does not require a sign.

Looking for a sign is offensive to our Lord. The Pharisees and Sadducees looked for a way that Jesus would prove who He was. Jesus had already healed a paralytic, a leper, the servant of a centurion and fed 5,000 (this is not a full list but a representation). Why is one more sign necessary?

Yet, worried believers who have already seen Jesus do miraculous things are still worried and looking for a sign to prove who He is. They want to know that He can still work on their miracle. They are afraid that He will do nothing at all. Maybe they are afraid that their whole faith is a sham and there is really nothing there. Will one more sign change that? And if so, for how long?

What greater sign do we need than the resurrection anyway? This is the whole basis for our belief in Jesus. Any belief beyond the resurrection has to be anticlimatic. Jesus tried to tell people this but it is still not understood.

I believe that Jesus is who the Bible and He said He is. I believe that He is Lord. I believe that He is the Messiah. I believe that He did what the Bible says He did and can do all of that today. I believe He will carry me through each crisis. I believe without needing another sign.

I've already seen Him work in my life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Religious Oppose the Godly

Isaiah 29:13-14 (ESV)
13 And the Lord said:

 “Because this people draw near with
                 their mouth
      and honor me with their lips,
      while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a
                 commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again

      do wonderful things
                  with this people,
     with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men
                  shall perish,
and the discernment of their
     discerning men shall be hidden.”

Religious people oppose those who truly walk with the Lord. The acts of the godly just don't fit in with religion.

Religion wants to put God in a box. It wants to limit Him to certain things. It wants to develop tenets in which God can be manipulated. It majors on the form of faith rather than the relationship with God. They say their prayers and recite their scriptures but they do not expect (or maybe even want) an answer. Their worship is caught up in the act of worship rather than the one they are worshiping. They are like singers who are moved by their own singing. The emotions come from the song rather than what it means or who is listening.

Those who walk with the Lord are very different. They may not know all the books of the Bible nor can they recite the theme of most of the Bible books. They they have not tried to put God in a box so they do not know that there are things He won't or can't do. They pray with the knowledge that He may give a negative answer but they still believe He will answer. They worship God because they believe He is present. They speak to Him from their hearts. They may not know formal prayers which are said again and again.

Godly people will always disrupt the worship of the religious. Godly people will turn people away from mere religion. Religion often loses its power in the presence of godly people. The godly just don't perform the religion and religious people condemn the godly.

Thus, the Pharisees opposed Jesus. And religious people didn't stop there. Throughout the time when the Holy Spirit has dwelt among believers godly people have upset the apple cart of the religious. So, they have claimed that the godly had demons, were egregious sinners, were opposed to the church and worthy of death. Many have given their lives walking with their Lord. They were very often martyred by the religious.

I have always wondered if religion takes hold from a godly experience. People have a godly experience when they read a certain scripture so they believe that every time they read that scripture a godly experience will erupt. They continue searching for religious symbols which will provide pictures of their faith. These icons begin to be the object of worship rather than enhancers of worship. The actions of ritual take hold when they are done over and over so that, just like the pictures, the action becomes the worship rather than something that promotes worship.

Then, godly people don't follow the pattern of the religious. Some of the formerly religious people realize there is more to faith than rituals. They start an intimate walk with the Lord. The rituals begin to decay and the religious determine that it is time to squelch this rebellion. They attack the ones walking with the Lord. They try to discredit them by exaggerating their flaws and minimizing their good. They warn the other religious people. They tell of the stories slippery slopes when they can't make things bad enough. "Where will this lead us?"

Should those who seek to live godly lives be surpised? Not at all for the Apostle Paul wrote:

2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV) 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

So, rejoice if you are truly seeking to walk with your Lord and religious people are calling you nuts. It should be an indication that you are on the right track.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Our Own Glory on Earth

Matthew 6:2-6 (ESV)
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Years ago I heard a televangelist say that he wanted his rewards right now. I don't think he read the Bible much or he would have known that this is not God's pattern of reward. God looks eternally while man looks temporally. People should be looking for eternal rewards.

