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Friday, March 29, 2013

Should We Expect a Miracle?

I hear tv preachers tell their audiences, "Expect a miracle today!" Applause often follows. But I wonder . . . .

Am I to expect a miracle even if God has not told me He is sending one? Won't that just bring about disappointment? Won't that make me doubt God's actions the next time I am supposed to "expect" a miracle?

Should I expect a miracle when it might violate God's will to send me one? Didn't God refuse to remove Paul's "thorn in the flesh?" Should Paul have expected a miracle after God told him that He wasn't sending it?

Do I really know better than God about what should be expected? Can I tell Him what He must do by expecting this miracle? Could it be that God has a better plan for my life without the miracle I expect?

Do all miracles give as powerful a testimony as those who live faithful lives for Him without a miracle? Does the person who dies faithfully praising his Lord speak less powerfully than the person who is healed? Is the real miracle in the healing or in the faithfulness?

Yes, I know my God can send miracles. He did not create a universe which limited His power. He can change anything for His glory. Yet, He maintains His love no matter where His will leads.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood before a king who was sending them into an incredibly hot furnace to proclaim the power of God. They made one statement that most fail to see: "But if not" They knew that God could but they also knew that He might not. That didn't change their faith and it shouldn't change ours either.

I believe in a God of love and miracles with all my heart but I know that I might not receive the miracle I want. I will still praise Him. And I will still be faithful.

Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV) 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Christian Entitlement System

The funeral home chapel is not filled. Thirty-five to forty people are scattered about. A friend of the deceased has been asked to speak. We have just heard "I Did It My Way" and "Stairway to Heaven" played through the chapel sound system. Most of the family members stair straight ahead. They are praying that is all over soon. I sit in my usual place behind the podium without any control over what is being said.

The friend tells some risque stories of things he and the deceased did. Finally, when he realizes that he really doesn't know how to end his talk, he says, "And now, Joe, you are getting your just reward. I'll be Saint Peter was surprised to see you. I know you're going to stir up heaven." With that, he sits down.

Now this friend is right about one thing. Heaven will give just rewards. It just isn't the same reward for everyone.

Many people think that heaven is a reward. That is absolutely false! Heaven is a gift. It is given by God through His Son. Jesus died on the Cross for the forgiveness of all who identify with Him. Those who unite themselves with Him are forgiven. Heaven is the natural result of forgiveness.

John 3:16 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Now rewards are another matter entirely. Heaven has rewards within it. Those who are faithful while in the body will receive more than those who are unfaithful. Those who have done sinful things will receive less.

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

Yet, many Christians continue to think that heaven will be the same for everyone. They think that their actions on earth amount to nothing when they get to heaven. They think they have simply gotten away with all the evil that they have done. Maybe that's why they think that any sin which is unknown to others is the same as not committing that sin.

I was shocked when a lady I would say is mature in her faith asked me, "Are you saying that when I get to heaven, I may still have to stand in the corner?" She had always heard that heaven is the reward for knowing Christ. I told her that I do not know what the rewards will be but I know that there will be rewards.

Many in our society want to equalize all assets. They want to take from the rich and give to the poor. There is even a disdain for those who have gotten rich. People talk of profits as if they are evil. They speak of wealth as if it is a plague which must be quarantined and cured. They have been inoculated from working so hard by all the awards given from the time of their birth. The school system gives an award to every child each year even if they haven't earned anything. No wonder that they think they should have the same as everyone else once they leave school.

Do you think the society got this idea from the poor theology taught by preachers? I have heard many preachers speak of heaven as a reward. I can't remember a sermon when one (other than myself) has preached a message of reward for faithfulness in heaven. I was surprised when the wife of a New Testament Professor told me I was wrong when I spoke of rewards in heaven.

Yes, I know that love should be the motivation for our obedience to the Lord. The Apostle Peter's positive response to whether he loved Jesus was to act on that love. But I also cannot deny the reward that is coming for that obedience.

The Apostle Paul spoke of that love which motivated him to finish his course with the Lord.

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.

But notice again there will be an award. There is no entitlement. There is the gift of salvation and what we have due to us from what we have done in this body.

So, love Jesus with all your heart. Prove it by your faithfulness. Prove it by your purity. Prove it by your confessions and repentances. For your reward is waiting for you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Christian Backup System

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the first banana, people have been slipping and falling from banana peels. There is no one who is perfect. There is no one who should stand in the  judgement of righteousness. But this does not mean that we can't know whether or not we are walking closely with our God. It doesn't mean that we can do whatever we want because perfection is impossible.

There were two competing philosophies when the space program was started. The scientist wanted to give zero tolerance for error in the on board systems so that redundant backup systems weren't necessary. That way more experimental scientific equipment could be loaded on each flight. The astronauts wanted backup systems which meant that there would be less experimental equipment for each flight. Of course, we know that the astronauts prevailed. They knew that perfection wasn't always possible and there would be no hope for them if a system failed.

The point is that they went to space even though they knew continual perfection was impossible. Their backup systems would always be there when the main system failed. They did not expect to use the backup systems. They were the insurance which pushed them into the unknown.

The Christian backup system is God's forgiveness. We walk with Him but we have a tendency to fail. That failure can be catastrophic if we do not rely on this backup system. We should never begin our journey with the expectation of using the backup system. We simply need to use it when necessary.

