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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Living Will of God

Some people think they have missed the will of God. They see their failures as preventing them from ever reaching the perfect will of God again. Thus, they never believe they can have the will of God with a spouse because they are divorced. They can't see themselves as doing what God wants them to do because they are in deep financial debt. They think the will of God is like a bus that has been missed. They can only see themselves standing where they are right now without a way to go forward.

Fortunately, they are wrong. Let's suppose that you did indeed marry the wrong person. You tried to make it work but there was nothing you could do to remain married. So, you got divorced. Now, if we accept the idea that there is only one will of God, etched in stone, written in a book, tattooed on your arm, then, you will have to take something other than the will of God for the rest of your life. That's just not the God of the Bible.

Moses would have remained outside of God's will as a murderer if God only used people who were constantly in His will. Samson would never have avenged his people at the end of his life. Paul would  have remained someone who persecuted Christians.

Let's face it: God uses broken people to accomplish His will.

I understand God's will in this way: God's will never changes in principle. He never says that doing wrong is right. He uses wrong to bring about right but He does not author the wrong. Knowing everything at all times makes the will of God fluid in our perspective. He already knows every thought and action we will do in our lives. He brings His will into our lives with that knowledge. He, therefore, takes those things which we have done wrong and right to invite us into His will.

In other words, God's will is always about where we are right now. Yes, there are consequences for our past but we are never beyond His will. We can walk with Him in His will at this minute if we choose.

I read recently that a lady said she didn't marry her soul mate. I thought it was very two dimensional of her as I read the article. She said that she had made several decisions along the way to date and marry her husband. She took responsibility for marrying him but thought of her decision as hers alone. I wondered what she thinks a soul mate is. Maybe all those Disney movies made her think that she had no choice and had to marry the prince.

God does not wrench our personalities away from us to bring about His will. He does not ignore who we are. He may call someone with a handicap to do what handicapped people supposedly can't do but instead of simply allowing them to overcome their weakness, He uses that weakness to do His will. Failure is the nutrient to grow a people into God's will when people put themselves in His will.

People think that doing wrong at some juncture of their lives means that they have to take something less than God's will. Then, by the Scripture (Romans 3:23) no one is ever in the perfect will of God. We have all missed being perfect.

Thus, God takes what stands before Him and can give that person his or her soul mate. It doesn't matter how many times each of them have been divorced. It doesn't matter what their pasts may have been. His will is living and dynamic. It does not change because He knew the past of each individual. He knew those failures before they ever happened. He takes them as they are and offers His will.

I have no idea how many times I have missed the will of God. I can name a few. But I also know that God did not forget me for a minute. He did not put me on the back shelf for something less than what He had planned for me. He took me each day that I was willing to follow Him and gave me His will.

Paul wrote that our minds must be renewed. From this we test and prove the will of God. That doesn't happen in one decision. It happens all the time. Our minds are either renewed into seeing the world and all that is in it through God's eyes or conformed to seeing the world as the world seeks to be seen.

Throughout the day we walk in His will. The destination doesn't disappear because we have walked off the path. God simply gives us a new path. That path always existed but we just didn't know it was there. We may regret leaving the original path but that doesn't change God's desire for us to walk in His will.

Today is the day you have to follow the will of God. This decision may need to be made several times today. God will still bring you home if you don't. His will is always in front of you.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Many Shades of Belief

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.

I gave me life to Christ over forty-one years ago. I don't know if I knew what I was doing then but whatever it was didn't stop there. It was like a seed that was planted that grew. It consumed me from the moment I believed. Yes,  I wandered away and back again. I have had ups and downs but I could never deny to whom I belonged. I could never truly walk away.

I have wondered about those who are so casual with their faith in Jesus. They do not seem to be bothered by adultery, lying, hatred or any of the things we would call major sins. They seem to be able to say that they believe in Jesus and do these things anyway. I can't understand this as faith in Jesus. I perceived it as non-binding agreement. They appear to visit their faith but never really live there.

My former understanding of salvation was shaped by my observations of people who claimed to know Jesus but never really made lasting sacrifices to Him. I reasoned that they were not under the law and had no obligation to follow any standard of conduct in order to maintain their salvation. I told myself that salvation is free and they could never earn it anyway.

Meanwhile, I struggled with scripture that said we must forgive one another if we truly know Him. I didn't really understand what Jesus was saying when He said that we must hate our mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, wife and children and even our own lives if we are to follow Him. I explained it in the most superficial ways. I said it was a matter of comparison.

I also found myself without explanation to Paul's statement of being crucified with Christ. How could he ever say that? How could I identify with that? I couldn't see myself as crucified with Christ.