Let's look at the principle of the above verses. I have already received my reward for my gifts or prayers if I seek the praise of others. I suppose those gifts could also apply to acts of service. Thus, we always bring the crew who fixed the fellowship meal out to applaud their service. We are so afraid that failing to do so will mean that they stop feeding us. Do we really believe this is all the reward they want?

True servants do not need recognition. I say that even though I know it is hard to watch others receive recognition for things that weren't nearly as arduous as you have done. This is a problem with pride rather than looking for rewards for service or giving or even praying.

Many Christians should ask themselves: Will I continue to pray fervently even if no one other than God knows I am praying? Will I continue to give generously even if I know no one other than God knows I am giving? Will I serve behind the scenes when no one other than God knows I am serving?

I know how hard this is. I, too, would like to ask if I could sit at Jesus right hand. I would like to count myself among the venerated. I, too, would like to see thousands coming to my church, streaming my sermons and reading my blogs. All the while, they would tell me how great I am.

Truthfully, knowing this about myself makes me sick! How can I know that eternal rewards await me if I will simply walk in faithfulness without seeking the praise of others and desperately look for the praise of others at the same time? The ambivolence is confusing.

Spiritual things become very difficult when they are not done in the Spirit. Consistently giving (and serving) and praying privately without earthly recognition works against the flesh. The flesh demands rewards here and now. Maybe this is why the "God will make you healthy and wealthy" preachers fill their churches. They are appealing to the flesh. It is so much easier to do so.

Christian maturity requires that we examine ourselves. We ask the Lord to reveal where we have fallen short of His glory. It seems strange to find that our flaw surrounds our giving, serving and praying. We want the recognition of others for our faithfulness. This is pseudo-faithfulness for we were only faithful to ourselves when our actions sought our own glory.

I was created for God's glory. I just need to remember that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Will Your Funeral Service Be a Sham?

2 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

I sit down with families and ask how they would like for me to conduct the funeral services for their loved ones. The above scripture is often referred to. Sometimes it applies to those who have passed but more often it does not. The family members seem to think that services should say things about their departed that give tribute but do not relate at all to the life the loved ones lived.

The Christian life is a fight. Paul is not talking of the fight to keep a job or to raise a family. He is speaking of a fight to present the gospel is a world that is very hostile to that gospel. He is speaking of the struggle to live the Christian life in a manner that portrays a true picture of the changed life in Christ. This is a fight which is fought daily.

The Christian life is a race. A race follows a course. The course is laid out for the individual to complete. The race is won by the conpletion of the course. This course is the obedience in which the Christian walks with his Lord. He obeys in attitude and in specific actions. He loves at all times. He listens to his Lord at all times. He obeys in faith. Thus, he runs the course. His own agendas or paths are set aside so that this race may be run. It takes all the effort that the Christian has to finish this race.

Teh Christian life is faith. It believes when all the circumstances point toward something else. It listens to the Lord. It goes into dark places when it can't see. It continues when others say that it should turn back. It is counted as foolishness by those who have no faith. It continues to believe that God is what the Bible says He is. It continues to believe that God can and will do everything that He has said He will do. Faith is what allows the Christian to sacrifice all that he has for his Lord.

But I sit with these families and ask myself, "How can you say this? Your loved one did not attend church. He has no record of obedience to the Lord. Even his faith is sketchy for you are telling me that he believed but never talked about it." I dont' think this is the appropriate verse to be read for some people.

I guess some people think that funeral services are really shams. Those people have never had a son come to me and say, "Who were you talking about? My mother never had any of those qualities. She was never the Christian you made her out to be!" I have had to explain that this is what I got from other family members. The son knows better but I am rarely rebuked for saying good things about the dead. I wish I knew the truth.

Though, there have also been many times I have been pleased to read these verses at funeral services. I have known the deceased because they has been faithful to their church. I have heard them pray, known that they read their Bibles daily, watched them serve faithfully and seen their love towards all people. I have observed these believers as they fought, finished the race and kept the faith.