A friend of mine parachuted out of planes as much as he could. He loved the thrill that it gave him. He always carried a reserve (backup) chute. He told me of watching a buddy fumble with his tangled chute all the way to the ground rather than use the reserve chute. He told me that the guy was so tight with his money that he didn't want to pay the repacking fee for using that chute. Of course, my friend's reasoning is merely speculation because we can never ask the man who hit the ground.

I see lots of people who continue to lie in their failures (sins) without asking for God's forgiveness. They work harder at making their failures work. They party more often, drink more excessively, sleep around more aggressively and try to keep their minds off of what they are doing in relationship to God. Inside they waste away because they will not come home to Him.

The would realize their emptiness if they would just stop for a minute. They would notice that the ground is coming up on them faster and faster as they try to fix their failed chute. They would employ the backup system if they would just realize that their spaceship is missing the trajectory back to earth. They would ask God to hold their hands as they navigated through the banana peels.

I know this because I have slipped on banana peels. I have tried to make a failed system work. I have fumbled with a failed chute as the ground came up on me fast. And the truth is that I don't really know why I didn't repent, confess and come back to God sooner.

I can't be your judge. I can't tell you if you are walking close to God or not. I can't tell if you haven't used your backup system and come back into His will.

Only you and God know.

Psalm 32:1-11 (ESV) 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah 8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Never, No, Never Alone

One of the lies of the devil is that you are alone. He wants you to believe that there is no one who cares nor will come to your aid. He wants you to despair over your problems and/or the challenges you have. He wants you to be defeated. So, he tempts you into believing that you are alone.

It is no wonder that Jesus called the devil the father of lies. It is in the devil's nature to deny the truth.

God's word says:

1 John 5:14-15 (ESV) 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

This is not a promise of receiving everything we have ever wanted. It is an assurance in God that everything asked according to His will be granted. It is an assurance that He is with us in everything we do according to His will. It is confidence that we do not need to face the challenges we have before us.

Each event in our lives comes with God's permission. He may not be the author of the event but He is certainly the gatekeeper. Thus, we should be asking what God is doing when He allows these things to come in. Remember, this is a fallen world and He does not force sinlessness upon it. Many of the calamidies which we face come because of the fallen nature of this world. God, on the other hand, continues to allow these things to happen. He also brings about His good for those who love Him through these things.

Thus, we can pray to Him according to His will when these things stand as unpassable mountains before us. We can ask for the mountains to be removed. He moves these mountains.

But if we think we are all alone and that God does not know nor care we will never ask nor believe He will answer us. We have to know He is with us always. Jesus made that promise to those who were doing His will.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the promise that we have from Him and we know that He never breaks His promises.

The only question we need to ask is whether or not we are doing His will. If so, we will never be separated from Him. We will always be able to go to Him with our requests and when we ask for those things which keep us in His will, we will always receive a positive answer.

John called this "confidence." You see, we need that confidence when we face the challenges which have been allowed to come into our lives. We are never alone. We are never left powerless against the problems. We always have prayer because we always have Him.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Always Changed When I Meet with God

Jeremiah 7:8-11 (ESV) 8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

Many in the Church are blurring the distinction between those who know the Lord and those who simply want to say they know the Lord. Many want to get people to become a part of the Church without changing their lifestyles. Thus, the Church continues to change the standard of righteousness for those who enter.

This only works if God is a figment of our imaginations. We can do whatever we please if He is our own invention which we can change whenever we like. However, we are in deep trouble if God is the God of the Bible. He is All Powerful, Holy, All Knowing and Always Present. Righteousness is not ours to change.

Some believe that the Bible's interpretation is the problem. They re-interpret passages to fit within the practices of people. They emphasize a loving God so strongly that He has no standard of righteousness. They interpret the Bible in the light of this emphasis on love so that any passage which clearly indicates a wrong behavior is reinterpreted to fit within the lifestyle of the people. Naturally, the reinterpreted Bible is used to justify everything which is done.

This makes some want to reinterpret God Himself. He looks the other way because He loves people so much. He is much like a grandparent who is so glad to see the grandchild that he makes excuses for the failures of the child. This grandparent's love will transcend the transgressions so well that no change in lifestyle is needed.

You can do none of these things if you know Him as He really is. He is the God of the Bible. The Bible was given to us through the Holy Spirit. It is interpreted by the Holy Spirit. Thus, God gave the Word and reads it to us to tell us who He is, what He will do and His standards of walking in His light. Those who live outside of God's standard of righteousness are indeed loved but that does not change His standard of righteousness. They simply cannot come into church, sing songs of deliverance and believe that they have worshiped the Holy God.

Any real encounter with God requires an adjustment on our part. We will hear, see and know what we must do. We will be convicted or instructed or encouraged or rebuked by this encounter. We simply can't always do what we have been doing if we are walking with a God who truly loves us. He wouldn't leave us in the condition we are in. We are being changed into the likeness of His Son.

Thus, a measure of having an encounter with God is being changed. That's really always good news.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Suppressing the Truth of God

I struggle with people who try to explain everything in spiritual terms. They see a yellow cab and think God is telling them they should eat bananas. Thus, they have interpreted something as spiritual which may have no meaning at all.

