Sunday, January 12, 2014

Yes, Love Does: A Word from the WORD on Doing

Have you ever purchased something, opened the package, popped in the two "D" batteries (not included), flipped on the switch, and whalla . . . nothing?  It looked fine on the outside but didn't do anything.  It was made for a purpose but it was useless.

I was listening to the radio this week and came upon an interview with Bob Goff, author of the book "Love Does."  Bob is also the founder of "Restore International," a nonprofit human rights organization that operates in Uganda and India. It spurred me to look into what God's Word says about "doing." It's easy to talk, easy to plan, and easy to coast but it's much harder to actually do something, accomplish something, for God.  What does "doing" look like in the life of a believer?  

Psalm 34:15 says, "Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it."

Paul says it this way, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Then there is the well known verse from James chapter two, "Faith without works is dead."

Jesus said in Luke 6:26-28, "But to those who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

Apparently, when Jesus got to this part of his message, many had begun to tune him out.  So he prefaced this statement with "to those who are listening."  Are you listening?  If you've gotten this far I'll assume you are and tell you first that I am a lousy doer.  I'm full of good intentions but doing doesn't come easy.  Why?  Three things:

Self, Self, and Self.  

Why do we look like Christians but get so little accomplished for the Kingdom of God?


That is why the title of Bob's book "Love does"  resonates with me.  When you love someone you preferentially do things for them, sacrificially giving up something of your own: your time, your money, your possessions, etc.  We spend so much time in the pursuit of happiness that we miss our opportunity to love and thus "do" for others. When we begin to be more selfless we begin to operate in the Spirit and not in the flesh.  We start to look more like Jesus.

Take a moment today to look at your agenda;  maybe today's agenda, maybe the agenda for the week or even your plans for this year.  Do they focus on you and your happiness or do they look outward to others?  What is it that you can DO?  Pray, feed, clothe, hug, nurture, share the gospel, encourage, listen, mentor, rescue, protect, defend, forgive?  Maybe a little of each.  Ask God for direction and discernment.  He prepared these things in advance so you (we) just need to do them when they show up.  As we do, I believe the Lord will expand our territory and our influence.  That's why humble people like Mother Theresa can affect so many for Christ.  She was special because she chose to love and, in love, to DO.  You to can be special in your service for Christ and can affect many but you have to start doing.  Careful because this may actually involve doing for someone who hates you, offends you, or has harmed you.  OK, now go and do.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Are Your Roots Close Enough to the Living Water?

When I was about four years old I was in the grocery store with my mother.  It was about the age I started feeling a growing sense of independence and so I began to wander a little farther from her hip.  Then it happened!  My eyes caught a glimpse of that small section of the grocery store tucked between the kitchen utensils and the paper plates - the toy section!  You know, the yo-yo's, little parachute soldiers, those flashing squishy balls, and miniature, magnetic checkers.  I was in heaven!  I couldn't have been there for more than four minutes when I looked down the aisle, first one way then the next.  It couldn't be!  But it was! MY MOM WAS GONE!!.  She was nowhere to be seen.  "MOM!!!",  I screamed as I ran down the aisle and around the corner, smack into a kind, old lady who grabbed me gently by the hand just about the time my mother came around the other corner. Relief! No doubt I stayed in close proximity to her for the rest of the trip.


      1. nearness in space, time, or relationship.

We like to be close to things we enjoy, things we need, or things that bring us security.  I was recently watching a seminar about coyote hunting (OK, I'm a little redneck) and the speaker was talking about how eastern coyotes stick close to cover, not wanting to go out into open fields.  They Like proximity to thick grass, tree lines, or other cover because they know if they wander too far away from them they might die.

We've all seen pictures of a stream meandering through the desert; sand as far as you can see; white, lifeless sand except along the water's edge where green plants paint the path of the stream like a green snake on a white floor.  Why?  Well it's obvious that if plants get too far from the river their roots will not be long enough to find water.  The result:  they first whither then they die.

I have seen in my own life that when I'm distant from God my life starts to look more like a desert place and less like a place of grow and life.  I can do man sized things and I may even look successful from the viewpoint of the world but inside I begin to whither. God spoke these words through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes.  They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.  But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him.  They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

When we wander from God our spiritual lives begin to fade.  It's often a subtle thing but the Devil is good at making us comfortable with the slow fade.  It's so insidious that we might not see it until it all comes crashing down like a house of cards.   What might this look like?  Well, for many it might just be "the business of life"; work, school, sports, hobbies, politics, video games, etc. We wake up and do life with a little bit of God sprinkled in on Sundays for an hour or two.  We acknowledge that God is God and that Jesus is Lord but our lives are not abiding in him. For others it might be a slow fade into a life of sin. Either way, it's like a tree picked up and moved too far from the living water of the stream. 