My question is this: What will your funeral service be? A sham or the one for the glory of God?

Your family members will probably say good things about you no matter how you lived your life but the truly only righteous Judge will know. Any you will too.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ready for Battle with Satan?

Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

It sounds too much like the boogie man when we speak of evil spirits or demons or the activity of Satan. Many believers choose to avoid thinking like this. They want everything to have a psychological or circumstantial reason. They like to think of sin as a human flaw rather than a spiritual cooperation with an evil force. They speak of Satan as if he is detached from things. They look at his actions as mere consequences of the Fall. In other words, they think sin entered into humanity through the sin of Adam and Eve but they do not see Satan as actively working to entice sin in the world today.

Surely, there are those who bring spiritual warfare to ridiculous levels. They think of demons hanging around certain objects which were used in sinful activity. These demons are like ghosts who haunt a certain object or place. These demons won't affect you as long as you stay away. This is the stuff for Hollywood movies but not for true spiritual warfare.

Satan opposes the work of God. He opposes God's creation. He opposes life itself. He opposes godly worship. He opposes prayer, witnessing and following God in faith. He is constantly active to see that all that God loves is destroyed. He stands continually asking for permission to attack God's creation. He sends his demons to do as much as they are allowed.

Yet, Christians for the most part spend very little time in prayer. They do not see recognize Satan's attacks. They do not put on the full armor of God. So, Satan attacks them where they are vulnerable. He attacks the truth, righteousness, the gospel and even the salvation of the believers. He keeps them so concerned about the world that they spend no time in the Word of God. Turning to God's Word each day would have him running for this is the sword placed in the believers' hands to attack him.

Therefore, Satan continues to attack churches and believers because he is largely unopposed. The leaders of a church see decisions as political rather than spiritual. They work on procedures for business meetings rather than prayer for God's will. They get support from others to do what they want. They speak badly of each other and do not recognize their own participation with evil when they poison the spirit of the church.

Many believers think of prayer as a sideline activity. They believe the decisions to build a new building or to launch a new program are the activities on the field. They see prayer like cheers which encourage the team. They don't know that prayer is where the battles are fought. 

The same is true of a daily quiet time. The Word placed in their hearts each morning give them a weapon to attack what they will face during the day. The Bible says that resisting Satan will cause him to flee from us. How are we going to oppose him without God's Word? This is the very means Jesus opposed him. Yet, for some reason we want to make our battle with Satan hand-to-hand rather than have a sword.

So, put on your full armor. Satan has come to oppose you today. You had better be ready.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Peace of Pleasing God

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

I keep returning to this scripture.  I return to it because of the clarity it brings in my walk with God.

Typically I go through a crisis before I seek God. I wish that wasn't true but I do not normally act on faith without being forced. There is a need to end the crisis. It may be the lack of money or an illness of someone. It may be a struggle in a relationship with someone. It may be that people oppose what I believe God wants to do.. Each of these become crises for me. They force me to seek Him. They lead me to a deeper faith as I walk closer to Him. Ultimately I rest in His solution.

I really don't like walking in faith. I suppose my own selfish ideal life would have no crises. I would win the lottery, have my children live in one big house. We would go to church together every Sunday and give out of our abundance without ever making a sacrifice. None of us would ever get sick. None of us would ever take on a task which really required faith. Of course, this would make my life and talk of faith meaningless. It would never please God.

Sometimes it is hard to understand faith. Why doesn't God simply give those who say they love Him everything that they will ever want without requiring them to believe? Wouldn't He get a whole lot more followers that way? Isn't that what He really wants?

Of course not. God isn't looking for people who follow and believe in Him because of what He can do for them. He is seeking people who will act on what they cannot see. He wants those who are truly walking with Him rather than treating Him like a vending machine. Walking with someone means that you have to adjust your steps to match. It means you may have to speed up or slow down. God simply wants us to match our steps with His. This is faith.