So, I am coming to a new understanding of salvation. It does not violate the theology I have learned in the past but it does enhance that theology. Salvation is an identification with Christ that is so deep that we become one with Him. It is like a marriage in that He is no longer external to us but truly resides within us. His presence is so deep that all other things are external to us. Our own lives become secondary because He is who we are. We  do not lose our personalities are our own identities but He becomes as much a part of our identity that we do not act apart from Him. To do so is a violation of who we are. It is immediately apparent when we do so and we must make it right or we will have conflict at  the depth of our very souls. Our faith is always deepening to reveal Him to us. Our lives are always changing to reveal Him.

Each day we know Him better. It is our life. So much so that I can identify with Him on the cross. I can say that I have been crucified with Him. I can say that I hate all that is outside of my life. I can forgive because His forgiveness is always with me.

I do not know if those who visit Jesus but do not eternalize Him are saved. I don't condemn them. I just don't know. I see that faith has many levels. I don't expect it to be a grade in which one must reach a certain level to be saved. I do expect that some of what people are calling faith isn't faith at all.

I am not trying to say that I have it and others don't. However, I do know that I have it. I was never good enough to have it. I never worked hard enough to have it. I have it by grace in which God gave me the faith to have it.

I can't imagine how someone can say they have salvation and not be radically changed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

You Can Do Everything Right and Still Get Crucified

I have read a lot of books on church growth. I believed that I could grow a huge church if I just did the right things.

I dreamed of having a church so huge that I needed a golf cart to get to the pulpit. The people would stand in line to hear me preach. The lucky ones would get in with the others being turned away. The altar would fill with repentant sinners who desperately wanted to get saved under my preaching. The saved would come forward so that I could autograph my latest book. The offerings would be so big that I would have to beg the people to give somewhere else but, of course, they wouldn't listen. Other churches would beg me to come preach so that their churches could get on track. I would humbly fit them into my schedule and see revivals break out wherever I preached. Even God would think Himself fortunate to have me working with Him. The angels would regularly visit me to give me strength so that I could preach more than five times every day.

None of that happened.

I work very hard. I pray. I have fasted for forty days three times. I study, visit the sick, call on potential church members, share the gospel regularly and see very little fruit for my labors. I have come to the conclusion that some people are much better at what I do than I am. I have come to the realization that I am living up to my potential but my potential is not as high as I thought it was.

Am I a failure? Yes. That has to be the answer. Falling short of your goal is the definition of failure. If my goal was to write a book and I never wrote it; I failed. If my goal was to grow a church and the churches I serve don't grow; I failed. I still baptize saved souls but I just don't do it like I hoped I would.

At first, I made excuses. I was always in the wrong church. I needed to find that church and community which would embrace my preaching and vision for growth. That was never the problem.

But this isn't the important part. I don't have to be a success in my own eyes or even in those who know me. I have to be a success to the Lord. He asks me for my whole heart. I work on being completely committed to Him. I don't always succeed here but I am much better at being committed to the Lord than I am in reaching my earlier goals in life.

Years ago I heard an evangelist lament over how little influence he had. Personally, I thought he was wonderful. He had a tremendous influence on me. I so loved his preaching that I asked to be able to preach like him someday. God told me that I would have to drink out of the same cup as he drank. I agreed that I would. Maybe that's what I am doing now.

Maybe there is someone I am influencing who is changed so radically that he or she will bring thousands to know the Lord. That's a nice thought.

My bellyaching didn't escape the notice of my Lord. He heard me complaining to myself about myself and said to me, "Do you think I was a failure?"

Now what kind of question is that? Of course, I can't say that Jesus was a failure.

"You can do everything right and still get crucified."

I suppose you can do everything right and still die in anonymity. I wonder how many thousands of preachers whose names I have never heard were absolutely faithful to their Lord. Their reward didn't come because they wrote books are had a huge preaching ministry. Their reward came when they entered heaven.

I think I have been a little short sighted. I was aiming at something that will pass and forgetting about something that will last. Faithfulness is all the Lord is looking for. The world just may crucify you for it.

Jeremiah 17:10 (ESV)
10  “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Role of the Imperfect Christian Leader

I have been struggling with something. I speak of peace to others but find that I lack it for myself too often. I feel like the biggest hypocrite. I am telling people how to have something that I don't always have.

You see, a crisis hits and I get anxious. I go back to the Lord after I have bellyached about it enough. Worry becomes the dominant emotion. I must believe that worry will solve the problem since that is my first line of defense. Later, I tell the Lord I can't do anything about the crisis and do my best to place it in His hands. This is when I discover how far away I have gotten from Him. I make a new commitment. I ask to be filled with the Spirit. I walk by the Spirit, pray in the Spirit and plead that the Spirit makes utterances for me that I can't make. Peace always comes but not until I have truly trusted in the Lord.

