Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dehumanizing The Dying

I just scrolled through a pictorial of famous people who have died in 2011. There were many I recognized - Harry Morgan from MASH, Andy Rooney the sardonic commentator, singer Amy Winehouse, and Elizabeth Taylor were among them. As I read their cause of death, I wondered what they looked like in the last months . . . how unrecognizable they might have been to the public because of the illnesses they suffered.

I met Judy (not her real name) about three years ago. She was a hospice patient, and I her hospice chaplain. Several months after her death, I happened upon the program they produced for her memorial service. Her picture was on the front, but I did not recognize her. I thought I did not know the woman pictured until I opened the folded piece of paper and recognized her from the names and information from her family. I had only known her when she was sick.

I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to think that when people are sick, gaunt from cancer, swollen from liver failure, emaciated from some long-term lung disease . . . I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to treat them, or at the least think of them as less than the people they are?

The Bible tells us that by the time Jesus was crucified, he had been beaten so badly that he no longer appeared human. Yet, He was still fully Himself, fully God and fully man. It is so easy for us to accept what our eyes tell us, and not look beyond. The next time you see someone in a hospital bed, or in a nursing home, or some chemotherapy patient suffering from the poison of their medicine, remember that the illness has not diminished who they are. They are still a human being who God loved with the life of His Son.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If I Dishonor Man

As I finished reading a chapter on the Discipline of Friendship in a book by R. Kent Hughes, I began to think about building cabinets. The job God provided for me to get through my under-graduate work was building cabinets to furnish the university.

A few years ago, I took my family to my college campus for a home-coming weekend. My wife and I gave our children the grand tour. We led them to the dorms we lived in, the concrete bench where I stole my first kiss from their mother, and dozens of other places that were important to us. And, everywhere I went on that campus, I was proud to show them the work that I and the young men in my shop had completed. I was proud that so much of it was still there more than two decades later.

Many of the cabinets were my creation. I had measured, designed, and built them from rough lumber, boxes of wood screws, bottles of wood glue and gallons of finish. Cabinet making was a joy to me. Unlike working with people, where the work is never done, cabinet-making brought with it a great sense of accomplishment. A part of me was in each piece. So, if you insulted my work, in a way you insulted me.

When God made man, He made us in His image. He did not put a part of Himself in us, for He was and is always complete and whole in Himself, but He apparently took great joy in our creation. He said that we were good. Now, there is no doubt to any sane and rational mind that we are no longer the good things He created. We know that sin has marred us. Yet, we are still His creation, not unlike a fine, hand-made oak desk whose mirror polished top has been scratched deeply by a thoughtless act.

One day Jesus described the worth of people to God when He said, "But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don't be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Mt.10:30-31) So, I wonder how He feels when we, through our words and our actions, dishonor His highest creation . . . man.

French philospher, Blaise Pascal, wrote, "I set this down as a fact, that if all men knew what each other said of the other, there would not be four friends in all the world."

May we who are members of the body of Christ no longer dishonor, with word or deed, any man . . . for each is a creation of God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Caught 81 Fish Tonight

About two months ago I mentioned that I was planning a fishing trip. Well, tonight I took it. I had a great time. In just a few hours I caught 81 fish. Actually, I caught the same 9 fish 9 times. And, I never had to leave the comfort of my study in my house. I went fishing in my aquarium. The fish are a little worn out, but I had a great time. It took little effort, and required only a small amount of time.

Revival services were good tonight, and it was so good to see people from other churches there. So, don't take what I'm about to say in the wrong way. We want God to use this meeting for His glory, and that includes touching other churches, but . . . having lots of church people in church and considering that a victory is alot like fishing in your own aquarium.

So, pray like crazy today for lost people to be in our meetings. Then, invite lost and unchurched people like crazy.  Not all of the people you invite will come, but virtually none of the people you don't invite will come.