Sometimes I look at others and point out their lack of faith to God. I am like Peter asking about John. He said, "What about this man?" (John 21:21-22) I don't know what Peter was really asking about but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what others do. Jesus commands me to follow Him. I am to do what He asks even if no other human being is obedient.

The result is pleasing God. This is where peace resides.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Struggling with a Sovereign God

Romans 9:14-18 (ESV)
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

People want to create a God in their own image. They want Him to follow their system of right and wrong. They look at Him as if He is a man who does not know what will happen and can't do anything about it. They want Him to always be there in the good times but somehow become mysteriously absent when things go badly. They speak of God as if He has a split personality.

The concept of a sovereign God who knows all things is acknowledged but not understood. His absolute authority over all things is also acknowledged but not fully applied. Thus, the Christians claim that God has nothing to do with bad things and is fully engaged in the good. He is in power when good things happen but has no power over the bad things.

Let's face it: we are human and cannot limit God to our abilities. We can neither limit Him to our knowledge or our ability to affect our environment. Much of what happens to us comes beyond our power and without our knowledge. This is not true of God.

God is aware of every tragedy before it occurs. He could stop every evil. Yet, He doesn't do so. He knows why but we are left without that knowledge. Thus, many people try to judge God from what they can see. They lack the full knowledge of everything and have a limited ability to make any evaluation of what has been permitted.

So, many preachers tell stories which cannot connect the dots. They speak of God as if He isn't aware of what is going on. He is like those who believe erroneous stories from their emails. Therefore, He believes the stories but doesn't really know what is going on. He acts but only from the limitations put upon Him. These preachers tell stories that are convenient to their messages but do not present an all-powerful, omnipresent, omniscient, benevolent God. 

This is not how the Bible describes God. He is always loving but some of the things He permits show no love. He gives permission for Satan to hurt Job and sift Peter like wheat. He is attributed to an evil spirit coming upon Saul. These things make no sense to those who want God to pass a human ethics test.  So, they make Him unaware of the bad things and absent in the tragedies. Then, they call upon Him in prayer as if He is fully aware of all situations and able to solve all problems. 

For some reason we just can't understand why we can't understand God. We don't understand why we can't understand an infinite God with a finite mind. We search for a reason in everything that happens. We come to conclusions which may not be true but satisfy most people.

Yet, sometimes we just don't know why things happen. We don't know why God allowed Adam and Eve to sin. Why did He allow Cain to kill Able? Why didn't He stop David from sinning with Bathsheba? Why didn't He stop Herod from ordering the murder of the babies two years and younger in Bethlehem?

Sure, some stories make sense. Joseph was sold into slavery so that he would precede his family to Egypt and ultimately save them. We get this one but most of the time we don't have enough information to fully understand what God is up to.

Why can't we simply say, "I just don't know why God allowed this?" Many times this is the best answer.

We should not pick and choose when God is sovereign. We should not diminish His power or His knowledge. We must say that we know He is good and will take care of the innocent though taking care of them ultimately may not be caring for them on earth. Sometimes He takes them home with Him when we say they should have had more time on earth.

Thus, I have to come to these conclusions: I am not God. I do not have the right to judge God. He does not need my permission to do anything. I do not have to understand everything He does. I simply trust that everything that happens comes within His permission. And yet His love never fails.

So, I pray to an all-mighty, omniscient, omnipresent benevolent God. . . or I wouldn't  pray at all.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Distracted from What You Know Is Right

In May of last year I dropped Directv. I had been a customer for seventeen years. I decided that it was time to cut the cord. They made it very easy. I have had no regrets.

My television had become something that I could mindlessly watch. I didn't have to see the things I really should be doing. Sometimes I didn't even pat attention to what I was watching. Someone said that more calories are burned while sleeping than while watching tv. I believe it.

Watching tv had become a distraction which invited evil into my home. I had gotten used to the language, the sexual immorality and graphic violence. I didn't subscribe to any pay-extra-for-sin channels but even regular cable is very edgy.

