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Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Is Good?

Galatians 6:9 (ESV) 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Okay, so we are supposed to do good but what is that? Can we really have a definition of what doing good actually is?

Some will say doing good is helping others. Yes, that is good. Many people need help. God has called us to the task of helping others no matter what their situation may be. I am distressed when Christians decide to condemn others when they really need help. They condemn prostitutes and shut them out of  their churches. They rail against drinking with such vehemence that no alcoholic would dare think the church would help. Helping people means you have to do hard things. It may mean confronting someone you love about his sin. It may mean withdrawing fellowship from someone who will not repent. It may mean cleaning up the alcoholic and walking with him through numerous failures. It may be showing a prostitute the love of Jesus rather than what she has been selling as love.

In the beginning God created all things good.

Genesis 1:31 (ESV) 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

We do good when we join God is setting things to the way He intended them to be. Thus, we disciple people to know and obey God because that is what He intended for His people. All of our teaching and healing joins God in setting things back to His intention. Our quiet time each day keeps us the way He intended. Leading others to Christ heals the relationship between them and God. This is the relationship He intended to have with them.

Do you remember when the rich, young ruler called Jesus "good?" Remember how Jesus responded.

Luke 18:19 (ESV) 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

The young man wasn't simply saying that Jesus did good, he was saying that Jesus was good. The full implication of this is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the One who is setting things back to the way that God intended. God is the only One good for He is the only One who is in His full intention. Jesus wasn't denying that He was good. He was making an important statement about what good really is.

So, my understanding of good is setting or keeping things as God intended. Why would I ever get weary of this? Because I am trying to do this work of God on my own!

Thus, Paul told believers:

Philippians 2:13 (ESV) 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

God must work within us if we are to continue doing good.

Now, isn't this how God intended things to be?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Living to Go Home

Everything in my senses says that the earth is my home. I have no memory of living any other place. All that happens to me here appears to be permanent. Everyone I know came from this place. I have no experience of visiting another place. The place I call "home" is vague at best. I continue to act like the earth is home.

But it isn't. It is a interim place of being no matter how hard or how long I want to hold onto it.

Life has four stages. Everyone goes through them. First, we exist in the mind of God. He already knows all about us even though our existence is not yet known to ourselves.

Psalm 139:16 (ESV) 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

We only existed in the mind of God. There was nothing else. We could have only been known to God if we came into a corporeal existence. God had a plan.

Then, we were conceived. It was here that our bodies were formed. It is here that we became physical. Our existence is known to us through those who bore us. Our existence is vaguely known to us through the birth experience.

Psalm 139:13 (ESV) 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

If we could have been as self-aware of ourselves as we are right now, we would have resisted being born. We didn't know the world on the outside. We had everything we needed in our mothers' wombs. We did we need to leave? God had a plan.

We were born and we grew. The memories of the womb have faded. At some time we came to know Him. He told us that He has another place for us. He promised to walk beside us. He did. It was His plan.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  

Even though God kept telling us about His plan to bring us home with Him, we started to believe that this earth was our home. We were glad and we wanted to enjoy this earth. In fact, we would like to stay here forever.

2 Kings 20:1-6 (ESV) 1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’ ” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.”

But even though we might pray to live longer, God does not extend our lives forever. He has something better for us.

Now the questions are thus: At what part of the life we have already lived lacked the presence of God? When did we leave His love? When did we leave His care? When did He stop having a plan for our lives? Why should we believe that the God who knew us before we were born, knitted us together in our mothers' wombs and walked beside us all the days of our lives is going to leave us when we die?

Now, shouldn't we live like this isn't our home?  Our living has very little meaning if we live like this earth is all there is for one day we will take our last breath and we will never enjoy another thing on this earth. We will never have any satisifaction in what we have done if this is all there is.

We must live lives that will lead us to our true home like those saints of old who lived by faith.They lived with only the promise of Jesus. We live with Jesus.

Hebrews 11:13 (ESV) 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

And living with Jesus is the only way to live to go home. This is God's plan.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is "Stupid" Contagious?

So, I am making my way through the Atlanta Airport between terminals. It requires going up and down some steep and reasonably long escalators. I start down one of the escalators and see someone who has stopped at the end of the escalator to look at a map. There are hundreds of people about to crush him if he doesn't get out fo the way. A couple of bumps from others and he realizes what he has done and gets out of the way.

Then, when walking through the terminal I hear the beep-beep-beep of a cart taking passengers to their gates. The cart is being led by a person on a cell phone, talking away as the driver honks the cart's horn. The person on the cell phone is completely oblivious to the cart and continues to walk and talk.

I begin to think: "Is stupid catching?"

Honestly, it isn't uncommon for me to see people doing incredibly stupid things. They drive the wrong way down streets, wear their shirts inside-out and wander the aisles of grocery stores trying to remember why they are there. They forget that their bicycles are attached to the tops of their cars and try to enter parking garages. They go the wrong way through the drive-thru at Chic-fil-a because the restaurant has two drive throughs and they can't reach the window from the one with the shorter line if they went the other way. They tell long stories at funerals which have nothing to do with the deceased. They tell it because it reminds them of a joke that they wanted to tell.

