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Friday, January 31, 2014

Do You Really Believe that Jesus Changes People?

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I just realized that many Christians do not believe that Jesus changes people. Maybe that's because they haven't been significantly changed themselves. They believe that He is the Son of God. They believe that they are saved because of His sacrifice. Yet, they don't believe that He has changed them. They believe that any change that has been made is because of their own efforts to change. I believe that this is why they Christians are violating ethical, moral and legal boundaries as much an non-believers. They aren't being changed by the presence of Jesus.

I am convinced that they are being conformed by the world. The desire to comply with others is like an addiction which must be satisfied. Most people hate conflict so much that they will go along in little things until they are going along with big things. They become as the world in the world's thinking and cannot see the will of God as He changes them and others.

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.

They do not understand God's plan to change them so totally that they stand out from the world. God's plan is to make them into the image of His Son, Jesus. This is the ultimate change in their lives.

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.

Maybe that's why lots of churches preach messages that appeal to the worldly image of feeling good, getting rich and being full of yourself. No one has to change in order to believe this. It even appeals to the world.

1 John 2:16 (ESV)
16 For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.

I watched an ad during a Christian program which touted a Bible code that would make you rich. The ad essentially said that you could have this secret code. I thought of what that was appealing to. It certainly wasn't speaking of changing the individual into the image of Christ. In fact, I could see a lot of non-believers buying this code. I could also see a lot of believers writing Christians off as those who are merely superstitious because of this code. I thought, "Is this what Jesus died for? To make us understand a secret code which will make us rich. If so, why didn't He use it?"

You see, I still believe in the power of Jesus to change lives. I believe He can put marriages back together. I believe He puts forgiveness in hearts which would normally demand revenge. I believe that He makes the most hateful person into the most loving. I believe that He changes lives so much that they resemble Him.

What do you believe?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What You Can't Say; What You Must Say

We still live in a country that embraces censorship even though we claim to have free speech. You can use any type foul language and get away with it. No one seems to respect others when they use such language. They are free to speak no matter how offensive they are. You can even speak negatively about our Lord Jesus without a ripple of umbrage by the media or society.

But if you criticize certain politicians, certain social groups or even say something derogatory of certain soft drink products, you will be severely castigated and censored. Political, societal and commercial groups have learned the art of bullying by appealing to a culture which does not understand the difference between temporal preference and eternal value. People have become easily conformed into whatever image the world wants them to be because they do not have a strong foundation of values. Thus, their values change as the world declares they should change. People go along with it because they want to get along with others.

But this will not always be the case. All of us will see clearly one day. The Bible tells us that no matter who you are and what you believe today, you will kneel and confess Jesus. (However, realizing who He is does not account for salvation. Even the demons called Him the Son of God and they were not saved.)

Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I taught public school over thirty years ago. There were times that I had to go to the office while I left the children working on their studies. Often, they would go wild while I was gone. They posted a look out who would warn them that I was coming. That is why I would go all the way around the school and come in by the back entrance. I would catch the look out and the students in the act of disrespecting me and the school. The students acted very repentant. I knew better. Of course, there were consequences.

I wonder if many in the world are thinking that they will have some great warning before the Lord returns. I wonder if they think that the appearance of repentance will get them off the hook. No, on second thought, I don't think they believe He is returning at all.

But there will come a day when they will realize who He is and confess Him. They all will bow their knees.

But I am not waiting for that day. Today I bow my knees before my Lord Jesus. I declare who He is to me. He is the Messiah, my Savior, the One who died for me. He is the Son of God, the creator of the universe and the sacrifice of God for me. I am His; totally and without reservation. I say it and I do it.

Maybe the world will say that I can't write this publicly in a blog someday. I suppose they can bully others to say what they want or keep them from saying what they don't want.

I know I must continue saying it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Even the Worst of Sinners Can Repent

We all know someone whom we consider to be the least likely to ever follow the Lord. Our candidate for least likely to go to heaven is opposed the Lord. He may think that faith is the belief of the feeble minded. She may believe that Christianity will just make her feel guilty in the lifestyle she would like to live. He may get angry when he hears anything about faith, spewing profanity and a hatred for all things sacred. This person may live a totally depraved life which is so bound for hell that it would take a miracle just to delay the journey.

But, even these people, whom we have called impossible to be saved, can repent and come to the Lord. We simply cannot condemn them to hell. God can still bring them to repentance.

Take Manasseh for example. He rebuilt the high places of pagan worship that his father had torn down. He erected altars to Baal and made Asherah poles of fertility. He burned his own sons as an offering, used fortune tellers, mediums, wizards and participated in sorcery. He carved an idol and placed it in the house of the Lord. He led Judah and the inhabitants to do more evil than those whom the Lord had destroyed before the people of Israel.

God spoke to Manasseh and the people and neither listened to Him.

Certainly, Manasseh sunk the needle on the "Not ever going to come to the Lord" meter. Who could imagine that he would ever repent, but . . .

2 Chronicles 33:11-13 (ESV)
11 Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

God's mercy is greater than our imagination. He takes the worst of us back into His arms when we repent. He brings calamity upon us just to see us repent. He wants to redeem us more than we can imagine.

I wonder: Do the people who we think will never repent believe that they can never repent?

I have told people they can repent and the Lord will take them as if the had never sinned. One young lady, with tears streaming down her face, said, "I wish I could believe that. I wish I could believe that." She condemned herself because she thought she had passed over a point of no return. She thought that her lifestyle was insurmountable. She didn't know how much grace God has for her.

Two great obstacles keep sinners from repenting. One is the believers who do not think it is possible. The fail to pray for sinners. They do not share the love of Christ with them. They don't like being around sinners and condemn them with their disdain.

The other obstacle is the sinners' belief that God doesn't want them. They believe that they cannot overcome those things which keep them from the Lord. They think that God will never forgive them if they tried to repent. They can't imagine a new life which doesn't include their sins.

Yet, God reaches out. He speaks, but they don't listen. He takes them through a struggle and calls out again.