Ask every person you see tomorrow to come to the meeting tomorrow night. Sure it's risky. It's like taking a fishing trip down a treacherous river, but it's exciting and the payoff is eternal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Need To Vent

I need to vent. I know that I'm supposed to be writing devotionals that will help my readers prepare for revival, but I am getting fed up. Let me tell you why. A little over two weeks ago, we started praying for revival and thing started happening. This is nothing new. Any time a person or a church begin to press into God, to pray in earnest for God to be God in their midst, things start happening.  Satan gets busy, but God also begins to work. His Holy Spirit works through His Word and begins to boil off the impurities in our hearts. Our flesh rarely dies quietly.

Stuff has been happening, and I am getting fed up with God. Actually I am getting fed up with His Word, with His Presence, with His incredible love, spirit, and sovereign faithfulness. Kind of caught you off guard, huh?  You thought I was about to spew.

Well, I want to spew. I want to spew praise. Here are a few of the "why's." On a day when I felt utterly unworthy, when I was so into my self, God used me to lead a lost man to the cross and now I have a new brother.  Then I witnessed God working courage and love as some sisters in Christ navigated the difficult waters of correcting another.  I saw a flesh explosion tamed by His Spirit. I saw Him sustain a family through the death of a child.  And, there are at least another dozen ways I have recognized His hand in and around my life in the last two weeks..  And, I know that all I see is paltry compared to all He is and all He is doing.

So, let me spew . . . My God is Long-Suffering and Merciful,  My God is Mighty To Save even the rankest of sinners, My God is Faithful in love even as He corrects, My God is the Lifter and Sustainers of our hearts, My God is God and There Is No Other, and I want to continue to be fed up with Him, His Word, and His Spirit.

Tonight is not over, and if tomorrow comes, I will walk out into the same world. The lost and dying are plentiful, the flesh is pervasive, despair and unbelief are on every corner, Satan is active, and I am the chief of sinners . . . but God is God and There Is No Other and I know Him because His Son has revealed Him to me in an act of incredible grace and mercy . . . and tomorrow He will reveal His glory again. May I see it and rejoice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Relief Is A Poor Substitute

Then Jesus said, "Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Didn't any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?"  And He told him, "Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well."  Luke 17:17-19

There was water in the ditch yesterday. It has rained, and we thank and praise God for it. I was so excited for the rain, and also for the possibility that the burn ban would be lifted. I have piles of trees and trash lumber from the building of our home that need to be burned. But, the burn ban is still on.  It's irritating.  It feels wet outside today. There is still water in the ditch, it's overcast, the grass is green, the rain has brought much needed relief, but still I can't burn.

10 lepers cried out to Jesus for healing, and he healed them all. What an incredible relief.  Leprosy had ostracized them from every healthy person in their lives for as many years as they had had the disease. Most of them would die early because of it.  In a sudden downpour of grace and mercy, they were healed. They could go home. They could go back to work. They could live.

But, for nine of them it wasn't really life. They were relieved, incredibly, but only one really lived that day. The one who returned to Jesus, fell at His feet, and worshiped was the only one who was truly delivered that day. He was the only one saved.

How many times do we settle for relief?  How many times does God give it, and we never turn back to Him for the reality of eternal and abundant life?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two New Bible Translations To Avoid

You are on a business trip to a land where you don’t speak the language, so you hire a translator to help you in your important negotiations. Unfortunately, the translator you hire is not faithful to your intentions. He decides what he thinks the people need to hear, and he changes the meanings of your words.  He knows exactly how to translate what you are speaking, but makes his own decision to substitute words that mean something else. How would you feel?

For 500 years scholars have worked to translate the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into the language of the people.  Until recently, the goal of translators was to be faithful to the original meaning of the words God laid down in the text of the Bible.  Over the last several decades, many translators have become more concerned about the culture and what they think people need to hear.  They have intentionally changed the meaning of God’s Word to fit their assumptions and their agenda.  How do you think God feels about that?

Two new Bible translations that have done this are the 2011 New International Version (2011 NIV) and the Common English Translation (CET). Avoid these translations if you want an accurate translation that reflects the original meaning of God’s Word. Following are several translations that are printed in modern English that remain true to God’s original intent. 

