Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Ever Happened to Forgiveness?

Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)
14  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  15  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Please tell me I am wrong. There is much less forgiveness the further we get from Christ. 

Don't get me wrong. Racial slurs, dog fighting, human trafficking and the like are abhorrent. They should be condemned. But does this mean that we simply refuse to accept apologies, give people time to repent or change? Why are we so quick to condemn? Are we afraid that forgiveness might reveal a secret tolerance we have toward these things?

I don't know the answer why but I do know what Jesus said on the subject. We are to forgive if we ever have nay hope of forgiving.  I must forgive those things which are so close to my own heart. 

I have hated abortion but I have listened to those who had abortions. They cry out for forgiveness which they can't give themselves. I tell them that they are forgiven. I tell them that they can again walk with their heads high. I tell them of Jesus' sacrifice that made this all possible. I hate abortion but I don't hate those who have had abortions. They come to me and I tell them that they are forgiven even though they can never see their babies until they get to heaven. 

But somehow people have gotten the idea that there are certain things which they will not forgive. They allow spouses to be forgiven for adultery. They allow someone who has killed to be fully forgiven. They cry out for tolerance. Then they deny forgiveness in their own political or socially acceptable groups. They deny forgiveness while demanding tolerance. Can anyone see a conflict here?

So, forgiveness is a great trait when it doesn't violate what a majority of people hate. To hell with the people who violate the standard of the majority. Can you see the danger in that?

I preach that identifying with Jesus is the only way to know God. I tell people that Jesus came so that that message could be preached. I tell them that it is their only hope. What happens when that is no longer tolerated. Forgiveness is part of toleration or have people missed that too? Forgiveness is part of patience. Forgiveness is a part of hope.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog titled, "Michael Vick Doesn't Deserve Forgiveness." Some people misunderstood. I was saying that we should forgive Michael Vick. I was saying that none of us deserves forgiveness because forgiveness is a gift. I have since realized that forgiveness is a responsibility too.

But this doesn't appear to be the society we are in. We condemn for eternity without a trial.

In the end we will find that we, too, will be condemned.

Wrong is wrong. Our view of wrong shouldn't change. Justice is exacting a penalty for the wrong. We should be people of justice. Forgiveness is putting ultimate justice in God's hands. Forgiveness refuses to seek revenge and hopes for repentance.

What happens to a society which loses its forgiveness? I am afraid we will soon find out.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why Such a Bleak Future Expected among Young People

Proverbs 6:6-11 (ESV)
6  Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
7  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
8  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
9  How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
11  and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

I read a couple of teen novels lately. Both presented a dystopian future. Both novels are wildly popular among the teens. It helped me understand what is going on among a lot of young people their age and somewhat older. They are living in the moment because their vision of the future is bleak. 

Our culture today is creating many people in the younger generations who do not wait nor do they want to work for what they are enjoying. They spend what they have right away. They do not invest in education or relationships. They are sexually active without any commitment. They are in huge debt and depending upon government handouts to continue their present lifestyle. They are irresponsible in their living. They are creating the dystopian future I read of in the teen novels.

There was a time when people said, "Study hard; work hard, pray hard and you will find yourself doing much better than you could imagine." Why have we stopped saying that? Why aren't we preparing for a better future? Have we lost the value of hard work?

I see this among many of the young ministers too. They don't want to go to school to learn the disciplines of those who came before them. They have no interest in Greek and Hebrew. They don't care about solid hermeneutics. They don't want to hear the history of the church's past. They believe that they can start a new church and have thousands coming within a few years without studying any of this. They don't care that those who follow them have a weaker theology than they have. They don't care that they haven't made disciples of Christ. They want to be successful without the baggage of biblical standards of excellence.

This is all a huge example of selfishness when you think about it. They want things they have never earned. They seek blessings without the grace of Christ. They want what they want now without drinking from the cup they have been given.

Maybe that's why many of these churches started by those who didn't prepare preach messages to young people which demands no commitment. These messages tell them that God has wonderful plans for them without any commitment on their part. In fact, they can leave their lifestyle unscathed by the presence of Christ in their lives. They can continue to be as sinful as they want because God's love will cover it all.

I wonder if these people are falling away as fast as they come to believe in this fairy godmother god. This god requires nothing and gives nothing but the best. How long do they live this way before they realize the emptiness that this produces? And when they do, where do they turn?

Maybe they consider a dystopian future. This is the emptiest future they can imagine. It reveals the acts of the flesh without the grace of God. It hopes in a savior who will change this future.

O yes, these teen novels do hope in a savior. This savior comes to rescue them from their future without any commitment on their part. When will anyone learn that this is the reason for such a bleak future? Changing the moment will not change anything as long as the flesh remains in control.

Have you ever heard of someone who won the lottery who was bankrupt in a few years? Their millions are gone. They have no friends. They never changed the way they lived and thus reaped the same future they already had despite a respite given by millions of dollars. The problem was never the amount of money they had. Their problem was how they treated the money. The flesh did not change so the future followed the same path.

But I imagine a much different future for people I want them to completely commit themselves to God and His disciplines. These committed people seek Him in the good times as well as in the bad. They always prepare by obeying Him in every day. They pray, believe and work. They see a much better future than they could imagine without God.

Yes, I know that is swimming upstream in this culture. I know that it will not fill my church like telling them of a God who loves without any commitment expected from them. I know that it takes hard work to produce a culture of people whose whole outlook is changed from bleak to bright. I know but I believe it is the only true future which is better than the one they have imagined.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Feeling Ugly, Unloved, Unworthy and Useless

I know that somewhere there are people who aren't carrying the baggage of their past. They don't care how they look. They make friends who never betray them. These friends unite around each other to encourage each other in whatever they try. These people feel like they can do whatever they need to do and are making a significant contribution to their environment. I am sure that these people exist somewhere but I don't know any of them.

We are not born into this world with a blank slate. We have our genetics, our environment, our heritage, our talents and our physiques. These shape much of what we do and what we become. They tell us how to think about ourselves. It is how our sin nature as well as the glory in which God created us responds. The sin nature is so strong that we tend to believe it before we see God's glory in ourselves.

Thus, each word and action which tears us down and tells us that we are broken is received, internalized and lived over and over again.  We are somewhat obsessive in our desire to for compliments yet never believe one of them. Every night we think we are telling ourselves the truth when we say we are ugly, unloved, unworthy and useless.

Some of us go to churches who preach these destructive thoughts right back to us. This preaching confirms what we already know about ourselves. We love to have a preacher who tells us what great sinners we are. It makes us comfortable because it doesn't challenge what we think we are. It allows us to continue to condemn ourselves and this is something we can really do well.

Of course, this isn't really what we need to hear. We need to hear what God says about us. It is impossible for God to lie. His love is proved toward us because He saw our brokenness and did something about it. He sent Jesus who would tell us how much God loved us. He took from being of the world and made us only in this world for a time. He gave us hope and purpose.

Yet, sometimes we revert back to our old ways of thinking. We let our old memories flood back when we were either condemned by others or felt like we failed and beat ourselves up one more time. We may not be suicidal but we really don't care about life much either.