Okay, but I don't think they are stupid. I believe they aren't thinking. I believe they have so much on their mind that they aren't aware of what they are doing. Yet, I also believe it's catching. More and more people aren't thinking. They are distracted from what it important.

Satan distracted Adam and Eve in the Garden. He could get them to disobey God if he change their focus from the God they knew to the god satan made Him out to be. Martha was distracted by all her preparations for a meal although she was in the presence of the Lord Jesus. She missed the most important thing for something that just seemed important.

Nothing has really changed. People are still being distracted. They still fail to notice the really important things that go on. They do not see the consequences of what they are doing.

My first reaction is to tell car manufacturers to place a sign on the dash of every car made: "Think about what you are doing right now." However, I'm afraid it would cause people to think about the sign and forget that they are driving. 

Maybe we should all put signs on our bathroom mirrors:"What will I do that will give God glory today?" Maybe that would cause us to think about everything we do.

Think. It isn't that hard once you think about it.

Genesis 3:4-5 (ESV) 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Luke 10:40 (ESV) 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Need to Be

Nehemiah 1:1-4 (NIV)
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 

I have heard several sermons from Nehemiah. Most of them are given by preachers who wanted to build something new. They built new sanctuaries, new family life centers and new fellowship halls. They used the words of Nehemiah to motivate the people to act. This was their first step.

But Nehemiah's first step wasn't hearing of the walls being torn down or that the gates were burned. His first step was who he was. He wasn't looking to do something great or even to make his name great. He was a man of faith who sincerely cared for his people. He knew that the condition of Jerusalem would profoundly affect the worship there even if the Temple was rebuilt. So, he didn't need to be guilted or motivated to act. He did so because of who he was.

That is something that we preachers often forget. We hire consultants to tell us how to raise the money so that we can build. We hardly ever recognize who the people are. We hardly ever depend upon who they are. We think that we have to make them feel guilty or inspire them to build when they should want to join in with us because of who they are.

Of course who you are shouldn't stop at building church structures. It should be a part of sharing your faith, confessing your sins, worshiping regularly, having a quiet time, reading, studying and teaching the scriptures, giving to those in need and anything else it takes to make disciples for our Lord. These things should always come our of who we are.

It also should make us look at what we are doing and ask, "Does what I am doing indicate who I want to be?" If not, we aren't who we think we are. Wanting to be someone doesn't make us that person. We have to act if we are to be. Eventually we will be and not have to think about our acting.

Recently someone told me that I needed to change the titles to my blogs so that I could get more traffic. I thought about it. I am not good at writing titles. That doesn't mean I shouldn't try to do a better job but I don't necessarily want more traffic. I really want to help people who are serious about following the Lord. I want them to give God glory with the way they live their lives. Reading a blog won't do that if that isn't a desire that is in their hearts. I am someone who isn't that concerned about the traffic. (though I admit that I was at first) I am someone who wants to join people in living gloriously victorious Christian lives. I am someone who does not have to be motivated in helping people do so. I really don't have time to seek those who really don't care so that I can feel good about how many people have read my blog.

I write this blog because this is who I am. It is not something I do apart from that. I really don't need the motivation of more people reading it. I wrote this blog until this is what I became. How different would my Christian life be if that were true in other things? I mean, what if I was a person who so naturally gave to others that I didn't have to think about it anymore? What if I was a person who naturally had a quiet time with God each day without having to force myself to do so?

My goal is to be. I get to that goal by doing until I am. Then, I don't need anyone who needs to tell me what I must be doing. I will do because I am. Nehemiah fasted and prayed until he was one who would rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. He was a Jew who loved his people first. He was a builder of walls and gates second. 

He did what he was. I have a feeling that most people won't understand this.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wandering from Who We Should Be

1 Timothy 1:5-7 (ESV) 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

I don't like horror movies. I say this because I have watched a few and so I generally stay away from them. However, there is one element in each of the ones I have watched: There is a time when the person who is to be victimized feels perfectly safe. The audience is made aware that something ominous is lurking nearby by the music or by watching the horror slowly creep up on the unsuspecting person. The audience is lured into the fear that is unknown to this one who because she feels so safe goes about her business with complete ignorance that her life is about to be taken.

I am not saying that Christian life can be like a horror movie but I see many believers who are unaware that their actions are taking them to destruction. They even think they are doing what is right when they are walking completely away from their Lord. They slowly wander away from their Lord without recognizing what it is doing to them. Some of them become heretics who are fully confident that they are right but have totally missed the true meaning of the things they are teaching. They lead others away by their own clever words which pull their audiences into their own deception.