Why isn't that natural for me? Surely, I know the Lord and know everything that I need to do. Surely, I should never have a day when anxiety rules. Yet, I find myself just like those who enter my office with their worries. I have allowed the world to conform my mind and I am thinking like the world.

So, I am trying to tell people to have peace when I know there are all too frequent times when I lack peace. Fortunately, the Lord didn't even leave me to this worry. He lead me to the Scriptures again.

Philippians 3:12 (ESV)
12  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

The Apostle Paul admitted that he hadn't arrived at his final state. He admits that he hasn't reached perfection. In other words, he doesn't have it all yet. 

I was relieved. I don't have it all either. I don't preach because I have arrived. I preach because God is leading me. I press on to that upward calling. The tension will always be there. I will always have further to go. I don't have to have perfected something before I preach on it. I must listen to the Spirit and reveal to others what the Spirit says. 

A leader hasn't arrived at the destination. The leader is just in front of those who are going to that destination. The leader presses on to be in front.

I am imperfect in my own walk. I have not attained a completed status. I am pressing hard to get ahead of those whom I will disciple. That's my role. That is the role of every Christian leader.

You know, I have peace in that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Should We Expect a Utopian or Dystopian Future?

I just finished reading the last book of The Hunger Games. I have already read the Divergent novels. Both of these present a young girl who fights for a better future. Neither has a "happily ever after" ending.

I grew up on Star Trek. It presented an extremely flawed positive future. For example, the use of money was eliminated but greed was ever-present. Execution was abhorant but revenge was quite acceptible. Honestly, it made no sense. However, I liked the fact that honor was elevated even if it was a flawed honor. I liked that the universe was saved from whatever evil was present at the beginning of the show. I liked thinking all would be right with the world eventually.

Today, I think the recent dystopian novels present a better picture of the future than my rose-colored look from the past. I have to take into account what has happened recently.

During my life time I have seen morality get turned upside down. My role as a pastor has gone from a respected position in the commnunity to that of a slimey man who is merely trying to manipulate people for his own welfare or power. I am treated with disrespect even among my own church members at times. Some see me as a politcal figure that requires watching.

What was wrong has become right and what was right has become wrong. The family was held in high esteem. Yes, it was flawed because it contains humanity but it is now being torn apart because the family has no definition. People have children without thinking of their welfare. Men may finacially support their children but do not think of supporting them physically, emotionally or spirtually. They have abdicated their roles as respected leaders in their homes.

Few people seem to know what a family is for. They do not understand that God instituted the family for a man and woman to become agents of His presence. They do not understand that their major role is serving Him through their children and their work. They do not realize that their commitment in marriage is first to the Lord. It precedes their commitment to each other.

The Church hasn't fared much better. Too many churches have abandoned a scriptural foundation. There is more psychology and entertaining stories than scriptural reason for what is going on. The scripture is often like an after thought. It is read but largely forgotten.

Prayer has become something that is done at the last resort for people who are terminally ill. God has been deemed impotent in the affairs of every day life. There is a greater trust in a marriage counselor than prayer. Even politicians are counted on before one goes to the Lord in prayer. The average person believes that God has nothing to do with the economy and do not understand that He is using the economy to bring people to His purpose.

The Holy Spirit is rarely mentioned. He remains that mysterious Person with whom we don't know what to do with. We ask Him to be present only in a perfuntory way. We really don't expect Him to arrive. We may even secretly hope He doesn't. Things would get out of our control if the Holy Spirit arrived.

The average Christian fails to be desperate for God's presence. Going to church is merely an obligation. It should be avoided whenever a socially acceptible excuse can be made. Thus, the children's sleepover allows the whole family to stay home. Surely God wouldn't expect anyone to lose any sleep over Him. (Ask Jesus about the Garden to Gethsemane before you agree with that one.)

Christians are joining in with the rest of the world. They go to the same movies, drink until they are completely sotted and cheat just as grandly as their secular friends. They do not stand up for their faith because they have nothing to stand up for.

So, should I suspect that the future will be better than the past? Yes, but only because I am convicted that praying believers  can ask God for a new sweeping presence of the Holy Spirit. I ask all believers to fast and pray that God would send the Holy Spirit to bring us back to Him.

Otherwise, I already know what our future holds. I believe we are already experiencing it.

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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Important Is Eternity?

I don't believe the average Christian gets it. They will give to feed the poor but not give to save the lost. They will walk miles to raise money for breast cancer and not even bother to cross the street to tell their neighbors about Christ. They will pray ernestly for the ninety-eight year old to come through surgery but won't pray for the eight year old to trust in Christ.