That is one of the reasons why it is so important to talk to God every day. He didn't send Jesus to condemn the world and He isn't interested in condemning us either. He seeks to redeem us. He wants to buy us back from all of our destructive memories and reveal within us His glory.

Each one of us is precious to God. He takes us gently into His hands and polishes us until we shine. He removes the grit and grime of this world to present us as we really are. We hear His words of love as He tells us we are beautiful and faithful in His purpose if we stay with Him long enough.

I should pray and resolve to let God place His balm upon my wounds and be healed. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Let God return us to this thought again and again. Sometimes the grievous way in us is the one we do to ourselves.

Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What Posture Should Be Used for Prayer?

If I say, "Let us pray," I can count on everyone in the room bowing their heads. Most will also close their eyes. I don't have to tell them to assume the position of prayer. I wonder if we have taken prayer for granted and the bowing of the head is more of a ritual than an act of humility. I wonder how many people listen as others pray. I wonder how many join in the prayers of others as they pray.

No, you don't have to bow your head or close your eyes to pray. I told Jesus I needed Him (as my Savior) while I was driving a 1966 Mustang. I neither bowed my head nor closed my eyes. I might have met Jesus in a very different way that afternoon if I had closed my eyes. The Bible records several different postures while people prayed.

Standing while praying:

Mark 11:25 (ESV)
25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Bowing and kneeling while praying:

Psalm 95:6 (ESV)
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Prostrate while praying:

Matthew 26:39 (ESV)
39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 

Spreading out hands while praying:

Isaiah 1:15 (ESV)
15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Looking upward while praying:

John 11:41 (ESV)
41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.

While I realize that the posture the people praying took reflected the position they assumed in their hearts toward God, I don't believe that a certain position was necessary for them to pray. I was driving when I asked to know Jesus. My heart was prostrate but my body was sitting up driving a car.

Thus, you may pray with eyes opened on closed. You may pray standing, sitting or lying prostrate on your face. You may look up or bow your head. You may kneel. You do not have to assume any posture but there is a likelihood that the position of the body may fully reveal the position of the heart.

I often am asked to pray with people. I like to take their hands because I want to physically touch them as I pray. I want to make a connection with them. I want them to know that I am not merely saying some words but am joining them in their prayer. I often ask people to join me in prayer. I usually say, "Pray with me." I am not concerned with whether or not people have bowed their heads. I truly believe that we are gathered in His name and join together in order to have Him among us. Nothing says that I or anyone else has to assume a posture in order for that to happen.

So, pray while driving but don't close your eyes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Should We End Our Prayers "In Jesus Name?"

John 14:13-14 (ESV)
13  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Some people believe that adding the words "in Jesus name" to their prayers will assure that they will be answered. This is akin to Aladdin finding a lamp with a genie in it. He rubs the lamp which releases the genie. The genie is compelled to grant Aladdin three wishes in appreciation of his freedom. The genie has no say in the matter. It doesn't matter if the wishes are good for Aladdin or not. The genie simply fulfills the wishes.

Therefore, those who believe that adding "in Jesus name" to their prayers guarantees a positive answer are using these words as leverage against God. These are the magic words. They are the rubbing of the lamp. They force God into giving them exactly what they want regardless of God's desires.

Who is God when if anyone can force Him into their desired action? This is not a matter of faith, God's will or whether or not it is the best thing for us. It can be done in pride, in order to hurt someone else, be full of selfishness and can ignore any worship of God. I can't help but believe that this angers God if these words are intended to force His hand. He will not respond positively when we call someone else God-especially if that someone is us!

There are things that we must remember about God when we pray. He is sovereign. He is not going to stop being so when we pray. He is jealous for our love and devotion. He will not share it with us. He is good. He will not do things to harm us. He is holy. He will not do anything evil. He is pure. He will not be tempted to answer our prayers like we want just so He can be proved to be God. He doesn't need to be proved. He is God. Yes, that is the final answer.

On the other hand, saying these words at the end of a prayer can also remind us that we are praying in His name in a totally different way. Saying these words can remind us that we are seeking His will in our request. We are bowing to that will and remaining humble to what He wants for us.

Words are powerful. They same words can be used for good or evil. The intent of the words makes the difference. Ending our prayers "in Jesus name" can easily be the most respectful way to pray if we remember who God is. It can be a request to have Jesus enter into the prayer with us. He, then, can refuse our prayer and still receive our praises.

So, most of the time I end my prayers "in Jesus name." I seek His will and praise Him for the answer even when the answer is not what I would have wanted. And just like Garth Brooks I end up thanking Him for "unanswered prayers."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

You Must Give Peace More than a Chance

Colossians 3:15 (ESV)
15  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Peace is the absence of conflict? I suppose we could say that because humanity does not know true peace. The truth is that there is no peace unless there is peace in your heart. Conflict may be present on the surface but peace prevails underneath.

For example: Who can say that the brutal arrest, beating and crucifixion of Jesus was peace as seen from those who watched it? But does that mean that Jesus had no peace in His heart? The peace in His heart never left Him. His peace was being at peace with His Father and His fellow man just as it is with us. He was willing to be beaten because of the peace which was in His heart. He was establishing peace even as He was crucified.

Sometimes people look at the words of Jesus toward the Pharisees and fail to see the peace in His heart. He was speaking to them in a way to bring them to His peace. He was speaking so that those who heard Him knew the price that must be paid for peace. Peace was in His heart and was at the center of His confrontation of these people.

I had to speak sternly to my children on the occasion of their disobedience when they were young. My heart was at peace and I wanted peace for them. Honestly, I wanted my children to live at peace when I would no longer be there to remind them. I didn't speak sternly to hurt them nor to bring animosity between them and me. I didn't speak to them thus to acerbate a distance between us. I was willing to allow them to feel emotionally hurt if it helped correct their behavior. I never stopped loving them nor did my desires for their good ever cease. I had peace in my heart nearly every time I spoke to them in this manner.

However, on a few occasions I allowed chaos rather than peace reign in my heart because I gave into the flesh and let my emotions speak rather than His Spirit. I apologized to my children for those times. My action toward them did not represent peace in my heart. I let the flesh reign rather than the peace of Christ.

This is an extremely mature attitude when others do not have peace in their hearts. Many times people want to draw you into their conflict because they disagree with you. They may not like what the Bible says and want to call you names (unloving, intolerant, etc.) because you have taken a stand. You can let peace fly out the window and meet them at their level of aggression or you can let peace reign and stay the course without withdrawing your desire to act in love.

You are not spinning a roulette wheel and hoping the little ball lands on peace. It takes a heart that is conditioned to act in peace before it acts in conflict. It takes a heart completely at peace with God and a commitment to be at peace with others. It takes the denial of the flesh that demands revenge for every wrong and domination in every challenge. it takes humility that does not reflect the flesh at all. It takes a character that reveals someone who is being formed into the image of Christ. It takes more than the peace that you can muster. It takes the peace that only He can give you. It is the peace of Christ.