What causes this? It is a desire to be revered as one who teaches the Word without continuing to keep a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. I have seen many preachers and professors who because of their great intellects have constructed convincing arguments which pull others away from their own pure hearts, good consciences and sincere faith. They have much to say but none of it turns people back to faith. They are wordsmiths which entertain but have said very little if anything at all. They are like satan who challenged God's Word in the Garden.

Yet, they see themselves as the most spiritual of all people. They are frequenctly loved by those who listen to them. They have a following of disciples who wish they could gather such a following. They have such confidence and intellects few others will wish to challenge them.

Many of these people go into the professional ministry. They wish to be teachers of God's Word and so study it without godly discernment because they have not carefully watched their own hearts. Seventy percent of preachers admit that they do not read or study God's Word outside of their own preparations for sermons. Thus, they have messages for their congregations without listening to the messages that God has for them apart from their congregations. Their own hearts are suseptible to wandering. Their own faith becomes insincere for their lack of connection with their Lord causes them severe doubts. They continue to speak confidently but do not understand what they are saying. In fact, they may not even truly believe what they are saying.

But the root of this is where they are leading their congregations and who they continue to be. They no longer understand their charge is a love that issues from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. Therefore, they do not hold onto it for themselves. The literal translation is that they "having missed the mark" have "turned aside" to "vain words."

Yet, there is no one to whom most preachers are held accountable. No one in their congregations asks them if they have prayed, been in God's Word or have taken the time to listen to God each day. The congregations measure attendance, the building and maintaining of structures, programs and how much money there is in the bank. The preacher is deemed successful if he can gather a crowd who gives so that the congregations feels secure and proud. Most of the people do not have a taste for the Word of God and do not notice that they receive very little of it. They love the stirring speech and hope that nothing ever changes that.

It is no wonder that 1,500 ministers leave their positions every month. Many of them are forced out by congregtions which do not recognize godliness. Many others leave because they have forgotten why they are doing what they do.

Last Friday my dad had quadruple bypass surgery. He felt chest pain for a few days before he relented and made the trip to the ER. The images taken of his heart revealed these blockages. My daughter who is an MD upon looking at them said that they had been there for some time. No one knew because there had not been any previous images taken. I wonder if there are people who are walking around with spiritual heart problems but don't know it because they have not examined their own hearts.

If you are in the ministry take a moment and examine your own heart. It is still pure? Do you have a good conscience? Can you be characterized by a sincere faith if a spiritual MRI could be done? Do you really love the Lord Jesus?

If you aren't would you take a moment to pray for those in the ministry? Pray that they will show their love for Jesus as they speak with others. Maybe you are close enough to one of them to share your prayers and write a note of encouragement.

But never stop with what you can do for others. Examine yourself. Do you have a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith? Is your love for Jesus overflowing onto others?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Aim of Our Charge

Last night I read: "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV) This is the description of a disciple. The disciple is pure in heart because he has given it to his Lord. He has a good conscience because he is forgiven. He has a sincere faith which requires his actions because disciples do the commandments of Jesus. Faith is not something that is believed without actions. It requires actions or there is no sincere faith.

From these traits spring forth love. I, like many other people, have gotten this wrong over the years. I have told people to love Jesus and they will start doing what pleases Him. This says that doing what pleases Him causes us to love Him.

My former understanding comes from the language of this world. It says that you feel love and do what the one you love wants. If you don’t feel love you don’t do anything. This is a great way to break up a marriage, isn’t it? You don’t feel love so you do nothing your spouse enjoys. Your spouse, then, doesn’t feel love and does nothing too. Instead, think of having a pure heart, good conscience and a sincere commitment to your spouse. From this love will come.

What would a church look like which was full of people who had a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith? It would have people seeking new ways to serve their Lord. They would seek Him, listen to Him and go do what He called them to do. They would bring souls to Christ on a regular basis. They would never seek their own gratification. They would be so in love with their Lord that every contribution was truly for His glory. They would wake up each day amazed that the Lord would inhabit someone like them. They would be full of gratitude and see God’s gifts to them in each day. They would be full of life. And their love for others would be legendary.

I realize that the ones that read this blog are probably already doing the things that I encourage here. This means that you probably have a testimony about your love for Jesus because you have a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith.

There are many people who attend our churches who are not like you. They don’t know the joy that can be found in these things. They are depending upon loving before being. They do not realize that you have to be before you love. The non-believer cannot love Jesus for he doesn’t know Him. He must commit his life to Jesus to fall in love. The believer will not love Him without commitment either. I guess we have our work cut out for us. This is the calling of those who love Him.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What to Do When You Must Make an Important Decision

Proverbs 12:15 (ESV) 15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

2 Timothy 3:7 (ESV) 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

I have a friend who hasn't read a book since he graduated from seminary over twenty years ago. He is listening to no one. He is making his decisions without borrowing any of the experiences of others. He believes his way must be the best way since he doesn't know any other way.