So, we as believers should be calling out to the Lord to do whatever it takes to see the unlikeliest people in heaven.

Think who would surprise you the most to be seen in heaven. That's the person you should pray for. God still does miracles. God still takes repentant sinners. I know. I am one of them.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Could You Use a Little Laughter?

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)
22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

I took every course on preaching that my seminary offered. I'm not sure it helped.

I don't blame the professors. They tried. I just didn't get what a lot of people get. The professors tried to encourage me with good grades in preaching. I knew better. I know what a good sermon is. I rarely give one.

I made a joke while preaching in one of these seminary preaching classes. I said, "I am tired of telling how good seminary is. I lost the house I owned when I came to seminary. I lost the income I had. I have to spend time reading lots of books I couldn't care less about. And then, I have to listen to all of these seminary students come in here and tell me what a blessing seminary has been. I'm so tired of it. I saw a student with a big goofy smile coming down the hall the other day, so I slapped him! I thought I would just bring him back to reality!"

Everyone laughed. Or at least I thought everyone laughed. I meant it as hyperbole. I meant it as a joke. But one student remarked after the sermon: "You should never make people laugh. The pulpit is God's desk and you have been placed with a great responsibility."

I listened but the professor said that he enjoyed it and was glad that I engaged the class with a joke. My whole sermon wasn't intended to be a joke. I hope I made some important points.

I don't believe that laughter is all that a preacher should produce but it certainly is appropriate at times. I don't want to take myself too seriously. I don't even want to take all the things that happen to me too seriously.

Yesterday, I drove my youngest daughter to Washington Dulles airport. At Sterling, VA a state trooper pulled me over. I was driving my wife's vehicle and had not noticed that the registration was two months past due and the inspection was one month overdue. I got two tickets plus court fees. I'll admit that I was pretty miffed.

But at who? Am I supposed to be upset with the trooper who gave me the tickets? Isn't he just doing his job? Am I supposed to be upset with my wife? She had surgery for breast cancer two months ago and probably didn't notice they had expired. Should I be upset with my daughter for needing to be taken to the airport? No, I was upset with myself for not pulling over and letting the patrolman pass me so that he wouldn't have time to notice they had expired!

I told my daughter that she needed to leave the tickets where I could easily find them so that when I was stopped on the way back I could say, "I already have two of those. Do you want them back?" She laughed. I laughed too.

You know what? Laughing made the whole thing a lot easier to swallow.

Sometimes life throws a curve. You can either sit in your spilled milk and cry about it or you can just laugh. Too often, I take little things so seriously. Taking little things seriously dries up my bones. I just need to laugh at them and go on. I just need to laugh out loud.

Even fake laughter prods me toward real laughter. And like a medicine, it makes me feel so much better.

So, go ahead. Laugh!

(If you know a state trooper in Sterling, VA please send him my blog. I think he could use a laugh too!)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lord, Save Us from Street Philosophers

I spoke with a police officer this past week about convicting criminals. Our church was robbed a couple of years ago and the process seemed to take forever. The criminal used every means at his disposal to avoid paying for the crime. He asked for continuance after continuance. He even pled insanity. He didn't win. He thought he could beat the system with his "street lawyer" degree.

The officer told me of a confession he got in his patrol car as he drove to the station. He had not arrested the guy yet so he had not been read his Miranda rights. The perpetrator simply began to talk and confessed to several crimes. Of course, all patrol cars have video and audio recorders going at all times. His confession was captured on tape.

The criminal claimed it couldn't be used because he was never mirandized. He had either watched too many police television shows or listened to too many street lawyers. He was never arrested and the officer wasn't asking him questions. He was bragging about the crimes he had committed and thought that he could say these with impunity because of his "knowledge" of the law.

He was convicted of each of these crimes. He may have been convicted anyway but his confession certainly helped the case.

The same thing happens when it comes to faith. I heard a line from a country song called, "God, Save Us from Religion." It said something like, "They tell me that I can't go to heaven because I don't keep their rules." The singer is appealing to God to say that he is going to make it anyway. Where does this guy think the rules come from?

Somehow people believe that preachers make us the criteria for entrance into heaven. They see me as a Pharisee who wants to keep people out. They don't know how much I pray for people to come to know Christ nor do they no what I would do to see them come to know Christ. They have listened to the street philosophers who have made all that they are doing right and all that I am doing wrong. They see God as one who is going to take them into His heaven simply because they see themselves as good at the core. They believe God can see that too.

So, if they are good and I say that they must first identify with Christ to receive forgiveness, I must be evil. After all, they are already good without having to change a thing in their lives, right?

Somehow, they believe that their own reasoning in what is right and wrong will cause God to simply let them in. They think that they can demand that God come around to their reasonableness. Certainly He has to listen to the street philosophers too.

But it isn't how good we are or think we are that gets us into heaven. It isn't how reasonable we think we are. Its the blood of Jesus Christ which was accepted as payment for our sins. We have all sinned. The preachers and the prostitutes have this in common. And each is equally offered forgiveness by Jesus.

There is no other way.

And this isn't my rule.

John 14:6 (NIV)
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Waiting on the Holy Spirit

Luke 24:45-49 (ESV)
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

I am not good at waiting. I often leave doctor's waiting rooms because my appointment time has passed. I tell the receptionist that I would like to reschedule. I am not angry and hope that I am not rude but I am also persistent in seeing people on time. If possible, I make all my doctors' appointments the first of the morning and arrive early. No one should have to wait on me either.

Maybe that's why I don't like fishing either. I don't want to wait for something to happen. I want to make something happen. (I might like fishing with dynamite?)

However, I must wait when it comes to seeing the Holy Spirit act. I cannot demand that He show up early. I cannot leave and get a new appointment the first thing in the morning. I can arrive early but I cannot make Him do so. I must wait.