Holman Christian Standard Bible - HCSB
New American Standard Bible - NASB
English Standard Version - ESV
New International Version - NIV
(original 1984 or earlier version)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Either Enough Or Not

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God's righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith." (Rom. 1:16-17)

I was already about to blow a gasket. Three minutes! The store was closing in three minutes. Now!  Now is when I needed to be at my currently-being-built house to install some additional 2 x 4's before all light disappeared.  Now is also when I had to get it done because a sheet rock crew was coming to finish early in the morning.  And, let me add this, I am absolutely not a framer.  I can build you a cabinet, but you don't want me any closer to your rough carpentry than you want me near your plumbing.  But, that's another story.

I just want to say that whoever had stocked the isle with nails had done an incredible job.  I have never seen so many different nails in so many different sizes in so many different finishes in so many different quantities.  Did I mention that I needed these nails now.  So, I selected a box, after almost losing it.  TOO MANY CHOICES, when all I needed was something with which I could hold some lumber together.

I am not naive. I do not believe that all we have to do is stand on a soapbox and preach the Bible, but I do believe this. There are too many people who think they have the answer, and it is enough to make any church leader blow a gasket.

I thought we were past the worship style issue. Apparently it is still alive and well. Add to it Calvin and Arminius, one service vs. two, home groups or Sunday School, no Sunday night or extra Sunday night, bible or literature, topical or verse-by-verse, church planting vs. revitalization, beer or no-beer, emergent vs. emerging vs. whatever, simple church vs. whatever, Holy Ghost vs. Holy Spirit, once-saved-always-saved vs. who knows.   Everyone has an answer.

Well, so does God, and today I choose to believe that praying and preaching His Gospel, the Bible, is still more effective than any method.  Call me crazy.  Maybe I'm just struggling with early onset pre-senile dementia (meaning I just can't handle much mentally), but I believe that preaching the Word is still what is needed to change lives.  Love 'em and preach the Word.  It's either enough or not.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Best Father's Day Gift

I want a pair of astronomical binoculars. If you're wondering what I want for Father's Day this year, that's it.  They are these huge binoculars that are about three times as big as a standard set of terrestrial binoculars. They are so heavy that you just about have to mount them on a tripod. You use them to look at the moon, stars, galaxies and other night time objects in the sky. Last year I don't remember what I wanted, but the year before it was an iPhone.  What I really want, though, is to be a man of honor, integrity, one who brings honor, not shame, to my God, my church, and my family. 

You can give me a gun, binoculars, or a phone, but you can't give me what I want and need the most, but God can, and He said He wants to.  So, for the next thirty days, will you join me in praying for men.  We'll pray right through Father's Day, and on to the end of the month.  Each day I'll post a Biblical prayer for us to pray. Here, let's warm up today . . .

Father in Heaven, you are the perfect Father. You have loved us perfectly. Thank You, Father. Help us now to pray. Make us desperate for You in prayer. Make us believe that we can do nothing apart from You, and that we must pray.  Father, we commit to You to pray for the men in our lives, fathers, brothers, sons, pastors, and friends.  May this month be a month of revival for men.  In the name of Your Son, Jesus, I pray.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Put On Your New Clothes

When we come to Christ, there is a radical transformation that takes place which Jesus calls being "born again."  One of His apostles describes it, "Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life." (Rom.6:4)  He then describes the quality and scope of this life we have been given in Christ, saying, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come." (2Cor.5:17)

The gift is like a new wardrobe. We have received it, now we must open it and begin to put on this new clothing. It is a daily choice we make, we will either put on our old life over this new life we have been given or we will put on the gift of Christ.  The apostle writes about this contrasting wardrobe, telling us "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires." (Rom.13:14)

Once we have been born again all things are new, new things have come, and we are radically changed. Yet, the only set of clothes we have ever been comfortable with is the old set. So, we must make the choice to put on what Christ has given. This change must take place in what we think so that what we do will reflect who we now are in Christ.  We know how to think and behave like people who were not born again. Now we must continually unpack the new clothing, given to us in Christ, and described in detail in His Word. "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God." (Rom.12:2)

One of the places where Jesus describes this new wardrobe is found in great detail in the 5th through the 7th chapters of Matthew. It is a sermon He preached to a crowd of people on a hillside one day.  Read it, then put it on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cures, Coaches & God's Word

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." ~ Deuteronomy 6:5-7

I know a young man who travels thousands of miles a year to receive specialized treatment in the hopes of curing an illness that, if not cured, will take his life. He believes that the trip is worth it because his life is at stake. He is willing to go to this great expense and this great length to get to the cure.

