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Monday, March 31, 2014

Maybe They're Blind

John 9:24-34 (ESV)
24  So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”  25  He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”  27  He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”  28  And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  29  We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30  The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.  32  Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34  They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.  

I have known a few blind people. Some of them mask their blindness. One was in a drama group I helped direct many years ago. He became a lawyer. He memorized his lines before anyone else. He could see enough light that he would walk through doors and even tried riding a bicycle. He had to stop because he kept running into parked cars. He couldn't tell if they were moving. He was over at my house one day and knocked over one of my children. I snapped at him to watch where he was going. I forgot he was blind.

Not every non-Christian is blind. Some have never been confronted with who Jesus is. They have not had the opportunity to identify with Christ. They are more like puppies who  haven't opened their eyes. They will see once their eyes are opened.

Many people don't know Christ because they are blind. Their blindness comes from a predetermined mindset. They are determined not to believe no matter how much truth is placed before them. They are determined to be right and will dismiss anyone who says otherwise.

Religious people are infamously this way. They believe they know more than others and therefore fail to listen to what people are telling them. They can easily miss what the Lord is doing simply because they don't want their faith to be challenged. Thus, we have people making methods of doing church immutable. They find reasons to determine that they do not fit the biblical pattern and declare these things as evil. I have seen people try to make the type of clothing worn to church, when the offering is taken during a worship service and the type of music played during worship spiritual mandates which determine whether the leaders are following the Lord. These new pharisees were blind to what God may be doing in the church because the pattern of church habit had become worship regardless if God ever spoke to them. They worshiped the method and determined whether or not anything was sinful by the way it matched their established habits.

These religious people aren't much different from those who refuse to believe in God. They have predetermined what is right and wrong by comparing it with what they have previously determined to be so. They are blind. Sometimes I forget this because they pretend to be sighted so well that I forget.

I find it ironic that the formerly blind man in the above scripture is the only one who can see. He has been blind since birth and sees much better than those who have seen since birth. Sometimes smart people are the dumbest people in the room.

I have to remember that people who refuse to see should be considered blind. I cannot heal their blindness but I know Someone who can. I must continue to expose them to Him. If they are willing to let Him take mud and put it on their eyes they will be able to see too.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blessed by God's Presence

Psalm 84:10 (ESV)
10  For a day in your courts
is better than a thousand elsewhere.
  I would rather be a doorkeeper 
in the house of my God
  than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Why do many people who claim to love the Lord have such a hard time going to church? They complain if the worship service is too long. They talk more about the temperature in the room than what God said to them. There seems to be a disconnect between people and God. Too many of them tell me that they have never heard from God. I wonder what they believe in. How do you believe in a God with whom you have never had a conversation?

I personally love Sundays. I love to come to worship. I love to come very early, go into the sanctuary and pray before the service. I love to hear the Word of God being read. I love to sing and preach. I ask God to anoint me with the Holy Spirit. God does things within me that makes me realize His grace.

Worship is seeking the blessing of God's presence. His presence reveals who He is. He is the Almighty. He is our Father. He is the One who loves us. He is the One we love. He is the One who answers our prayers.  He is the One who grants us wisdom. He is the One who answers our every need. He is awesome.

What could I do that was more important than worshiping Him? To whom would I go who is greater than Him? Who else cares for me as much as Him? Who else can provide for my needs? Is there anyone wiser than my God?

So, I would rather be in the Lord's house than to attend a professional sporting event. I would rather be in the Lord's house than sit on the beach. There is no where else I would rather be because worship is an act of faithfulness which provides the blessing and grace of His presence.

What can I do to bring others to know Him in such a way that they would not miss worship? I guess I can't imagine being in their shoes so I don't really know what to do. I don't' have it all together. I am not perfect. That's why I love His grace. I know how far down He reaches to bless me with His presence.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Abiding in Christ Changes Everything

John 15:7 (ESV)
7  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

I have stopped trying to believe in Jesus. I have stopped trying to trust in Jesus. I believe the relationship with Jesus must go much deeper than I previously thought. I believe I must identify with Jesus.

This means I find my own identity in Jesus rather than merely believing that He is the Son of God or trusting that He has paid for my sins. Of course, these are foregone conclusions if I truly identify with Him and thus find my identity in Him.

I come along beside Jesus when I identify with Him. He does not need to change. I come without any hidden agenda. I come openly with a complete commitment to whatever He wants. My own desires are made to match His.

This comes because I abide, remain, or live in Him. He becomes my life. This, too, has changed my relationship. Jesus will always be the Master. He will be the One I will listen to, obey and emulate in my character. But instead of calling myself a rotten old sinner all the time I acknowledge that He is changing me by His presence in my life. One way is found in my praying. I pray what He desires. I know, therefore, that He will answer it exactly as it is prayed.

Three things keep me from this abiding in Him: The devil and his demons, the world and my own flesh. The demonic forces work to keep me focused on anything but my relationship with Jesus. I am powerless without Him. I can be easily controlled as long as I continue to operate without Him. The demons will not make me realize that I have abandoned Him. I will state that I am fully following Jesus unless I turn honestly to Him and ask where I am. The key is being honest.

The world seeks to draw me a way just as much as the demons. The world seeks to make me like those in the world who are without Jesus. The world says that it is more urgent than my daily time with God. The world says that it doesn't matter if I really connect in my relationship as long as I read the scriptures. The world will criticize me if I don't act like it expects.

My own flesh demands its own selfishness. It wants to return to the life that merely checks the box when asked if I have faith in Christ. It does not wish to comply. It hates the discipline necessary to set aside the things it wants to do in order to sit at the feet of Jesus each day.

A consistent life of relating to Christ by identifying with Him causes me to conform to His image. The resulting person knows the Father because Jesus knows His Father. The character is changed so thoroughly that the whole person becomes someone he wouldn't have become without this relationship. The thoughts become the same thoughts as God because God reveals His own desires to the one who abides in Him.

Prayer becomes markedly different. It will always remain a means of seeking His will but that will becomes plain. Denials are accepted. Requests are modified. Answers are opportunities for faith to grow and glory to be given.

Yet, I see many people  who live their Christian lives as if Jesus is Someone who died for them but has never had any interaction. They see Him as silent as someone in a coffin. They know He exists because of testimony and history but they do not hear Him speak. They do not know Him as their living Lord.

This means that prayer never becomes anything more than a checklist left for a silent God who may or may not answer. There isn't much difference between this relationship and those who leave food at the base of idols. These idols never speak or move. The difference is that God is not seen.

Then you have a God of the rules rather than the God who truly loves us in a relationship. Then you have a God with whom there is a dry worship which is only ritual. The worshiper doesn't even know if God is in the room.

Yes, abiding in Christ is very different.

Friday, March 28, 2014

God Is Coming after Us

Luke 15:1-10 (ESV)
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Every week I pray for people to come to know Christ as Savior. Sometimes I act as if God doesn't want them to be saved. I think my own witnessing or praying is more substantial than God's own desire to see people come to know Him.

But none of that is true, is it? God always desires the redemption of His creation. He has made the joy of that redemption inherent in His creation. All of heaven rejoices. All of those created by Him should rejoice as well.

Jesus speaks of this redemption as a woman who has lost a coin for her dowry. She would naturally scour the house until she finds that coin. She would be so joyful that she could not contain it within herself and would have to tell others. This is God's joy when He sees even one of us come to Him.