     Jesus gave us an equally powerful analogy along with a command in John chapter 15:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:3-5

Jesus uses strong, directed words without ambiguity.  "Remain in me … must remain … unless you remain … If you remain … apart from me you can do nothing." He used qualifiers, "Unless and if".  He reveals a truth that we need to hear.  Although, we may appear to be doing things when we are not in him, we are in reality doing "nothing".  The worldly things will be absolutely fruitless.

I want to urge you, as I usually do, to examine yourself.  Are you really abiding in HIM?  Are you really seeking his counsel in all you do?  Are you starting your day in prayer and listening for his direction on a moment by moment basis?  You see, a vibrant, fruit laden branch isn't attached to the vine once in a while but constantly, 24/7.  Stay close to Jesus. Don't wander too far because in the spiritual sense you are like the four year old in the grocery store.  You need your parent.  You aren't as wise as you think you are and the temptation of the toy section is very strong.  If we stay close we will not fear when the drought comes, fall when temptation comes, or fail when we are asked to produce fruit for his kingdom.




Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Royal Wedding. You're Invited But Will You Be There?

I started out yesterday writing a fictitious story to help illustrate the message I felt called to share.  After four well contrived paragraphs and forty minutes of my day, the Lord convinced me to highlight the whole mess and hit the delete button.  "I already wrote the story David.  Just share it."

Actually there were two stories both about weddings.  Both had curious and disturbing endings. These stories (parables) are about us.  Yes, you and me.  We can play a number of different parts in the stories and will someday.  Which part we play is of the utmost importance so pay close attention to the rest of the story, 

The first comes from Matthew 22.  Jesus tells of a King who planned a wedding banquet for his son.  It was to be a grand feast and many were invited.  None of those initially invited came so the King sent servants to explain to them how amazing this event was to be.  Still they just went about their business, some even so thankful as to kill the servant messengers.  The angry King then sent out messengers to invite anyone they could find from the streets, both good and bad. When the room was full of the most unlikely guests, the feast began but the King noticed a man who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  The man was then bound hand and foot then tossed outside into the dark where the was "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

A strange wedding don't you think?  A grand event that the initial invitees ignore. Guests that were taken off the street "Good and Bad"?  A very angry father of the groom who not only kicks out a man for having improper attire but  has him bound hand and foot? Strange indeed!

The second story comes from Matthew 25.  It tells of ten virgins who were to meet the bridegroom with lighted lamps.  Only five of the ten chose to bring oil with them.  The bridegroom was "a long time in coming" so the woman fell asleep. At midnight the cry came out that the groom was on his way. The women trimmed their lamps but the lamps of the five who failed to bring oil went out. As the five ran back to get oil, the doors of the banquet hall were shut.  When they arrived and knocked on the door the Lord said, "I don't know you." The door did not open.

Another strange wedding story.  Lamps, oil, and a locked door. There is much to these stories including a reference to the Gospel being sent first to the Jews then to the Gentiles.  There is a connection between oil and the Holy Spirit.  But I don't want to miss the forest for the trees because there is a very simple yet urgent message that binds these stories together.  It's a message that we need to listen carefully to.  As my son says, "Pay heed!"

If you and I aren't prepared, if we aren't properly clothed, and if we don't know the bridegroom, or his father we will be sadly disappointed on the day of the wedding supper. We will be outside of a closed door weeping.  I think if you ask most people who claim to be "Christians" if they're going to heaven they would say "yes".  They would be basing their answer on a list of good deeds outweighing the bad ones, their church attendance, their infant baptism, their observance of feasts, sacraments, or religious laws. These will not earn your entrance.   Many people go about their days with little or no acknowledgement of Jesus.  They say, he is a long time from coming or God is loving and will take me as I am.  Are they right?

Jesus was clear that many will come on that day and knock but the door will not be opened to them.  Jesus said narrow is the road the that leads to life and few find it. He said, many will come to me on that day and say "Lord, Lord …. " and he will say, "away from me I never knew you."  Jesus told parables about the last days and made distinctions between the saved and the lost, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares. The forgiven and the condemned.