I wait because I need my mind to understand what I am to say and do. I stopped simply studying the scriptures a long time ago. Scholars may or may not have insight from the Holy Spirit. I pray that the meaning of the scriptures are revealed to me. I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them. Sure, I still read commentaries, Bible dictionaries, translate from the originals and all that stuff I learned in seminary but I don't depend upon it. I would be tossed back and forth in the meaning and application of many scriptures if I merely read what others said. I must listen to the Holy Spirit to have the scriptures revealed. My prayer is: Holy Spirit, please read the scriptures to me."

The Holy Spirit gives power in doing His will. The disciples essentially knew what they needed to do. They were to be Jesus' witnesses. They could go around doing as they had done when Jesus was physically with them. They had preached before. But Jesus told them to wait for the power to do so this time. Maybe the message wasn't any different but the power in the message changed considerably. They must wait for this power or they would fail.

So, the disciples were obedient and they turned the world upside down. At least that is what they were accused of.

The book of Acts is often called the "Acts of the Apostles." It does tell what the Apostles did but they acted under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. Years ago I said it should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

Amazing things have happened when the Holy Spirit is present. Three thousand souls being baptized, places shaking like earthquakes after prayer, chains falling off prisoners, people being healed and the gospel being preached in unknown tongues.

I hear that over 80% of churches are dying. Could it be that these churches simply can't wait on the Holy Spirit? They act because of habit and tradition rather than waiting on Him to tell them what to do and empower them to do it. Their prayers are not for His wisdom or power. They only pray for the healing of their sick. They are so weak without His power.

I don't condemn these churches. I understand how hard it is to wait after you have prayed for the Spirit to act. I have, like Saul, tried to offer the sacrifice myself rather than waiting for Him to present the sacrifice to the people. I have tried to force witness upon those who do not know Christ rather than waiting for His timing. I have done things because they were traditional because I was afraid of those who would criticize me for not doing them. I know there are times I haven't waited.

Today is Sunday. I will preach. I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me, empower me and change my message into His. I ask Him to speak to the people who hear this message.  I wait upon Him to do so because I still can't make Him act.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When Death Seems Like Life and Life Seems Like Death

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

I have done a whole lot of funeral services. I have been with several people when they died. I have seen life leave them. They still exists but they no longer respond to the things of this world. They have left this world behind.

I wish I could tell you that every one of these people knew the Lord. Some had no evidence that they did. Their lives were given over to the things of this world. I still did their funeral services but I spoke of how a person comes to know the Lord. I couldn't say what happened to these people. I couldn't assure their families that they would see their deceased loved one again. I didn't know.

Many of those who gave no evidence in knowing the Lord came from families who did know the Lord. They  were taken to church and heard the gospel many times before abandoning church altogether. They knew but they did not know. They thought they were receiving life from this world when they were receiving death.

Death is not being able to respond to stimuli. Spiritual death is not being able to respond to spiritual things. People are dead in their sins before they come to know the Lord. They will remain dead if nothing changes. The life they have here on earth is the only life they know and it will be the only life they will ever know. So, it isn't so strange that they think that this is life and all that church stuff is death. You have to step across to the other side to see what life really is.

I can tell you that my life before Jesus wasn't life at all. It was full of anxieties. It did not listen to God. It was empty.

I wandered away from true life to try living without God even after coming to know Jesus. I was miserable but simply thought that I wasn't getting enough life out of this world. I kept hoping that something would happen which would make this world give me true life. It never happened. The world couldn't give me what it didn't possess.

So, I don't ever want to try living like a dead person again. The world promises life and delivers death. I promise to die to this world and receive life. I guess this only makes sense to those who know what death and life really are.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Are You Looking at the Giants or the Mountain?

Joshua 14:6-15 (ESV)
6 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” 13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel. 15 Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war.

A lot of people like to think of themselves as realists. They see the negative things and make their decisions based upon them. They are pessimists who support their assessments with facts. Their lives are no more than what they can see.

Some people are true optimists. They believe something good is going to happen regardless of the facts. Realists call these people foolish. The realists are often right.

There is another group of people who defy both definitions. These people see the goal ahead and determine that they will overcome the difficulties in reaching that goal. They see the hardships but do not believe they are insurmountable. They have an inner strength to break the forces which prevent them from reaching what they desire.

All of these champions have faith though not necessarily in God. They may believe in themselves and their abilities. They may believe in fate. They may believe in an outside force which enable them to get what they want. They may even be foolishly lucky.

So, which of these is Caleb the Kenizzite who asks Joshua to give him a certain mountain as his inheritance?

He was a man of faith. He wasn't an Israelite and, therefore, wasn't born into his faith. No one really is. Each person must choose for himself. Faith is more than a story of salvation. It is a story of life. It goes beyond initially believing through all the struggles and accomplishments of life. It listens to God, believes in God and does what God seeks.

He was a man of God. He believed God was able to make him an overcomer of all that stood before him. He saw the giants in the land but wasn't afraid of them because he knew who had his back.

He was unnatural. Most people are retired at eighty-five. Most are retired because that is what society has told them they must be. They stop moving very much and, therefore, stop moving altogether. Caleb was still strong because he didn't want to stop. He didn't simply live off the retirement system of the day (offspring). He was still the man he was at a much earlier stage.

He was bold. We have no record that anyone else was asking for the mountain Caleb requested. I am sure that others wanted something a whole lot easier. Caleb wanted this mountain to prove that God would continue to fulfill His promise to give them the land. He wanted the mountain because it was hard.

So, Caleb was looking at the mountain. Yes, he knew the giants were there but he didn't see them as unconquerable. Driving them out would be a testimony to God's promise.

Church should be filled with people of faith but it often isn't. I am always hearing people tell me what they can't do rather than what God is telling them to do. They tell me that they are too old to go back to school or that the economy is looking so bad that they can't go forward in their businesses or that their marriages are doomed because their spouses just aren't fulfilling their needs or . . . you get the point.

They are looking at the giants without ever seeing the mountain.