But it isn't because we naturally come to Him. He searches for us. He comes after us. He does all that can be done without violating our own will. Indeed, His offer is made only to those who will accept it. Those who refuse don't see it as an offer at all. They can only see that their own lifestyle must be changed and they are blinded to the ridiculous idea that it is more important than their own eternity.

I know a man who will not come to know Christ though many of his friends have told him of Christ. His wife desires his salvation. She loves him so much that she cannot see that he is the one rejecting Christ's offer. She believes that someone will lead him to Christ because they have better words or a better persuasion or something that will bring him around. But God has been pursuing this man all of his life. He has blatantly rejected Christ so many times that his natural reaction is to reject Christ.

And do you know what his answer is when people tell him that he must trust in Christ as his savior or receive eternal damnation? He says, "I'll just take my chances." There are no chances. It is worse than buying a lottery ticket. At least a lottery ticket has a winner but rejecting Christ all of your earthly life has no winners. I don't know if the man has been deceived by the devil, the world or his own flesh. But there is no one I know who has been told the plan of salvation more times than this man. There is no one I know who has been prayed for more. The picture of God coming after a person could not be displayed any more than it has been seen in coming for this man.

But as elderly as he is, as many times as he has been told and as many times as he has rejected Christ, I still pray for him. I do so for the sake of his wife who wants him to be with her in heaven. I pray that he keeps living so that he will continue to have other opportunities to receive Christ. I know God is coming after him.

Salvation is the culmination of God's pursuit and our own commitment to Him. It is a surrender and victory. It is a renovation of our hearts. It is the creation of someone new. It is God's desire to see us in the repentance which brings us to Him. It is the moment where God has found us and we have found God.

Realizing grace is realizing that God came for us. He will not relent. He desires our redemption that much.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Real Love

Hollywood produces a lot of movies they try to sell as love stories. I don't like most of them because very few of them have anything to do with love. They are all about sexual attraction, manipulation and pleasure but they do not get to the root of what real love is all about. They rarely show two people who are so devoted to each other through years of marriage. They rarely show two people who's supposed love is not centered around sex. In fact, most of the scenes have to do with passion rather than love. I was raised on a farm. Hollywood's love looks more like animal instinct than true love.

Love is a decision. It is something you decide to do with a commitment. The commitment makes the love last because the passion may or may not be there in the moment. The commitment keeps the person faithful when sin presents itself as an opportunity. The commitment calls for sacrifice rather than what feels good. The commitment is intended to last. The failure in love is not a failure in emotional feelings. It is a failure in commitment to love.

I know love. My wife and I have been married for over thirty-seven years. I told her this morning that I loved her more than life. I did this before I realized the scripture I would be reading for my daily time with God. I meant it. I felt it. I am committed to it. How committed am I?

I look at the love chapter in the Bible and measure my love against it. This is the general love that we should have for each person but sometimes it is easier to love the person across the street than the person you live with. The chapter becomes a real test of my love for my wife as well as for anyone else.

Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I jealous of what she has or does? Am I acting arrogantly in front of her? Do I put her down? Am I treating her with honor? Do I forgive and never mention it again? Do I praise and rejoice with her when she follows the Lord? Am I committed though she may treat me wrongly?  Do I believe in her as doing the loving thing rather than supposing she is acting unloving?

I often read these verses at weddings. I don't think that most couples realize what they say. Maybe they think that love is how Hollywood presents it. Hollywood almost never tells the story of a couple who grow old together. They don't tell of the sacrifices and faithfulness. They stir in the conflict and unfaithfulness and make people believe that this is what can be expected. They don't let us see a love that is so strong because of the commitment to love.

One of the gentlemen in my church has a wife with dementia. She doesn't remember him anymore. He continues to take care of her. He has put locks on the inside of the house so that she can't wander off. She can no longer put a whole sentence together. Many people have told him that he needs to put her in a memory unit of nursing home facility. His response was that he promised to love her as long as he was alive. He doesn't feel like that commitment has changed because of the circumstances. I am sure it hurts to watch her deteriorate. I know that it is real love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Glory That Remains

Our church will soon renovate the sanctuary. It was build in 1980. There are stains on the carpet and the pews are worn in many places. The platform has been added to, modified and gotten weak in places. The stucco walls are in need of paint. The morning sun lets in a glare so strong that those sitting near it cannot be seen. The walls echo the sound from the speakers and make it hard for people to understand what is being said.

Yet, the room is still glorious. It has a wooden ceiling that is just beautiful. The pipe organ has wondrous pipes which frame the front. The room is 9,000 square feet giving glory to God. The architect designing the changes for the renovation remarked, "Those who built your sanctuary did such an amazing job that when we make the upgrades, it will look like it was just built in 2014." In other words, the renovation will not look like putting lipstick on a pig. This lipstick will go on Miss America.

It is so easy to focus on the negative when looking at anything. Isn't that what the news has become. Very little of the media talks about what good is being done. They lead with the murders, continue with the natural disasters and finish with the accidents. Yet, most newscasters seem to have a very positive look when they step back and speak with their fellow reporters. They talk in the positive. Do they focus on the negative news because that's what we want to know?

Looking at the state of man can make anyone depressed. it appears that we are going so far away from God every moment that there is no returning to Him. It seems we have lost all semblance of being God's children. Yet, this is not true. We still carry within us God's glory. We are still His creation. We are capable of being a glory to Him.

Humanity has some of the characteristics of our sanctuary. We have cracks and flaws but were created with such beauty that the beauty is still there. We have worn off places but there is a day of renovation ahead. There is a day when the glory will again be untainted by what we have done in our lives. There is a day when He will make us like we are new all over again.

I have to remember that when I encounter people. I can't treat them as broken without any hope of repair. I can't see them as ugly because of the wear and tear. I have to see the glory that remains.

Psalm 8:3-9 (ESV)
3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4  what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
7  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Should We Pray the Lord's Prayer?

I grew up repeating the Lord's Prayer in church. I didn't think about what I was saying. I just repeated it like everyone else. (I also repeated the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds without thinking.) I don't think I should have treated it in this way but I didn't know the significance of a lot of things when I was a kid. I knew the price of everything but not the value.

Movies commonly have people repeating the Lord's Prayer when the characters believe they are about to die. This may be the only religious thing a person can remember. I don't know if saying the Lord's Prayer at that moment in a real situation would really help. Maybe it just soothes the nerves.

The Lord's Prayer was a teaching moment which Jesus used on His disciples. They had asked Him to teach them to pray. He told them this is the way to do so. Let's take a look at what He was teaching.

The disciples wanted Jesus to teach them just like John the Baptist had taught his disciples. This praying was not about special words to be used. The disciples wanted to pray but either didn't think their prayers were effective or didn't know how to pray.

I suppose these disciples had heard others pray. I understand that the Pharisees liked to stand on the street corners and pray eloquently to be praised by those who heard them. They had heard Jesus pray and realized that it was much more personal and not concerned with the way that it sounded. They wanted to pray like Him.