Every thing I mentioned about was good. I have given to feed the poor, walked to raise money for breast cancer and prayed for the elderly (though not always that they would live longer). There is nothing wrong with those things but we must put them in perspective. Every person who is fed, every person who has had breast cancer and every person old or young will die someday. They will be ushered into eternity. They will all stand before God regardless if they had full stomachs, were healed of cancer or came through surger to live longer on this earth.

Everyone will know the importance of eternity as they stand before the Lord. Their sins will condemn them. Only Jesus stands between them and an eternity in hell.

Jesus called His disciples by offering them the ability to become "fishers of men." We don't know how much these disciples understood this when they accepted the call but we know what they understood later. Evidence reveals that they gave their lives to spreading the gospel story. The only one who wasn't martyred was John who was exiled. They unrelentingly kept sharing the gospel even though they were threatened, beaten, imprisoned and killed. They got it. They understood the importance of eternity.

The Apostle Paul was so concerned about the Jews that he offered his own life in exchange for their salvation. Why would he do so if he thought that hell was a termporary setback. He knew that each person exists into eternity He knew that hell is horrible. He knew that it wouldn't end.

We too must be desperate for people to come to Christ. Eternity is forever.

Romans 9:1-3 (ESV)
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Who Is a Christian Anyway?

Is it possible that Christians are actually rare? Are we calling a lot of people Christians because they just can't be called any other religion? Are people calling salvation a prayer that is said without any commitment? These thoughts shake my view of the church.

The level of commitment Jesus had for His followers was incredibly high. He told them that they had to forsake everything to follow Him. He told them that they must hate their own families if they were to be worthy of Him. He told them that they could not consider what the society counted as reasonable deterance from following Him. It looks like it was all or nothing. I know that is exactly how the rich, young ruler must have thought. Should I think the same thing?

I am not proposing a works oriented salvation. I don't believe that any measure of our works save us. We are saved when we identify with Christ. It is like a marriage. We unite with Him and stay united even if we are not always pleasing Him. However, a marriage requires a true commitment. Simply saying the words "I do," doesn't make a marriage.

I am not saying that we are perfect in our commitment every day. I know that my "old man" is still thriving. I cotinue to do things which are sinful. I may be called a saint but I continue to have serious saintly flaws. His grace continues to cover my sins.

I observe the average church member and I see little to no commitment to Christ. They come to worship whenever it is convenient. They give little or nothing financially. They agree to serve but typically find some reason not to. They will miss a time with their Lord for the sake of a golf time or a football game. How can someone be called a believer when their lives reveal no commitment to the belief? Would a Muslim accept another Muslim if he had such a weak commitment to his belief? What would he say to his Muslim brother who is eating pork, drinking, carousing and missing all the prayer times? Why is it that their commitment to their faith is so much more than ours? Don't we know the true Savior?

This morning I read:

Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What do you think Jesus was saying?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Sky Is NOT Falling

Exodus 16:2-3 (ESV)
2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

I heard the story of a man traveling with his small son through Amish country. The boy was fascinated as they carefully passed one horse and buggy carriage after another. Finally, he asked his dad why they refused to ride in cars.

"Well, son," The man replied, "They just don't believe in cars."

The boy was perplexed. He asked, "Can't they see them?"

Some people will never understand that God is for them. They will never understand God's provision. They will never understand God's love. They may go to church and read every Bible story which should reveal this to them but they fail to see God's provision in their lives. They may serve but do so as one would naturally serve a cause. Their volunteerism demands that they are recognized. Their faith is always natural and never supernatural. They claim to believe in a God in whom they can place their faith but do not believe He will do anything.

Strangely, they do not remember the times when God has worked. Maybe they think that all that has happened to them is random occurances. Maybe they believe in some sort of karma. They are just as worried and negative as those who have had no encounters with God. They believe the sky is falling and all is doomed every time something bad happens.

Let me tell you what I believe. I don't believe the sky is falling. I believe that the God who would lead people by miracles out of oppression is going to lead people miraculously to their promised land. I believe that God is greater than any problem and has the provision for anything that appears to be a deficit. I believe that the future is going to be much better than the past if I will simply lay myself on God's altar. I believe that any defeat is far from final and that its not over even in death.

Truthfully, I am tired of being around people who tell me that the sky is falling. They don't know that God holds up the sky. Who or what is able to overcome Him?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Going Along to Get Along until You Fall Headlong

Judges 3:1-6 (ESV)
1  Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2  It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. 3  These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4  They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. 5  So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6  And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.  

Have you ever thought that we should fear complacency more than we fear adversity?

God allowed pagan tribes to exist in Israel so that the Israelites would know war. He also allowed them to exist to test whether  Israel would truly follow Him. They forgot about war and got in bed with the pagans. They failed on both accounts.