I, on the other hand, want to see the mountain.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

God Isn't Bothered by Your Questions

Luke 7:18-28 (ESV)
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John,  19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.  22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?  25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.  26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

27 This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’  28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Wait a minute! Wasn’t this John the Baptist who leaped in his mother’s womb when she saw  Jesus’ mother? Wasn’t he filled with the Holy Spirit from birth? Wasn’t he the one who baptized Jesus? Didn’t he say that he needed to be baptized by Jesus rather than baptizing Jesus? He said that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, right? So, what happened that made him ask if Jesus was really the Messiah?

Yet, he asks this question.

Maybe he needed to make sure. His life was given to prepare the way for the Messiah. He preached a message which pointed toward Jesus.  He stood for righteousness no matter what was said of him or to him. He lived an austere life that not only proved his devotion but also drove him to his purpose. His whole life had been lived to prepare the way for the Messiah. Yes, he must be sure.

So, he sent messengers to ask who he hoped to be the Messiah if He really was the Messiah.

Jesus answered with proof. John needed that proof. He had spent his whole life with this purpose. He deserved this answer.

Jesus doesn’t rebuke the messengers for asking John’s question. Instead, He praises John after they leave. He gives John the highest praise.  It was okay to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah.

I realized a long time ago that God wasn’t bothered with my questions when they really sought to confirm what God wanted me to do. These questions weren’t accusing God. They didn’t question God’s goodness, power, wisdom or goodness. These questions were not given as ultimatums whether or not I will do what He wants. They are questions which ask if I am going the right direction. They ask whether I really heard from God. God has never minded my questions.

I think some people think that it is wrong to ask God if they have heard Him. So, they wonder and sometimes miss what He has said because they dismiss His leadings.

So, I have learned to ask when I’m not sure. And guess what. . . God isn’t bothered by it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is God Leading You to the Wilderness?

Exodus 13:17-18 (ESV)
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 

I have been working on rebuilding the closet in our master bedroom. I bought a whole bunch of lumber, rods to hang clothes, stuff to make shelves and drawers and put all of it in my living room. Of course, it can't set there forever. Either I begin the project or my wife makes me sleep outside, so I go to the present closet, take all the clothes, blankets, shoes, and just junk and tear out the built-in shelves and rods. 

There is no going back now. I putting it all back and taking all the stuff back is just too hard. Redoing the closet is the only thing I can do.

God knew the Israelites would face war. He knew that an easy trip to the Promised Land would make for an easy trip back to Egypt. He wanted to make a people for Himself. He chose these people. He knew He had a lot of work on His hands. He knew what they would do when they faced difficulty. He knew that He needed to make it too hard to go back.

Have you ever thought that God could be leading you in the same way? Could it be that God is leading you into the wilderness because He knows that the difficulties that you will face? Could it be that He is making you into the image of His Son and that means that you will face some hard times? 

I think you already know the answers to these questions. God leads us into the wilderness instead of the easy road to make us into a people who resemble His Son. He takes us along a path that makes it difficult to go back to when we were under bondage. 

I am not saying that every bad thing that happens comes by the hand of God. I am saying that the path that God takes you to will cause you to cling to the promises that He has for you. You won't want to go back so the only answer is to go forward.

Things always look impossible right after we agree to walk in God's will. They did for the Israelites. They needed to wilderness to prove that God would sustain them. They needed the wilderness to be made stronger. They needed the impossible situations so that could see that nothing is impossible with God.

I always love what the wilderness has done for me as soon as I am no longer in it. Yet, I know that it is necessary and when I enter it again, I call out to God to help me go through it. I just don't want to go back. 

Some of you reading this are going through the wilderness right now. You really can't go back. So, call on Him and keep His promises right in front of you.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Will Jesus Find Faith on the Earth?

Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 

Many people have a hard time with this parable. They see Jesus comparing rather than contrasting between the unrighteous judge and God. They see this parable as evidence that their insistence before God will force God to do as they wish. They see God as giving in because He simply doesn't want to be bothered anymore.

This is not the case. This parable deals much deeper than the superficial understandings many people will give it. It deals with who we think God is. Is He a God who answers us according to what is right? Is He a God who gives this justice swiftly? And will we continue to believe as is evidenced by continuing in prayer?

Each week I challenge people to pray. Many of them do. They have prayer lives which believe in God's power, goodness, love and wisdom. But I have found some people who pray without faith. They go through the mechanics of prayer without believing that God will do anything. They ask as if asking is all that is expected. They do not realize that they should expect to receive nothing as long as they are asking without faith.

Thus, these people do not sustain praying for anything. They pray for someone to be healed but do not pray for that person again. They ask for someone to get a job but never bring it up before God again. I doubt that they will admit or even realize that they don't believe anything is going to happen anyway. And that lack of belief assures their results.

Sometimes God delays responding to our prayers. He may have many reasons for doing so, yet we should still keep praying because it both enhances and proves what we believe. Faith is the evidence of that which is hoped for; an assurance of things not yet seen. It is a gift of God. It is proven when we act for our actions reveal our faith.

Many people want to do away with faith. Their actions reveal their fears. They hold onto all that they have because they are afraid. They only believe what they can see because their fears prevent them from believing. They are afraid to act in faith.

These people see what they can do without and give accordingly. I have seen many adults drop $2 in the offering plate because they won't miss it. Yet they will run to the church when they have been diagnosed with cancer. Then, they want to believe that God will act when they couldn't believe that He would act in providing enough for them to live on. Faith, to them, is a last resort.

However, this is not the case of a person with faith. Faithful people know God so well that they know how He will answer. They know that His will is that the best is done for them. They know that He will move the universe to answer their prayers. They know that a negative answer from Him is what is best, loving and done with full wisdom and knowledge. They trust Him when they bring their requests and continue to bring those requests until they receive an answer.

Will Jesus find faith when He returns to the earth? Personally, I know that I have been so discouraged that I didn't believe God would ever act. I hope that this is not how I will ever be characterized. I want to be a person of faith. 