The word for prayer is not the word typically used for specific prayers. It would be an attitude of receiving a blessing. It was a word that gave the atmosphere of the prayer that was being said. They weren't looking for Jesus to give them a prayer that they would simply repeat over and over. They were looking for the framing of their prayers

One Sunday I was called by a hospital to come be with a man whose wife was about to die. I left right after the morning worship and met him in a waiting room. The man had been told that she had thirty more minutes. I asked if he would like to pray and he did but he told me that he didn't know how to pray. I told him to tell God what was on his heart. He bowed his head and said, "God I don't know what to say. I know I am being very selfish and this is a selfish prayer, but I want my wife to live. I promise we will be in church if you will just make her live." Though I had never met the man before I knew that he had been honest and humble before the Lord. Two weeks later he brought his wife to church with him. God heard him. Even though he didn't say the words, he prayed in the spirit of the Lord's Prayer.

I find the Lord's prayer frames my prayers so that I am humble and honest with Him. I can think of these words Jesus said and know that I must ask along the same lines. I can even repeat the Lord's Prayer and realize that I have asked in the spirit of everything that I need. I am asking for God's blessing when I pray. I am asking for His presence, forgiveness, provision, protection and wisdom.

However, the Lord's Prayer doesn't have the same meaning if I am not paying attention to what it says. I cannot disregard my sins or the poor, mistreat others, worship meaninglessly, deny God's word, lack belief, request things that will hurt me nor be full of pride and get anything at all out of saying the Lord's Prayer. I lack the spirit of what that prayer means when I try to pray this way.

Yet, I still believe that people should pray the Lord's Prayer. It will change the way all other requests are made if you pray it with reverence and honesty.

Luke 11:2-4 (ESV)
2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” 

Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)
9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Not Just Hearing the Word that Makes a Difference

Mark Twain defined a classic: "A book which people praise and don't read." Later, he redefined a classic as, "something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." Nothing has changed in the past hundred or so years. People like to have their bookshelves filled with books they have never read.

I just don't think people realize what they are doing. They want to look good without being good. They want to have heard the right thing to do without having to do it. They want to read the stories of those who have lost weight without ever going on a diet. They do not realize that they live in ambivalence. They say and act in different ways. They agree with what they must do and never do it.

Each time I go the YMCA to workout I am amazed at the number of people who are trolling the parking lot to find a parking place closer to the door. Didn't they come for exercise? Why not park farther away and get some of the exercise walking to the door? Yet, they don't realize what they are there for. They want to go through their workout without noticing how much they avoided working out. They are people who avoid exercise in order to get to exercise. 

Each week a number of people come to church without being changed. They nod at the sermons, point out they were in church and believe that attending is all that is necessary. They have not been changed by their regular attendance in church. They are still as immature as they were when they first attended church. They never realized that they must be changed. They think that attending is all the change they ever need. It is no wonder that they can't get their family members to attend. The family members do not want to spend a couple of hours a week doing something that isn't that entertaining or life changing. 

Those who hear God's word should do it. Doing it is the evidence of the change. It isn't an exercise alone. It is a change that goes beyond the walls of the church or it isn't a real change. It becomes who the person is. It isn't just something to be done.

James wrote that we should not be just hearers. We must become doers. Becoming a doer is more than just doing it. It is becoming it. Thus, we can't merely have evangelism programs which get people to evangelize. We must see changed people who can't help but evangelize. We can't just have people who are listeners to the word. We must have people who become that word so that they don't have to act like Christians. They will simply be Christians.

I want to tell people to be what they say they are rather than merely trying to look good without making any changes. Hear the word and act on it. Never listen to it nor read it without expecting to act. Be changed by the word to become one who acts on it. Never take it for granted. Never hear it without noting what it calls you to do.

James 1:22-25 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Foot Washing, Anyone?

What would it mean if I washed your feet? Not a lot.

Jesus washed His disciples' feet. I can hardly imagine God, coming to earth as a human being, having to live among us and, then, not washing the disciples' hands but their smelly, dirty feet. I can't imagine the humility. The example speaks so loudly that I know I can never attain such humility. Jesus was right when He said that a student cannot be above his teacher. I certainly cannot attain the humility of my Lord. I could not attain the humility of Jesus if I was to wash lepers' feet. I simply would not be stooping down to do so.

God gives humility high regard. It must be an absolute necessity to be in a good relationship with Him. It must please Him we deny our rights to serve those who do not deserve our service. The act means we understand what Jesus has done by coming to earth. It means that we have identified with Him so strongly that we can join Him in His work.

I cannot ever say that something is beneath me since the infinite God has stooped so low. I can never demand my rights with others since the infinite God gave up His rights for me. I can never call myself greater than any other.

I know there are churches who practice foot washing. I don't think there is anything wrong with it but I don't think that all the foot washing has to be foot washing. I believe it is swallowing your pride and apologizing. I believe that it is giving your seat of honor to another. It doesn't mean you should think little of yourself. It means you stop thinking of yourself at all.

Should I start washing feet? I don't think I am worthy.

John 13:13-17 (ESV)
13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wasting Time Is Just Wrong

There are some lessons I can't seem to learn. I know that I need to use my time wisely but I will surely waste it if I am given any opportunity. I end of working long hours because I don't work efficiently.

Take today for example. I came in on Saturday like I always do because I didn't have my sermon done. I spent most of the week trying to figure out how we were going to manage to worship in a social hall that is less than a fourth of the size of our sanctuary. I measured and thought about it way to long because I still don't know that we can because I have to find out if we are meeting the fire code. I shouldn't have spent any time at all.  Therefore, I spent six hours completing Sunday's sermon with the resolve that I will be more efficient next time.

Have you ever wondered how much you could get done if you always did what you were supposed to do? Have you ever questioned what distracts you? Have you ever noticed that you are so easily distracted by good things? The bad things just don't distract you.

Our struggle is not with whether or not we are going to rob a bank or write a symphony. We struggle with sitting down to find out one thing we need to know for our job and getting up from four hours later because we were fascinated by what else we learned on the internet. We didn't visit evil sites. We just wandered along with interesting articles and facts. Even this would be okay if we had the time to do them.  But we don't. We know we don't and we know how to fix it.

We have to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, put those things on a todo list and systematically do the list. We have to be aware that God may interrupt us but we also need to discern when deviating from our list is an appointment made by God or just a distraction to keep us from doing what pleases God. Our own flesh can justify anything. Prayer should confirm or deny any change to our schedule.

If we don't take our time seriously, we will find it wasted. I know. I have been guilty of this. I, more than anyone else I know, needs to get out the todo list and do it. I, more than anyone else I know, have wasted time. I must see this as evil.

God has great plans for each of us but we will never see His plans to fruition if we waste our time. Of this I am guilty and of this I make a new commitment to the Lord. I will do what pleases Him.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)
15  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  16  making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Are You Getting along with Others?

1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)
5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  

Our church is going through forty days having a daily time with God. Each day has certain scriptures that we read as our DTWG. We are wearing wristbands which remind us to have our DTWG. This morning we were assigned the above scripture. I have blogged on this scripture before and didn't think I would have much to say about it again. So, I thought about it all day.

I wonder if people realize that broken fellowship with others may indicate we are walking in darkness. At least, one person in a broken relationship is walking in darkness. Light is symbolic of truth. The truth is seen in the person of Jesus. He reveals life as they really are. Walking in the light is walking in the truth. Walking in the truth is living a Christ-pleasing life.  Jesus prayed for His disciples to have unity. He told them to love everyone. Making every effort to resolve conflict and restore fellowship is the goal of every person who walks in the light. We must confess our sins in order to walk in the light again.