It is easy to say you have the peace of Christ in your heart as long as everyone does as you please. It takes the real peace of Christ in your heart when they don't. It is more than giving peace a chance. It is determining to have the peace of Christ in your heart no matter what.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Responsibility of the Gospel

About fifteen to twenty years ago I went on a mission trip to Mongolia. I was sent to a village named Zoan Ma'ad. (This may not be the proper spelling but it is how the name sounded phonetically.) I took with me to this village one man from my church who had never been on a mission trip before. The missionary in that region said that he had never ministered in there before. Our responsibility was to see if there was any interest in the gospel and start a church. We were dropped off and promised we would be retrieved in five days. We were on our own. The law prevented us from going door-to-door. (more like hut-to-hut)

The missionary took us to the hut where we would lodge and left. I had Bob, the one who came with me from the states and a translator. The gospel had to go out in five days and I decided we had to go hut to hut right away. So we did.

Every person we encountered was very welcoming. They wanted to hear what we had to say about Jesus. They had never ever heard of Him. Many of them would say, "O, he is like Buddha." I would deny this and start the gospel story again.

One day we got a small portable tv which had a VHS player attached. We hooked it up and played the story of Jesus. It was translated into Mongolian. The people actually jumped when they heard their own language. Most of their tv programs came from Russia and were in Russian. I counted forty-eight people in a room that measured about 12 X 20 feet. They were all standing around a 5" tv. No one left through the whole program.

I asked if they would like to hear more. Nearly all of them said yes. I realized that we had just started a church. Not everyone of them thought it was something they would accept but some of them did.

Paul's story at Athens reminds me of that time in Mongolia. He used what he had to tell the gospel. They were very interested. Some would think it made no sense and others would realize the truth. Paul's story is an unlikely scenario. Who in an area with so many gods would accept having only one God? Why should they believe?

I went into an area that had no god. Most of the people believed in superstitions but I couldn't say that they really believed in Buddha or anyone else. They lived and expected to die. They created their own means of believing in an afterlife. Mostly though, they believed nothing.

We never know who will receive the gospel. We simply have to use what we have and put it in God's hands. Some will receive, believe and identify with the Lord. Others will simply walk away.

Tomorrow is Easter. Many people will come because that is what is expected. They will walk out the same as they entered. If they believed before, they will still believe. If they didn't, coming to church won't affect them. But some will "hear" the gospel for the first time. I will present it according to the times we are facing. I believe that people without Jesus are living empty lives. I don't see how they can turn away from Jesus if they are honest with themselves.

Yet, I and we must continue to share the good news of Jesus even if no one accepts Him. We don't know who will and who won't. This determination is not our responsibility. Telling the gospel is.

Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)
32  Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”  33  So Paul went out from their midst.  34  But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Created to Give God Glory

John 17:4-5 (ESV)
4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Everything we have seen was created. That is not much of a problem for believers. We know that God created all that was created and nothing that was created was created without Him. (paraphrase of John 1: 3) Thus, it is the problem of theoretical physicists and cosmologists to determine how everything was created without God. I don't say that to fit God into the margins of the unexplainable. I say that because He has said it. He is the only person I know who was there in the beginning. It is God's personal testimony.  

But what about Jesus? So many people read the Christmas story found in Luke and believe that Jesus began as a baby. They see Him as any other person who has walked on the earth. They love His teaching about love and treat Him like He is their mechanic. They leave Him alone until they have a problem. But the Son did not begin like you and me. We did not exist and then we did. He existed before the beginning of time.

It is hard for us to understand the Trinity. God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. People try to fit that into our own world. They want to explain it in human terms. That seems ridiculous to me. How can finite humanity explain an infinite God. Even if we could formulate a definition, we wouldn't have enough time to write it down. We have to accept some things in life without being able to define them. Speculation usually gets us into trouble even if it sells a lot of books. (You should read Hawking's The Grand Design. Why do we call this guy smart? Because he can sell books about things he is merely speculating about!)

Jesus could not be God if He was created. He could be an angel or a prophet or someone more grand than we have ever seen but He could not be God. God must preexist in order to be the creator. A created god has an unequal status with any other god. There is no Trinity. There are multiple supernatural beings who exist separately from each other. Chaos rather than cosmos would reign as each god did as he pleased. There would be no harmony.

On the other hand, a tri-person, monotheism is very hard to grasp. God existed in three persons with a seamless personality. Such harmony has never been seen among humans. There are always differences when any two of us are involved. Maybe that is why each of us is so unique. There are differences in identical twins (maybe we should rethink calling them identical.). Yet, there is no conflict between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our humanity really can't understand this.

Yet, this is also what makes Jesus the Savior. He was with God the Father in the beginning. He created the universe. He, then, stepped away from this glory to come to earth. He lived as one of us. He was not of this world even while He was in this world. He did not always submit to the laws this world lives within. He walked on water, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed thousands and raised the dead. He could do so because He was not of this world and was not subject to its laws. 

Jesus was fully human but not only so. He was always God. This allowed Him to do things that humans cannot do. It prevented Him from doing things which humans would do. He would not rebel because He was of the same nature as the Father. He would go willingly to the cross because that was the plan of redemption which was known to Him as God.

Jesus completed what He came to earth to do. He, the preexistent God, came to earth to tell us who He is and die for us. He came so that we would give Him glory. In fact, believers who follow after Him are His glory.

Therefore we were created with that purpose. His purpose on earth came from the Father. Our purpose comes from following Him and proving ourselves to be His disciples. We were created to give glory to the One who was not created.

John 17:8-11 (ESV)
8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking Care of the Poor Without Being Taken

We have a responsibility to feed those who are hungry. Jesus did not give us a pass on this no matter whether we rich or of moderate means. However, many Christians are helping people continue in unhealthy lifestyles by giving to freeloaders. That is much different from those who are hungry. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the outsider and visit those in prison. This isn't an easy task if you take your responsibility seriously.

Many people who come to the church and ask for a handout are freeloaders. They have learned how to con pastors and church members into giving them money. Many times this money goes directly toward alcohol and drugs. I used to give money to those who said they were hungry. I asked them if the money would be used on alcohol. They would act offended and tell me that they didn't drink. I let them leave and followed secretly followed them to the liquor store. This happened every time I followed someone who "didn't drink."

The stories I have been told are never original but those who tell them think they are. I have taken a man to get something to eat who claimed he hadn't eaten in three days. I watched as he had a hard time getting it down. He was already full. Since I have fasted for three day stretches I knew what it felt like to go without food for three days. I know that I would haven't left a thing on the plate. This man was very disappointed in me. He wanted money-not someone to feed him.

Then, there is the story where you are told that his mother died and he needs a bus ticket to get to the funeral. The place will generally be within a forty to fifty dollar bus ticket. There are variations on this story. Sometimes one of these grieving sons has forgotten he has already come to me a few months earlier. He assures me that it wasn't him whose came before. He actually sticks with the lie.

I love the story of the car repair. The person comes to the church with a bill from a car repair place. They usually come on a Sunday or at a time that the repair place is closed. They claim to have some of the money to pay the bill but they just need another fifty or so dollars. They have to get to work on Monday morning and they wonder if we can help. No one can verify if this is their car or if the repair place knows them at all. Car repairs are often made with estimates which are thrown away in the trash when people don't accept the cost or the work to be done. It's easy to get an official looking estimate.