On the other hand I also struggle with those who refuse to see the things of God. A member of my church has a sister who had been deemed brain dead for four days. The family was brought in to see her for the last time before the machines which were keeping her alive were turned off. The woman woke up a few hours later instead and told the hospital staff that she was hungry. The woman is alive today.

A few months later I told the story of the "Lazarus" woman to a neurologist giving a lecture on brain death. His response was that the hospital staff had not done a good enough job in determining the lack of brain activity. He could not understand anything as spiritual happening He, therefore, suppressed the "truth" of the situation. He would rather believe in the incompetence of his fellow doctors and the faultiness of the machine which measured the woman's brain waves than to say that there are things that cannot be explained without some spiritual influence. He will suppress the truth of the moment to fit within his own world view.

Paul wrote:

Romans 1:18 (ESV) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

I guess I have never thought that unrighteousness is at the core of a failure to accept the truth. I have thought of people as blank tablets on which nothing has been written spiritually. But that is not true. They know that there are things which cannot be explained within their own world view but choose to put it aside rather than consider it. They see those who believe in God as superstitiously ignorant. They continue to reject the "truth" of the gospel by demonizing the believers into being narrow minded bigots who lack compassion and cause most of the world's problems. They cannot consider the truth of the gospel because it might destroy their present world view.

Yet, God's wrath is being revealed to them all the time but they do not know it. The wrath of God is depicted as earthquakes, fire from heaven, floods and all manners of mass destruction. That is not how Paul describes it.

Romans 1:24 (ESV) 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

Romans 1:26 (ESV) 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;

Romans 1:28-32 (ESV) 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

It is clear that God's wrath on this earth is revealed from His disconnection with those who suppress the truth. He simply lets them go their own way. He does not hold them back from unrighteousness. He lets them do whatever they please. This wrath includes their own applause of those who join them in the practices of a debased mind. Their world will come unraveled and they will bring themselves to their own destruction. God simply has to leave them alone.

It result takes a physical resemblance. The faster a person falls the longer he falls. In other words the person falling seventy-five feet is going faster than the person who has only fallen thirty feet. So, the longer the fall; the faster the fall. Can you see that in our world today? Does it seem that those things which were considered evil are appearing good more often? Can you see that those things which were aberrant are accepted and promoted today?

The grace of God is upon believers. This grace does not allow us to go our own way. It does not allow us to be given up to the sinful passions which reside within us. We are no better than those who have been given up in our potential. We are simply better because of the grace of God which holds onto us. God has not given us over.

Unfortunately, this blog will be considered a message of hate. It isn't.. The world is looking for a god who helps but never demands a righteousness that does not fit into the way the world is. "No Judgement Ever" is the world's motto. The world will promote that no matter how long it takes.

However, do you see more or less love when you travel out into the world which is being "given over" more each day?  Do you see people without hope killing others before turning their weapons on themselves? Is this more common than it was in the past? Do you really think you can explain this away by the presence of guns? Was there always this mental instability or is there a greater reason behind it all?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chosen for Greatness

Exodus 3:1-4 (ESV) 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

The world is replete with books of instruction on greatness. There are books which give the secrets of selling, negotiating, climbing the corporate ladder, obtaining a better job and so on. There are books which tell people how to reach their financial and power goals in life. The books promise greatness and deliver greatness to the authors who wrote them.

I suppose being rich and powerful is great if you only want it to exist for a short period. Even most of the presidents aren't remember by a majority of students. I don't believe that many Americans could identify Fillmore, Harding, Garfield, Hoover or Coolidge. They would not be able to say anything significant about their administrations. One of these didn't have much of an administration anyway. Do you know which one it is?

So, either people are looking for greatness that will last in their lifetimes or they are expecting greatness which will last for some time but will eventually fade until only the name is remembered. Few historians will remember what was done.

Christians aren't immune from wanting greatness. I believe that is why they flocked to the Purpose Driven Life. They were hoping they believed that God would them great if they simply knew what they were supposed to do. They thought they could cause greatness to come to themselves.

Yet, that isn't God's method in the Bible. I can't think of a story of someone whom God made great who asked God to make his name great. God chose them. They obeyed. Their obedience made them great. God chose them and knew they would obey Him. Their greatness did not come from their seeking it. Their greatness came from the obedience to a God who sought them.

But how many of us have responded to the things God has already called us to do? After all, why should God give us more when we haven't done what He has asked of us already? They should He expect us to act in faith if we don't have the faith that He will care for us?  Thus, we fail to tithe because we believe that we must keep what we have because we can't believe God will supply us with even more.

We fail to serve Him when we are asked to the do the mundane. We refuse to serve in the church nursery. We refuse to show up for the committee meeting we agreed to serve. We refuse to help clean the church landscape. We refuse to help in the church soup kitchen. Many times we refuse because there are better things to do. Thus, we aren't asked to the do the great. We haven't been faithful in the small things. We have been selfish.

But greatness is being found obedient to whatever God calls you to. It is in giving a cup of water and washing the feet of others. It is in quiet prayer and in working in the church kitchen. It is in living the Christian life so that others will emulate what you do.

The three most important words Moses ever said were, "Here I am." This is where the greatness began.

Sure, he was chosen but I am chosen too. And so are you.

What is your answer when the Lord calls you?