It is easy to be distracted by sin when you aren't doing what you are supposed to be doing. I still watch tv but I choose what I watch. I no longer spend an hour channel surfing until I land on something I shouldn't be watching. This has significantly changed my spiritual life. Even my congregation says my preaching has improved.

It is so easy to be distracted from what you know is right. It can be as easy as being in the wrong place. It is as easy as having an opportunity to sin. It is as easy as saying that no one will ever know. It is full of regrets for nothing can be undone. There is forgiveness but the past remains.

I have never gotten on a pornography website. I get plenty of offers. My emails are full of enticing messages but I delete anything that looks like it might contain material I don't need to see. I can't take the chance of going to one of them ever. I just might linger a moment too long. I just might be distracted from what I know is right.

I used to get these emails which would rate movies. It would say the scenes it contained, the words it said and the attacks on my faith it contained. I always wondered how those sending the emails could know this unless they watched the movies themselves. I was raised on a farm. I never had to stick my hands in the pig sty to find out what was mixed in the mud. I really don't know why I need the detail. The theaters have exits and the dvd players have stop buttons. You simply have to leave when you smell something bad.

Television and movies are simply two of the things which can distract us from what is right. It is hard to walk past the magazine stands at the grocery stores without seeing something that begs you to be distracted from what is right.

Now, I realize that I am a pastor and should be acutely aware of these distractions. What happens to the whose culture continues to approve things which are wrong. They are threatened with ostrasization if they don't join in. Imagine if there is no one at home after school. The distractions don't stop.

Lots of Christians try to live their lives as if they are on a diet but eat every day at Golden Corral. The food is right there and paid for. Most people will never lose any weight on this meal plan. They have to eliminate distractions by focusing on what is right. They have to bring their meals with them rather than eat out. They have to plan their meals rather than eat randomly.

So, the Christian must plan each day so that it will not give an opportunity for distractions from what is right. Think about it. David would never have committed adultery with Bathsheba if he had gone to war like he should. He was in the wrong place when he walked on his roof. The palace had gotten hot from the day. The roof was much cooler. From there he saw a woman taking a bath on her roof. It was a hot day. The roof was much cooler. No one would see her- except for the king.

And thus David was distracted from what he knew was right and did what he knew was wrong.

We aren't any better than David.

2 Samuel 11:1-5 (ESV) 1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. ( Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Full of Grace and Full of Truth

Many Christians seek a place of peace when confronted with conflict. Following the culture eliminates most conflicts. Thus, they will stand hard on righteousness when they are surrounded by people who are hard on righteousness or they will stand hard on grace if they are surrounded by those who are hard on grace. They do not understand that the true Christian life is always a tension.
It is both full of grace and full of truth. It isn't a compromise but it isn't always peaceful either.

Righteousness and mercy will always be in tension with one another. Trying to stand on one of these without being fully engaged in the other is merely running from the conflict.

The first time I had to fire someone from a job I said this prayer, "Lord, I believe this is something that I must do. I ask you to help me remember the pain it is causing me. I don't ever want to enjoy this. I don't ever want to brag about how I did this. Please let this be as hard for me as it is this time. Amen." I continue to say that prayer when I have to fire someone. I try to take every other step to avoid the firing.  Praise God, it still hurts!

This tension should always be present when we confront sin. We should be full of grace and full of truth. Sometimes this is painful. It should be.

I have had the story of the woman caught in adultery cited several times when I have had to confront sinfulness. Unfortunately, the person I have confronted usually tells only part of the story. They do not tell how I prayed with them or how I  told them of God's love and how I asked if I could help them. They generally tell a story that paints me as a Pharisee (or even Judas). Therefore, the people who confront me about it think they are rectifying a wrong. These confronters have run to the safe place of grace. They consider grace to have more righteousness than truth.

Yet Jesus was full of truth and grace when He dealt with this woman and her accusers. He addresses them in their own tradition. The culture defined adultery as sexual relations between a married woman and someone who was not her husband. Those who knew this was happening and did not warn the person were considered to be as guilty as the one who committed the sin.