Then, there is the rent and the utility stories. Often these are true. The people have allowed them to go unpaid for months and are about to be evicted or have their power cut off. They sometimes need nearly a thousand dollars to keep things as they have them. Often the will accept a call on their cell phones while they are asking you to help them with their need.

The police once told me that the people who stand at intersections asking for money usually get from $200 to $500 a day. That's tax free. The police said they will never get a job as long as they can make that kind of money without paying taxes on it.

Sometimes a man will send his wife in to ask for the money. The children as sent along with her. The truth is that she may not be his wife, they may not be her children and they may neither be homeless nor hungry. These are hard to deal with since verifying the story is difficult.

Our church has, therefore, taken a different approach. We give people food. We don't give money for gas, rent, utilities, motel rooms, bus tickets or car repairs. We give them food. This has allowed us to feed hundreds of people every week. We allot the amount of food according to the size of the family.

Are we being taken? Sure, sometimes we must be.There are times when our folks load groceries into BMWs and new SUVs. The church's reputation has become a place to get food. Therefore, we know those who ask for other benevolent needs are not local. The local community knows exactly what we do. Most of those who are poor and cannot buy enough food to feed their families are very grateful. They will not go hungry if it is up to us.

Providing only food has allowed us to feed hundreds of people per week. Giving out money for car repairs, rent, utilities and motel room would only enable us to help a few people each week.

Not everyone is a con artist but I can tell you some of the telltale signs if they are.

If they come to the church for help on a Sunday morning, they are likely to be a con artist. People who are in real need do not want a crowd around. They want to be helped discreetly.

If they ask you for more money after you have met what they asked for, they are likely to be a con artist. People who are in real need will not try to get more out of you. They are grateful for what they get.

If they come with a bill after normal operating hours of the place where that bill was issued, they are likely to be a con artist. An honest person doesn't mind if you verify the need and comes at a time when it can be verified.

If they stand outside the church and ask for money, they are likely to be a con artist. These people are taking advantage of the fact that the next person doesn't know what the last person gave them. They can accumulate quite a sum standing outside the church.

If they ask for the pastor rather than asking for help, they are likely to be a con artist. Most people don't know where to go for help. Many times the pastor is tired after a worship service and just wants to eat lunch before doing other pastoral duties during the day. He is most likely to give them money out of his own pocket just to get away. They know this and want to do so with a church member watching.

If they ask for a bus ticket or gas money, they are likely to be a con artist. They know that most people will not verify their need. They will not buy the bus ticket and wait until the bus takes them away. They will not go to the gas station. I have actually tried to put gas in a car which already had a full gas tank. Of course, the response was that the gas gauge must have been broken.

Should we take care of the poor? Absolutely, without question. Should we be taken by con artist? I don't think so. We are responsible for each resource which the Lord allows us to have. We are responsible for putting all of it in His hands to be used for His glory. Putting money in the hands of a man who will be later found drunk under a bridge is not responsible stewardship.

So, we should really help people but let's make sure that we really help people.

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why Lives Fall Apart

We have several young couples in our church. Births and baby dedications are regular occurrences. Marriage and life problems are pretty regular too.
Is there a root problem? Yes. Do most people want to attack their problems at the toot level? Absolutely not! Most people somehow believe that the counseling session alone will solve their problems. They want to continue doing what they have been doing without any adjustments. They want other people to be fixed so that they can get back to life as usual. But that never works.

The root problem for most people is found in their spiritual foundation. It is either very thin and weak or it doesn't really exist. They are either working on building that foundation or they are working on destroying it.

Let me give you some examples. A couple comes to church and gets involved. Their entire spiritual foundation is dependent upon church alone. They do not talk about spiritual things nor do they individually do spiritual things outside the church. Much of their week is around others who either have no spiritual foundation or are acting like they do. This couple is apt to join in nearly any activity with their friends. They will get drunk, take drugs, have sex outside the marriage, indulge in pornography, etc. They do these things because they have no foundation of truth. Therefore, the lies offered by these activities entice them into engaging in them without any thought of consequences. They have genuine remorse for what they have done afterwards because they see how their actions have harmed their relationship with each other but without a foundation of truth, they are very likely to repeat their sins until the relationship is totally destroyed.

People who continue throughout their lives without a strong foundation raise children without one. The children take the sins of their parents further. Thus, the succeeding generations will fall for anything. It is very must like Paul's remark in Romans, "and gave them over." They make the evil holy and the holy evil.

A strong foundation cannot be built by going to church alone. Knowing Jesus as Savior is essential but a strong foundation must also mean that the believer is obedient to the Lord. A strong foundation is not merely hearing the word. It is doing the word of Christ. That requires commitment to a sacrifice of resources. Time, money and personal activities will be set aside to follow the Lord. Most of these are committed to the Lord outside of the church.

What if I told you that I knew the way to fix a life that is falling apart? What if I told you that I guarantee your life would be meaningful, full of joy and fulfilling? What if I told you that you and your spouse could have the best relationship possible if you would do what I asked? Would you do it?

What would I tell you to do? Commit yourself fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sins and repent of them. Put away all doubtful activities. If you don't know if it is pleasing to the Lord, quit doing it. Have a daily time with God. Set aside time where you will read the Bible each day and pray. Do whatever the Lord prompts you to do immediately. Get involved with a group of people who are doing the same things as you are doing. Work at being friends with them. Let them be your social group. Go to church with the attitude of what you will take home with you. Each message should urge you to do something. Do that right away. Carefully and lovingly tell other that you are a Christian. Be prepared to define that for others. Become the servant of your spouse. Do what he or she needs without resentment. Engage with each other on an exclusive level intellectually, emotionally and sexually.

Are people ready to do what I have asked?

Sadly, most people say no. They just want to come to church. They hope that coming to church will be enough. It isn't.

Then, one day the rains come and the winds blow and their house crumbles because it has such a weak foundation. And they say, "What went wrong? I came to church."

Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV)
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Positive Side of Praising God

Do you find it easier to complain than to praise? Most of us may say that we would like to say that we are people of praise but it is more natural for most of us to complain.

Too many times I have asked my wife where she would like to eat when I have taken her out. She nearly aways says, "I don't care. Wherever you want to eat is fine."

Then, I drive to Taco Bell. As we pull up she asks, "What are we doing here? I don't want to eat here."

Again, I ask, "Where do you want to eat?"

"Well, not here," is her reply, "anywhere but here."

So I pull up to McDonald's and she exclaims, "Really? Really? Did you think that McDonald's is better than Taco Bell?"

"Then, just tell me where you want to eat!" I say a little exasperated.

You know the answer. "Well not here but anywhere else will be fine."

I have found that it is easier for her to tell me where she doesn't want to eat than to tell me where she would like to eat. I have found that without prompting she will lean on what is bad before what is good. I don't think she is unusual. I am just like her.

People in a drought are the ones who are positive about the rain. People who are in hunger are the ones grateful for the food. The blind are the ones who can appreciate sight. The deaf would praise God with their whole hearts if they could hear. Yet, the ones with the well irrigated fields, full stomachs, who see and hear clearly don't realize what we have. We are saying that we hate the rain, are very particular about the food, and speak of the ugly things we see and hear. We fail to see what there is to praise God for and therefore don't praise Him often.