How many people think that it is the other person who needs to confess when they are really the one who needs the confession? How many continue to walk in the darkness while thinking they are walking in the light?  I guess you can't tell the difference after your eyes have adjusted to the dark.

Last week I was reading in the book of Haggai. A couple of times Haggai, speaking for God, said, "Consider your ways." Considering your ways is not a natural act. God gets our attention in some way that often catches us off guard. I know that God has often gotten my attention in a crisis. He has grabbed my attention when someone is preaching. He has convicted me while I was reading the scriptures. He has invade my prayers and made me take a look at myself while I was complaining about something He was directing me through. Each instance was both natural and supernatural. Each action was one of the Holy Spirit speaking to me. Then, I considered my ways and repented of what I was doing. There was no other way to walk in the light. I had to be cleansed from all unrighteousness.  Then, I will have fellowship with others.

I have been asked where I got the idea to have the church spend forty days having a DTWG. All I can say is that I prayed for a way to get people to be changed. I knew that I couldn't ask them to make another church meeting. I also knew they weren't going to be changed just by coming to church. They  needed to have their minds set on the Spirit. They needed to do this every day. I knew I needed a DTWG to do so. I supposed others would too. I didn't realize what would happen. People started to get partners who would encourage them to have a DTWG. Many of those were not members of the church.

And something wonderful started to happen that I didn't realize. They started having fellowship with people they had never really had fellowship with before. I realize now that they were walking in the light. Maybe some of them had to confess before this fellowship was possible. I don't know about that. I just know they are fellowshipping with each other now. I have to believe they have walked out of the darkness into the light. I have to believe they have been cleansed from their unrighteousness. I have to believe that somehow they have made things right with God by confession.

Yes, there are those who are trying to disturb the fellowship. There always will be. They will come from the inside of the church. They will stir up conflict and never realize they are walking in the darkness.  They need the Spirit to come to make them consider their ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Proper Place of Worship

Psalm 96:1-13 (ESV)
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
  2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
  3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
  4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
  5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
  6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
  7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
  8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!
  9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
  10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
  11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
  12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
  13 before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.

I am amazed when I hear that Christians have skipped worship. I have heard them say things like, "I come to the early service so I can get it over with and have the rest of the day for myself." They may have attended the "worship" service but they have not worshiped.

Some Christians think that worship is an emotional response to the message or the music. They say something like, "I was moved." Yes, they were moved but they weren't changed.

Worship is realizing who you are worshiping. Worship is realizing where you are. Worship is giving God your best. Worship is at the heart of who we are as Christians or we have our priorities out of order. Worship is necessary for effective evangelism and missions. Worship is necessary for deep prayer and a right attitude when studying the Bible. Worship comes from a healthy heart or there isn't any worship. We must worship or we can't be in God's will.

The Psalmist in Psalm 96 is leading in worship. The words speak of all there is in being a believer. A believer bows low before his Lord. He raises his voice in praises. He sees the splendor of God. He notes that there is none like God. Everything else that is worshiped is a meaningless idol. He realizes the strength of God. Overall he is glad to worship. There is great joy in his worship. Thus, he can look forward to the judgment day because he knows to whom he belongs.

There are plenty of verses in the Bible which tell of God's disdain for those who pretend to worship Him. They think they can act sinfully and come sinless to Him in worship. God says that He doesn't want to hear their worship. They claim to know more than God. They belittle Him. Judgment Day will not be so good for them.

Thus, we should worship at our best. We should bring Him glory. It is the most important part of what we do for Him. All glory to God for we were created for God's glory.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Afraid of the Light

I have heard of people who are afraid of the dark. I don't remember being afraid of the dark even when I was a child. I would get up in the middle of the night to do something and never turn on the light. My little toes have often regretted that decision. I didn't know where everything was like I thought I did.

No, I have been much more afraid of the light. Light reveals things. Thus, I look much better in the dark.

And that's not just my physical being.

I seldom desire to have light shine on my soul. I am afraid of what will be discovered. How many people would really want others to know everything they have done? How many are afraid of learning what they have already done?

You see, we don't even know the things we have done unless they are taken into the light. Often we don't remember or recognize something we have done which can have significant adverse affects on our lives. Sometimes we know what we have done but pretend that they have never done unless someone brings them up. Then, we justify our bad actions by pointing out the bad actions of others. This doesn't work with God because He hasn't ever done anything bad. We are simply exposed.

Maybe that's why some people are afraid to come back to church. Maybe they are afraid that a few moments with God will allow Him to enter their lives and find their faults. They are afraid of admitting their faults and repenting of them. They are afraid that God will chastise them. It seems so much better to ignore God, stay out of the light and never have to admit your faults.

But is it really better? I have never found that pretending made my reality change positively. Even admitting a failure is better than pretending a failure is a success. Unacknowledged failures have a way of coming back to haunt me. They are unresolved. They often beget others just like them.

But if I take a true path, I will seek His will and find myself before very long in His presence. I will see my own transgressions as He sees them. I will repent and He will carry them away. I will wonder as I have wondered so many times before,:"Why was I afraid of the light?"

You simply can't walk in His light when you walk in your own personal darkness.

John 3:19-21 (ESV)
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nothing Like This Before

God has worked in my life. He has spoken to me though not audibly. He has changed me. Should I keep it to myself when the Lord works? I know I can't.

Angels appeared before shepherds in a field to reveal the birth of Jesus. They go into town, find the Child and tell others of their experience. The shepherds know what they have seen and heard. The ones hearing it weren't there. They wondered at the shepherds' testimonies. You have to admit it was a pretty fantastic story.

There have been times that God has used me in miraculous ways. He has declared things to me that will happen that I have shared with others. I can tell that many of them were skeptical. Years ago I called someone who worked for a missions organization and told him that his boss was leaving to become pastor of a certain church. He told me that he didn't think he would. I told him I was sure that he would because God had told me. Six months later I got a call from this same man who told me that his boss was preaching a trial sermon at the church I had told him about. He said I was a prophet. I told him that I could only state what God had told me. I don't know the future without God's revelation.

I have to face skeptics each time I tell a story of God amazing grace to me. One person told me that they couldn't believe me because nothing like what I experienced ever happened to them. I suppose those who listened to the testimony of the shepherds could say the same thing. The shepherds might agree with them. Nothing like this had happened to them before either.

I wonder if the shepherds had any fear in sharing what they had seen. Would others think they were making it all up? I suppose we should all expect someone to doubt our sincerity or sanity when God acts.

So, do we shut up and say nothing or declare the wonders of the Lord when something happens like nothing has happened before?

Luke 2:15-18 (ESV)
15  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  17  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

God Knows More than Your Name

It is easy to feel alone when you are going through a tough time. Feeling alone often has nothing to do with being alone. You may be in a crowd and feel utterly alone. Many times that feeling of being alone has to do with the struggle we are going through. You look at others' lives and assume that you are the only one with your particular problem.

Going to church doesn't necessarily help either. Who really pours out his heart at church? Most church people are afraid to do so. They are afraid to admit they are struggling when everyone else is having a happy time. Thus, the only "approved" prayer requests are for sickness and death. These cannot be denied. They can be shared by everyone without any expected reprisals.

So, most people pray on their own without sharing what they are really struggling with. They wonder if God knows or even cares about their needs. The struggle continues and the alone feeling intensifies. You would be okay if you could only receive a word from Him.