So where do you stand? Does he know you?  Is your lamp full of oil?  Are you wearing wedding clothes?  Careful how you answer.  The only oil that can keep your lamp full is the Holy Spirit.  The only clothes acceptable on that day are robes of righteousness.  Not your good deeds but Jesus' righteousness obtained through faith is him.
 "For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness"  (Isaiah 61:10)  This isn't just an "Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus and go to church." kind of faith.  It's a life changing faith.  It's a faith that causes us to grieve in our hearts when we sin or when we walk in a way that in contrary to the Spirit of God.  It's a faith that causes us to talk about HIM, post face books posts about HIM, and to bring HIM up in conversations at a party.  Look at your life, your conversations, your tweets, your posts, how you spend your money, and what you listen to on the radio.  Does he know you?  Do you know him?  I think you get the point.

Paul reminds us to "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?"  (2 Corinthians 13:5).  I challenge you to do just that today.  If you find that maybe your lamp is empty or your clothes still dirty, remember that God loves you and sent his Son to die for you. Turn to him in faith and be ready for the wedding of the ages, the wedding between Jesus and his Church (those saved by grace through faith). "Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9)



Saturday, December 21, 2013

Do You Feel Weak? You're Not Alone

Have you ever felt weak?  Maybe physically weak because of fatigue or illness, maybe mentally weak from the burdens of school or work, maybe emotionally weak after the loss of a close relationship or the death of a loved one, or maybe a little of each? It never feels good to be weak.  We, as a society, look down on weakness.  We glorify the strong.  The covers of our magazines show well built physiques.  The world loves a strong leader, a powerful voice, or a bigger than life athlete.  We buy vitamins, hormones, and memberships to health clubs. We listen to motivational speakers and hide our weaknesses to maintain an illusion of strength.  But you, how are YOU inside?  Maybe I'm all alone in this, but I for one am WEAK!!! I have strong moments but every time I climb some spiritual or physical peak I slide down the other side and realize that in my flesh, I am weak.  If this resonates with you read on.  If not you might want to search one of my earlier posts on pride.

In Mathew 26 Jesus left his disciples in the garden at Gethsemane to go off and pray alone.  He took Peter, James, and John a little farther along the path and asked them to stay and keep watch as he went ahead to pray. When he returned he found them sleeping.  Jesus said to them, "Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Twice more Jesus went off to pray and both times he found the disciples asleep on his return.  I find it interesting that Jesus shows their physical weakness by their inability to stay awake for even one hour but then talks about temptation.  Jesus shows us our physical and our spiritual weakness.  He makes a distinction between their flesh and their spirits. Peter, "The Rock", once again reveals that he, like us, was weak. Phew!  We are in good company.

Paul in Romans chapter 7 admitted his weakness and struggle as the inner war between good and evil, sin and obedience raged in his heart.  He came to the Corinthians in "weakness with great fear and trembling."  In the eleventh chapter of Corinthians he says, "Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

Here is the beauty of the Bible, the awesome irony of God's sovereign plan:

God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27)  He chose a murder with a stuttering problem to lead the Jews out of Egypt, a donkey to speak truth to a disobedient prophet, and a persecutor of the church to be one of it's greatest evangelists. He loves the weak.  Why? I think one of the biggest reasons is that God is the only one who is really strong and when he reveals himself through men (or women) he leaves no doubt that the strength is from HIM and not from man. "so that no one can boast." If we are honest with ourselves  we would all admit that we are weak.  The Bible is clear that God lifts up the humble and the meek but opposes the prideful, boastful, and arrogant.

I want to encourage you today to admit your weakness. Understand that in your flesh you will find weakness to temptation, weakness to fear, weakness to depression, weakness in your body, and weakness in your spirit.  But God had done something supernatural for you if you are his child by faith.  He has given you his Spirit.  The Holy Spirit of God dwells in you.  Romans 8:26 says, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness." We are reminded that we can do all things "through Him who give us strength." Paul urges us to live by the Spirit and not the flesh but he acknowledges that it's not always easy and is indeed an ongoing battle.

Galatians 5:17 "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit, what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other . . " We are instructed to "Keep in step with the Spirit."  As we do we begin to see the power of HIM through our weakness.  These words from Paul bring it all together, "I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then, I am strong."

Be blessed knowing that as you walk in the Spirit (by repentance, prayer and obedience) you'll begin to see the fruits of the Spirit blossom in you: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.  It likely won't be a straight climb but a slow, hard climb with peaks and valleys but keep walking!