So, I pray and believe and pray some more.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Test the Spirits

1 John 4:1-6 (ESV)
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 

I have heard many people tell me that they are spiritual who do not have a relationship with Jesus. Previously, I have thought that they either didn't know what spiritual really meant or that they had been smoking something. I didn't really consider that they could indeed be spiritual but that the spirits which they were relating to could be demons.

Demons are a hard subject to handle for those of us who have been told that there is really no one under the bed, in the closet or in the dark. The bogie man does not exist. We have all heard it and have found it to be true. There is nothing in the unknown but our fears. This is all called into question when the scriptures are read. There are demons active in the world.

Another problem arises once we admit that their are demons. The Hollywood versions stick in our minds so indelibly that we cannot really understand the scripture without having these digital images being brought forth. We think of all sorts of superstitious actions which will rid ourselves of these demons. We see ourselves as being helpless before them unless we can find some holy water.

I watch the movie "Poltergeist" when it came out on video. I admit, it scared the stuffings out of me. It isn't that I thought that this fictional demon was real or that the movie represented a true fear I should have for demons. It was the fear I had for the little girl who was taken by this demon.

And demons really do take people in. Maybe not like in Poltergeist but they do affect and make people feel spiritual. These demons speak to people who know that the messages that they receive come from demons. They see these messages as helpful. The people listening are taken in and never know they are in any danger.

There are two dangers I see. The spirits have led them astray away from Jesus. Otherwise these spirits would be pointing toward Jesus as the Messiah. They would speak of Him as One who gave His physical life for the sins of mankind on the cross. They would tell the hearer of His resurrection and call him to trust in Jesus as Savior.

The danger is also seen in its influence into the world. The world which follows a pattern of disobeying, ignoring and blaspheming God likes the message of the demons. The message appeals to the insatiable lusts of the world. The world simply wants the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Those who listen to these demons will not listen to us but we need to be careful that we don't listen to them either. We need to remember what the demons will appeal to, who they will not confess and that the truth will come as we set our minds on spiritual things.

We must always remember that the world is seeking to conform our minds. It is a daily tasks to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Each day our minds must be made new by a fresh washing with God's word. A new commitment in each day will make us have great strides toward walking in the truth.

John warned people about these spirits which were not from God. It must have meant that their messages had a great appeal. At least some people must have been drawn in by them. John speaks as if he has heard people speak of spirits which he knows are not from God. We must always be on our guard because these demons can be incredibly subtle.

So, just as in John's day, we are to test the spirits. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Today I Am an Executioner

Colossians 3:5-10 (ESV)
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

There was a time when I drank alcohol. I drank a lot of it. One night I was in my apartment and the Spirit of God came upon me. I was alone, found my Bible in the closet and was soon being convicted of my sins. No one else was around. I had no other influence. I just fell under conviction and began confessing my sins and asking the Lord to restore the joy of my salvation. (I really didn't know what that meant. I actually asked the Lord to take me back.) I asked the Lord to never let me forget that night so that I would never come back to it again.

I know that there are sometimes that I get impressions from the Lord and there are sometimes there are specific commands. After asking the Lord to remind me forever of that night He very clearly said, "Go pour out all of your alcohol."

My first reaction was to say, "How about I just drink all of it tonight?" There was silence and I knew that wasn't the right response. So, I went downstairs and poured it all down the drain. I have never had any alcohol as a beverage since then. (Some cough syrups and mouthwashes contain alcohol.)

For the longest time I told people that I didn't drink because of my commitment to the Lord. It was true and is still true. It keeps reminding me of the night that I made a new commitment to Him. Not so long ago I thought of a different reason. I simply don't want to drink anymore. The desire is just not there. While I am cautious of declaring a sinful act dead, I believe this one is, at least, on life support.

We are to put sin to death, not lock it up and feed it bread and water. It is to be executed so that it cannot break loose. It is more than a refusal to participate. It is a refusal to act like it is alive.

Death often means that we take the body and bury it. Most of the time have a ceremony to give closure to that life that was once lived. Maybe the key to putting away my drinking was the ceremony of pouring it all out. I declared it dead that night. I haven't even gone by the grave to visit it.

Now, wouldn't it be nice to say that all my sins were put to death on that night so long ago? The truth is that I am still putting to death sin. The sentence has already been passed. The sin has been judged guilty. Execution is the only way it will no longer cause havoc in my life.

My drinking problem isn't the only sin that no longer bothers me but I still have a long way to go. I am being changed by the grace of the Lord.

But, today I am an executioner.

(Please note that I am not condemning those who have a drink of alcohol. I am often with people who have a glass of wine at dinner. I don't indulge with them but I don't condemn them either. My problem was that I never had a moderate amount. I wasn't an alcoholic but I also never controlled it either.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Act as God's Chosen One

Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV)
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What if I acted like I belonged to the Lord when I came to church but didn't do so everywhere else? Would that make my faith a sham? I believe so.

Yet, I have so segregated my life that preach the message of a changed life while living a life devoid of any identification with Him. My life in Christ must (note that I didn't say should) be reflected in the way I treat others wherever I am. This includes the person who has cut me off in traffic, the department store clerk who cares very little if I ever find what I am looking for, the rude repairman who overcharges me or anyone else that would naturally cause me to act like I don't know Christ. Acting like I know Christ just has very little value when things are all peace and happiness. True Christ-likeness comes when I continue to remember who I am even when things and people are contrary.

Forgiveness has no value until there is something to forgive, love has no value until there is a reason not to love and peace has no value until there is war.

I personally paid my way for most of my college bills. I worked in a bank as one of those college jobs. I held lots of money during my college days. Some days I would might pay out or take in deposits totally $100k in cash. But this money had no value at all to me. It wasn't mine. I couldn't use it. The only money that had any value to me was in my own bank account and it was only valuable because of the college bills it would pay. The money would have had no value if there was nothing to buy. The need gave the value to the money.