So, here it is:

God knows exactly who you are and what you are going through. He knows everything that you have done and what you will do. He knew you before you were born.  You will never be able to get away from Him and He is not far from you right now. No matter how dark it ever gets; no matter how bad it ever gets; no matter how alone or hurt or desperate you ever get, He will never leave you. Never, Never, Never, Never!

He is the God who put your name in His book. He is the God who knitted you together in your mother's womb. Why would He do such marvelous things if He were going to forget you now? Why would He have formed you if He didn't have a solution or a provision for what you are going through? Why would He even let you go through your struggle if He didn't have a plan?

So, you are never alone. He is with you right now. He knows exactly what He has planned and is right now bringing it to pass. He will bring you through what you are going through regardless of how difficult or impossible you see it.

You are not a name on a list to Him. You are His child.

Psalm 139:1-16 (ESV)
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
  2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
  3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
  4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
  5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
  6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
  7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
  8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
  9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
  10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
  11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
  12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
  13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
  14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
  15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
  16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is God's Love Being Seen in Me?

Have you ever wondered why the most loving Person this world has ever known was crucified? We think that love produces love in others until we remember junior high. That's when we learned that the girls we loved with all of our hearts had no love for us. It was very confusing. Our love doesn't produce love in everybody else. Neither did Jesus' love.

Some believe that love is merely a set of chemical reactions. These combine together at the right time and you "fall" in love. That's a little too romantic for me.

The Bible tells us that love is a decision. No one can command you to have a chemical reaction. You don't merely "fall" in love. You step up to love. This commandment has been a problem from the beginning. People have been giving exceptions ever since they said they identified with Christ. They knew they had to love but also knew that they didn't have the capacity to love some people. Therefore, they redefined love. They have become like the Pharisees who redefined any law they didn't like so they didn't really have to follow it.

The missing element in love is the Spirit. God has given us His Spirit. The Spirit enables us to love others. In fact, He directs us to love them in the first place. The ones hard or even impossible by man's ability are loved because God loves them. Every one of them.

Yes, I know that it is difficult to understand that God loves the little baby as much as He does the guy that cut you off in traffic. The baby did you no harm. The one cutting you off in traffic stomped on your right to have a clear lane ahead. Shouldn't this be included as an unforgivable sin?

But God's own love rests in all who have identified with Him. (I stopped using believe in because I believe in Albert Einstein but do not identify with him. I believe he existed. It has to be much more than that.) I identify with Him like I do with my wife. We have become one. This means that I take care of her little dog even when I didn't want another dog. I love the dog because she loves the dog.

My relationship with God is much deeper than my love for my wife. He has come to reside within me in His Spirit. Thus, His love presides over who is loved. I really don't have a say in the matter. I love because He loved first. He loved me when I didn't know Him. He loves others that I have not loved yet. He loves those whom I can't love in my own strength. I love because He loves.

This is all untranslatable to the one without the Spirit. Our confession that Jesus is the Son of God comes from the Spirit. This confession is revealed in our love for others. I rest upon the presence of the Spirit within me to confess that Jesus is the Son of God who died for those He loves.

The question I must always ask myself is: "Is God's love being seen in me?" The distance I am from God is usually measured in the lack of love I have for others.

1 John 4:13-21 (ESV)
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Someone Won't Forgive You

I have received numerous emails from people who are heartbroken because people they care for deeply will not forgive them for something they have done. Each of them has admitted to me their wrongs. They have all asked- no begged for forgiveness. Each of them is being hurt deeply by those who won't forgive them. They want to resolve the conflict. They want to peace to be declared because they have already surrendered. They have no idea how to receive this peace. So, they live with the pain.

The pain takes two forms. On the one hand they know that they are guilty of destroying the trust the others had in them. So, they can never escape the knowledge of the pain they have caused. On the other hand, the pain remains because of the broken relationship. They would be forever grateful if they could just receive forgiveness and mend what they have broken.

How can a person who calls himself a believer continue to deny forgiveness? They hold onto the pain of betrayal. They hold onto their disappointments. They hold onto them because they have done something that they have no even realized. They have given the devil a foothold.

It is natural to be angry when someone hurts you. The hurt is so great that you just want relief. Sometimes you can actually use this hurt to regain control. You rehearse and remember the hurt more deeply so that you will never let this person get so close to you that they can hurt you again. This gives the devil a foothold. He has disrupted the peace of Christ in the lives of the one hurt and the one causing the hurt. He has crippled the cause of Christ in the lives of these and those who observe them.

I don't think that a believer would intentionally give the devil a foothold. This word has been translated "opportunity" by the ESV. It literally means "a place." Figuratively it can mean an opportunity or condition. Please understand it both figuratively and literally. The devil has been given a place that was not his. He could not claim it but he could be invited in to live there. The devil has been invited into the "house" of the person who will not forgive. The devil, who is called the accuser of the brethren, continues to accuse the one who has done the wrong. He continues to stir up the anger and hurt. He will continue to do so until he is evicted.

So, the hurt person, acting emotionally because of the pain, embraces the pain so that the devil who desires all of God's creation to be in pain is given a place in the hurt person's life. The person cannot forgive without considering the true price of the forgiveness.

I didn't realize who I was fighting at the time but I had pain that I struggled to forgive. I could not forgive the person even though I knew I must. I would continue to remember the pain and increase my anger even as I fought to forgive. I had no victory. So, I realized that Jesus died for all sins. He died for those committed against Him. All sins against me are also sins against Him. The wrong does not change because others besides Jesus are hurt. Therefore, I literally said, "I see (that sin) being carried by Jesus on the cross. I see Jesus dying for (that sin). I cannot claim it as a wrong any more because Jesus has paid for it."

I wish I could tell you that I did that just once and I was through but the devil also uses my memory against me at times to accuse the person again and again. I, therefore, kept saying what I knew to be true. Jesus died for the sins against me too.

And I forgave.

The person who won't forgive has a place for the devil. He must be evicted. He must be told that Jesus forgave those sins against those who are hurt too. Otherwise, I don't believe forgiveness will ever be granted.

Ephesians 4:26-27 (ESV)
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Not Far from the Kingdom of God

When someone asks you what your favorite food is you could say, "Beef," or, "Potatoes," but that isn't normally how you answer. You answer with your favorite meal. That's because one food often defines the other. For example, you might say that your favorite food is chicken and dumplings or steak and and a baked potato or spaghetti with meat balls. You do so, not because you don't realize that you could have one without the other, because in your mind they go together so well that you don't want one without the other.

This is the case of what some want to call the first and second commandments. Yes, Jesus did define them in that way but He was only asked to give the greatest commandment. Greatest is a superlative. Favorite is a superlative. A superlative should only have one item in the answer. Jesus did indeed designate one commandment as the greatest but combined it with another. Therefore, we must conclude that they are inseparable and define each other.

We live in a world with great sentiment but very little discernment. We want everyone to be happy even if the things they claim to give them happiness are drawing them away from God. Movies have become so understanding toward sin that sin no longer exists. The vigilante is justified in revenge because of the pain she feels, the adulterer deserves love outside of his marriage and the thief is merely filling his own needs from the abundance of others. Thus, we can have a sinless world as long as we can find compassion in everything everyone does.