I have a friend who is a voracious reader. He reads a book every day. Unfortunately, I believe he lacks discernment. Everyone can't be right. Each book should give new knowledge. Some will contradict others. Knowing so many methods of doing something will not make you wiser. It will confuse you. You will end up running from one method to another. You will confuse others when they don't know which way you are going.

Both of these are extreme. One is wise in his own eyes. The other lacks discernment. The Bible supports neither. Wisdom is the ability to know when to continue to listen. Wisdom must listen but it does not listen without coming to the knowledge of the truth.

The past couple of years I got bids on two projects that I needed done around my house. I got three to four bids on each one. There were hundreds of companies. On the first project, I used the Internet to determine which ones I called. I called four but one did not bother to deliver a bid. I chose the company based on its size, the interview with the representatives and just my own "gut" feeling. I was disappointed in the results.

I used Angie's list on the second one to determine which ones to ask. I wanted to use one with an A rating. I read the reviews. I called four (one did not bother to call me back), set up times for the estimates, spoke to each representative, read the contracts and decided. I was very happy with the work.

Can you see the difference? One involved doing what I thought was right without listening to others. The second involved listening to others. Of course, it is possible to get good results without listening to others but the odds certainly favor listening.

If I had gotten a bid from every company without discernment I would still be getting bids and I would be very confused with which is the best company. I wanted a company who would do the job right with a reasonable price. I would have known neither with too many bids.

Can the same be said for faith? Is it possible that by listening to too many people that you will become confused? Is it possible that by refusing to listen that you will make a terrible faith decision? Of course. There is a time to listen and a time to decide.

Let's say a young lady and young man are dating. Each one needs to discern if he/she should continue to date. Each one needs to decide if he/she should get married or if marriage is in the future. There is a time to listen to godly people who will help in that decision. Emotions can make people blind. True wisdom will listen to godly people early in the relationship before things get so that the ears no longer hear what they don't want to hear. Yet, that does not mean that everyone needs to be asked. Look long enough and you will find someone who disagrees with every other person.

Listening should be a part of each of our decisions. The person who refuses to listen finds himself in places that he doesn't want to be. He finds himself in circumstances which could have been prevented. He finds himself in crises which will take tremendous efforts to recover from. It takes a thimble of water to put out the spark that would have burned down the forest. It takes a little listening to avert the problem that will take many years for recovery.

But who and how many you listen to is just as important. Here, it takes discernment. From where does the wisdom originate in those you seek advice? Do these people display godliness in their own lives? Do they speak of their own experiences?

I have had men come to me for advice on what to do when their wives have asked for a divorce. Of course, I ask them why. Many times the men are honest and give me significant reasons their wives are seeking to leave them. I then ask my next most important question: "Who is your wife listening to?" The road to recovery will be much harder if the wives are listening to other divorced women. Most of them have justified leaving their husbands and will transfer their "wisdom" to anyone who will listen. They also will make the divorced life look much better than it actually is.

Unfortunately, I hardly ever get to talk to the wife. She has probably already made her decision before she has asked her husband for a divorce. She's looking for justification, not reason.

Be very careful before making significant decisions. The Bible is a very practical book. It speaks of terrible decisions made by those who did not listen and to those who listened to the wrong people. Ask the Lord to lead you to those whose advice you really need..

God will always lead you if you will just listen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

God's Power Changes People

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

The list of sins accompanies many of those in the last days. Paul, no doubt, believes that these days have already come. He is completely right that they have come but these “last days” were not to be counted as we would count days. They would mark an era that continues until Jesus returns. Paul probably thought these days would end during his own lifetime. This wasn’t to be the case but they certainly continued. He may not have realized how right his words would become.

People claiming faith in Jesus would commit all of the above sins. They would become exactly what Paul said they would. They would claim godliness but would not have any of the power which comes with this faith. They would be like the facades of buildings used in movies. They look as if they are genuine if there is no careful inspection but have no substance within themselves.

Many of who call themselves ministers of the Gospel fall into this category. They give compassionate calls to forget godliness. They deny that God can change people from what they are to what God intends them to be. They leave these people with all their sins. Their evils are denied as sins but are called illnesses or sometimes absolved by saying they are inflicted upon them by a preborn disposition. They cannot imagine that God can change people who come to Him.

Paul had urged Timothy to continue to preach a life-changing gospel. It overcomes addictions and strengthens believers to be changed by the Spirit. It is the most powerful force that has ever changed people.

I have talked with people who by the power of the Spirit have quit their addictions “cold turkey” simply at the command of their Lord. I have seen men characterized by lies become honest, thieves become trustworthy, the greedy become generous, the arrogant become humble and those who had no self-control to be disciplined.

I believe in being compassionate toward people. I don’t want to be one of the heartless people who abuse those who are caught in sin. I can’t see how that does me or them any good. However, I want to continue telling people that Jesus changes lives. They don’t have to live with their oppressive behaviors. They can overcome all that has kept them from living victorious lives.