Years ago in Texas I worked with a friend whose son was a baseball prodigy. They spent thousands of dollars and hours preparing him to pitch in the pros. He got his chance, signing with the Pirates, but because of moral failures and character issues he was dropped. They had sacrificed everything for him to pitch, but had never taught him the thing that could have made him a real success. They never taught him the Word.

I know parents who have made other sacrifices for another purpose. They have sacrificed time and resources.  Sometimes they have sacrificed their children's popularity so that they could learn the Word of God. They have worked hard to be part of a local church where the Word of God is taught, sacrificed time and effort to make sure their children were part of Bible teaching ministries in that church, and given of themselves and their resources to teach other children the Word of God.  They do this because they believe that the most important thing is defined by God, not the world.

While most of us would do whatever it took to find a cure for a illness, especially for our children, there is a limit to medicine. Everyone will still die. All of us want the best possible chance for our children's future success, but there is a limit to talent and success.  In the end the greatest athlete, most successful businessman, and most popular politician will be nothing more than a byline in history. And, even that history will one day come to an end.

These things are not unimportant. They are just not the most important.  God has defined what is most important.  Give all you have to know and love God, to know His Word, and to teach it to your children. Only God's Word can give us what we need, both for life and eternity.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Golf, God, Church, etc.

I had to stop playing golf years ago because of a rare condition. I loved the game as a teen, even beat a future PGA pro at a junior tournament. Sadly, my game was inconsistent at best. I might play a round in the low 70's one week, and work to drop under 90 the next.  I tried in college, but because of my condition my game deteriorated. Through the years I would try again, usually when someone else bugged me into playing.  Yet, my condition continued to affect my game.

It's not a physical or mental condition. It's spiritual. I lose my Christianity when I play golf. Maybe it's because I used to be good, and now I am very, very bad. Maybe it's because I have to buy golf balls by the dozen just to finish 18 holes.  Maybe it's because I kept losing my clubs - finding them wrapped around trees . . . watching them fly through the air into water hazards. Whatever the cause, my entire language changed when I played golf.  So, to any of you golfers who want me to play with you, don't ask.

What's crazy is that I still have a set of clubs. I saw them in the shed the other day and said, "Wow, there are my golf clubs."  I haven't played in years, and have no intention of ever playing again, but they were still MY clubs.

It's kind of like when so many people say, "hey, there's MY church," and they haven't been in years, much less actually participated in the ministry of that church.  Or, like when someone says, "he's MY God," when they haven't had a decent conversation with Him since the last job they lost, or the last time someone got really sick.

I guess they have a condition, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

So Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

Bin Laden was not just lost, but was a preacher of lostness. He followed a religion that denies Christ, and his brand of that religion kills Christians. It also kills its own adherents who differ in theology. That is why many millions of Muslims around the world will rejoice at the news of his death.  The gospel Bin Laden preached increased the occupancy of Hell. His false god, Allah, and his false prophet, Mohammad, send sons and daughters to die for their faith in the hope of gaining access to a false paradise. The one true God sent His son to die for us. He does not send us to die for Him. Bin Laden led thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of sons and daughters to their death and an eternity of suffering. Can we possibly mourn his passing?  Should we, or should we dance in the streets that our enemy is dead?

God says it is not wise to gloat at the death of an enemy. "Don't gloat when your enemy falls, and don't let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him."  (Prov. 24:17)  While we can be thankful that an enemy of mankind, of freedom, of our country, and of our faith has been stopped, there is no reason for us to throw a party.

As long as Bin Laden lived, we prayed for his salvation. I have often dreamed of hearing of his conversion to Christ, and his subsequent death. Make no mistake, his compatriots would have quickly dispatched him if he had believed in the one true God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Now, given what he preached, his fate is eternal suffering.  Maybe you have heard it said, "I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."  Well, there was no worse enemy than Osama Bin Laden, and I would not wish Hell on him. I do not, cannot wish it on anyone.