I have heard that satanist boast that they can blaspheme the name of God for an hour and a half without repeating themselves while Christians can't praise the name of God for a minute and a half without repeating themselves. The satanists can easily see what they think are flaws in God while the Christians can't see the truth in praising Him.

So, what can I praise God for? I praise Him for being the One who loves me with an everlasting love. He is the One who knows me fully and forgives me completely. He is the One who created the universe and the majesty of the stars at night are a minute fraction of His creation. He is the One who is full of wisdom and power to change anything like it should be. He is the One who is holy. It is by His holiness that holiness is defined. He is the one who never changes no matter how late in the day or what the circumstances might be. He is the One who is ever-present. I will never escape Him no matter how far I run. He will never be far from me no matter how deeply I need Him. He is the One who holds all the power and authority in the universe. Nothing is beyond His ability.

That's not a complete list but just putting it together now has released the negative from my soul. Negativity has a way of getting control of me when I let it.

So praising Him is not just for His benefit. It changes me too.

Psalm 145:1-13 (ESV)
1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
  2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
  3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
  4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
  5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
  6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
  7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
  8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
. 9 The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made
. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
  11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,
  12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Justice Belongs to God

Every one of us has someone who has done something wrong to us. Sometimes it was volitional. Sometimes their selfishness caused them to step on us. Their malevolent intent or their careless selfishness angered us. We have a sense of justice within us. It is part of being created in the image of God. We want to enact that justice. That's just our flesh.

God has given us responsibility in His world. We are empowered to deal out punishment. We are given permission to hinder evil and chaos. But we will never be able to exact true justice. That has nothing to do with how good we are. We simply do not have the right. It is God's world. He is the great judge. He will mete out justice to everyone.

As Christians we should have already known that. The wages of sin is death. That is justice. God sent His Son to fulfill His justice. God's gift to us is accepting us because we have identified with Christ. We are forgiven of our debt because He has paid for it. Justice is the exact payment for the exact crime.

We are guilty of sin when we do something unloving to another person. We need forgiveness or we will suffer the estrangement from God which yields a dry, meaningless life without vital interaction with Christ. Those who act unloving toward us will suffer the same fate. They, no more than us, can go on as if nothing has happened. We, as people who have identified with Christ, must act as Christ has to those who have sinned against Him. He continues to love and offer grace even though they reject His offers. They heap the judgement on themselves by continuing to act hatefully when we offer them love.

Yet, since we do not see their suffering at the moment of their hatefulness, we assume that there is no justice. We forget that God is always a God of justice and not one of the things done good or bad will ever be forgotten. Knowing this makes our grace sweeter and drives us to confession. Failing to realize this further condemns us.

I believe that one who has identified with Christ will always be convicted and drawn to confession and forgiveness. Those who have given lip service only will not notice His absence and, therefore, will not seek His forgiveness through confession. The mark of a Christian is found in Jesus' love. It flows through him and fulfills him. The person who has not identified with Christ lives without Jesus' love flowing through him. He doesn't miss this love because he has never had it.

Therefore, the Christian acts in love toward those who are acting hatefully toward him. He give them no excuse of their hatefulness. Hate begets hate. Returned hatefulness can be the reaction of being hated. But doing good to the hateful one takes away any justification he feels in being hateful. His hatefulness is fully on his own head.

So, we must believe God is a God of justice and leave justice in His hands. We must identify with Christ so strongly that we know God's justice in sending Jesus to the cross. We must depend upon God's justice when dealing with those who act hatefully toward us. Our action of love reflects the identification we have in Christ. Our act of love will allow for God's justice to be purely given to those who act hatefully.

We must never forget that justice belongs to God.

Romans 12:19-20 (ESV)
19  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Let's Blame God

There are serious tragedies each day. Some make the national headlines, of course, some don't. The tragedies are just as severe to those who are personally involved. We mark those determined to be national tragedies. We even date them as if time begins after the tragedy.

Then, someone says that they can't believe in God because of the tragedy. They say that He should have stopped it before it ever happened. He should have saved their loved ones. He should have been there when they needed Him. If not, then, they have no belief in Him.

Let's be honest. These people didn't really believe in Him before. They just left the door open in case He was around. They thought that He would be pleased that they didn't disbelieve in Him. Now, they want to deny He exists because He didn't do what they wanted. They believe in Him enough to try to hurt Him for not saving what they held as precious.

Of course, people do and feel things in extreme pain that they wouldn't do otherwise. God is quite willing to endure this. He is patient toward us. His love never ends.

So, the deeply hurt people don't bother me. It's the bystanders who want to blame God for the tragedy. They claim that He must be indifferent and somehow blame Him for the tragedy. They lose someone special to themselves and blame God for allowing it to happen or for "taking" them away. They ignore the evil in the world already. They do not know what drives it.

Paul wrote that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. It isn't the terrorist or the mass murderer or the crazy person who shoots people at random but the evil that exists in the demonic forces that roam this earth. Peter said that the devil roams the earth like a prowling lion just looking for someone to devour. Why are we blaming God for evil when the evil one is right in front of us?

That is why Paul told us to put on the full armor of God. God is the One who will protect us and give us victory. He is on the good side. Remember that the next time someone says that they blame God for some evil that comes. God didn't bring the evil. He brought the good.

Ephesians 6:10-13 (ESV)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Counterfeit Justification

Imagine you have a trunk full of money. You have been cashing your paychecks at your brother-in-law's business for many years. He has graciously cashed them and given you a little extra as a family benefit. You have saved every penny.  No bill in your trunk is smaller than a ten. There are hundreds of stacks neatly wrapped by the denomination. It must be a million dollars!  So, you decide that you don't have to worry about life anymore. So, you tell your boss where to go and abruptly quit. You wag your trunk down to the bank and make a huge deposit. Then, you go to your mortgage company and write a check for the balance. You think, "Life is going to be sweet from now on."

Then, the bank calls and tells you and tells you that all your money is counterfeit and the Treasury Department is sending an agent to talk to you. Do you: (A) Pack your bags and head for Mexico (B) Wait for the Treasury Department to show up (C) Start acting crazy so you can have an insanity plea (D) Roll over on your brother-in-law so you won't have to go to prison?

And what are you going to do about your boss? I doubt if he'll take you back. And what about that "hot" check you wrote to the mortgage company. They won't be happy. I'm afraid your goose is cooked when you depend upon counterfeit money.

That's just like trying to depend upon your own righteousness when you go before God. You can believe it is real all you want but that won't make it worth a dime. You may be full of yourself but it won't amount to anything before God.  Your only hope is mercy. That is the only way you'll come away justified. Humility is the only currency God takes.

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23:1-6 (ESV)
1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3  He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I;ve read this Psalm at many funerals. I know what it says. Why can tell others how it assures them in their own time of trouble. So, why don't I act like I believe it?

As hard as I try, I still act like there is no God watching my back. I worry when I don't need to worry. I am like an Israelite  living off of manna for twenty years and worrying whether or not it will be there tomorrow. Why should I worry if the Lord is really my shepherd? Does anyone think that sheep worry whether or not the shepherd will be there tomorrow?