Now, here is the catch. Instead of denying the power of the Spirit, I must say that victory over sin is impossible without the power of the Spirit. He, the Spirit, is available and willing to change lives from ungodliness to godly.

I know because the power of the Spirit continues to change me. I am not perfect but I am very different from what I used to be. I am being changed and everyone who truly turns their lives over to Jesus will be changed too.

Stop denying the power. Be changed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Do We Know What We Are Doing When We Refuse Forgiveness?

I sometimes despair over the faith of those who call themselves believers who attend church almost every week and have so little faith that they are indistinguishable from those who exist outside the church. I wonder: Do they understand? Do they know what they are doing?

The blog I wrote "When Someone Will Not Forgive You" continues to get several hits every day. Thousands of people have read it. Many of those have written me personal emails telling of their heartache because of someone who fails to forgive. Too many of these people tell me that hose who are holding a grudge claim to be believers. I am having a hard time understanding this.

Jesus asks His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him because they didn't know what they were doing. The very nature of our faith is found right here. Jesus forgives those who beat Him, gambled for His clothes and falsely accused Him. He sttates His forgiveness as He speaks to His Father. It is the same statement He makes for us. Each one of us who receives Him should know His forgiveness. How can we thus refuse forgiveness for others?

Do we believe that the offenses against us are greater than the ones Jesus forgave? Do we somehow believe that we have a right to judge those who have hurt us even though Jesus has paid for their sins on the cross? How can we lack the understanding that we must forgive? How can we say that we have invited Him into our own hearts if we refuse to act with new hearts?

Many of the people who have written me private emails have told me wha tthey have done to hurt those who refuse to forgive them. None of them justified their sins. They recognized that their actions were egregious. They didn't claim they had a right to be forgiven. They just expressed their heartache and asked what they could do to gain forgiveness.

Unfortunately, no one gains forgiveness. It is a gift. However, it is a gift given to believers that cannot exist without being given to others. In other words, you don't possess it if you don't give it away.  Anyone claiming to be a believer should seek the Lord Jesus with all their hearts when they are hurt so deeply that they can't forgive. It is only in Him that they will find the forgiveness necessary to forgive under certain circumstances.

Sometimes I think that people believe they will forgive when the pain goes away. I don't see that in Jesus forgiveness. Forgivenesss is given in the midst of the pain. It doesn't embrace the pain. It clings to the Lord. It employs His forgiveness.

If you are having trouble forgiving someone, try praying this prayer in ernest: Jesus I am hurt by what (name of person) did to me. I feel (say what you feel). I do not have the strength to forgive (name) on my own. I recognize that You died on the Cross for this sin which was committed against You and me. I, therefore, have no right to claim a higher righteousness than Yours. I have no right to hold out for judgement against (name). I, therefore, forgive in Your Name. I ask for Your forgiveness to surround me so that I will also forgive (name). I depend upon your power and thus pray this prayer in Jesus Name. Amen

This is not a one time prayer for some things that are done against us. You will think that you have put it all behind you when the memory, pain and anger return. You just have to pray it again and again until you know the forgiveness of Jesus which forgives through you.

Many believers hold onto their lack of forgiveness. They are damaged forever because they fail to forgive. I don't think they know what they are doing. I don't think they know who they are hurting.

Luke 23:34 (ESV) 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Worst of All Sins

Each day we are bombarded with sins which we did not think possible. Each day the news speaks of things which would never have occurred to us. Someone becomes more creative each time we think things have gotten as bad as they could ever get. We seem to find new ways of sinking in what we once thought as the bottom.

Let's just look at what happens to children. They are abused both heterosexually and homosexually. Some are killed or left for dead by their own parents. People come to their schools and shoot them. They are locked away in closets or basements. Some live with beatings and torture. Some are starved and/or forced into prostitution.And when I think that what I have heard is lowest that any human can do to a child, someone gets creative and does something worse.

Yet, there is always someone who wants to defend the ones who do such horrible things to others. There is always a past that they have or a mental conditon which causes their evil or even a drug addiction which has caused them to act this way. There mothers' often come to their defense denying that their children could never have committed such acts.

I have come to this conclusion: The worst of sins has yet to be committed. The worst of sins will be kept current. We have not yet seen what people will do.

I wish there was a different conclusion. I wish I could say that I believe that God will send a Holy Spirit revival to change everything. I wish I could say that things will reverse themselves. I have prayed for them to do so for so long and I still see things getting worse.

I observe the light draining from the eyes of people. They walk in such darkness because they have steeled themselves to a relationship with God. They eliminate Him from creation and thus, from any influence He might have on the world. They do not see Him as One who defines holiness or righteousness. They see righteousness as their own open-mindedness and condemn anyone who sees their actions as unrighteous or unholy. They become more ignorant as those who claim to be wise in their own wisdom. They condemn the church as ignorant in its opposition to Galileo but do not see that they have done the same thing in their opposition to God. On one side is the stand that claims that the church is infallible. The other side says that the wisdom of the world is infallible. They do not know that it is only the wisdom of God which is infallible.