We wish Heaven on everyone. Our mission is not retribution. Vengeance belongs to God.  Our mission is the gospel to all nations, all people, all individuals. We can rejoice today that one purveyor of evil and death will no longer murder. We can rejoice that God is on the throne. We can give thanks that justice has been served, but we cannot rejoice that our enemy has gained a soul. As long as there is life, as long as we live here and preach the gospel, until all is said and done, one more occupant in Hell is no cause for dancing in the street.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Do Not Fear Failure

When Judas and the soldiers came for Jesus in the garden, Peter was a warrior. He swung his sword slicing off an ear. Within minutes, though, he was following Jesus from a distance. Within hours, he denied he even knew him. Before the rooster crowed, he was a cursing coward. Just fifty-two days later, on the day of Pentecost, he boldly stood before the crowd that had crucified His Lord, the Lord He had denied so vigorously, and preached Christ. For Judas, there was no such restoration, no redemption. Within hours of Judas' betrayal, he was dead by his own hand.

Why is failure fatal for some and a turning point for others? The answer does not lie in personal strength. Men and women who have accomplished incredible feats in life have ended life in the gutter. Peter was not a better man than Judas. He proved that on the night of Jesus' arrest. The only difference is Jesus. Peter belonged to Jesus. Judas did not.

Jesus knew Peter would fail, and since Peter belonged to Him, He said, "Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)  Jesus never prayed for Judas like this, because He had always known that Judas heart never belonged to him.

The fear of failure leads us to deny Christ. Our denial may not be as spectacular as Peter's, but we do it. We do it every time we are silent about our faith. We do it every time we agree with a worldly joke or comment. We do it with our lives when we live hypocritically like the world during the week.

Child Of God, Do Not Fear Failure. You cannot make yourself stand. It has never been about your ability to endure criticism, to live righteously, to say the right thing. You are not the one who will make you stand, for only "The Lord is able to make you stand." (Romans 14:4)

Do Not Deny Him Today. He will make you stand.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Worship Jesus Despises - Part 2

And He said to them, "It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!" The blind and lame came to Him in the temple complex, and He healed them." (Matthew 21:13-14)

The Jews had built the Temple and then had walled it in. They built a short wall around the outside of the Temple that was inscribed with threats to all nonJews. The inscriptions said that any nonJew who walked beyond the wall just to touch the outside of the Temple walls would be killed. So, the traditions of man made it impossible for nonJews to get close to God's presence.

This wall was not God's idea. It was a misinterpretation of God's command for holiness. They forgot that Isaiah wrote,"And the foreigners who convert to the Lord minister to Him, love the Lord's name, and are His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it, and who hold firmly to My covenant - I will bring them to My holy mountain and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 57:6-7) 

The Jews then filled this Court of the Gentiles with money-changers and vendors. This made it easier for the Jews to worship, but it moved the Gentiles farther away. Any of these outsiders who wanted to worship God were now even further from His presence and Jesus despised this. He was the One who had come to be near man, to bring all people who believed to His Father, and zeal for his Father's House filled Him to drive these vendors out.  Once He had done so, He began to heal the very people the Jews had excluded from their Holy Temple, "The blind and lame came to Him in the temple complex and He healed them." (Matt. 21:14)

The gospel is a separator. Faith in Christ alone will separate father from son, mother from daughter and life-long friends from one another. So, don't misinterpret Jesus. He was not advocating allowing nonbelievers into the Temple. He was not dumbing down His own requirements. He was fulfilling them. He was revealing the Father's heart, that whosoever will may come.

There are two places of worship in our lives. The first is our own hearts and lives. We are the tabernacle of the Lord. The second is our local church, where we come together to corporately worship the One. 

Is there anything in your heart that keeps others from hearing the gospel and coming near to God?  Is there anything in your church that keeps others from hearing the gospel and coming near to God?

Let the only thing in your heart and in your church that separates people from God be the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despise anything else that keeps people from God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Worship Jesus Despises - Part 1

Late Monday or early Tuesday before Jesus was crucified, He apparently got upset. "Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers' tables and the chairs of those selling doves." (Mt. 21:12) At face value, these booths were set up to facilitate worship. Worshippers required clean sacrifices, and these people provided them from booths set up in the court of the Gentiles.  Apparently Jesus was more than unimpressed.  Why?