I hope this spoke to someone today because I know this season of celebration is also a time for many of great pain, anxiety, fear, and weakness.  But now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christians - Are We Walking The Walk Or are We Like The Amazing Fat Melting Jiggling Machine?

The commercials were convincing.  The evidence overwhelming; pictures before and the after.  It was astounding! Potbellies magically transformed into rippled, six-pack abs that, until now, could only be sculpted with months or years of crunches, sit-ups, and leg lifts.  But now it was possible without the work, without the pain, even possible while watching your favorite soap-opera.  What was this magic?  The "Fat Melting Jiggle Machine."

My mother, God bless her soul, called Sears and Roebuck to place her order and two weeks later we all lined up for a try.  Mom was first.  She put the belt around her waist and flipped the switch. I'm not sure what made us jiggle more, the machine or gut laughing to the point of tears as we watched the show.  Now my mother was thin to begin with so it wasn't a fair test but suffice it to say, the machine didn't live up to it's maker's claims.  No weight loss, just a lot of jiggling fat and laughing kids. The correlation is this: you can talk all you want, make great claims. and even try to sell to the masses but if it doesn't work, if it doesn't live up to the hype, if it's all show and no go then its a lie.  We as Christians often are a lot like that.  This is not a condemnation but more of a wake-up call or at least a nudge towards self-examination. 

It seems that the "Holiday" season always reminds me of how far we as Christians have come from delivering the real goods to those around us.  I watch with a broken heart, the commercials on TV with cars, laptops, and video games wrapped with big, red bows.  The sitcoms have their holiday specials and our mailbox is filled with various Christmas and Holiday cards.  We go to parties and eat too much cake and maybe drink too much punch. In all of it is Jesus lifted up?  Is God really glorified?  The answer may be yes but for many it probably isn't.  I wonder what God thinks as we go about our festivities from Black Friday through New Years.  I wonder what he thinks as his children go into the word but look no different from it.  I know what you're thinking, "What a Scrooge!!"  Those who know me might even say, "What a hypocrite."  And in many ways they may be right. I struggle with sin and failure like the rest. I enjoy giving good gifts and gathering with people I love.  I enjoy meeting new people. What convicts my spirit is how little Jesus is talked about and how little God is worshipped in this time when we are suppose to be celebrating one very amazing moment in time.  The incarnation of God. The moment when God came to earth dressed in "swaddling clothes" lying in a manger.

What does this have to do with a fat melting jiggle machine?  Well, what we say we are has a lot more to do with the actual fruit than it does with our lip service or our church affiliation.   What we advertise ourselves to be and what we are may be two different things.  Now I realize that we all have areas in our lives that we struggle with but this is about who we are when we interact with the world.  If a nonbeliever encountered us at an office Christmas party or in a line at Macy's would he or she notice something different about us?  Would Jesus show through.  We can say we are Christians, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday night, and pray when acceptable but what really matters is what we do.  God has been showing me this about myself in my place of work.  Am I revealing Christ to those around me?  Do I walk the walk?  Or am I just a silly jiggling machine? Sadly, sometimes I'm the latter.

Here's a question to ponder.  If Jesus walked into your office, your home, your party what would you do?  How would you respond?  Would you be excited because the party was all about him anyway?  Excited because the tree and decorations were all for him and to celebrate him?  Or would you dive to hide something you didn't want him to see? When we're in a place where people need to know Christ, places where lost people need life, where broken people need to be healed, where blind people need sight, and hungry people need to be fed, what do we do?  Well, for most of us, me included at times, we just partake in the same conversations, the same jokes, the same activities and God gets set aside like last years Christmas tie.

Before you get upset with me and click off this page please ask yourself two questions:

1) Do I know Jesus?  If you don't I want to tell you that Christmas is the celebration of God loving YOU. I mean REALLY loving YOU, so much so that he sent his one and only Son into the world to die for you.  To pay the punishment that you and I deserve and to provide eternal life. The Bible says that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  If you're feeling God's Spirit drawing you to him and away from sin then it's time.  Jesus said "come to me all you who are weary and heavy ladened and I will give you rest."  Confess your sins to him and believe.

If the answer to the first question was "Yes" then  move onto #2

2) Does my life, do my actions, and do my words lead people closer to God?

I love Christmas.  I love the celebration.  I want to see lost people saved and this time of year is a wonderful opportunity to partake in God's plan to seek and save the lost.  Be careful if you claim Christ. It's no small responsibility. Be the real deal.  Be different. Be light.  Be holy.  Be love.