"Here I am."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Create in Me a Clean Heart

My neighbor's pipes have been leaking for some time. Anyone could see it. The water had started running out his front door but he kept acting like nothing was wrong. So, I screwed up my courage and went to tell him.

I rang the doorbell and my neighbor opened it. "Hey, Prentis, how are you doing?" He asked spritely. "Come on in. What can I do for you?"

He led me through the two inch deep water to his den and I sat on the couch.

"Joe, " I said with some trepidation, "I don't now how to say this easily so I'm just going to say it. Your pipes leak!"

At first Joe is shocked, then anger appears on his face. "Who are you to tell me that my pipes leak?! Do you think you're a plumber?! "

I try to butt in but he continues, "Your feet are wet too!"

Sure enough, my feet are wet. My pipes have been leaking. I look out the den window and notice that every neighbor has leaky pipes. The water runs down the street. Naturally some pipes are worse than others.

Joe asks me to leave. I go home to my house with leaky pipes. I realize that I need to get a plumber to fix my pipes. I call immediately and the plumber takes care of the leaky pipes right away. I know that this won't be the last pipe I'll ever need repaired. My pipes tend to leak a lot. I also know that I will never have a dry house ignoring the leaks either. I often have to call the plumber to fix them.

Funny thing is: Why am I so reluctant to call the plumber when I am so much happier when I am finally dry?

Go figure!

Psalm 51:10-13 (ESV) 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Will You Give God That Which Is His?

Luke 20:9-16 (ESV) 9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”

One of the news programs reported of a family which had moved into to a house that had been vacated by the owners because they had gone to another country for some time. The "squatters" began to claim the house as their own and refused to move when the owners returned. Amazingly, the authorities did not throw out these squatters but allowed them to continue to live there. If you can't see the injustice in this, you also cannot understand the above parable.

People think that anything that they have had for any measure of time is theirs. They believe it is owed to them. They believe that they are justified by their defense of this possession. Thus, they riot when they no longer receive entitlements from the government. They cry out about the injustice of not receiving more than they have before.

Therefore, people want to reject the ownership of God. They believe they can live on His earth any way they please. They understand that they can pay Him any tribute they think is fair. They believe they should receive His benefits without any of the responsibility. And if they go to church, they want a church which preaches an "entitlement" theology.

Society ridicules and castigates those who remind the people of God's standards for living. Their language is deemed "hate" speech. Those who speak up for God's standards of righteousness will someday be prosecuted for their convictions.

What is this hate speech? --Only those who give their hearts to Jesus will be saved.  It doesn't matter that it states that in the Bible. It doesn't matter that this has been the reason that freedom of religion was a significant reason for people to originally come to America.  Society will see this as hating Muslims, Hindus and any other religion that exists

Yet, this time society will not be given the opportunity to kill the Owner's Son. This time the Son will come with all power to claim those that are His own.

Of course, this parable addressed the Jews who had killed the prophets and eventually killed God's own Son. It told of the Gentiles being offered a place in the kingdom of heaven. Yet, I see it as applying to the world in which we live today.

The question for believers today is whether or not we will give God what is His. We are His. The earth is His. We are merely tenants.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Does Everyone Judge Everyone?

I just read a book which stereotypically depicts Christians as people who are condemning the world because it does not believe as Christians do. The Christian in the book asks if someone who had died was saved. The friends of the deceased throw the Christian out because she states that the deceased is condemned if not saved. The heroes of the story who throw out the Christian get angry with the "holier than thou" attitude of the Christian.

The writer of the story doesn't realize that the heroes were playing "holier than thou" as much as the Christian. You see, they were condemning the Christian for saying what she believed and threw the Christian out because of what they believed. They deemed their belief to be better than that of the Christian. They were thinking that their belief was holier than that of the Christian's.

This happens all the time. The people with the bumper stickers which say "COEXIST" think that anyone who makes an exclusive statement should be condemned. For example, I believe that we should love all people of all faiths and all lifestyles. I do not believe that everyone's value system or faith is just as true. In fact, I know that they are exclusive of each other. The ones with these bumper stickers are intolerant of me for saying that Muslims or Hindus need to come to know Christ. They have violated their own bumper stickers because they don't want to coexist with those who do not accept all beliefs. They think that their own "coexist-ism" trumps my belief. They are not actually coexisting like they think I should coexist.

 Evidently each person tries to find a way to justify the way he or she is living. Each person looks for a group of people who will confirm that belief. Therefore, the value system will not allow those who challenge a contrary belief to stand unchallenged. For example, I think that slavery is abhorrent. Let's say that  someone who espoused slavery as good moved next to me. I believe that it would be natural for me to condemn him. I would magnify every flaw I discovered in my natural self.

Now this is the key: As a believer I must be more than my natural self. I must not condemn others even when I don't believe as they believe. That does not mean that I don't know that they are condemned. It means that I am not the one to pronounce condemnation.

I do lots of funerals. Sometimes the local funeral homes call me to do funerals for people who have no church. Sometimes families give me no indication that the deceased have been saved. It is not my place to determine if the deceased are in heaven. I can't do anything for them anyway. So, I preach a gospel story for those who have come to the funeral. I tell how those who come to know Christ will never die. I never tell the families whether or not those who have passed away or in heaven or hell. I really don't know.