So, Jesus said that the one without sin should throw the first stone. He confronted these people who had caught this woman in the "very act" as those who had not warned her. They were guilty of the sin themselves. This wasn't a statement of having no sin at all. If this was the case, we could  never convict anyone of any crime at any time. Jesus was addressing them in their own participation of this sin.

But Jesus did not let the woman go either. He called what she had done sin. He told her not to do it anymore.

What was a woman to do who had been dragged out publically for adultery. Her husband would very likely divorce her immediately. What would be her profession if she was put out on the street? Jesus made that very hard, didn't He? She couldn't sin like this any more.

So, He stood full of truth as He confronted the sins of the accusers and of the woman. And He stood full of grace when He confronted the cold, accusing crowd who saw this woman as nothing more than a means of attacking Him.

We simply cannot hide on one side of the equation. There is always a tension in the Christian life.

John 1:14 (ESV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When You Just Can't Love Someone

Each of us knows someone who is hard to love. It may be that this person hurt you. It may be that they continue to abuse you verbally. It may be that you are struggling to forgive him for something that was done because the hurt was so bad. In fact, it was so bad that is still hurts.

But God doesn't give us a pass on loving this person simply because he or she is so hard to love. This is the very person who may define that you really know God.

Jesus said that it is no big deal to love those who love you.

Matthew 5:46 (ESV) 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

John said that our love for others is a necessary element of our salvation.

1 John 4:7 (ESV) 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Paul said that all the commandments are summarized in loving others.

Romans 13:10 (ESV) 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

There are many other passages that speak of love but it is clear that love is necessary if we know Jesus as Savior. It is the means others know we are His disciples. It is the identifying trait of every believer.

So, what do you do when you can't love someone. I use the word "can't" because it feels that way. The effort you put into it is extinguished when the person continues to hurt ot annoy you. You pick yourself up again, commit yourself to loving this person and find yourself wishing that God would take them out of the world before long because you simply cannot love even though you know love is required.

I am no advocate of abuse. I don't believe you must put yourself in an abusive situation in order to prove your love. Some love must be exercised at a distance. In other words, I would not recommend that a woman stay in the home with a husband who continues to physically abuse her. I would tell her that she must love him.

Loving some people takes a strength that is not native to our humanity. All that exists in our humanity demands revenge. We want to have our day of triumph over this person. We want to see them suffer as they have made us suffer. This is natural. God did not ask us to be natural.

Loving some people requires that we abandon ourselves to the One who inhabits the Christian. We must take on the character of God as He did in sending Jesus into the world. We must love some people even when they are opposed to us.

Romans 5:8 (ESV) 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Please realize: You are not asking for an ability. You are asking for a miracle. The presence of Christ must be so strongly in you that you take on His character of love. Remember how far He took this love.

So, maybe you can't love some people. That's okay. He, therefore, must love them through you. He must make that change in you so that love exists where it shouldn't exist.

Loving some people is the evidence of a crucified life. It is not only turning over a difficult relationship to the Lord, but turning over everything to the Lord. It is truly saying that you can't but He can.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The hardest part of this is not loving the person who is hard to love. It is realizing that tomorrow you pick up the cross that will result in your crucifixion and live the crucified life again. This is never completed while we exist on this earth. We are continually being worked on by Him. We are continually having to recognize our weaknesses and being crucified to ourselves.

Some difficult people are impossible for us to love on our own. We must fully know what it is to say, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Some people think that their testimony comes from the great steps of faith they have taken. They think it comes from seeing God provide a truck load of money or heal someone who is terminally ill. That is simply not the means of identification that Jesus gave for those who are His.

He said we must love. . . especially those who are hard to love.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Investments Which Are Out of This World

The churches I have served have set up a retirement account for me. I have no idea what to do with it. I don't know whether to put it in a volatile stock market or put it in a safe interest bearing account. It isn't that I plan on needing it because I want to stop working. I need it so that someday I can stop taking money for my preaching. So, it still needs to be invested wisely.