Peace,  David

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pride? Me? Nah: The Danger of a Prideful Heart

I've seen it many times with a front row seat at the base of a big oak tree, a gobbler (a male, wild turkey) making his way to a hen.  He starts out cautiously at first, feathers down, not looking all that different from his potential mate, but once his eyes make contact with her it happens.  He gets puffed up, tail feathers spread out in a beautiful fan, and he begins to strut.  Back and forth he struts in a display meant to impress.  What's he saying?  "Look at me!  Aren't I something awesome?  See how big and handsome I am?  I'm bigger than the gobbler over there  so focus your attention on ME."  But you know the reality of it?  It's just air, the same skinny turkey with a whole lot of fluff.  In this situation it's natural and it's part of reproduction but it's a great analogy for the sin of all sins - human pride.

I took a little time today to do a word search in the Bible for pride, proud, haughty, and arrogant.  It was astounding!  It was incredibly humbling.  It was a word for me and it is a word for you.  I could just list off the scripture verses that describe God's view of and his reaction to pride but it would take a small book to do that.  When you're finished with this post you might want to go to Biblegateway Keyword Search and type in "pride". You'll be humbled too.  But for now I want to give you a little taste of what you'll find.

When most of us think of sin (if we think of sin at all) we think of murder, lust, adultery, lying, or stealing.  But I believe that one sin is at the root of all of them and one sin God hates above all else - PRIDE.  Why is that? Because pride is our way of attempting to make ourselves like a god.  We attempt to put ourselves on a throne,  But guess what?  It's just a bunch of hot air.  We like the gobbler are not really that big or impressive.  Actually, we're really quite broken and weak.  But before you say "Me?  I'm actually quite humble." be careful because pride can often be a subtle but equally dangerous sin.

Let me give you a couple verses that demonstrate, with no ambiguity, how God feels about pride:

Psalm 101:5

"Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate."

Proverbs 16:5

"The Lord detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this, they will not go unpunished."

So what's the big deal?  Pride?  Really?  It can't be as bad as the other sins. But it is.  It leads to a false sense that we don't really need God.  Even if we are believers we can begin to feel like we are something special either because we're part of the "saved" group or because we're doing great things for God.  What happens when we start to get puffed up like God predicted Israel would do?

Deuteronomy 8:13-15

"When your herds and your flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

Pride gone unchecked will lead to separation from God and ultimately a crash and burn.  Hear this verse about King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26:16:

"But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride lead to his downfall.  He was unfaithful to the Lord his God . . . "

Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

Sure pride can be overt.  We've all seen or know someone who talks big, walks big, and thinks they are "God's gift to mankind".  Hollywood is full of them but I know God is just as concerned with his children, believers in His Son, believers who harbor little tentacles of pride that can undermine the working of the Holy Spirit through them.  God was concerned that the Apostle Paul would become prideful because of the position he had been given and because of the great revelations God had shown him.  Apparently Paul was unable to self contain his pride so God gave him a "thorn in the flesh"

2 Corinthians 12:7

"Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me."

WOW!  God let Satan "torment" Paul to prevent him from becoming prideful.  He must really hate pride!

Before we close let's do a little self-examination for pride in our lives.  See if any of these thoughts or actions creep up in your life:

1)  When someone talks about their kid, maybe a sporting accomplishment or school grade, does you mind immediately turn to your kid and how they compare.  Do you feel 100% excited for them or do you lose a little of it in competitiveness?  That's pride.

2)  When you serve in church or in some ministry and someone talks about their service to God do your thoughts and maybe even your words turn to your accomplishments and your godliness?  Be truthful. We are competitive, even when it comes to serving God.  It's pride.

3)  When you go to the gym, run a few miles, decide which shirt will make you look the best or when you take that one extra look in the mirror in the morning, what is you motive?  Is it just to keep your God given body healthy or is it to impress man (or woman)

Be brutally honest with yourself.  It's OK. You're not alone.  We ALL harbor pride in our hearts.  The key is to be honest, identify it, acknowledge it before God and pray for humility. Remember that Jesus, the only son of the Most High God, through whom all things were made, came from heaven and was born in a dirty manger.  On his knees he washed the feet of his disciples. On the cross he was nailed and died.  He who had no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.  That is humble. That is beautiful.

I'll leave you with this:

Psalm 149:4

"For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory."