People have a pattern of doing just that. Instead of confronting sin they acquiesce to sinners and adopt their practices. They go along to get along without realizing that it won't be long before they are falling headlong.

I have seen so many people who worshipped God fervently at one time in their lives adopt a pattern of casual faith. They fail to realize the damage they are doing when they go to certain movies, participate in certain activities and fill their social time with non-Christian friends. They do not realize that that which they abhorred when walking close to the Lord will soon be adopted when they are no longer opposed. They stop having a daily time with God, serving the Lord and being around spiritual people. They begin to criticize those who are walking with the Lord. They claim a superiority to their former Christian lives. Truly, they have evolved but not into something better.

Then, God, as He has always done, lets them go their own way. He lets them go as tar as they want to from Him. They forget Him and the joy they once had. They trade in the abundant life for one that gets along with the people they surround around themselves. Their lights are still burning but they burn ever so dimly.

God allows a crisis in their lives. At first, they fail to see any connection. It is just something that happens to people. The crisis persists until they look for a solution. They may ask themselves, "Do I return to church for an answer?" Truthfully, the answer is not in attending church. That's like thinking you will get well simply by being in a hospital. No, the answer is found in coming home to God. It is found in a new commitment. That commitment will mean that you will go to war against those things which have brought you down. It will mean that you can still be cordial to those people who have led you into an ungodly lifestyle, you can still love them with the love of Jesus, but you can no longer make them the people that you spend the most time around. Many people are afraid to make that break.

What about the man or woman who has married a non-believer? How do they do this? It is the most difficult life that anyone can imagine. They must fully serve the persons to whom they are married. They must be the Christian example of love. They must never miss even one day of having a daily time with God. They must plunge themselves into a local church as much as possible. They must pray for their spouses to come to know the Lord they know.

Yes, it is war to live the Christian life in a pagan society but the alternative to this war is becoming like that society. You go along to get along and fall headlong. It never fails.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Will the Lord Fight for You?

Exodus 14:14 (ESV)
14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The Egyptians are hot on the heals of the Israelis. They have recently escaped the hands of their Egyptian oppressors and are on their way to the Promised Land. Miracles were performed to allow them to leave. The Pharoah has told them to go. He has had not other choice. Ten plagues have come upon his people. The final plague was the losing of the first born of all the Egyptians. His own son is among the dead. He tells them to go but relents when he realizes that he will suffer an economic disaster without his Hebrew slaves. He decides to pursue the Israelis and bring them back.

The Red Sea stands in front of God's people. They can see the Egypian chariots coming from a distance. There is no hope in their eyes for they believe that the army has come to kill them. Thus, they cry out to Moses and blame him and God for their predicament. They couldn't see what Moses had already known.

God will not abandon them after bringing them to this place. He has a purpose in what He is doing. He will fight for them if they don't get in His way. It is hard to silent when all you can see is desruction. They did not realize that God had been fighting for them all along. The circumstances didn't initiate His love nor did they reveal that He had stopped.

The Lord is always fighting for us. Sometimes His fight involves getting us to the place He needs us to be so that He can bless us. Sometimes His fight is against those who want to bring us to despair. Nothing separates us from His love so nothing separates us from His mind and His power. There isn't a moment God is not thinking of us.

My initial question when reading this story was, "Didn't they remember the plagues which God sent for them to be set free?" But then I thought of all the times I have doubted God when a crisis came upon me. I forgot all the other times when He had clearly fought for me. Why did I believe He had stopped simply because my own prediction of the future was hopeless. God never has failed to give me hope before. Why am I hopeless now?

God has never stopped fighting for me or for you. He is fighting right now. You and I need to remember that.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Do Our Doubts Keep Us from God's Blessings?

Mark 11:23-24 (ESV)
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

James 1:6 (ESV)
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
I do not believe that God gives us everything we want. I do not believe that God gives us things simply because we are deluded into thinking that it will happen just because we say it will. I do not believe that God supplies on the basis of our own desires that our wishes be granted. I believe that God provides on the basis of His word. His word reveals who He is. Therefore, He provides on the basis of His character. So, what do our prayer have to do with it?

The definition of prayer for many must be changed. It is more than "talking to God." Prayer should reveal our hearts. Prayer should reveal our faith. Faith is based on the word of God. We believe because He has said it is so. Our prayers should simply repeat what God has said. Prayers will be in a general attitude, i.e.," God I know you are loving and care about my situation", and specific, "God, I need to pay my rent this week and I don't have it. Will you please help supply my need?" However, there are times we must have more than a general or specific request. We need a specific word from God which allows us to ask and state what God will do. We can do so because we have heard from Him specifically.