Thus, they have stimulated their senses without any regard to morality. There is nothing telling them that what they are doing is indecent, vulgar and horrible. Even life itself no longer matters because there is no meaning to life. All that is left is stimulation.

Yes, I will still pray. I know that God can turn things around but I have stopped saying that things can't get worse than what I have observed.

What we need are believers who will live so diffently that the world will either martyr us or notice that we stand for life. Real life. We just can't go along with the things that God has said were sinful. We just can't say it is horrible but live lives just short of the horrible things we observed. We can't act like the world nor take these values as our own. Believers must return to God and seek Him with our whole hearts. Nothing else will change things as they are. Nothing else will prevent us from seeing the worst of all sins.

Ephesians 4:17-19 (ESV) 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Who Do You Say They Say Jesus Is?

Matthew 16:13-16 (ESV) 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

If Jesus only wanted to know who His disciples believed He was, wouldn't He have asked them without asking what they believed others thought He was? Why ask who do people say He was?

I believe that sometimes you have to know that you are going beyond what others say. You have to realize that others are not intentionally mean but that they are wrong. If that question was asked of me today I believe I would say that some think that Jesus never existed. Others think that He is merely a good teacher. Still others think that He existed but much of what is said of Him are myths made up from similar things that He might have said. I would say that true believers know Him as the One who takes away the sins of the world; the Son of the Living God.

Most of the people believers encounter have no vendettas against Christ. They believe very casually that He is someone who lived but does not truly change lives. They think that most of the followers whose lives center around Christ have some mental or emotional need which causes them to do so. They don't want someone like Jesus who will change what they believe. They want to live and let live. They want to go with the flow of society in claiming what society says is wrong and right.

The believer needs to know that this is what he is wading into each day. He must know that his beliefs are not the same as the populace. Many of them will think that he is strange. Some will ostracize him. Some will ridicule. A few will listen politely. Most are bored with what he has to say.

Sometimes we need to ask who do the people at our workplaces say Jesus is? Who do the people in our families say Jesus is? Then, we need to ask who we say that Jesus is. Knowing the difference changes our whole perspective of what we will say to them. Knowing the difference defines what they will say to us.

I have found that many Christians never ask themselves this question. They would rather say that their friends, families, co-workers and acquaintances all believe as they do. They want to believe that everyone is going to heaven. This way everyone goes along to get along.

Yes, we have to co-exist but we do not have to give up our convictions to be cordial to each other. We need to recognize that many people who call themselves Christians may only think they are Christians. It isn't what you call yourself that counts. It is what you believe. You have to answer what you think they believe so you can lovingly tell them of who Jesus is.

So, who do you say they say Jesus is?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who Is Jesus to You?

John 6:35 (ESV) 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Nearly every sermon hits a human need. They speak of who God is and what He can do for you. When they speak of who God is, they rarely speak of who He is to you. Yet, this must be at the very core of our being if we are to go beyond the hidden selfishness of who we are. You see, if we don't have the answer of who He is to us, then we will always listen for what He will do for us. This is why I get so many more compliments on sermons which tell of His provision for His followers and get so few when I speak of the necessary commitment His followers must make.

If people can't answer who God or Jesus is to them, they will treat Him as Santa Claus. Santa only provides and never asks for any meaningful commitment. You only have to be good in your own eyes since he asks, "Have you been a good little boy (or girl)?" The qualifying answer comes from the one being asked. Which of us really thinks he is bad when it means we won't get what we want?

So, Jesus said He is the bread of life. This is who He must be to us not what He will do. Sure, He relates this in human terms. Those who come to Him will not hunger and those who believe in Him will never thirst. He obviously isn't speaking of physical hunger and thirst. He is speaking of who He should be to those who truly follow and believe.

I have fasted for forty days three times. These extended fasts taught me some things. I learned that fasting must be different for different people since my own experiences did not match those of people who had written on the subject. I personally didn't find that I lost all sense of hunger after a few days. I remained hungry throughout the fast with one great exception. I forgot all about my hunger when I worshiped.

Now, I am not merely talking of formal worship in the church building. I lost my sense of hunger when I earnestly prayed, clung to the Bible and sang (My singing didn't improve during the fasts. I sang privately.) spiritual songs to my Lord. Sometimes, during my prayers, I just listened for the Lord. He spoke and it filled me up. The hunger soon resumed once I left worship. So, I looked for the opportunities to worship all the time.

The fasts taught me who Jesus is to me. He is the bread of life. I actually did not feel hunger when I let Him fill my spirit.

Now, this is not about fasting. This is about who He is. You see, once you yourself know Him as the bread of life all other things which seem to be needs fall into a different perspective. You will be able to withstand the discomforts that a true commitment to Him requires because He is your bread. The other things may satisfy your body but that is nothing in comparison with Him filling your soul.