I don't believe that this makes me someone who invests in this world. I am not looking for this retirement money to last forever. I just want enough to make it to the end of my and my wife's life when I can no longer preach with a little left over for my kids' inheritance. It has a relatively short shelf life.

Members of churches are often looking for investments which will continue after they live. They want something that continues to make money. Often church turn to endowment accounts in which the contributors' principle is never spent. The money made off this principle goes to further the gospel. The principle exists into perpetuity.

However, let's face it. Money is not going to last regardless of what financial vehicle it is placed in. I know the endowment account our church has lost money during the stock market fiasco of the a few years ago. In a sense, we were spending the principle even though none of it was going into the ministry.

There are only two things that are going to last forever: The word of God and people. You can't do anything to change or enhance the word of God. You can make an impact on reaching people for eternity. The only investment I know that will be safe is found in reaching people.

Some people think that this is a bad idea because they can never know who has been reached because of their investments. (Investments come in many forms. Money is certainly an investment but it is not the primary need for reaching most people with the gospel.) This simply isn't true. These people who are reached with the gospel will be seen in heaven. "Investors"  may even meet some of their "investments" in heaven for the first time. This is especially true if they gave to help a missionary who shared the gospel in another country.

For some reason, what I am saying here is unthought of to many Christians. They are concerned with the budget and buildings of the church but care very little about those who come to know Christ. They say things like, "Yea, we had a lot of baptisms but did our giving really increase?" Is that the point of reaching people with the gospel? Neither the budgets nor the buildings will make it to eternity. They are like Judas who kept his eyes on the budget when the woman broke the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus. He didn't get the point and neither do they.

Jesus said, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:8) He goes on to say, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." (John 15:16)  Let me see if I have this right: God is glorified when I bear much fruit. That fruit will remain. The obedience to this task puts me so completely in His will that I will ask and receive whatever is needed.

Some people will never see that true lasting investments must be made so that they will be seen out of this world.

Isaiah 51:6 (ESV) 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

1 Peter 1:24-25 (ESV) 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is the Lord with You on This?

People are always trying to discern God's will. They often do so in mundane things like whether they should choose a certain color car or which dress they should wear to work. Some of that is ridiculous.

The first question we must answer in knowing God's will is whether or not God has commanded us to do it. If He has called us to a task we should not continue to ask if this is His will. It is. He has already said so.

The next question is for most of the other things we do. These are the things where we seek His will but are not really sure because we know that we can find a scripture or a sign for just about anything we want to do. Thus, we can't even trust ourselves in determining God's will.

The question is: Will God be with me in what I am seeking to do? Of course, you should know that He is with you right now before you ask that question. If you don't know His presence, you should seek Him with your whole heart. You must seek Him until you know His presence. Then, you will be ready to ask whether He will be with you in what you desire.

There has to be a trust that is developed. You trust Him with all your heart. Thus, you can trust that He will answer your prayers. You can trust that He will bring about anything He has desired for you. You can know you have victory before the battle begins.

God told Joshua that He would be with him in the taking of the Promised Land. He told the Israelites that rebelled against Him that He would not be with them when they decided to go to take the Promised Land. It is clear that God's ultimate purpose was to give this land to His people but those who would do so needed His presence. The lack of His presence assured defeat.

Personally, I don't even want to start something that is guaranteed defeat. Why would I want to do something without the Lord?

Sometimes Christians make decisions as if it is the next logical step. They see the extension of church buildings or even the beginning of a mission as things that must be the will of the Lord. After all, doesn't He want us to reach people? Wouldn't it all be easy if you could just put things in categories like that? No, the Promised Land had to be taken with the right people at the right time. And so it is with a church or a person.

So, the real question is whether or not God will be with us when we do what we would like to do.