Jesus told us not to judge others. He did so just before He told us how we needed to get the log our of our own eyes before we got the speck out of the eyes of others. He wanted us to see our own sinfulness before we addressed the sinfulness of others. Those who have come to know Jesus should be the ones who know this better than anyone else. Those who know Him should never stand over those who sin with a triumphant smirk. How will we ever stand our own judgment if this has been our attitude toward others.

Christians should not be surprised that others do not act in this way. They want our conversions (just as we want theirs) or they want to stand over us triumphantly because they are right and we are wrong. Of course, they won't see it that way. They'll think that their system of belief is better than ours.

Doesn't that give them the right to judge us thus? (I hope you know the answer to this.)

Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV)
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Am I More Than What I See?

Do people know who they are? Do they realize that they are more than their names, social security or driver's license numbers? Are they caught in a stream of things that seem urgent but never lead them beyond the next weekend, the next Christmas or the next vacation? Are they trying to identify themselves by the way they keep their yards, their houses, their cars or their workplaces? Should we be identified by what we are doing or what we were created to be?

Many people I speak to tell me that they have felt that they were created for something great. They don't know what it is nor do they really search for it. Their actions prove that they believe it will fall into their laps without any impetus on their part.

Thus, they continue to do the same things year after year and eventually retire from their jobs. At this point they work on doing nothing. They will die soon if nothing is worked at hard enough. The penultimate nothing on this earth is death.

I believe that greatness is at the heart and soul of every person. There is a plan that God has for that person. It is more than the person can imagine. Yet, people continue to go with the flow of this world. They are told that they are much less than what God sees. They act in mundane ways in comparison to the greatness God has planned for them. They may make lots of money, drive a fancy car, live in a big house and donate a zillion dollars to a hospital but never reach what God had planned for them.

Greatness will always elude those who do not know God's calling and plans. They may act in ways that seek fame, fortune and power or they may hide in the crowd but they do not seek what God has planned. It is so much easier to act so that people will admire you. It is so much easier to hide the fact that you don't know why you have been put on this earth.

Once we discover God's plan we will have greatness redefined. It will not be how rich, famous or powerful the person is. It will be what they are building in the Kingdom of God. It will be those things that will last for an eternity rather than those things which will last for a long time. It will be Who remembers what they have done, not how many remembered.

Many people ask how we could ever do greater things than Jesus. He walked on water fed 5000, raised the dead and came back to life Himself. Aren't those things beyond our own abilities? Not really. Here we must have a faith that goes beyond the world we live in. We will do what He did and more.

But also consider this: maybe these things aren't the greatness themselves. Maybe what made them great is the effect they had on others. Maybe our own greatness will impact the Kingdom of Heaven rather than circumstances on earth.

Yet, I see people settling for what this world will offer them. They think they are less than what they are because they are less than who they really are.

Are you more than what you see?

John 14:11-12 (ESV) 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Confessions of Someone Who Doesn't Want to Be a Fool

Proverbs 18:2 (ESV) 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

I am a talker. I often don't let others finish their sentences. This must make me a poor listener as well. I am so eager to tell others that I am right or that I know or that I have already thought of that, that I don't let others get a word in edgewise.

The question is: Does this make me a fool?

I believe I have acted like a fool. I believe I could be a fool if I continue but accepting this Proverb with understanding disqualifies me from remaining on that path.

But I also believe that a fool is someone who could change what he is but continues doing what he has always been doing. Then, the fool takes the consequences of his actions and either blames them on the actions of others or explains them away. The fool says that he did the right thing but unforseen circumstances thwarted his actions. The fool says that he is the only one doing what is right. The fool will not relent when it comes to an understanding which is not his own. He insists that he is right and no one can teach him otherwise.

 I must not simply seek after understanding. I must take pleasure in it. This is more than making myself aware that understanding exists. It means I must grasp it as something extremely valuable and rejoice because it has been given to me.

Understanding is more than knowing the facts. It is putting it altogether. It is the ability to apply what has been learned.

Don't you think it is strange that I am put out with someone that won't listen to me? Why is it that I criticize those who have my characteristics? Maybe it really does take one to know one!

So, I must be careful in rushing to show others what I know. I must listen to others first. I must consider their understanding. I may still reject it. It may not be biblical, godly, ethical, moral or legal. There are good reasons to reject some understainding but wanting things to be as I understand them alone is not a sufficient reason.

I have learned that those who lead conferences often think their way is the way that all people should act. They often chastise the attendees for not doing what they have done. Yet, they often do not grasp any understanding that is not their own. I, on the other hand, knowing this, often reject everything that has been said. Which of us is acting foolishly?

So, I open my ears to those who speak. I promise to listen and seek to understand what they are saying. Instead of saying what I know, I ask questions to see if I understand what others are saying.  I discern whether or not it is something I should understand through prayer and checking it against the word of God. I apply what is revealed as understanding.

Yes, I give my own understanding too but that is not done without regarding the understanding of others.

I just say a bumper sticker that said "coexist." Yesterday I saw one that said "tolerance." Various religious symbols made up the letters of each of these words. However, I don't think that the people who have put these stickers on their cars will actually practice what they are preaching. You see, they have been a little too eager to express their own opinion.