If you want to wear a crown given by God himself seek humility.  As in all my blogs, this message was first to me and to my prideful heart. I pray it touches yours.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Drop Your Stone and Pray - The Right Response to Sin

I recently read of a local pastor who had been accused of a sinful and shameful act. This man was a leader, a teacher, a councilor, and a theologian lead astray by sexual temptation.  I can hear the murmurs of unbelievers who caught wind of the story, mocking the man, mocking Christianity, and generally using the account as an argument against God.  Not surprising because the unbeliever often looks for a slip of the tongue, an inconsistency in moral conduct, or hypocrisy to say, "Look, he's no different than anyone else; maybe even worse!"

Maybe you know this story or one like it.  Maybe you had feelings of disgust, anger, sadness, bitterness, or judgement.  What should the believer's response be to the sin of a fellow believer, even when the sin is particularly offensive or egregious? Not to be cliche-ish, but WWJD?  (For those not from this planet - What Would Jesus Do?)

Now let me first say that there are earthy consequences for breaking the law and for sin in general but this is not about what happens in the court of law but what happens in the human heart.  What is the internal dialogue that goes on in your head when you hear a story of someone else's fall? What is the external dialogue that happens as you discuss the story with your friends and family?  What is whispered from ear to ear down the length of the church pew and at the church's Wednesday evening potluck? "Can you believe . . .?"  "He seemed like such a nice man."

So, did you pick up your stone yet?

There was a woman "caught in adultery" who was brought to Jesus by the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  They "made her stand before the group."  I assume "caught in adultery" means that someone walked in on the act which, I imagine, was quite embarrassing but then making her stand before the group was humiliating.  Deserved?  Maybe yes, maybe no but how did Jesus respond when the Pharisees asked him if she should be stoned, as required by Old Testament Law?  With his finger writing in the dust of the ground, Jesus said, "Let anyone of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her."  One by one the stones fell to the ground as they walked away.

If you have a stone in your hand, you might want to loosen the grip just a little.

In Luke chapter 6 Jesus said, "Do not judge and you will not be judged." Then, in chapter 7,  he followed with "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged."

Loosening the grip a little more?

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his followers, "You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." and "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Feel the stone starting to slip from your hand?

The Apostle Paul will pry the last two fingers from your stone with these words: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life." Herod Antipas (who beheaded John the Baptist), Cain (who killed his brother Abel), Jezebel (who sacrificed babies to the idol Baal and murdered many prophets), yet Paul says twice that he was the WORST OF SINNERS! Thud! Your stone should be on the ground.

Now within Christian leadership there is accountability and consequences for overt sin and rebellion which the elders will hopefully handle biblically with love and grace through prayer both to protect the flock as well as to bring the straying back in line through repentance.  Jesus was clear that leaders and teachers would be held to a higher standard and Paul taught us that God "chastens those he loves." But, this post is not about consequences as much as is is about the hearts of fellow believers toward the sinner. Hearts of judgment, bitterness, hatred, or disgust versus hearts of grace, compassion, combined with prayers for repentance, healing, and restoration.  God says his "grace is sufficient" for us, for little sins and for big ones.  I pray for this man, for his family, for his church, for his school, for those he offended, and for you and me (that we would remember without the Cross of Christ we too would be condemned).



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Don't Fight the Wrong War

Do you remember the dramatic scene? Jesus leading thousands of his passionate followers through the streets of Jerusalem carrying signs of protest. "End Roman Rule Now!" "No More Taxes to Caesar!"  As they made their way through the city, they knocked on every door and handed those, who's doors were opened to them, fliers that read, "Jesus for Governor".  Of course, if they could install a charismatic Jew into leadership then the world would be as it should be.  Right?

After the demoralizing crucifixion  of Jesus, the Apostles were given the task of convincing the Romans, the Greeks, the Samaritans, and the Jews that they were immoral and needed to stop their sinful ways.  It was a moral crusade!  If only they could just make society better one person at a time. So, they started campaigns to stop prostitution, end capital punishment, and to make illegal the selling and consumption of wine. They stood side by side with the leaders of the Roman Pagans, the Jews who denied Jesus, and the worshippers of Mithras the sun-god because their common desire for goodness was greater than any religious differences that might separate them.  Arm and arm they walked carrying out demostrations in front of brothels, cross making plants, and vineyards.