Elijah prays that it won't rain. He says he has done so at God's command. Jesus prays that Lazarus will be resurrected because He has already heard from His Father. There must be some times in which we have heard from God and we pray that which He has already told us. Doubt in what God has already said is denying that God is truthful and/or powerful enough to answer our prayers.

God refuses to answer the prayers of people who refuse to believe Him. God desires a people who will know Him. People cannot know Him until they have believed in Him. They cannot believe in Him by doubting Him.

Years ago I spoke to an evangelist who said, "You must believe it is so when it isn't so, so that it will be so because with God it is already so." I asked him to tell me how you know its so. He said, "First, you have to receive a word from God."

I asked, "How do I get a word from God?"

"That's the hard part," was his reply.

Most of us don't want to spend the time receiving a word from God. It may take intense prayer. It may take fasting. It may take losing sleep (remember the Garden of Gethsemene). Yet, somehow God has to speak, we have to hear and believe.

How far can we go in our prayers to God? They are limitless. We can ask Him to speak to us about anything. However, we are ridiculous in asking for something we already know God doesn't want us to have. For example: Please don't let me get caught after I rob the bank!

Listening for a word from God always exposes the possiblity He will refuse our request. He may say that He is simply not going to do so. Paul continued to have a thorn in the flesh. Jesus went to the cross. God's word spoke to them and they quit asking God for what He had revealed. Thus, the answer may not be to our liking but it will speak to our faith.

Often, we need a word from God to be the real anwer to our prayers. Are you willing to ask God to speak to you and continue asking until He does? If so, you must receive what He says by faith and you shall have what He has promised.

Faith in God's word is the key.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

God Is the Only Truly Just Person

I believe that most people long for justice. It is part of our creation. We were made in the image of God. God desires justice. He will bring it about some day. We want justice too. The problem is that we mix the desire for justice with the worldly definition of justice and get something that doesn't resemble justice at all.

Therefore, we don't know how to measure justice because we don't know what is right and wrong. We say that a man who hits his wife should never be allowed to work in his profession again and pardon the murderer. Justice is just when the punishment equals the crime. That is why the Bible told us an eye for an eye. It wasn't about gouging out eyes. It was about having the punishment limited to the level of the crime.

Many people think that this sort of justice is a requirement. A life for a life for example means that everyone who takes a life should pay for it with his own life.  A strict adherence to that rule means that God is not just. He did not require Cain's life after he killed Abel. He did not require David's life after he had Uriah killed. In other words, a life for a life definition of justice means that God is unjust since He didn't follow the definition of justice.

It appears that justice cannot be defined by the maximum penalty. Justice must take in more factors than the crime alone.Maybe we should be seeking the minimum penalty to bring about real justice.That's where mercy comes in.

Mercy is having the ability to do something painful but choosing not to do so. It is looking deeper into the individual and determining what really should be done to correct the flaw. It is believing that the guilty can be redeemed. Our justice system has abandoned this idea.

District Attorneys are charged to convict people who have committed crimes. Juries and judges determine who is guilty. The responsibility for punishment resides with judges.No judge has the time to do any measure of research to adequately decide who is redeemable and what it would take to redeem them. Thus, some get probation who should go to jail and some go to jail who should get probation. This is the inherent problem in our justice system. Humanity cannot really be just because we aren't capable.

However, that is not true with God. He knows exactly what we need. He knows exactly what it takes to redeem us. We fell short of His glory and were worthy of death. Jesus paid the price for our sins. We identify with Jesus in order to be "crucified with Christ." God knows us thoroughly. He knows what it takes for us to identify with Christ. He knows that some will never do so.

My system of justice thinks that an eternity in hell is much too harsh a penalty for sin. It would be if that was all there was to it. Hell is for those who refuse to come to God even though He is beckoning them. They have snubbed their noses at God. Jesus paid much too high a price for people to ignore Him.

I have had people ask me, "What about the people who have never heard about Jesus?" The answer is: I don't really know. I know that God is just. I know that I am charged to tell people about God's love, urge them to identify with Jesus and warn them of the consequences. Yet, I don't know about those who have never heard and could not have heard about Jesus. So, I say again, "God is just."

The real question, though, is what are you going to do since you know about Jesus? Remember, God is just. You know that you need to trust in Jesus and you refuse. Thus, you are without excuse. God's mercy has been upon you until now. You have been allowed to hear the gospel and believe in it if you choose. Making that commitment determines your redemption.

I know a man who told me he is just going to take his chances that God will not condemn him for refusing to identify with Jesus. That makes no sense to me. God is just. He never promised He would take every life that took a life. He did say that all who trust in Jesus have eternal life. This isn't taking a chance. This is committing eternal suicide. It is a more permanent decision than any other that we can make. We are judged by what we have done while in our bodies. No chance remains after we have ejected.