Deuteronomy 31:23 (ESV)
23 And the LORD commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

Deuteronomy 1:42 (ESV)
42 And the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Responsibility of the Preacher

Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV) 1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

My focus on Sunday mornings is to preach. That is a surprise to many who attend church. Someone will come to me and say, "The door is stuck on the north side," or "The ladies bathroom in the children's wing is out of toilet paper." They have actually told me these things within minutes of entering the pulpit. These are the clueless individuals who neither realize what I am doing or that they should take action beyond telling the preacher. He can't do anything about those things right before he preaches but they can.

The importance of preaching has waned in recent years. The books written for preachers do not exhort preacher to hold their office in awe but to take action which will get more people in the door. I would say there are more books written on developing a church's electronic footprint than on preaching in the last several years even though preaching is at the core of all churches.

Maybe the emphasis has changed because preachers have changed. Many of them don't seem to understand their anointing. I wonder if some are truly anointed myself. I think they are just good speakers who didn't know what else to do with their gift. They may be able to hold your attention but they don't fulfill the call of the anointed. They fail in binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives and opening prison doors. They do not see each preaching experience as one in the year of the Lord's favor. They do not understand the justice of God nor victory for those who been faithful. They do not see their task of participating with the Lord in making oaks of righteousness in their congregations.

I suppose all preachers need to be reminded of these things. I know the Lord has reminded me of this before I preach today. I certainly needed to remember what I am doing. It really wouldn't hurt for me to read this passage as a prelude to all of my sermons.

So, today I will preach as if this is the last sermon I will ever preach. I will preach as if it is the first. It carries the weight of both. A sermon always should.

Those who pray for their preachers should remember this too.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Blessing of Revelation

My Bible was open. The right page had been the one I was reading. It had been the source of my quiet time the day before. I had meditated it during the day. I had gone back to it by the end of the day. For some reason I started reading the left page. There is a passage was the answer I was looking for concerning the sermon I would preach Sunday. God had the answer prepared for me to find today.

That verse had been written long before I needed to find it. It was there waiting. I found it when I really wasn't looking It was "revealed" to me. Here was a buried treasure which I discovered once it was uncovered.

Isn't this just like God? He doesn't create new knowledge for us. He reveals knowledge that already exists. He takes the scales from our eyes to see what is already in front of us.

Sometimes I study the scriptures thinking that I must merely cognitively understand them. This makes them so two dimensional. They stop living when I read and study them that way. However, revelation makes the scriptures alive. They interact with my spirit to change me rather than simply give me more knowledge. They give a deeper meaning to themselves each time they are revealed.

This is spiritual truth. It is not how many times I have been through the Bible but how many times the Bible has been through me. Every true encounter I have had with spiritual truth has come through revelation. Most of the time I didn't even know what I was looking for. God uncovered it.

A needle in a haystack is not hard to find if you have an incredibly strong magnet. The magnet can draw out the needle so that it can be revealed. The Holy Spirit is our magnet which separates the hay from the needle. He causes us to see what would never have been seen by drawing it to us.

I have had people accuse me of talking with their friends and relatives so that I would preach a certain message. These people are not always happy about it. They cannot understand how my topic coincides with things going on in their lives. They believe that I am revealing things particular to their lives publically. They are using their indignation on the topic to mask their own disobedience to the things God is revealing to them.

I have had not inside knowledge of their lifestyles nor would I ever preach messages publically when I should speak to someone privately. God merely reveals what I am to say. I don't know the stories of those who need to hear it. (I do think it is funny that people will blame the preacher when they hear something they don't like but they never blame the newscasters when they get news they don't like. Don't they undestand that preachers are simply deliverers of the messages. They don't really make the messages.)

Revelation often comes without prompting. It is a taste of God's grace as He continues to work on us even when we are unaware of what He is doing. So, we have a Damascus Road type of experience on our way to do something else. We find a scripture we need while simply passing time. We hear a word very specificly designed for us even when the speaker is unaware of our own predicaments.

And there are many more revelations coming.

Ephesians 3:1-3 (ESV) 1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Psalm 5:3 (ESV) 3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.