"And He said to them, 'It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. but you are making it a den of thieves!" (Mt. 21:13) He was far less concerned with their ritual than with their relationship. A millennium before, God impressed King David to buy a piece or property from a farmer named Ornan. As the King approached Ornan about selling the property, he first refused to sell it, instead wanting to make it a gift to the king.  David said, "No, I insist on paying the full price, for I will not take for the Lord what belongs to you or offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (1 Chron. 21:24)  This was the very piece of property upon which the temple was built. Why did God honor David's purchase and not what these men were doing? 

David was a man after God's own heart. He refused to allow someone else provide for His sacrifice. For David, the worship of God was personal, not ritual.  For the people Jesus drove from the temple and for their patrons, worship had been made convenient, a business interaction, and impersonal, and Jesus despised it. I have often said, "I really enjoyed worship today."  I have rarely asked, "I wonder if God enjoyed my worship today?"

Is your worship an act of receiving, or is it an act of relationship, pouring your life out in encouragement of others and praise to God? Do you come to bless or be blessed? Is it a ritual or a relationship? Does Jesus look forward to your worship?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Quest Against Distractions (and cell phones in church)

Wherever you are, be all there.  ~ Jim Elliott

I have not preached in a worship service for the past two years without a cell phone interrupting worship, without seeing a child, a teen, or an adult texting while we were worshiping or while I was preaching.  I cannot remember the last time I was in a prayer meeting or a Bible study that was not interrupted by a phone call or text message notification.  I regularly visit the terminally ill, and I almost cannot have a conversation with a person who is about to enter eternity without God without being interrupted by the supposed bliss of instant communication.

I have them all - a smart phone, satellite TV, online Xbox 360, and wireless internet - but they have not caused my family to grow closer, my marriage to grow deeper, or my friendships to be more significant. . . nor, I wager, have they yours.

We can, however, turn all of these things off, and I wish that every adult would when they come to church, and that every parent would confiscate their child's cell phone when they walk in the doors. When I am going to have any kind of significant conversation with anyone, I try to close my laptop, leave my phone in the car, or just turn it off if it's with me.

We just cannot value the people we are with if we take every call or text that comes in. We cannot value God when we allow our worship of Him to be interrupted by what everyone outside of church thinks is urgent enough to call us about.

If fast food places have signs stating, "We don't take orders from people who are on their cell phones," why don't we turn them off when we are in a conversation with someone - especially when we are in worship.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Should We Pray Together?

Someone asked, "Why should I come to a prayer meeting?  I can pray just as effectively at home or wherever I am.  Why do we have to get together to pray?"  Sometimes it is better to answer that honest question with a picture rather than a theological explanation.  Here is the picture . . .

     After Jesus ascended into heaven, before Pentecost . . . "When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying... all these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers." (Acts 1:13-14)
     Ten days later, when the Holy Spirit fulfilled the promise of Christ . . . "When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying... then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:1-2, 4)
     At the end of that day after 3,000 had been saved... "And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. . . house to house. . . " (Acts 2:42, 46)
      When the first persecution occurred. . . "After they were released, they went to their own fellowship and reported all... when they heard this, they raised their voices to God unanimously... When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's message with boldness."  (Acts 4:23-24, 31)
     When inequality threatened the unity of the church for the first time, they selected 7 men to take care of all the widows, and ... "They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them." (Acts 6)
     When the leaders of the church began to be killed, and they could no longer safely meet in public to pray together... "So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church..."  after his release, he went to one of the houses "where many had assembled and were praying." (Acts 12:5, 12)

The question is not why I should pray together with other Christians or whether I should. The question is, "Why do you think that you should not be there, praying together with other Christians, as the body of Christ has done since its foundation?" 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Want Comfort, Not Freedom

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ~ Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It only took 17 days for the Egyptians to throw out their dictator. Their primary reasons for throwing him out was joblessness and poverty. They very well may exchanged one dictator for a government of tyranny. This is nothing new. In 100 AD the Roman poet, Juvenal, coined the phrase panem et circenses, meaning "bread and circuses."  The tyrannical rulers of Rome knew the best way to please the crowd was to give away free bread and entertainment.