God has always led me. He has always taken me to where I needed to go even when I didn't like the route He took. He has always led me to righteousness when I wanted to go another way. He has been my righteousness. He has given me assurance that He will be with me in death. He has promised me that I will overcome my enemies. He has always given me goodness and mercy.

For some reason I think it is logical to believe God generally but doubt Him in the specifics. Does that make sense? Not really.

I suppose I don't want to go through some of the things God wants me to go through. Thus, I worry that God will take me where I don't want to go. I don't realize that the green pastures and still waters are often across a hot, dry desert. I don't want the skinned knees on the way to the Promised Land. I am quite happy with my spiritual condition and don't want it challenged. I like my faith just where it is, thank you. If faith is going to grow, I want it to grow without trials.

Yet, I still have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death if I am to need His comfort. I must sit before my enemies if I am to see His triumph. Both places look like total destruction if He wasn't there.

So, I say it again, "The Lord is my shepherd." I know its true. I should stop worrying about things. I need to walk with Him and leave the rest to the Shepherd.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Its Not Who They Are But Who You Are That Makes a Neighbor

Luke 10:30-37 (ESV)
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

A friend of mine told me of sitting in a Sunday School class years ago with a teacher who taught this lesson thus: "Now I consider Joe here my neighbor because he lives in the same subdivision, but Larry lives three miles away and he couldn't really be considered a neighbor. So I need to help Joe and let others help Larry."

The friend asked, "So, let me get this straight. You think that location is what this story is about?"

"Yeah, that's what I think." My friend decided that he could teach Sunday School after that. He's been teaching ever since. I hope his former Sunday School teacher either did a little more study or quit teaching altogether.

A expert in the law asked Jesus who was his neighbor. Jesus gave a very interesting answer. He changed the whole paradigm of who a neighbor is.

A neighbor is not  one is merely of the same faith. The priest and the Levite did nothing for the injured man. A neighbor is not someone who lives close by. The Samaritan was from a different country and passing through.

A neighbor is one who feels compassion on those who are hurting and have no means to repaying what is done for them. Many people don't want to help those who are disadvantaged but many people in our church stock a food pantry for people who are without the means of paying for food. Many of them have lost their jobs or are disabled in some way. Their condition may be temporary but those who help them do not expect to be repaid. They simply help these people and prove to be their neighbors.

A neighbor is one who isn't looking to be thanked. He simply helps. In fact, he helps beyond what can be expected of anyone regardless of what it cost. He takes immediate care and care for the future.

I suppose the expert in the law was looking for the limit of what he must do. Following Jesus has nothing to do with limits. Obeying Jesus has nothing to do with limits. Loving Jesus has nothing to do with limits.

A neighbor is one who acts because of who he is. He doesn't think what his obligation is. He has true compassion.

The man who was hurt may have not considered the Samaritan a neighbor but the Samaritan proved he was the neighbor to the man.

Are you a neighbor?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is There Hatred in Your Heart?

Let's say I stood before my congregation this next Sunday and asked, "Would you please stand if you have hatred toward any other person?" I believe no one would stand. I also believe that each person would think he or she was telling the truth. But I cannot believe that there is no one in the room harboring hatred toward someone else.

People get hurt by others and do not know how to process that hurt. They internalize it. They cause it to come out on others. They explode or dream of revenge. Sometimes they try to bury the hurt. They do not forgive and get beyond the hurt because they do not allow the hurt to come to mind. The hurt bores its way like a trojan computer virus into all of their relationships.

Of course, Christians know that they can't admit that they have hatred and be good Christians. Thus, they are the best at trying to bury the things done against them. They say they have forgiven the hurt or that there is nothing to forgive. They may even believe themselves but the hurt remains. They simply refuse to bring it to mind.

The Bible doesn't say that we are to simply forgive but to love others. The signature characteristic for the Christian is love. How will we ever love if we have not forgiven? How can we love when the pain remains. How do we stop hurting?

Physical hurts come from injuries. Emotional hurts come in the same way. If we were physically hurt we would try to remove the pain and support the healing. We would administer antibiotics and give the injured area rest. We would keep the injured area from being hurt again.

Let's say a woman is being abused by her husband. He is physically and emotionally hurting her. The best action is to stop the continued injuries first. She gets out of the house to a safe place where she can begin healing. The husband needs to come to Jesus and seek the help necessary to stop the abuse. The woman cannot remain in the home until he can stop hurting his wife.

Now let's take that a little farther in any other relationship. Let's say that a person has a boss who abuses him. Should he continue to stay in that job? Abuse has an accumulative effect. More emotional abuse will result in more emotional trauma. The man may feel as trapped in his job as a woman feels in her marriage to an abusive husband. However, the injuries have to stop before the healing can begin.

The salve for healing an emotional or psychological hurt is forgiveness even though the flesh believes it is revenge. Revenge never resolves the pain because it only seeks to inflict pain on the other person. It is not good for the person seeking revenge for revenge will never pay the price for the hurt no matter how much it promises to do so.

Think of it this way: Punching another person back will not make your own pain go away. In fact, it makes your fist hurt. There is no measure of punches to reveal how much the punch received hurt. Is it a punch for a punch or maybe you need to punch them twice for the punch you received? It often results in getting punched again.

Forgive as soon as you are away from the pain. Forgiveness does not mean that you trust the other person. It doesn't mean that everything is just as it was before the pain was inflicted. It means that you give them a gift that they could never buy from you. It means that you accept the blood of Jesus as payment for what they did to you. It means that you will no longer be hounded by the pain that was inflicted upon you.

You must love that person but that love may be tough. It may involve testifying against them in a trial so that justice can be met. It may mean leaving that person so that they are no longer able to hurt you or others with impunity. Love is not doing what the other person wants you to do. Love is doing what they need you to do.

But, ultimately, love must be your goal. It is the first and last proof that we know Jesus. He loves you. He loves the person who hurt you. You love because He lives in you. You identify with Him best when you love.
And if you don"t, you really don"t Him.

1 John 3:11-15 (ESV)
11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hardened Hearts Won't Understand

Mark 6:52 (ESV)
52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

I am amazed at evolutionist. They know that no species has ever produced a different species of animal. They have no observable evidence yet tell us that this is exactly what happened to produce all the species we have today. Then, many of these scientist say that Jesus could not have fed so many people with so little as the Bible says or walked on water because no one can reproduce those events today. No one living has ever witnessed such an event. Therefore, it couldn't have happened. Do they ever listen to themselves?

The Disciples had witnessed the feeding of the 5000. They knew the truth behind the story but were amazed that Jesus could walk on water. Why is walking on water a bigger miracle than feed 5000 with five loaves and two fish? Doesn't the definition of a miracle preclude the limits that humanity can put upon it? A miracle is an act of God which defies the laws of physics or biology or any of the other sciences. The hardness of their hearts came because they didn't understand Jesus as the God of creation as He created more food from the little that He had.