Yes, I know I tell others of the love of Jesus and how they should give their hearts to Him. I know that I tell others that the Bible is the word of God and it should be read, memorized, meditated on, prayed and applied in our daily living. I don't have much wiggle room on either of these. But should I try to overwhelm people with what I know and believe? Does my understanding of Jesus and the word of God demand that I listen?

Maybe the whole difference is in listening.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Will You Do Today, Lord?

Psalm 5:3 (NASB)
3 In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; 

In the morning I will order my prayer to You 

and eagerly watch.

I often enter the presence of God with a list. Prayer should be a conversation. It should be filled with expectation. It isn't a shopping list. Yet, I pray asking God for things I would like to see or those requests given to me from others. Most of the time I pray without any clue whether or not God will grant my requests.

I don't believe in formulas. God answers prayers out of His divine will. I don't have to know why He answers one and not the other. He is the sovereign God. Who am I to judge what He does? I can't say my prayers in a way which forces His to act as I have desired. I can't shame Him into answering them in a way I deem righteous.

So, I pray with expectation. I watch. If God chooses to seemingly ignore my prayers, then praise be to God. If He choses to answer in a different way, then praise be to God.

However, there are some times when I know what He will do. He reveals it to me. I wait for Him to do as He says. I have watched. He has spoken. I believe. Thus, there are times when the watching is much more than looking to see what God will do. Sometimes watching is seeing God do.

How important is it for me to pray and watch? I don't understand those who never watch. They simply say words with no expectation that anyone hears them. They believe more in circumstances that in divine providence. I watch because I have an expectation that God will answer. I watch because I have made a request and do not know what the answer will be. I watch because He always does what is righteous and best.

So, on this morning I pray and eagerly watch. What will you do today, Lord? I know it will be great.

Friday, March 8, 2013

First Love Lost

Every church I have had the privilege of being associated with has stories of her beginnings. The people either tell the tales as they were told them if the original member no longer exist or they tell of their own stories. These stories begin with a gourp of people who wanted a Christian witness in the area where the buildings stand. A group of people rose up to begin the church. They sacrificed to see the church begin and many of them worked to see the church grow. They witnessed and gave until the church was a strong growing congregation. They rode the excitement of the new church as new people moving into the area joined the church. They looked at all they had accomplished and saw how good that it really was.

However, many of these church only tell these stories. They have no current stories to tell. They are no longer witnessing and refuse to sacrifice. The older members say that their time for service and sacrifice is over and it now belongs to the younger people. The younger people are mobile. They don't settle into a church like former generations did. They may attend more than one church in any given month. They younger people often think of church as a leisure activity which is weighed against all other leisure activities. So, they go where they can get the best deal.

Thus, many of these once vibrant churches are in decline. They do not know they are dying because their attendance receded a few people each year. No one ever figures out that losing one person a month results in sixty less in attendance in five years. Of course, many of those who are leaving the church are doing so in coffins. The members grieve but don't know what they could do to stop the bleeding.

The answer is simple but the solution is hard. They must return to their first love. They must come back to the wholehearted commitment they had when the church was started. They must not hold back anything. The answer is in knowing what to do. The solution is in doing it.

I often talk with couples who are having marital problems. They also are having problems because they have stopped doing what they did when they dated and first got married. Their solution is to start doing what they used to do.

And if the churches don't do what they first did? The Lord takes away their golden lampstand. The church will close her doors because she was unwilling to return to her first love.

Who has ears to hear this?

 Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
   2  “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Do We Ever Look Them in the Eyes?

We have somehow created a culture which gives value to the person who is the busiest. Therefore, we try to fill in any blank times in our lives. We talk on our cell phones as we drive. We read our emails at our desks as we speak to others. We take our children to before school day care while we drink coffee and eat a breakfast sandwich. When we get off work we pick up these children from daycare, drive through a fastfood restaurant and expect them to eat as they change into their soccer uniforms. We text others as we watch our children practice. Afterwards, we load them up, tell them to clean up, get their homework done, watch some tv and fall asleep on the couch. At 2:00 AM we stumble up to bed and start all over the next morning at 6:00 AM.

So, I get it. We think we aren't valuable if we aren't busy. Or is this it? Could it be that we just don't know what we should be doing if we didn't fill our time. Is all of our busyness keeping us from seeing that our lives are wandering? Could it be that we don't want to see that others are wandering and feel some responsibility to them?

I can't answer either question for you. I don't know what is going on in your life. I do know that many of the people in my church are super busy. I do know that many of the people who call themselves Christians have lost any sense of responsibility for telling others about Christ. I do know that people ignore the lack of compassion they have for others.

The Bible says that believers should become like Jesus.

Romans 8:29 (ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The Bible says that when Jesus saw the crowds He had compassion on them.

Matthew 9:36 (ESV) 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Doesn't that mean that we should see the crowds and have compassion on them? Doesn't that mean that we should see them as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd? But how can we ever see them when we have kept ourselves in the same wandering mode as they have? How can we see them if we do not have a quiet time which stops all of our busyness so that we can focus on our life in Christ each day? How will we ever have compassion for others while being so focused on ourselves?

But since you are reading this blog, I have a challenge for you. You are, at least, reading a blog which speaks of Christ and, who knows, you may be affected by what the Holy Spirit may be saying through me here. So, my challenge is this: Take a break from the busyness and look people in the eyes. Can you see what they really need? Are they wandering in their lives?