Of course, the world could go the other direction too. The world could claim to love God so much that it builds great monuments to Him on the backs of people. It could take everything that others have worked for in order to fund such projects. It could demand attendance in religious events even if that meant people would have to abandon their positions in hospitals and fire stations. They could claim that this was all for the love of God and care nothing for mankind.

But Jesus brilliantly gave the two commandments as if they were one. The first left no doubt where our love should go. It takes all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength to adequately love God. Jesus said that loving God required obedience. Still, loving God meant loving others. God's love is so entwined with love for others that they can't be separated. You can't love God without loving others. You can't really love others without loving God.

This doesn't diminish your compassion for others. You still love the one who has committed sin but you love him or her so deeply that you don't approve of that sin. This love is defined by our love of God. God gave us a morality that would fulfill us. It centered around His holiness. It enabled us to know Him.

Thus, when I say that adultery is wrong I am not denying love for the adulterer. I am repeating what God has said in His love. A love so pure that we can't improve on it. A love so holy that there isn't even the slightest measure of hate.

The greatest commandment is the canvas on which the second commandment is painted. Take away the love of God and true love for others falls apart. You are not far from the kingdom of God when you understand this.

Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Consider the Interests of Others

Philippians 2:4-8 (ESV)
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

I read these words last night before I went to bed. They stayed on my mind throughout today. I thought of all the times I had thought of myself as being humble without realizing that considering myself as humble is not humble at all. True humility is not thinking so little of yourself. It is not thinking of yourself at all.

Considering the interests of others changes my whole attitude. Let's say for example I have made my wife angry. (Since I have made her angry so many times before I can speak with some authority on this subject.) Let's say I am in a committee meeting at church and she needs to get in touch with me. Let's say she has dropped her beeper (only hospitals use beepers) in water and she wants to know what to do. She texts me and I don't answer. She calls me and I ignore the call. Okay, she is angry because she believes the beeper is dying and I am not there to console it. No, she is angry because she knows she needs to do something immediately or the beeper is never going to work again. She needs to know whether she should try to dry it out, open it up or pitch it in the trash. She needs to know right away or the beeper will never work again.
But she can't reach me because I have ignored her.

On her sixth or seventh call, I answer. She expresses her anger. I am not angry but could easily get angry. After all, she dropped the beeper, not me! But I need to consider her side. I ignored her. That is the real problem. My actions proved that the committee meeting was more important than  her. Now, she has a right to be angry. Right?

Sure she does. My interests disappear after I consider hers. Do you think that is what Jesus did?

Jesus is God Himself but did not hold onto His godness. He remained God but did not access all of the attributes of who He was. He was in one place at a time. He limited His knowledge of things. He felt pain, hunger and thirst. He made Himself like one of us. He considered us completely without thinking of Himself.

This ultimate humility meant that He would go to the cross for us. Humility is the surrender of your will to another. Ultimate humility is to sacrifice everything for another. His obedience was to His Father. He humbled Himself to His Father's will. Therefore, He was severely beaten and killed. He did so because He was considering us.

I have always known that God has always known me even before I was. He knew me when His Son was on the cross. I was on His mind when He sent His Son to the cross. Jesus was crucified as God considered me.

He didn't do this just so that I could write a blog about it someday. He did so that I would know Him. He did so that I would be changed by Him. He did so that I would also be humbled and consider others' concerns and needs and be humbled to His obedience in doing what He has called me to do in meeting their needs.

So, I must keep this is mind. Jesus paid much too high a price for me to be emotional about Him but never changed. He wanted me to get beyond emotional religion and get to an intimate relationship. He wanted me to be like Him.

No, I am not there yet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

That's Who God Is

Psalm 103:1-18 (ESV)
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Let's say I was a waiter in a medium priced restaurant. I take an order from a very rich man and serve him. He leave me a $100 tip. What can I say of this man if I don't know him? Actually, nothing. Unless he does this consistently or I have heard this of this man universally I can't say whether or not he is generous. A one time act does not create a characteristic.

This would be true if a person acts negatively as well. Each of us has known someone to act uncharacteristically of themselves. We said something like: "That's just not like him. I wonder what's wrong." We assume that something negatively has happened outside of his or her life to cause this reaction.

But this is never true of God. He doesn't act because of circumstances. He acts because that is who He is. He never acts uncharacteristically. He is what He does. He does what He is.

Sometimes we want God to act. We ask Him to provide for us or heal us or tell us what to do. We acts as if we have to tell Him to perform like we need Him to. Instead we should see ourselves as getting in tune with Him in our needs. In other words, we need to be where we need to be in order to meet Him where He is. We will always find Him to be forgiving, loving, providing, directing and just when we come to where He is.

Instead we are so often telling Him to come over to where we are. We don't expect any change in our lives to meet Him. We believe that our need is enough for God to meet us. We presume that He should act regardless of our requests are within His will. We think He should respond to what we see as our need without us ever confessing or obeying or seeking Him apart from whatever our need is.

Thus, we ask God to be all the things that David has mentioned in Psalm 103 but fail to understand Him as doing these things because we have not gone to where He is. This is much worse than asking the President of the United States to come to our homes to hear our requests rather than going to meet him at his convenience in the White House. Suppose you wrote a letter to the President requesting such a meeting. Then, you used the lack of response to conclude that he either couldn't hear you, couldn't meet your request or didn't care anything about his people. Obviously, you know that isn't necessarily the case for the President. Why would you assume as much for God?

David has gone to God. He has known Him as characteristically these things.He has received them because of his adjustment to who God is. These attributes are not simply what God has done. They are who He is. And they are known to those who come to Him and walk in His ways.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Devil Is Looking for the Right Moment

Luke 4:13 (ESV)
13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days. The devil looked at this as an opportunity. He tempted Jesus to make the stones into bread. He tempted Jesus to become the ruler over kingdoms. He tempted Jesus test God. Jesus responded with God's word. The devil had no valid argument. He left Jesus alone.

The devil wasn't through with Jesus. He would come back to tempt Him again. He left Him because he no longer had the opportunity. The devil doesn't waste his time or resources if he can help it.

 If the devil would wait for the opportunity to tempt Jesus again, don't you think that he is waiting for the opportunity to tempt you?

That word translated opportune time is the Greek word "kairos." It has much more meaning than "kronos" another Greek word which can be translate as time. It speaks of the moment as having a special meaning. It is appropriately translated opportune time by the ESV. The devil is waiting for the right moment when the time is ripe. He strikes just when he feels he has an opportunity.

Have you ever wondered why the devil strikes so hard when things go bad? I think that's why some people think that bad things happen in threes. (and fours, fives, sixes, etc.) The devil piles on when you are down. He comes to tempt you with an easy way out of your dire situation. He wants you to abandon hope in God and follow him. He wants you to think that his answer the right answer.

Things go bad at work and they often simultaneously go bad in your family. Your car breaks down and you find that others are demanding payments from you. It rains and you have a flat. Then, the temptation comes just at the moment you are the most vulnerable.

The devil wants you out of church when church will do you the most good. He wants you to stay away when the sermon might cause you to turn to a deeper commitment to God. He wants you to remain depressed and vulnerable to what he seeks in your life. He wants to steal you away, kill your spirit and destroy any ministry that you could ever have.

I find that he often tempts me right after a great success too. He tempts me into thinking that I caused it and deserve the glory that some of the people are trying to give me. He doesn't care about this momentary victory if he can have me. He will trade a few good days at church as long as he can turn my heart away from God.