Thus, you may find yourself becoming a missionary or becoming a pastor or lovingly using your own athletic abilities  or scientific acumen to glorify your Lord. Some things you choose will bring you much less physical comfort. You may have had the potential to satisfy your every want but you choose to follow Him because He is the bread of life.

Sure, there are benefits to knowing Jesus as the bread of life. There is a freedom from guilt because you are forgiven. There is eternal life. But when He is truly the bread of life a new purpose in your life emerges. He becomes that which fills your soul.

Honestly, who is Jesus to you?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dying to Live for Christ

I have often wondered why some preachers are enormously successful while others shepherd their flocks with the utmost care and have very little to show for it. Many of them are fired by their congregations and go through terrible persecutions from people who call themselves Christians.

Well, first I think we have to define success if we are going to get to the root of the answer. Success should be defined as fruitfulness. This fruit should be seen in the fruit of the Spirit in the one serving the Lord and in those who are being discipled by this one. Fruitfulness is also seen in those who give their lives to Christ. These two things do not mean that the Lord's servants will avoid being fired or persecuted. In fact, they just might ensure it.

My own experience and the Lord's leading takes me to a verse in John:

John 12:24-25 (ESV) 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Many people think that Jesus was merely talking of Himself. They claim this is only a reference to the Cross. I don't think so. Why would He continue speaking of it in the next verse? He is giving a principle that applies to Himself going to the Cross and to His followers. These two verses describe the necessary action which must accompany the fruitful follower of Christ. He must die to himself if the seed is ever to bring true fruitfulness.

This is foreign to many who follow Christ. Their following is, at best, a hobby. They work on it when they get a chance and the results are not the same as those who are professional. Many professional musicians die to their lives away from music in order to transcend what others can't see as possible. They do not make it a hobby as the one who plays the piano for their own personal enjoyment. This is true of Olympic athletes or artists or anyone who goes beyond what seems humanly possible.

But the Christian life is far beyond practice which repeats over and over the same piece of music or the same athletic move until it becomes a part of the performer. The servant of Christ dies to himself so clearly that he hates his life. Hating his life means that he denies what the appears to be normal and necessary for fulfillment in this world. Dying to this life means that the life he lives no longer responds to what the world says is pleasure.

It is this death and the hating of this life that the servant of Christ becomes immeasurably fruitful. It happens in his life and in those he brings to Christ. The problem is that most people who call themselves ministers are treating their ministries as a hobby. They have a modicum of success just as someone who plays a piano for their own enjoyment. They may even get to perform for a small group someday but they will never pack Carnegie Hall.

On the other hand, I would be remiss to say that dying to self is something that can be done easily. Everything in me screams how I want to be famous, rich, esteemed and self-satisfied. Yet, this will never produce the type of success that Jesus wants to have in my life. He wants me to be where He is. He wants me to die to myself so that I can really live.

I guess the best I can say is that I am working on it. I have to die today if I am to really live. I am to die today if I am to show people who Jesus really is. I am to die today if I am to allow the Spirit to bring the fruit in my life. I am to die today if I am to urge others to have this fruit in their lives.

I must die today. . .  and get ready tonight to die tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Give, And It Will Be Given to You

I admit I get upset each time I hear a televangelist ask for money. Most of them tell the listeners that God will bless them financially if they will give. The listeners are challenged to send "seed" money to the televangelist's ministry which will result in the opening of God's storehouse for them. They will receive some multiple of the amount which was sent in. The obvious money-grabbing techiniques of these very wealthy con artists makes me sick!

But are they completely wrong?

Yes, they are wrong is saying that the people should only send the money to their ministries. This is blatantly self-serving. Yes, they are wrong is telling people to do so in order to get money back. This isn't really giving; it is investing. Yet, there are many scriptures which state clearly that God will bless those who give to Him and to the needs of others freely. Should we ignore those scriptures because of the excesses of those who are unscrupulous?

God tells us that He will open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing until there is no more need if people will simply tithe.

Malachi 3:10 (ESV) 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Jesus said that we would receive in the same manner as we have given. He said it would be overflowing.

Luke 6:38 (ESV) 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Paul wrote that giving sparingly results in reaping sparingly. He states plainly that giving is necessary in order to have everything which you need.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (ESV) 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

It is clear that the principle exists in both the Old and New Testaments. It is clear that the one giving should do so from their hearts without pressure being put on him. It is clear that God will return back to the giver an overflow of what was given. Is this a test of faith? I think so.

Now, I am not asking for anyone to send anything to me. I don't even want to imply it. I do believe that we cannot ignore the principle of God's return when we give either.

Years ago I got a call from a lady who told me that she had pledged $1500 to a televangelist. She had sent him $300 and had not received anything yet. I asked her if she had pledged to God or to the televangelist. She eventually told me it was to the televangelist. I told her that she needed to do whatever she thought was right with the rest of her money. I wonder what would have happened if she had pledged the money to God. I believe she needed to fulfill all vows made to God. But would she have received back an overflow?