The need of Christ-likeness gives value to my walk with the Lord. It is the application which gives a virtue value. It is the lack of applying that virtue which indicates that it isn't so valuable and may not be in the possession of the one who has claimed to have it.

Thus, the richness of the word becomes so valuable to the one who remembers who he is in Christ. The word is both for me and for others. My reading of it isn't intended for my sole usage. I am to live it and share it and be it so that I can gently call other believers back to who they are.

Then, I do all that I do in the name of the Lord. I have taken His character. I am His royal representative.

I just can't forget who I am. I am a chosen one.

Friday, January 17, 2014

This World Isn't My Home

Colossians 4:14 (ESV)
14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Philemon 1:24 (ESV)
24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV)
10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.

Demas had been one of Paul's trusted associates. He had been there to share the gospel with Paul. Paul takes the time to mention him in two earlier letters along with Luke and others. He must have been important.

In fact, Demas was so important that his desertion also got mentioned. The word for what he has done can be translated "forsaken." The dictionary defines this as "to abandon; leave; renounce." There is no doubt what Demas has done.

Then, Paul gives the reason for Demas' leaving. He loved this present world. The alluring things of this world tempt us to do whatever feels good, whatever fills our physical desires, whatever looks good and whatever gives us a sense of worth in what we own. It is impossible to resist unless the mind is set on the Spirit.

I have been in the full-time ministry for over thirty years. I have seen many people who originally grabbed onto the gospel. They came to every Christian function. They absorbed every Bible verse that was read. They seemed so fully devoted to the Lord that I would never have dreamed they would have walked away. But, many of them did.

Some are living lifestyles which would indicate that they never knew the Lord. There is no evidence that these people have ever been in the church.

Others have drifted away to churches which appeal to the desires of the world. These churches preach a Jesus who came to make you feel good, get rich and become famous. Their pastors are wealthy, self-indulgent rock stars. They promise their congregations they can have it all.

But each of these have truly forsaken their Lord. They aren't serving Him but seeking to be served by Him. That just isn't the reason that Jesus died. That is not salvation.

No, I am not immune to this temptation. I know that I can fall back in love with this world. I know that I have to set my mind on the Spirit or I will become like the world.

That's why I have to take a stand every day. I must say to my God that He is at the very center of my life.I will allow everything that that comes into my life today to go through Him. I affirm my belief in His word. I am everything it says I am and I can do whatever it says I can do. Therefore, I will not act like I am unforgiven or forsaken by my Lord. I will live with Him beside me. I will not be dismayed by the circumstances against me. I will not, I will not, I will not fall in love with this world.

This world just isn't my home.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jesus Christ No Longer Needed

Breaking News: Jesus Christ has been dismissed by society as the Savior of the World.

Society spokesman, Jack Preacher, remarks, "Sin and, therefore, guilt has been eliminated. We just don't need Jesus anymore."

Sociologists report that all of the world's ills can be explained so that no one is actually responsible for what they have done. The liar is only trying to protect himself. There are myriads of reasons people commit adultery. None of them point back the adulterer. It is always because of their relationships with their mothers or their wives or some other self esteem problem which causes it. The bully is reacting to parents who have treated him poorly. Those poor parents are reacting to the bad economy. Greed is merely a fear of not having enough to survive. Mass murders are caused by psychological problems. Even religious jihad comes from a sense of justice for the past oppression of other governments.

No one has sinned because their actions do not reflect their own decisions. They have been coerced or forced into each and every one of them. No one needs to feel guilty. Each and every person can rest on the fact that actions which hurt others were not really caused by them. They were merely reacting to something that was either happening within themselves or was thrust upon them. They can be assured that no one can hold them accountable. They shouldn't even expect God to do so.

The Rev. Dr. Preacher was asked what should be done with those who have been sent to prison. The question arose whether they could be held accountable for their crimes if society itself wasn't accountable. He answered, "We need to keep those in prison so that they cannot hurt others. I know it isn't their fault but our society would fall apart if we allowed people to hurt others. We simply put them there for their own good. I am sure they didn't really want to commit the crimes which landed them in prison but they were disposed in doing so. Taking them out of society eliminates their reaction to a society which causes them to commit crimes."

"You see," continued Preacher, "We just don't need Jesus any more. In fact, we really don't want Him to be around. He still makes people feel guilty even when they really aren't. We need to do more than dismiss Him. We need to get rid of Him; take even the thought of Him out of society. Otherwise, some misled person might actually believe he or she is responsible for something which would be called a sin and want to bring Him back."

"I guess we really have to crucify Him if we really want to get rid of Him, huh?"

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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Am I the Light Which Leads Others to Glorify God?

I ride a bicycle to work many days. I do it for exercise, the environment and enjoyment. On the way home I often listen to novels. I think of what the Lord has for me on the way to work.

Many motorists are distracted as they drive. They fail to stop and look both ways when taking a right on red and at stop signs. I have to avoid being hit by these motorists almost every day. I have screamed at many of them. I have slapped the sides of their vehicles and rapped on their windows. I have challenged them to come back and settle our dispute. I have said it loud enough  that they can hear even if their windows are up. Shoot, I have said it loud enough that it could be heard in Milwaukee! Yes, I have even called them names.

My wife says that these people will probably show up on the front row of the church the following week as visitors. I told her that they will never recognize me. My riding apparel keeps me pretty well disguised. That's really not the point; is it?

God has not called me to point out the sins of others. That's the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. I may speak of sin and it may cause people to fall under conviction but my yelling does little more than to make people angry. That not only applies when I ride a bicycle but how I live my life.

God has called me to live a life with such a goodness that it will be noticed. Love should pour out of me to each person I encounter. Grace should be my character. It should be that those who are doing wrong want to change the wrong that they are doing because the light in me reveals the wrong in them.

That doesn't mean that I won't preach on sin. I believe that the church is the place for that. We are called to judge those in the church. We are called to hold each other accountable. We must point out sin and call it evil.