He is either tempting you right now or he is waiting for that opportune moment. You are either giving into his temptation or you are fleeing temptation and opposing the devil. You have and are having victory or you are in defeat. And by the way, defeat doesn't always feel like defeat. It may be that you made a lot of money by giving into a temptation from the devil. It may be that you have found companionship which isn't from the Lord. It may be that people are praising you for something that is dishonoring to God. The money, companionship and praise feel really good. The devil doesn't care if you feel good as long as he has you where he wants you.

Would it be a great day to put on the full armor of God? You know it has to be. You might not see the devil coming.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Can a Spiritual Gift Be Neglected?

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)
6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,  7  for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 

Timothy had a spiritual gift that was going unused. Paul reminded him to fan it back into flame or rekindle the use of it. An unused gift is a useless gift. No Christian is forced into using his spiritual gift(s). He can continue to function in his own power.

A spiritual gift appears to bring attention to the person using that gift. While that can certainly happen it is not the best use of the gift. Many people are afraid to use their spiritual gift because they know that they do not have the natural ability to accomplish that gift. For example, a person may be given the gift of prophecy even though he is a naturally shy person. The use of the gift means he must say things to others that they might not want to hear. He may be called upon to point out a sin or the lack of spiritual direction in others' lives. The naturally shy person may feel fear in using his gift. That fear did not come from God. The gift came from God. It must be used. Fear should not get in the way of using a spiritual gift.

The motivation for using the spiritual gift is one of power, love and self-control. The spiritual gift has powerful results. It changes people and situations. My spiritual gift is teaching. I find that God changes people when I allow Him to use me with my spiritual gift. I am always amazed since I do not give the slickest delivery. I will never be a famous preacher and be on tv. I can't deliver the messages in such a way to turn phrases and catch the attention of people I simply teach God's word to the people and God powerfully changes them.

A spiritual gift should be used in love. God loves you so much that He includes you in His plan. He uses you to change others lives because He loves them. He draws people to Himself through these spiritual gifts. We love others by using our spiritual gifts. We use our spiritual gifts because we love others.

And yet, the spiritual gift is one of self-control. It is very easy to think that you can take your spiritual gift and use it for your own glory. That is the danger of seeing God doing something powerful and hearing others give you praise for the use of your gift. The natural flesh is tempted to take credit for the spiritual gift. The natural flesh loves the attention the gift provides. So, we have to use self-control if we are using the gift in a God glorifying manner.

This is not the first time Paul has reminded Timothy to use his spiritual gift.

1 Timothy 4:14 (ESV)
14  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

He had received it when the elders had laid their hands on him. These elders believed in Timothy as Paul believed in him. They did not give him the gift but God used the occasion of their laying hands on him to give this gift. They evidently observed the gift as Paul had. This gift confirmed Timothy's call to his ministry. it is obvious that he was to use this gift.

A spiritual gift can be neglected. It may be done so because of fear of others or a fear within oneself. It may go unused because one does not realize that the power in the gift does not come from the power within the person with the gift. It may go unused because there is a love problem within the one with the gift. It may go unused because the person tries to mimic the gift rather than use it with self-control.

I find that many Christians either do not know or use their spiritual gifts. They act as if the professional ministers (those paid by the church) are the only ones who have or should use spiritual gifts. However, I am sure that every person who is a true believe in Christ has at least one spiritual gift. I believe that every Christian has a responsibility to find out what that gift(s) is and use it (them).

So, you too fan the flame of the spiritual gift God has given you.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Just Can't Do It My Way

Galatians 5:17 (ESV)
17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Occasionally I hear the recording of Frank Sinatra singing "I did it my way," playing at a funeral. Somehow the family thinks this is a good testimony of how the deceased lived. I always hope the family is misled. I hope the deceased had more sense than to do it his way.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I haven't done things "my way" frequently. It doesn't matter how many times I have seen God act I still somehow think I can do things without Him. So, I don't consult Him, don't ask for His direction, don't seek His power and forget about achieving His results. Then, I get what I can do and nothing more.

Joshua led his army against Jericho and won because he followed God's way. He gave the glory to God and continued on toward Ai without consulting God. He didn't know that Achan had taken some of the things from Jericho which were dedicated to the Lord. Joshua, thus, acted upon his own leadership and the power of his own army. He was soundly defeated by a bunch of farmers with farm implements. How many times does this need to happen before we realize that we need to do everything God's way.

The Bible says that we are either Spirit led or flesh led. We understand the things of God when we are in the Spirit. We walk with His power. We want only what the flesh wants when in the flesh. And we get only what the flesh can get.

The flesh leads us to the things of the world while the Spirit leads us to the things of the Spirit. It seems fairly simple but give us a moment unto ourselves and we can make the most fleshly things into things of the Spirit. We will bend what we want to make ourselves and others believe that they are things of the Spirit. Deceiving ourselves is the greatest deception of all. Sometime it takes a great defeat to realize what we are doing.

So, today I go to worship. I will preach what I believe to be God's message. I will ask to be baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit in the delivery. I believe God is going to do something that will amaze me. I don't think He has to entertain me. I just believe that He is an amazing God who is always doing more than my IBM (Itty-Bitty Mind) can anticipate. I don't think Moses actually expected the Red Sea to open when he got there any more than I think that Joshua anticipated God's method of making the walls of Jericho fall down. Each was obedient. Each expected God to do what He said. Each did what the Lord told him to do. Each was amazed when it happened. (Joshua was told that it would happen but I still can't imagine not being amazed when it did.) You can believe and expect that the Lord will do as He has said and still be amazed.

I have to set my mind or spiritual things or I will do things my way. I know because I have done things my way so many times before. I must, must, must remember though: I just can't do it my way.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Cost of Selling Your Soul

Matthew 27:3-5 (ESV)
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Nothing that I have ever done can be undone. I can't unsay a word that I have ever said. I can take things back that I have taken but I can't un-take what has been taken. I can't even un-think a thought. The actions have happened. Nothing can make them un-happen.

Judas evidently thought he could absolve himself of what he had done by bringing back the thirty pieces of silver. He knew Jesus was innocent. He thought he had sold information. He didn't realize he had sold his soul. I don't think anyone ever does. He couldn't buy it back with thirty pieces of silver.

Let's say you bought a car at an unbelievable bargain. You didn't cheat the dealer. He freely offered the price for the car. Later the dealer is sorry that he made the sale. He comes back and wants to give you your money back in exchange for the car. You would naturally be reluctant in selling it back to him. You got a great deal and you want to keep that deal. Why would Satan want to return Judas' soul for a mere thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests and elders had also sold their souls. They weren't about to take back the money to absolve Judas. Even they called it "blood money."

I don't know how far a person goes to sell his soul. I know that Jesus will forgive any sin other than blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This is the sin which crosses the line. This is the only sin in which there is no return. Is this what it takes to sell your soul? Maybe so.

I have seen the most unlikely people come to know Christ. I have seen drug dealers and prostitutes and murderers and those who said they would never repent come to know Christ. They were miraculously changed. They were able to hear the Spirit speak and became new in Christ.