Alright, so I made all that up.  But it's not so far from Western Christianity in 2013.  Why do I care? Why should you care?  Because Jesus did not, at any time, wage war against the government that oppressed them.   Nor did he try to crusade for moral change in a culture that denied him.  He did not attempt to better society by fighting social injustice along side those of other faiths.  His message was clear.  "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy ladened and I will give you rest". "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." If he had a message of condemnation it was for hypocritical religious leaders who were "white washed tombs, full of dead mens bones."  But to the rest he was interestingly silent.

Likewise, Jesus' followers didn't go town to town speaking against the immoral practices of society at large or walk arm and arm with other religious leaders in seeking better social conditions.  Jesus and his followers gave their lives in one pursuit, the spreading of the Gospel. They knew that anything short of salvation by faith in Jesus through his atoning death on the cross was only a bandaid on a fatal wound.  They were fighting the right war, the war against the wages of sin and death, not death of the body but death of the soul, eternal separation from God.  Jesus clearly taught us to love, to care for widows and orphans, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to mourn with those who mourn but those things never were in leu of the message of life and grace through HIM.

Jesus left all other wars to the worldly.  He knew God the Father was sovereign in the affairs of man.  God raised up kings and brought them down.  God led the Jews into captivity and led them out again.   No matter who is in office or what party is the majority, God is on the throne!  No physical or social battle would change the world.  We should know that by now.  Immorality, war, and chaos continue today as they did in the Book of Genesis.  Jesus knew that what they needed was not more religion, better morals, or a new government.  They needed HIM.  We need HIM.

I also find myself getting caught up in the polarized, political debates of the times.  I have a bent toward one side of the isle but I forget that as we move toward the return of Christ, the world will not become a better, more holy, or more Godly place.  In fact the Bible tells us the opposite will occur. Why?  Sin.  We don't have a political problem, a drug problem, an abortion problem, a God left out of the pledge problem, or a sexual orientation problem.  We have a SIN problem.  And the problem will not go away with ballot proposals, new legislation, interfaith coalitions, or by wearing purple bracelets.  The only answer to the problem of sin and death is JESUS.  Thats why Paul said,

"And so it was with me, brothers and sisters.  When I came to you I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Here's the deal.  Jesus was born, was crucified, and was raised to save sinners.  Our war, as his disciples, is the same one: to save sinners, of whom Paul said he was the worst (I think I could give him a run for his money). Along the way we will meet those who need our love and support in many ways (food, clothes, shelter, comfort, and grace) and it is the working out of our faith to provide all of that and more but it is not our mission to fight as the world fights.  I promise that it will be a loosing battle.  Please know that this doesn't mean ceasing to love and help those in need but don't get distracted by politics.   I know this next statement will bring backlash but it is a weapon of the enemy to join Christians with those who deny the Lordship of Christ in the pursuit of social justice.  Why?  Because if we place a higher value on ending discrimination, poverty, and education than we do on salvation, Satan will have won a battle for souls.  The end to the war, however, will be when Jesus returns on a white horse as Lord of Lords.   Until then leave the worldly wars to the worldly.

In Him, David

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Only Jesus

I was in the truck yesterday scanning the radio for a football game when I stopped to listen to a religious program that caught my attention.  As I listened I heard mentioned a number of times the name of the religion and the spotlight was on a particular New Testament Bible figure (not Jesus).  I listened for quite a while but there was no talk of Jesus nor the gospel so I moved on.  Later in the evening I was again scanning the stations and like before landed on this same station which was again was talking about the same Bible character and that particular person's holiness.

I tried to listen for a while but was grieved in my spirit. I though for a few minutes then prayed about this.  I asked God to give me insight because as I have read the scriptures the focus never seemed to be on anyone but Jesus (even the Old Testament pointed to him). All others who were lifted up, worshipped, or revered tore their garments and got low. I mean they knew their utter weakness and need for Christ.  Paul said he was the least of the Apostles and called himself "wretched".  When John fell at the feet of the angel who appeared to him the angel exclaimed, "Don't do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!" Isaiah, when given the chance to be in God's presence, admitted his unholiness, "'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips."

I woke up early this morning, forgetting about the radio program, I asked the Lord to give me something to say today.  I admitted to him that if I said anything from my own power it would be useless or worse, it might be dangerous.  I opened to the Book of Ephesians and began to read.  It hit me like a Mike Tyson right hook.  "Jesus Christ", "Christ", "God's Son", "in him", "through him", "Through Jesus Christ our Lord", "by the blood of Christ", "through his blood", "through the cross". It was all about Jesus. It wasn't about Paul or Peter or Moses or Mary.  From Genesis to Revelation it was about God's plan of salvation through his Only Son - Jesus - the Christ.  