God is the only truly just person. He knows exactly what justice is.

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

When Is Faith the Hardest?

John 14:1 (ESV)
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

Often I visit people in hospitals who are facing medical procedures which could lead to their deaths. . Some of them are very anxious about death when they are forced to face it. Many of these people will openly tell me that they believe in God, the atonement given by Jesus and eternal life. Yet, their anxiety betrays them. They are afraid of dying. They know what to believe and want to believe it but their own flesh rears up and says there is nothing else. They aren't afraid of hell. They are afraid of nothingness.

This same scenario is painted similarly when there is any other crisis in life. The job has been lost and the savings are dwindling. The people facing this crisis want to believe that God is watching over them. They want to believe that He will supply what they need but they can't see Him doing anything. They waver from believing in God who is involved in His creation to disbelieving He will do anything.

Troubles test our faith. They make us dig down inside. They open up our prayer lives. They either bring us great anxiety or deepen our faith. It is the hardest to believe when all that we said we believe is being challenged. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the thought, "What if none of this is true?"

So, I ask you, "Where does your faith come from?" You can't believe in a time of crisis in a faith which you are generating from within yourself. Faith is supernatural and brought to us by the Spirit. It is a gift of God. Our own salvation proves it.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Christian life can only be lived out in the spirit. Trying to live the Christian life in the flesh is like dressing up a pig, calling it a debutante and taking it to a ball as your date. it doesn't matter how much you want to believe the pig is a beautiful girl, down deep you know the truth. You can't believe from the flesh. No faith is true faith when believed in this manner.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Thus, the time of crisis demands that we are being filled with the Spirit so that we can believe what can't be believed by the flesh. We crucify the flesh and live in the spirit.The problem is that the flesh doesn't give up easily. It will demand dominance in our lives if we do not keep our minds upon the spirit. The battle is in the mind.

Romans 8:5 (ESV)
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The mind is not the brain. The brain is merely the CPU. It organizes and interprets the data given by the stimuli it receives. The mind is the decision part of the person. It is with the mind that we determine where we shall place our concentration. We concentrate on this world and what this world tells us is true or on the Spirit and what He tells us is true. We believe what we are focused upon.

What makes faith difficult in times of crisis is that the believer is forced to truly abandon the fleshly world view. It is difficult because the person has a verbal faith rather than a spiritual one. They said the right words but didn't really believe them because they were speaking from the flesh rather than the spirit.

The only solution is to believe from the Spirit. The only way to do so is to set your mind on the Spirit. The only way to do that is to be filled with the Spirit. And the only way to do that is to stop resisting the Spirit.

You must make a complete commitment to God without holding back anything. You must listen to God and do what He tells you to do promptly. You must confess any unconfessed sins. You can't hold back.

The Apostle Paul said that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him. He said this after saying that he knew what it is like to go hungry and have plenty. He was saying that he had learned to be content in any circumstance. That is a statement of faith. That comes from Christ who strengthens.

This blog is for those who are going through difficult times and whose faith is wavering. Please send it to someone who needs it. Encourage them, lift them up and let your own faith bolster them when their faith is dim. Troubles make faith the hardest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just Who Are You Giving Thanks To?

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

Lots of people wished me a happy Thanksgiving yesterday. Maybe it was scripted. Maybe their bosses told them that they had to. I don't know. I wonder if people know that Thanksgiving assumes that there is Someone to give thanks to.

Last year, my wife had surgery for breast cancer right before Thanksgiving. I preached a sermon which told the congregation that we should give thanks anyway because the Scripture tells us to do so in all circumstances. I wasn't thankful for my wife's breast cancer. I was thankful to God for watching over her. He did and as far as we know she is cancer free. This year I have a new crisis. I am thankful to God for handling it. I haven't seen Him act yet but I know that He will.

But what about the people who don't actually believe in a God who loves, knows and works on our behalf? Who are they being thankful to when they tell us that we should be thankful? Should we thank our lucky stars or Mother Earth or someone other nonsense? Why should we even thank each other if there is no God. Without a God who brings grace and goodness into the world we have a population of narcissistic, self-centered, self serving people who are merely responding to our own programming brought on by the environment in which we have existed. In other words, we are no better than the computer I am using with all of its zeros and ones. Why should we thank the computer since it is only responding to its own programming. And if no programmer exists for us, then there is no one to thank for the goodness we bestow on others because we are simply responding in a way which serves us best even if that is working to hear someone tell us thanks.

The lack of God eliminates the need for being thankful at all.