Judas felt sorry for what he had done but he still didn't believe. He hanged himself because he couldn't stand living with himself. He didn't know that Jesus forgives even though he had spent years listening to His teaching. Somehow, he resisted repentance. He never begged for forgiveness.  Was it that he couldn't believe in a forgiving God or that he didn't believe in God at all? I don't know. Does it matter?

Judas soul had been sold. The devil had it in his hands. He certainly didn't want to give it back. Judas couldn't imagine that the One he betrayed was the only one who could buy it back. He didn't understand that Jesus would go to the cross to buy his soul.

He should have known though. Jesus had told His disciples. Yet, somehow he refused to know. So, there was no more hope for him because he didn't have enough to buy back his soul.

He thought a soul could be bought back with silver. The real cost of a soul is measured in Blood.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Would Jesus Say You Are on His Side?

Mark 9:40 (ESV)
40 For the one who is not against us is for us.

Matthew 12:30 (ESV)
30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

It is so easy to take scripture out of context and confuse what it really says. The first (also recorded in Luke 9:50) speaks to someone the disciples pointed out as not being part of their number but was casting out demons anyway. They thought that those who cast out demons had to have demon certification before they could practice. These people really weren't against Jesus. They just weren't a part of the twelve.

The second speaks of those who try to be neutral in their relationship to Christ. They remain neutral when a commitment is required. Jesus points out that they are not neutral. They are against Him.

The latter is a dangerous group that no one really addresses. Often I hear people tell me that these people are Christians who made a commitment to Christ long ago but have been silent about it ever since. I don't think so. I don't understand being silent when a commitment is required. To me, that is like joining the army but refusing to wear the uniform and refusing to fight. These people are often those in the church that use up valuable resources in the church's effort to get them to return to church. They come back and demand attention. If they don't receive the attention they leave again. Then, someone in the church church listens to these absent "Christians" and blames the church for not giving them enough attention. The church, then, goes after them again and the cycle keeps repeating itself.

Then, one day I am called to do this person's funeral. The family points to the baptism record and claims their loved one is in heaven. I know God's grace is great but I wonder if this person really knew the Lord. Jesus says that those who didn't stand with Him stood against Him. Could this person really be standing with Him now?

Jesus didn't stop there. He also says that the person who doesn't gather with Him scatters. Those who are not a part of reaching people, discipling people and loving people into God's kingdom are those who are really repulsing people away from a relationship with God. Therefore, to be on Jesus side you must continue to declare your allegiance and work to bring souls to Christ or you are really against Christ and keep people away from the Kingdom.

The question at hand isn't really whether or not we consider ourselves on Jesus side but does Jesus consider us to be on His side. What evidence is there that we are gathering with Him? Who are we seeking to bring to Him right now? Evidence is seen in a life lived to give Him glory. It is a life that honors Him.

So, would Jesus say that you were on His side?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Judas Didn't Get It

Luke 6:12-16 (ESV)
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Jesus prayed all night. He needed His Father's word and wisdom in choosing His disciples. They would become the apostles who would carry the message to the world. Among the group is one named Judas the only non-Galilean.

It doesn't amaze me that Judas was chosen even after Jesus prayed all night. The scriptures must be fulfilled and Judas' crime had been predicted. Did Jesus know that Judas would betray Him when He called him? I don't know but there is no indication that Jesus treated Judas any different. Jesus even made him the treasurer. Wouldn't Matthew, the tax collector who had always handled money, have been a better choice?

Judas saw the miracles that the other disciples saw. He heard the teaching. He knew Jesus personally and still didn't get it. He still didn't know who Jesus was. He was unchanged by Jesus after three years of listening to His teaching. He didn't understand even though he had been sent out to heal and cast out demons just like the other disciples.

My church is embarking on a new journey starting this next week. From March 12 until Easter we will have a daily time with God reading the same scriptures each day. Some of the people think this is an exercise to see how many will make all forty days. I personally don't care if any of them make the forty days. I know that there will be some who will read each day's assigned scripture, follow through completely in writing what it means, reporting to each other than it has been done and, yet, not be changed by the whole experience. They have done this as a challenge to be a part of the whole church rather than the opportunity to see the Savior. They won't realize one spiritual change in their lives.

Of course, there will also be those who are radically and wonderfully changed. They will never be the same. They will crave their daily time with God. They will be consumed in their spirits with the change the Lord is making in them.

The truth is that those who get nothing out of this may actually look better at doing it. They may set a time to have their daily time. They may write better sentences in what the scripture means. They may make all forty days while the person who gets the most from this experience may miss a few days.

The goal is to create an atmosphere in which God can change the lives of His people. However, I know that some people never breathe this atmosphere. They are immune to its affect.

You see, some people will come to church, hear the same sermon as others and walk out unchanged. Others in the same service will never be the same. Some can walk in the presence of Jesus for years and not be changed. Others are changed instantly when they first meet Him.

Judas didn't get it. Lots of others don't get it either.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Sovereign God Is Not Elected

1 Timothy 6:15-16 (ESV)
15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

I live in a republic. A republic elects representatives who enact the law. The laws are followed by all the people (except sometimes by the representatives who enacted the law). Most people living here think we are a democracy but that would bring us abject chaos. This would mean that no law would have any value unless those present enacted it. In other words, the law could be changed at any moment by those assembled to consider that law. So, a person who is disliked by the community will go to jail for jaywalking and the one who is liked by the community can rob the bank with impunity if the community doesn't like the bank.

However, the people can elect their own representatives. The generally do so sentimentally rather than objectively. Candidates who speak well and look the part have a much better chance of being elected. Many people do not look at experience or what the candidate has done in the past. They simply elect with popular opinion.  Even a pro-wrestler with no evidence of knowing anything about governing can be elected governor of a state. The people often threaten to throw out all the elected people and start over but they rarely do. They were sentimental in electing this person before and that sentiment is still there as long as the public opinion remains the same.

Many people try to apply this freedom to God. They think that they can simply do what they want and tell God that He better straighten up or He won't be elected God again. Many in this country have no concept of a Sovereign God who must be obeyed. They don't understand that obeying God is like obeying the law of gravity. You can jump up but you will return to earth.

Paul breaks into a doxology as he speaks of God in the above scripture. The verses are not less important because it is a doxology. They tell the truth about God. He is the Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords. He has immortality embedded within Himself. (We inherit our immortality from Him.) He dwells in a glory that cannot be comprehended. That isn't going to change no matter how many people say that they have decided not to follow Him because they don't like His holiness. They want to continue to support immorality and decided for themselves what is right.

Most of these people don't live outside the law in this country. They obey the laws as long as there is a fear that they won't get caught. They want others to obey the laws that they obey.  They cannot understand that God's sovereignty extends beyond whether or not the get "caught." God's sovereignty allows Him to know all. He has the right. Everyone is caught in their sins. Right and wrong doesn't change simply because they want it to change. He is always sovereign even if everyone disobeys Him. He will judge perfectly because He has perfect knowledge. He will know because He has always seen. His permit to judge is given to Himself because He is sovereign.

Maybe this was understood better when monarchs ruled. The king could do as he pleased. The subjects understood this. They may have whined when they heard what their king had done but they always bowed low when he passed by.

Our King has set the law of morality. It is not subject to debate. It is not ours to judge. Our only responsibility is obedience. Fortunately, every law of God is for our own benefit. Those who love His law have great strength and nothing causes them to stumble.

How do I tell people that the sentimentality of the world is not a valid reason for determining the laws of God as unjust?