The first step toward compassion is seeing them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Are You Afraid?

Isn't that an interesting question? The disciples are in a boat that is about to sink. They have done all they can to get the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Storms can come up suddenly on this sea and even though it isn't very far across, people can easily drown trying to make it to the shore. The boat is taking water. It will sink momentarily. They wake Jesus and ask Him to save them. Haven't they done what they were supposed to do?

But Jesus rebukes them. He asks them why they are afraid. Of course, this question does not make any sense unless you know who Jesus is.

Maybe you are afraid. It could be that you have been told that your illness is terminal. It maybe that you are afraid that you won't be able to support yourself in retirement. It may be that you are about to go through a divorce and you are afraid for your future. It may be that your children are far away from the Lord and you fear for the consequences their lifestyles will bring. It doesn't matter why you are afraid. You must bring your mind and spirit to realize the reality of who the Lord is.

The disciples forgot this. Thus, they were afraid.

What did they forget?

They forgot who was with them. Sure, they should have rowed and done everything they could to get to the shore but when the time came, they simply should have asked Him to save them without fear. He was right there in the boat with them.

Don't miss this point. Jesus is right there in the boat with you too.  You do not need to be afraid.

The disciples forgot that He loved them. There is nothing that He wouldn't do for them. It didn't matter that they were afraid for He would save them. He would do what the needed. The didn't need to be afraid to get Him to act on their behalf.

Jesus loves you just as much as He loved those disciples. He will withhold no good thing from you. You do not need to be afraid.

The disciples forgot who He really is. They had seen Him heal but they were amazed that the wind and the sea obeyed Him. They did not realize His power. They did not realize His ability to change that which everyone else would call reality. Sure, things were bad but never so bad that Jesus couldn't change them. He stopped the waves and the wind with His words.

Jesus still commands the elements of the world. He can stop the cancer and heal the divorce scars. He can bring home your children and provide for you financially. He can intervene wnywhere it is necessary for you and change the things which have been said to be unchangable. You do not need to be afraid.

Can it be that Jesus will let you go through some hard times? For sure. Believers have been allowed to go through hard times. But they have never had to go through them alone, without His love and without His power holding things just so that something good happens from the evil believers have had to endure.

Could it be that He will let you die from your illness? Well, sometimes it appears like believers have died but I know that they are more alive than ever when He has come to take them home with Him. They are completely healed in an instant. But, still, you do not need to be afraid for He will come for you and take you with Him. It is the safest trip you will ever take.

So, I encourage you to pray. Realize that He is with you, He loves you and He has the power to change anything.

May the presence of Jesus so overwhelm you that there is no room for fear.

Matthew 8:26-27 (ESV) 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Removing the Log from My Eye

It is so easy to see the sins of others. It seems very natural.

Thus, it is also easy to talk of these sins. We can gather a group of people and speak of the flaws of others for hours. And we don't have to limit our criticism to individuals. We can categorize whole groups. We speak of the rich, the poor, the congress, the government, the immigrants and just about any other group who is not us in an utmost critical manner. Yes, we see their sins clearly. We don't think they see their own.

And why don't we believe they see their own sins? Could it be that because we don't see our own sins that we believe than no one sees his own sins? Or do we believe that they would do something about their sins if they knew they had them? Therefore, they must not know their sins because they aren't doing anything.

But the focus of our lives is not intended to point out the sins of others even though doing so can launch a whole television network. It is so easy to point out the flaws of others. And many people yearn for someone to point those we can't see out to us. We may call it being informed but it cannot be the focus of our lives. We must look to ourselves before we ever look at the sins of anyone else.

Jesus said that people who point out the sins of others must first get the big things out of their own eyes before they can get the little things out of others' eyes. We can't seem to see that looking for the sins of others are logs in our eyes. We should be surprised by the sinfulness of others rather than looking for it.

All of us are sinners. Each and every one of us has sinned and fallen short of God's glory. This neither means that we should always point out the sins of others nor that we should never expect to point out the sins of others. The key ingredient is seeing your own sins before pointing out the sins of others.

And it can't stop with pointing them out. The effort is to have their sin removed. Here we want a change in their lives because it is good for them. We aren't looking for them to pay a pound of flesh or their personal gratitude. We want what is best for them.

Thus, speaking of the sins of others without any plan for the removal of these sins are logs in our own eyes. You can never get taller by standing on the backs of those who have fallen yet that seems to be the system of many who feel good about themselves when they point out the sins of others.

I couldn't help overhearing a loud man speaking negatively about the President while I sat in a restaurant the other night. He spoke of the President's trip to our area. We are not too far from DC but the President traveled in Air Force One. He spoke of the expense of bringing that big plane down here rather than traveling by car or helicopter. He did not know where the President may be headed afterwards. He did not understand the need for security. He just criticized. I suspected he didn't vote for the President either.

The problem I have is that I am just as likely to do what this man did. I find myself criticizing before I have enough facts to make a judgment. I want to criticize those who are not like me. If they were right, I reason, they would be like me, right? In fact, I put together a whole scenario of what is happening without many facts at all. I can make anyone into the antichrist within my own judgmental imagination.

I have a log (or maybe logs) in my eye. I must get it out. I suspect my whole view of the world will change when I do.

Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV) 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Prepare Your Heart for Worship

Job 11:13 (ESV)
13 “If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him.