I recently read that a significant number of atheist pray. I am perplexed. Who are they praying to? Why are they praying at all if they say they don't believe in God? Do they believe that the universe responds to people who pray? Doesn't that assume that there is someone running the universe if they can manipulate that person into doing what they want? Or, is this something that is left over from our creation? Is there a longing to be reunited with God even if we vehemently deny He exists? Could this be an instinctive left over from the Garden of Eden?

But, I suppose none of this really should matter to me. I am thankful because I know God. I believe that He knows every crisis that I face and He has a solution for each of them. One day I will face death. He already has a solution for that. I am thankful that I can face that tomorrow because I know Him to keep every word He has said.

I am thankful to the Almighty, Everlasting, Omniscient, all loving God. Who else is there to be thankful to?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Better than You" Christians

Corinthians 3:4 (ESV)
4  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

The problem in the Corinthian church exists today. People try to make principles out of their preferences. They try to say they are better than others because of them. They are superior in intellect or spiritual maturity or sophistication. They look down on others because they do not prefer the things they prefer.

I, personally, have had enough with it. I like the ESV Bible but that is a preference. I like both hymns and contemporary Christian music. That, too, is a preference. It does not make me superior. It does not make me more mature. Saying that I am better than others because of it makes me merely human.

The Christian church must become spiritual in its dealings with everything if she is to be in harmony with one another. Making these preferences into principles simply divides us. It makes us spend valuable effort in proving that we are indeed taking the superior position. It makes us think we have arrived at something. And we have. We have arrived at our own human depravity.

So, we gather a group of people around us who are no more spiritual than we are. We make fun of those who aren't like us. We call the contemporary music "Seven Eleven" or say that the hymns have lost their meaning and don't speak to us. We tell people that the Bible translation we use is easier more easy to read or that it has a majestic sound.

I am always involved in church on Sunday mornings and really don't have a real connection with those who aren't. However, since my wife and I are in Singapore and it was her birthday yesterday, my daughter and son-in-law took my wife and I out for breakfast before church as part of her birthday celebration. It was a nice restaurant on the river. There was even a celebrity there. I noticed that these people had no concern whether anything was happening at church. Their lives were completely outside of that environment. They don't know and don't care what version of the Bible we are using. They don't know any of the songs. They do not care if we are Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian or Catholic.

I thought about these people all day. How can the church get caught up in preferences for people who know Christ when those who don't know Him have such an eternal damnation? We will never get an audience with these people which means anything by being merely human.

So, I urge Christians to find where God is working and join Him. Listen to Him and begin new works. Pray for unity in the Church. Be filled with the Spirit.

Get over your preferences. You are not better than anyone.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Content in Nothing

Philippians 4:10-13 (ESV)
10  I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  EndFragment

Content is a word that has more than one meaning. In one context it means that which is on the inside. Thus, we look for the "contents" in a box. We say that a movie or book has no "content." We say that someone's speech has great content.

On an other hand "content" means peaceful and serene. It means that we are satisfied with our circumstances. It means that our anxieties are gone. We say that we are "content" after a good meal. We are "content" with the results of a test. We are "content" in our lives.

Or course, we cannot look at the English meaning but the Greek word underlying the English translation. It comes from a compound word which essentially means "self complacent." I don't believe the English can truly give us an accurate meaning. Taken in context, it means a great deal more.

Paul's desire is to tell the Philippians that he if fine. He expresses his gratification of the gift they have sent him. He wants them to know that this isn't the source of his contentment. He is content in all circumstances. His contentment comes from the content that exists within him.

Most people, even Christians, never get to this point. I suppose the world keeps telling them that they must maintain a certain lifestyle. There are things the world says that everyone deserves. The world is wrong.

Contentment is never long lasting as long as we think that there are advantages which are inherently ours. I can't be content if I am hungry when I deserve a good meal. I can't be content when I see someone drive by in a car while I am forced to walk. The funny thing is that abundance in things doesn't actually make our contentment any greater. We always have the capacity to want more than we have. We are always looking at the horizon and never satisfied with where we are for long.

Yet, Paul says he is content whether he has an abundance or nothing at all. He says that he is able to do that with "Him who strengthens me." That makes me think that I and other Christians rarely really depend upon the strength that Christ provides. We look at our circumstances just like the rest of the world. 

Is this because we don't really understand what it is to be content? Have we so defined our contentment with this world that we will hang onto it with our last dying breath? I believe so. I believe we work very hard to be content with the things in the world. We will continue to do so unless we are forced to be content in Christ.

Now, I wished I could say that I was where Paul was. I struggle greatly with contentment when things aren't going well. It makes we reach deep into my faith, call out to Jesus and believe in His deliverance even when I can see no evidence. It makes me do without the things the world says that I deserve. I wish it didn't take a crisis to make me act this way.

So, I know it is possible to be content with nothing to show for it but I struggle to be so. And I reach down today to be that content person.