Paul's letter to the Ephesians was not like his other letters.  He wasn't writing to correct one particular error but instead to encourage and build up the church. It was to remind them of the faith for which Paul himself was suffering.  It was to point them in the right direction and to focus their eyes on their only hope, Jesus.

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves it is a gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Ephesians 2:4-10 (emphasis mine)

In this letter Paul reminds us through whom our salvation comes (Jesus), how it was obtained (through the shedding of Christ's blood), how we receive it (by faith), and for what purposes are we saved (so that we might be blessed by God with the incomparable riches of his grace and that we might do good works).

Jesus was mentioned directly 50 times in the six short chapters and that doesn't include the indirect references (e.g. "him"). We are reminded that our lives, our holiness, and our access to the Father are "through him", "in him", "in Christ", or "through Christ" thirty times.  It was and is all about Jesus.  When we begin to focus on other people or put our hope in religion we, like Peter who took his eyes off of Jesus, will find ourselves sinking in the waves around us.  

I urge you to find twenty minutes this week to read Ephesians. Go slowly. Let each verse sink in.  God says that his Word never returns void but accomplishes the purpose for which he sends it. I promise you will be changed.

Love you guys,


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The God on the Shelf - Who is God to You?

Who is God to you?  Really.  I mean on any given day at any particular moment who is God to you.  Now the reality is that God is who God is regardless of what you think of him but who he is to you determines how you live and how you die. You might initially give me a laundry list of the usual Christian responses:

"He is my heavenly Father."
"He is my friend."
"He is my guide."
"He is my Lord."

I'd like to give you a picture of what I believe most of us have done with God and maybe what you're doing right now.  Be careful not to put up your shield of defense right away. Instead meditate on this and let it do its work in you.  I think we all can see a little of ourselves in this.

God is often a god on the shelf; a definable, compartmentalized, usable god.  We put him on three different shelves depending on where we need him.

First, is what I see as the work shelf.  It's like a shelf in a workshop, carrying a cordless drill, a belt sander, and a couple hammers. Oh yeah, and a tiny god. He sits on our work shelf silent and lifeless until we have a job for him to do. We go about our days and weeks with little or no acknowledgment  of his presence and we rarely if ever look at him in awe of who he is.  That is, until we need a little financial help, maybe maybe we're in legal trouble, or in a relationship struggle.  It's time to go to the shelf, dust him off and see it he can get the job done.  We cry out, "Why God? Why this or that and why me?  Help me please!" When the situation passes we place him back on the shelf in case we need him in the future.  Off we go,

The second shelf is more like a mantle above the fireplace.  It's a place where we keep our trophies and various awards.  It's the shelf of religiosity of pride.  It's where we place God to show others that we have him. It may look like a weekly trip to church where we really don't meet God or truly worship him. It may look like the donations we can tell our accountant about at tax time.  However, like the god of the workshop, this god is also lifeless and doesn't play any real part in the minute by minute reality of our lives.

The last shelf is like a shelf in the medicine cabinet or vanity. Like the mantle place god this is also a god of religion but based less on pride and more on guilt.  We look in the mirror and see a blemish a rash or a sore.  We are sick or just don't look very good. We open the mirror pull out the little Bandaid god or the makeup god and cover up the blemish.  This god doesn't heal the wound or make us younger, it just makes us look better.  Then back in the cabinet, on the shelf and the mirror closes.

Before you say, "Not me!!" think carefully about your typical day.  How does it start?  Does it start in prayer, in worship, in acknowledging Him?  How do you make the hundreds of decisions you make every day?  Is God  . . . GOD . . . in your life?  I mean a living, all powerful, all knowing, ever present, eternal, Holy, loving, creator GOD in your life?  Because whether we act like it, live like it, or acknowledge it, that's who he is.

God loves you (cordless drills, trophies, and mascara can't love). God can do amazing things in you, through you, and for you.  He is El Shaddai "God All Mighty", Elohim "God the Creator".  You see a hammer can't create.  It can only create if it is carried.  God needs no help.  He is there to help in times of need but not as a part time god on a shelf.  He is Yahweh-rapha "The God who Heals".  He heals our insides and outsides, not just covering up the wound but healing it. Jesus died so that we might have life.  He made blind eyes to see, deaf ears to hear, lame legs to walk, and brought the dead to life. If God has at times been a shelf god in your life (as he has in mine) ask him to forgive you and walk with him in a new way today.

Peace, David