Some people come to church totally unprepared to worship. They have gotten out of bed within twenty minutes of their arrival. This is not only true of those who are attenders only. Those who teach Sunday School, preach, lead worship, greet, usher and lead in prayer during worship are often just as guilty. It is no wonder that worship rarely occurs for most people.

Preparing the heart does not mean making sure that the heart is perfectly pure. It means to direct the heart. It is set on a path like a toy car is pushed by a child. It will go where it has been pushed. The heart needs to be set on the right direction and given the impetus to get there. This means that the heart is set on the path toward God.

However, most people wait to see what happens. They come without an expectation or having set their hearts. Thus, they are waiting for someone or something to thrill them. They want to hear a certain person sing their favorite song, they want to hear a good joke from the pastor, they want to sing the song that has moved them in the past. Their hope is that they will be emotionally moved but never changed.

Change does not require a prepared heart but a prepared heart ensures change. Often people did not see God coming but experienced Him anyway. One of the more famous of these encounters was Moses and the burning bush. But I don't think that believers should attend worship and expect God to perform. I believe we, as believers, should prepare to worship with the expectation that God will meet us in that worship. We are the performers in worship. 

God sees right through our unprepared hearts. He knows what we are thinking and how we are concentrating on what we are doing rather on Him. He knows we are looking for the approval of others rather than Him. He knows that we have not set our hearts toward Him. This doesn't guarantee that we will never see Him. It makes it a matter of chance, at worst and requires God to bring us to worship, at best.

So, I believe that we should arise early before worship on Sundays. We should spend whatever time it takes to set our hearts toward Him. Then, when we should worship wholeheartedly and wait in wonder with expectation in what He will do.

Can you imagine what worship would be like in a congregation with their hearts set toward God before arrival? We will simply keep on imagining without realizing if we don't set our own hearts for worship.

This next Sunday is time change Sunday. You will lose an hour of sleep. Go to bed early Saturday night and so you can arise to set your heart toward Him. Prepare your hearts and you will reach out to Him. He will meet you and your worship will fill you.

Friday, March 1, 2013

When the Church Disciplines

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (ESV) 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Most churches avoid disciplining their members. Any decision to discipline a member should be done with regret. It is needed when a member or members refuse to stop doing an action which hinders the mission of the church. The church's position in discipline is to withdraw fellowship until a commitment to repent and stop the hurtful action is made. The damage to the church may be of reputation, testimony of a Christian or an actual practice which draws on the resources of the church so that she can no longer function normally.

The goal of such discipline is to bring the recalitrant member back into the fellowship of the church. He has already left this fellowship when by acting in a way contrary to the mission of the church. The formal action of exclusion is made to punctuate what has happened by revealing it as an egregious action requiring an action by the church. Paul says that it should "shame" them. I have generally failed to see this whenever the church disciplined anyone.

The persons being disicplined generally react to the action of the church with a justification of what they have done. They appeal to the fact that they are human and that those within the church are no better than they. They generally remind people of the story of the woman caught in adultery and question how anyone at the church can throw a rock at them when there are no sinless people. They talk badly about the church and even gather a group of inmmature Christians who will agree with them on these points. They minimize what they have done. This is generally done by failiing to reveal all of their transgressions. They do not see the need to admit to everything. Then, when they have gathered support from others, they blame the church. The church is the great sinner by revealing and taking action on what they have done. They say, "I thought the church was supposed to be a place of forgivness." They fail to remember that it is also a place of confession and repentance. They separate themselves further from the church.

So, should the church stop disciplining the members so that it won't incur their wrath? Absolutely not! Remember, they have already withdrawn fellowship if they continue to do things against the mission of the church. The church loses nothing by administering discipline but seeks to gain their restored fellowship by taking action.

In fact, the word which has been translated "ashamed" has a deeper meaning. It means to "repent and reform." The purpose of this action is to bring them into the full fellowship of the church. This is done when the church takes the action it should in order to restore them. They are "admonished" as a brother (or sister) not as an enemy. Thus, they are treated with respect and love throughout the process. Yet, the church cannot simply accept any action by the members. She must hold to her standards.

This is not intended to the the "church police" which seeks out those who are breaking the church's laws and punishing each and every transgression. No, it is for those things which consistently work against the church's mission which will not be repented of when confronted by the body of the church. For example, it should not be used when an individual tells one lie but lives an otherwise truthful life but should be used when the person continually tells lies and will not stop when confronted. (I am using a somewhat ridiculous example to make this point. Please don't write me about pathological liars and the such.) The damage done to the reputation of the church and the lack of fellowship with the Lord and the church is the reason for the confrontation.

Will church discipline always work in bringing wayward members back into the flock? You already know that answer. Many times it does not but it does set a standard for the whole church. It is the only truly loving thing the church can do when someone is breaking the faith. It is and always should be painful for the church to act in discipline.

There is nothing I hate more than confronting someone about his sin. I always precede this confrontation with a confession of my own sins. I always ask God for His grace as I deal with them. I must know that I am not the one in the wrong before I speak to them. Sometimes I ask someone whom I consider godly to check my own motivation and action before I go. I know that what I am doing will have to be brought before the church if left unchecked. I pray that I will not need to do so. Most of the time I don't.

Unfortunately, the church must administer discipline.