But when I walk out into the world that doesn't know Jesus I must exhibit His goodness. I have to be so different in grace that the world thinks of me as peculiar. I need to be both attractive and convicting in this goodness.

I served with a very godly pastor a few years ago. He got up each morning and prayed fervently for his family and the congregation. He held long prayer meetings monthly. During those times his prayers revealed a deep love for the Lord and a purity that I have never seen in any other. I remember one of them members of the church telling me that she just felt like she needed to confess her sins each time she was in his presence. Now, I know he never asked for that. He just had that character which made you feel like you were physically in the presence of the Lord.

That's the kind of light that I need to have.

Lord Jesus, I pray that your light shines through me so clearly that the world can see you. Amen.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Will the Devil Use Scripture to Tempt You?

Matthew 4:5-7 (ESV)
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted and prayed for forty days. It was then, in His physical weakness that the tempter came. He tempts Jesus three times but only uses scripture in his temptation once. Why would he expect that Jesus would throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple?

I can't know exactly why but I can look at the evidence. Jesus is physically weak. My experience of fasting has followed a certain pattern. (I have fasted for forty days three times.) The body begins to burn fat after a few days. Normal activity can continue while the body burns this fat. In fact, it may actually feel good. Hunger comes at normal eating times. The body remembers when it has eaten. Hunger is absent during worship. Prayer becomes like meat and bread.

Somewhere during the last seven days the body quits burning fat. It doesn't matter if there is more to burn. The body conserves its energy. Therefore, the body becomes weak. It is difficult to concentrate.

Now, most understand why the devil tempts Jesus to turn the stones into bread but what has His fasting and weakness have to do with throwing Himself off of the temple?

The devil is tempted Jesus at the most basic levels. The weakness Jesus had in His body could make Him question the love His Father had for Him. It could make Him question who He really was. The devil is appealing to His humanity not His deity. The devil is treating Him as if He is merely human rather than fully man and fully God.

I know I have questioned these things about God when I have been weak. I have wondered where God is when I have gone through something especially difficult. I have especially wondered these things when difficulty followed a time when I had served the Lord with all my heart. I have wanted to find a scripture to claim and cause God to act on my behalf. In fact, I have scoured the scriptures to find such verses.

But Jesus didn't give in to His physical weakness. He answered each temptation with a scripture.

The devil is not opposed to using scripture to get us to do His will. He will bring forth preachers who will wave their Bibles in the air and quote scriptures which will put God to the test. They will encourage people to act "in faith" when they are actually acting because of the lack of faith.

I believe that one of the reasons God doesn't act to prove who He is because we would never have faith if we didn't go through the times when God leaves us in our weak condition. (God proves who He is all the time. He just doesn't act because we have tested Him.) It is wrong to put ourselves in dire need simply to see if God will act.

Thus, we are also tempted. Sometimes the devil uses our own physical weakness alone. At other times he may even use the scripture.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is Your World Stable?

Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,29 for our God is a consuming fire. 

Many people are full of regrets. Their lives have little to show for all their efforts. They have looked at the things of this world and found that none of what it has promised has filled their souls. They don't know where to turn. Their world is shaken.

A few years ago I was called to the hospital because one of the ladies in my church had been rushed to the emergency room. She was having internal problems which were partially caused by a previous surgery. The result was a bowel obstruction. She had so many before and knew that another surgery may kill her. I stood on the edge of her cubicle in the ER as the doctor urged her to go into surgery. She continued to refuse.

He said, "I want you to know that you must make this decision now because we won't be able to do surgery in twenty minutes."

She looked at him sincerely and said, "Doctor, I am not afraid to die." 

He had the most puzzled look on his face. It was as if his face said, "I want to know what you know!"

Twenty to thirty minutes later this lady went to be with her Lord. She knew where she was going even when she was rushed to the hospital. She simply didn't know when. Her illness did not shake her up because she knew the kingdom prepared for her was completely assured. It is completely stable.

The world we live in will be shaken and will shake us if we make it our home. It is not stable nor can it promise stability. It does not control its own events. There are too many factors which cannot be controlled. The weather, the earth;s crust, an asteroid, a virus or any number of natural events can shake the lives of those who make this their kingdom. Political strongholds can be broken, the stock market can fail, economies can be depressed and even the value of money can deflate. Nothing in this world has earned the right to be trusted.

But God's kingdom is unshakable. Nothing can make Him change. Nothing can take away His power. He will not remove His love. He cannot do evil. He never tells a lie. He can be absolutely trusted.

We worship God because there is no one else we can truly trust. We come to know Him because He has promised to know those who trust Him. Coming into His presence either evokes deep worship or total rejection. We simply cannot stay in the throne room without turning to Him or turning away to get out of the throne room. His presence will consume those who dare to come into His kingdom without worship.

This consuming fire refines the believer. His light shone on the heart reveals the flaws. But He does not reveal these flaws without a remedy. He forgives and places the sin as far as the east is from the west.

God is a consuming fire who can't be shaken.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Maybe Some People Just Don't Know They Need to Forgive

Hebrews 12:15 (ESV)
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

I have always thought of the lack of forgiveness as a volitional act. I believed that those who lacked forgiveness did so because they refused to forgive. I now wonder if some people are unaware of their unforgiveness.

Several years ago I asked God to reveal to me anyone I hadn't forgiven. I had been challenged to do so but expected that there was no one whom I needed to forgive. However, I began to remember the pain that others had caused me in my past. Some of these events I didn't even know existed in my memory. Some of these events were in my childhood before I became a believer.  I realized that I had never forgiven those who had caused me pain and was secretly carrying animosity toward them. 

I knew I needed to forgive these people. So, I forgave each person whether or not I could remember their names as each painful memory surfaces. It took weeks until my buried memories ceased to come out. I felt cleansed in the end.

Recently I spoke with a woman with whom I felt had a hatred that she was unaware of. Her negative attitudes toward others as she described her own suspicions of their motives and actions made me think that she had hurts deep within which had never been forgiven. I honestly believe that she has forgiven everyone she has known. Yet, I know she still holds her father's remarriage after her mother died against him. I know that she has had some disappointments with her family which have hurt her deeply. I also know that her response of her father and the rest of the family is an expression of loving them deeply.