Yet, physicists deny who God is in creation. They say that the universe was created from a compact singularity which exploded to become all that exists. That's funny when you think of it. The whole universe would fit on the point of a pin but expanded to be billions of light years across. Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed more than 5000 people. Isn't believing the scientist point of view much larger than Jesus' own creation of more fish and loaves? Why do we swallow the one and reject the other?

Sometimes people just don't connect the dots. They see a miracle in one area and think God can't do anything else. He heals one person but can't miraculously provide or protect another person. The heart must be changed in order to understand. Their heart condition affects their spiritual eyesight.

It takes new eyes to see that the laws of the universe can be suspended by God to accomplish His will. That understanding is the basis for prayer. It is the basis for salvation. It is the basis for living a life which defies the conventional wisdom of this world.

Yet, I see people who are refusing to believe in a God who can change the laws of the universe. Their faith is limited to what they can see. Unfortunately, they have hearts which won't see. They can't understand until their hearts are open to the true miracles of God.

How do they become Christians if they don't believe in the resurrection? How do they explain the change that happens when someone identifies with Christ for their salvation? Why should they pray if they don't believe God can do anything beyond the laws of the universe? Wouldn't they be better off working within those laws than wasting their time in prayer?

I think many of them want to believe but don't because they are in a world that doesn't believe. They want to fit into this world. They don't want to be weirdos. They want acceptance. This world hardens hearts. It limits eyesight.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Life Worthy of the Calling

The fallen human nature is conflict rather than peace. It is selfishness rather than generosity. It is pride rather than humility. It is satisfaction rather than sacrifice. Thus, any group of people around each other for any real length of time are going to have disagreements. One or both of the people will be acting in the flesh. They may not even realize what they are doing. The flesh draws such attention to itself that it creates a sense of entitlement. Sometimes it is pseudo-spiritual entitlement.

Paul tells the Ephesians that believers must be humble, gentle, patient and bearing with each other in love. Of course, it would be better if both parties would adopt this attitude but at least one of them must if there is to be any sense of peace.

These are not the virtues taught by our culture. The expectation today is vengeance and revenge. It is bettering another person before they better you. It is winning at each encounter rather than building up others. It is push, push, push without regard to who is in front of you. Naturally, those who practice this outside the church are going to practice it inside the church. There is always someone who must have his way. There is always someone who spreads gossip. There is always someone who is wearing her emotions on her sleeve. There is always someone leaving the church because he didn't get enough attention.

So, we must make an effort to be humble, gentle, patient and bear with one another in love if we are to keep the unity of the Spirit. The flesh cares nothing about this unity. The spirit depends upon it.

Can you imagine what would happen if a whole church acted this way toward one another? Do you realize the strength of this testimony to the world? Is there anything that this group of believers couldn't do for their Lord? They would walk together in the Spirit. They would believe together, worship (I am not talking about just showing up and singing. I mean heart-felt, God centered worship.) together. They would do things in faith that no one outside the faith would believe could be done.

Each would be living a life worthy of the calling by the Lord.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Being Rich with God

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)
16  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

I read this scripture this morning and immediately thought of my retirement account.  It was fine until the recession in 2007. Then, it fell apart. It recovered the lost ground by the end of 2012 and I put the account in cash for most of last year. That, of course, was the best year the stock market has had for a very long time. I didn't lose anything by putting it in cash but I didn't make anything either. Recently, I was lamenting over the money it would have made if I hadn't been so scared of losing it all again.

This parable made me remember that "rich" has nothing to do with what I have in the bank or in the stock market. None of this will matter once I am dead. I only have one account that I must keep secure. That's the account I have with God. I must make sure that I am rich toward Him.

People don't like for me to preach about money. Maybe they think that I don't know anything about it. I sometimes think they believe I have a "ministers" grocery store at which I shop. They act like I don't know what things cost or that their resources are limited. They don't know that I am just as human, shop at the same stores and have their concerns.

But the real reason they don't want me preaching about money is their fear that I will point out what the Bible says about it. They are afraid I will tell them that they are robbing God when they fail to tithe. They are afraid that I will talk about being a cheerful giver. They are afraid I will tell them about the dangers of borrowing money. They want to think the Bible has nothing to say about money but they are wrong.

Most people don't trust God to supply their needs. Maybe that has something to do with how they spend the money they already have. I go to their houses, see the big screen televisions, note the new cars in the driveway, wade through the designer clothes strewn in the den, and hear them tell how they are broke. They want to know when God is going to meet their needs. They don't even recognize His provision which they have frivolously thrown into the wind. No, God has supplied all their needs. They spent it on their wants. Now they want God to pony up a new pile of money.

What does that have to do with my retirement account? Well, I was as worried about my retirement account just as much as people are worried about whether or not God has supplied their needs. You see, God says that He will meet our needs while we seek His kingdom and righteousness. That's like saying, "Hold onto my hand and I'll walk you safely across this busy street." That, of course, means that God gives us enough to buy extras but not only extras. We have to seek Him and His righteousness with what we have.

Being rich with God is the only way to handle what we have been given. Being rich with God is the only way to receive His provision. I just makes sense to be rich with God.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On Being Filled with the Spirit

Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
16  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Walking by the Spirit must require me to be filled with the Spirit. Thus, there is no room for the flesh to demand satisfaction because it is overwhelmed with the Spirit.  That seems simple as I type it. I know that is extremely difficult in real life. 

The struggle is not that the Spirit wants to leave me empty. The Spirit desires to fill me. The flesh, on the other hand, has no intention of giving up control. The flesh will distract the soul from seeking to be filled with the Spirit. The flesh will deceive the soul into believing it is already filled when any comparison with the fruit of the Spirit will reveal that there is no filling of the Spirit. The flesh will do its best to convince the soul that being filled with the Spirit is unnecessary. The flesh will scare the soul into believing that the sacrifices that the flesh are impossible to overcome.

It is a genuine act of God to be filled with the Spirit. The flesh will hold on unless the power of God convicts the person into a full surrender. Even under the best preaching and teaching, the flesh can maintain control. It is only by prayer that the Spirit of God brings someone to his knees to be filled with the Spirit.

Most of the time I want to be filled with the Spirit as long as it won't cost much or won't take much effort or won't take away from the things I would like to do. I want to stay safe, be liked and put my trust in the things of this world. The Spirit will have none of that. I suppose Jesus never gave me the impression that I should follow Him as long as I got rich, was able to do what I wanted and never had to be inconvenienced. Being filled with the Spirit doesn't either.

So, I pray fill me with the Holy Spirit. May I walk completely by Him. May I see my life be completely obedient. And may the flesh not have a place any more.

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Need of Forgiveness from a Holy God

It may sound negative but we are all sinners. We are not all born guaranteed to do what is right. We are infected with the penchant for indulging in our flesh. The good that comes in our lives comes from the remnant of God's glory in which He created us. The good that we become grows in us because of His grace upon us. The evil we don't become is also because of His grace.

That isn't what most of the world would like to tell you. They want to say that the whole world is good. They believe that bad environments alone make people bad. They have eliminated the need for God's grace. To them, people are good unless affected by something evil. People, therefore, can blame their parents, siblings, neighborhoods, education system and economic status for their evil. They never think of where the original evil comes from. No one wants to think of those who have horrible parents, demeaning siblings, poor neighborhoods, the same education system and abject poverty yet become God-fearing, productive citizens who live admirable lives. They also don't want to consider those who had none of the hardships yet live horrible lives. These destroy the universal concept of everyone being good.