My practical nature says that giving to God in order to receive is merely manipulation. Often people try to manipulate God by claiming scriptures which they believe forces God to do what they want. Is there a difference in this and believing scriptures which tell us what God will do? Faith has very little to do with what is practical.

So, I must come to this conclusion. Those who give to God freely will see God's blessings poured upon them until they can hardly stand it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Company of the Uncommitted

Who do you think got more joy at the Superbowl: the Baltimore fans watching on tv or the players for the Baltimore Ravens? In fact, I'll bet the contrast isn't even measurable. Yet, for some reason people continue to shun commitment and expect growing meaning in their lives. Why doesn't everyone realize that being a part of something bigger than yourself requires commitment?

Jesus spoke of this. He said:

Luke 14:26 (ESV) 26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 7:14 (ESV) 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Luke 9:25 (ESV) 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

John 10:10 (ESV) 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus said it very plainly: I will give you life but it will take an absolute commitment to Me. Yet, people are trying to live meaningful lives without any commitment.

I see more and more people who live together without marriage thinking that the marriage commitment is unnecessary. They cannot understand why their relationships never fill them.

I know that there are plenty of people who go through the ceremony but never make a true commitment either. That's why there is so much adultery. Their marriages aren't fulfilling either but these marriages lack commitment too. The only way to have a truly fulfilling marriage is when two people are committed totally to each other. I don't believe this is hard. I believe it is impossible! At least, impossible without a commitment to the Lord which transcends all other commitments in life.

What Olympic athlete lacks commitment to his or her sport? The commitment makes winning or even making the Olympics sweeter. Why shouldn't we think the same for our Christian lives?

Let's admit it: The Christian life is boring when there is no commitment. It is only meaningful; only exciting when commitment is present.

The company of uncommitted Christians come to church when there is nothing else going on. The company of uncommitted Sunday School teachers teach when they can't find a reason for missing church. The company of uncommitted Deacons do not serve or even make Deacon's meetings unless they are given the opportunity to gripe. The company of uncommitted can't understand the committed because the uncommitted  think they are doing all the same things yet less and less out of it.

I've heard that a professional football game is eighty thousand people who desperately need exercise watching twenty-two men who desperately need rest. The people in the stands are good for cheering and criticizing but never break a sweat during the game. The players don't have time to criticize because they are fully committed to the game.

Could Church be compared to a professional football game? Are there only a few people committed and working hard while the others watch and criticize?

Who has more life: The one who does nothing or the one who is committed? You know the answer but for some reason people remain uncommitted.

Herein lies the great deception: doing less makes life more meaningful. If that's the case you should hope you end up in a nursing home.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Consequences Aren't Always Evident

Genesis 3:6 (ESV)
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Eve spoke with the serpent who was seducing her to do what she knew that she must not do. He convinced her that God didn't have her or her husband's best interest at heart. He challenged whether or not there would be any bad consequences and promised that there would be benefits in defying God's words. Adam stood by and watched. He didn't stop the proceedings. In fact, he let Eve take a taste of the forbidden fruit to see if she died. She didn't so he accepted the fruit she gave him.

I have led men's groups in the past who said that Adam wanted to see if it killed Eve before he took a bite. They said that he let her take the risk. Did Adam think that lightning would strike her the moment she took a bite? Did he think that she would shrivel up and die right on the spot?

I have always said that there would be a whole lot less sin if God's judgement was immediate. Fire from heaven at the point of sin would just about eliminate all sin.

But what kind of people would we be if God judged every sin at the moment it was committed? No one would really love or worship God. We would all walk in fear afraid that anything we do would displease Him. It would be a horrible existence. There would be religion but it would lack fellowship. 

So, God allows us to sin without an immediate punishment. We are given the opportunity to repent. 

I get the impression for some that they think that they are getting away with their sins. I have talked with so many people who are having affairs and think that things will go alone nicely as long as their spouses never find out. They don't see the downside because they haven't yet seen the consequences. They don't realize what has already happened to their own hearts toward God and their spouses. They think they can continue in their faith as if nothing has happened. They justify their actions so that the spouses appear as villains in their sinful stories. It appears to me that they believe their confession to me absolves them of their sins.

Honestly, I am often disgusted with those who justify their sins. I am tired of them asking me if God wants them to be happy. I want them to wake up and realize that they are rotting on the inside. I want them to see that the consequences of their sins are simply not worth the sin.

Sin rarely has an immediate consequence which will stop the sinner. Sure, there may be remorse but it will fade if there is no real conviction, confession and repentance. Most people never realize that their sins have moved them away from their Lord.

Yes, there are immediate consequences but only those who are walking close to their Lord will ever recognize them. The unrepentant, unconfessed sinner calls out to God and is met with silence for he has not listened to the Holy Spirit who has sought to convict him of his sin.

Thus, our days should begin and end with:

Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! 

Try me and know my thoughts!

24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, 

and lead me in the way everlasting!