Can you love someone without forgiving that person? Yes, I believe you can. But the love you have may mask the lack of forgiveness you are also holding against that person. The lack of forgiveness may be a defense mechanism to keep you from being so trusting that you are deeply hurt again. Thus, I believe she has a root of bitterness which has grown slowly but is missing the grace of God.

It seems I learn more about Hebrews 12: 15 each time I read it. The person who lacks forgiveness also fails to realize his or her own forgiveness. The grace of God is not the prevalent characteristic. A cynicism and animosity of events and people characterizes the carrier of this root. Therefore, this root causes trouble because, while the person may not actively cause trouble, he or she does not do anything to stop the trouble either. Trouble prevails when the grace of God is absent. And many are defiled because of this trouble.

Not too long ago a new family joined our church who had not attended church anywhere for decades. They had been attenders for a couple of years before finally joining the church. The father told me that he had been in another church as a young man. He had been given a position of leadership just before many in the church had done hateful things to the pastor. He said that his former church no longer existed.

I surmised that this is the reason he and his family continued to come without making a commitment to join. They had been hurt before and didn't want to repeat the experience. I wonder if the members of the former church had some root of bitterness which caused them to take hateful actions. This man and his family were part of the collateral damage. 

Many times people can't truly tell me why they feel a dislike for others. (They know better than use the word hatred.) Could it be that there are painful events in their past? Could it be that they have never forgiven those who caused the pain?

I know this. My own attitude toward others changed dramatically after I asked God to reveal those whom I had never forgiven. Now, I forgive people more freely than ever before. The grace of God is all around me and enables me to do so.

I encourage anyone reading this blog to ask God to bring up any event or person for which forgiveness has not been truly given. I am not talking introspection. Just ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of what you haven't forgiven. Don't try to prompt Him and see what happens. I believe it will be as cleansing as it was for me.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I Am a Child of the King

1 John 5:19 (ESV)
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Sin came into the world from one man. Everyone who followed him became sinners. The prince of this world got what he wanted. He corrupted God's creation. He has a stronghold in this world. He must be feeling pretty good right now.

Sometimes I see my own sins and wonder whose side I am on. I wonder why I still sin even though I have been born again from a Father that had no sin. I am changed into a new creation but live in the world that is ruled by the evil one. I sometimes see myself as a traitor because I do his will. He enjoys my guilt. He even reminds me of it. There are times that I forget that while he rules this world, it does not belong to him.

I know who my Father is. I know what He desires of me. He wants me to walk with Him. I have to make a daily commitment to walk with Him. I'm afraid I will walk with the evil one if I am don't walk with my Father. It shouldn't be like that.

No one follows the evil one by doing especially evil things. No one become especially evil in one moment.
It is like being taken down deeper and deeper until the light can't make it to you anymore. The darkness comes because you have been conformed to the world. It comes because you have forgotten who you are.

Regrets follow. The evil one will continue to accuse you of your sin. He knows nothing about forgiveness. He never gives forgiveness. He never asks for it.

But I am a child of the One True King. I know forgiveness because He always gives it. He died to give it to me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

When There Seems No End to the Darkness

I have a young lady in my church who has cancer. It began as ovarian cancer and metastasized to her lungs. She has difficulty breathing and, thus, just coming to church is a chore. The chemotherapy has destroyed her ability to fight off infections and she is extremely tired all the time. She continues to go to work as much as possible but I am not sure how much work she can really do. Maybe she is kept on the payroll because of her employer's compassion.

Many people may point to the sins in her past and explain her struggle as some sort of karma. They may say, "She is getting what she deserves." Really? If we all got what we deserved, we would all burn in hell. None of us are sinless. No, I can't see this as the reason she hurts so much.

So, what do I tell her or anyone else who walks with the Lord and struggles with great difficulties? What do I say to the person who has been without a job for the past two years and is about to be evicted from the home he and his family have owned for the last eight? What do I say to the wife whose husband has left her for younger, more beautiful woman? She is struggling to raise the kids. He has neglected to pay child support and threatens her each time she has brought this up. She feels a victim yet comes to church and believes that he God will rescue her. What do I say?

Well, I don't know all that God is doing but I am sure that He is aware of what is going on in the world. I don't know what He is doing with each of us at the moment but I know that He has created us for eternity. I don't know why anyone goes through a darkness that never seems to end but I know that there is an end to the darkness. I know He is good and completely powerful. I know He will make something beautiful out of what is happening.

No, this isn't what I want to tell them. I would rather tell them that the check is in the mail. Deliverance is nearby. Justice will be served by Thursday. But I don't know any of that.  The young lady may die from her cancer. The man and his family may be evicted from their home.  The wife may never recover financially from her former husband's infidelity.

All of these things will certainly look like tragedies in which God did nothing if we didn't last into eternity. Tragedies are only such because we can't see what God has done for us beyond this life. We can't see why He has allowed many of these things to happen because we don't know how He is preparing us for eternity. We don't realize that our testimonies through these struggles may have been strong enough to cause others to come to know Him. We don't know who is watching nor do we really know the impact that we have had until we get to eternity.

I spoke with a discouraged pastor recently who told me of the struggles he was having in his church. He works endlessly to see people come to know Christ. Many of those he has reached have no money to contribute to his church. The current members are complaining. Their own negativity makes the church reach less people because neither Christians nor non-Christians want to be where bickering exists.

This pastor said to me in despair, "I preached to a much larger congregation when I was younger." I told him that this sounded like a message of faithfulness. Its easy to be faithful when everything is going well but when it consistently goes poorly even when you work harder and harder, its easier to forget it all and go drive a truck. I am sure that something beautiful is coming. You just don't know it will be on this side of eternity.

Faithfulness hangs on because it believes that God makes all things beautiful in its time.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.