So, sin gets eliminated. Responsibility is placed on others. God no longer makes a positive difference  And the world is getting to be a much better place. Right?

No, positive reforms have resulted when people have realized their sinfulness, asked for forgiveness and sought God to bring them to good. They have realized that the good inside themselves would not prevail without God's help. They have realized that their relationship with Him was the only way to restore the good that He created them in. They have fallen on their knees or fallen prostrate before Him and cried out in the realization that they are responsible for the evil they have done.

And peace only comes when we have made peace with our Creator. Purpose only comes when we have realized that we, His creation, were created with a divine purpose. Order comes when our lives obey what He leads us to be. Joy fills us when we have become more than we would have been without Him. Praise erupts from within us as we see His face.

But of course, it must begin with realizing we are sinners in need of forgiveness from a Holy God.

Psalm 51:1-4 (ESV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How Do You Respond When Someone Responds to God?

How many times do we openly pray that the Holy Spirit will work and secretly hope that He doesn't?

Each week I offer an invitation for people to respond to what God is telling them. We sing but I don't prod people into making a public statement. I tell them that it is an invitation which they can respond to, not a inquisition in which they are hounded into. They must respond based on what God leads them to do, not based on my pleading or shaming them into walking down the aisle.

I stand at the front and wait while many people sing. I can't help but read the faces of many in the room. They are hoping that no one responds because this extends the invitation. We usually share what God has said to those who respond. We generally ask people to come forward and give them words of encouragement. It takes time.

Of course, they could leave without waiting but that would reveal how uninterested they are to see God move. It would reveal that they really don't want to see the Holy Spirit work. So, they fold their arms, refuse to sing and wait until its all over.

The brother of the Prodigal Son never wanted to see his brother come home. He never wanted to see his father delighting in him. He despised his brother for leaving, for taking his inheritance, for leaving him with all the work and for treating his father like he was dead. He didn't think that his father should rejoice in his brother's return. The party his father gave really bothered him.

His brother's homecoming made things extremely inconvenient. It is a matter of degree between this return and those who respond to the invitation for those who hope it doesn't happen don't realize that they are opposing those whom God loves. God loves those who come home to Him. He celebrates when one of His comes to his senses and returns home humbly.

The one who opposes those whom God love are opposing God as well. They hope that He will not work. They create an atmosphere where His work is made difficult. Their actions complain to God about those who come to Him.

This makes me think that the one who is already in the church is and has been farther away from God than the person who has not darkened the door of the church for years. They have been in the building but far from God. They have said the right words and prayed the right prayers but do not have God's heart for seeing people come home.

I was one of those people who came home one day. I didn't notice at the time whether there were people who didn't want me to come home. It really didn't matter I needed to come home.

And I knew one thing. God was more happy than I was that I returned. Are you glad when someone responds to God?

Luke 15:25-32 (ESV)
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Condition of the Dirt

Jesus told a parable about a sower. The same sower sowed the same seed on different types of soil. The seed fell on the path, the rock, among thorns and on good soil. The seed that fell on the path was trampled. The seed that fell on the rock sprouted but never had any roots and died. The seed that fell among the thorns was choked out. Only the seed that fell on the good soil produced.

I understand the parable. There are those who hear the gospel but have it stolen by the devil. There are those who hear the gospel and receive it but have no depth and go back to what they were before. There are those who hear the gospel but can't fully grasp it because the world's cares get in the way. There are those who hear the gospel and let it grow within them so that they produce fruit.

I understand but I wonder. Can the condition of the soil be changed? If so, who changes the condition? Does the person hearing the gospel carry the responsibility for the change? Does the gospel change the one hearing the gospel so that the hearing might change the condition of the soil?

We are all responsible for what we do. We are all responsible for what we do with the gospel too. We may be hard hearted but we cannot use that as an excuse for refusing the gospel. If not, that excuse could be used to get away with anything.

For example, I could say to the policeman who stops me for speeding, "Sorry, officer, I was just made with a lead foot. I can't help but go fast. You'll just have to let me go." Of course, that is ridiculous but that seems to be the answer people are giving for many of the things they do. That isn't wrong for me because I was made that way.

Now, do I expect that God is going to take the blame for my disobedience? Absolutely not! He may have made me but He has not made me do anything. I was watching tv the other night. A character in the show was shot. One of the other characters said something like, "I can't believe in God when there is so much evil in the world." I question why people don't laugh out loud when they hear this. They should know that they are trying to blame God for the actions of someone. God is not the sinner here. He made the person but did not make him shoot someone.

These same people do not think God should stop all sin. They think that God should stop all sin that they see as sin. They set themselves up as the one who determines what is right and wrong. Then, they blame God when He doesn't perform to their standards.

No, the soil is not preconditioned to reject the gospel. Each person is responsible for his or her own decision. Let's stop blaming God for our condition.

Luke 8:4-15 (ESV)
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It's in Your Mind

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

We like to think we are blank tablets but we aren't. We have inherited our sinful nature. The Bible calls it our flesh and it must be disciplined. Changing our minds changes everything.

I have to make a decision before I can go on a diet. I have to decide to exercise to get in shape. I have to set time aside, read my Bible and pray if I want to have an effective daily time with God. I have to start with my mind.

Let's make a distinction between the mind and the brain. The brain is the information processor. It is the CPU of the human being. Some people have faster CPUs than others. Some people have defective CPUs. The CPU determines which software which can run effectively. The mind is the software loaded which enables the body to act. The autonomous nervous system makes our hearts beat, keeps our digestive system going and keeps us breathing. The brain reacts to stimuli like heat, cold. pain and pleasure. The mind decides what ultimately must be done.

It is the mind that decides to think positively. The flesh will naturally lead us to self-destruction. It will crave sleep, drugs, sex and all other forms of self-gratification. The disciplined mind denies the flesh's indulgences. The spiritually disciplined mind thinks so differently that reactions to the world are modified by this thinking.

Imagine that you decide to think on all that is true. While you are thinking about whatever is true you are asked by your boss to answer a customer's question vaguely so as to lead him to a wrong conclusion. Instead of simply denying your bosses request, you point out how dishonesty can never be the right policy for business. You say something like, "It's not that we won't get the sale but we are assured we won't get the resale and we have destroyed our reputation with that customer and all the other potential customers he tells." You have been true in two areas. You have not misled the customer and you have stated what the boss already knows is true but didn't think that way because he had not predetermined to think on whatever was true.

The same thing goes for whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. Setting our minds on these things would result in decisions which would lead us to these things. We wouldn't act like fools when someone cut us off in traffic. We wouldn't do shoddy jobs which do not reflect our best. We wouldn't waste time for our lives would not simply think about commendable things, we would live commendable lives.

Years ago I memorized the fruit of the Spirit so that I could check myself in whether I was acting in the flesh or in the spirit. Now I must also memorize this verse to begin my day. I set my mind on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is commendable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent and worthy of praise.

I know it will change every day that I set my mind on them.