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Are we truly brave enough to live in freedom, or are we just like the Romans . . . willing to sacrifice our freedom for comfort?  Who do we expect to take care of our poor and needy?  Who do we expect to take care of our sick?  Who do we expect to take care of our retirement?  Bread and circuses.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." Government (and Satan) are all too happy to provide for us, but neither can free us.  Yet, government exists as it does only because it is an extension of us.  We blame government for removing our freedom through regulation and taxation, and then throw out any politician who dares threaten our comfort by cutting the government. We are hypocrites of a high order. And we, who have been set free by Christ, are we any different?  Freedom brings purpose and joy inexpressible, but it also brings responsibility.

We are free to hear personally from God. That freedom, however, requires that we rise early each morning to meet Him, to feast on His presence and His Word. Our pastors and teachers are needed to equip us, but they cannot eat for us. 

We are free from selfishness. Since God has promised to take care of us, we are now free to give of our time and resources sacrificially with a joyful heart.  Do we want that freedom, or would we rather hold onto what we have and put more in our barns?  Do we want the freedom of giving or the comfort of having?

We are free from the bondage of sin, but that freedom requires us to deny ourselves, our lusts, and our pride.  Do we want to be free from sin, or do we not rather enjoy the comfort of our sin?  Do we want to be holy, or would we not rather lay ourselves down in our beds of sin and wrap ourselves in a blanket of eternal security?  Have we not all prayed, "Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep His love be with me through the night And wake me with the morning light And if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take"?

Even we, those who are followers of Christ, are naturally drawn to the bondage of comfort.  That is why Paul wrote the Galatians what He did. They were being tempted to give up the freedom of the Spirit-led life in exchange for the comfort of Jewish tradition.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  That freedom is costly, but it is life . . . real life.

All other is just bread and circuses.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It wasn't pretty, but . . .

My son and I were on the river and he was hooking BIG fish - hooking, not catching. He was also getting frustrated because he was hooking but not catching. I was worried that he would quit, just sit down on the bank and quit. I worked hard with him, retied knots, talked him through every hookup with every fish, but it just wasn't working. Finally, though, he got into a fish and I just shut up (much to his relief) and let him fight it on his own.

(Understand something. We are fly fisherman, and we were catching 2 - 4 lb. trout in a fast running stream on 2.4 lb line. This is not like 15 or 20 pound test line for a 5 lb. bass. )

Just when it looked as if this monster would not get off, his line gave way. I thought he was going to just melt into the water from disappointment. Miraculously, though, the strike indicator (a small float about the diameter of a dime, was still attached to the line that was attached to the fish. So, we grabbed our nets and dove into the stream chasing the strike indicator (and fish) for about 20 minutes. Finally I thought, "We look like idiots chasing this fish. If I could snag that strike indicator with my line, my son could take my pole and land the fish." I did, and he did.  The picture above is that fish. It wasn't pretty, but he caught that fish.

Too many of us who take the Great Commission seriously want a pretty catch. We don't share the gospel unless it FEELS right. We don't share until we think we are perfectly prepared. We don't share until we think it's the PERFECT TIME. We are looking for pretty. God is looking for obedient.  We want an outline. God is just waiting for someone to cast out the lines.

It doesn't matter if it's pretty. It just matters that you keep casting the gospel into the waters.  Keep fishing, and keep your lines tight.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wasted Days And Wasted Nights

God wastes nothing in the lives of his children. No tragedy, no triumph, no sickness, no promotion is outside of his plan for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes, though, people waste these opportunities. When someone faces a life-threatening illness or a life-taking tragedy, we, who by the grace of God have believed, often think, "as awful as this is, surely he or she will turn to God for comfort and hope."  When a windfall comes, and it is clearly a providential blessing, we think, "surely they will see the goodness of God, repent, and follow Christ." 

Yet how often that does not happen. The person who is not faithful to God before surgery is often not faithful to God after the surgery was successful. The unbeliever who heard, "this may be cancer," before the biopsy is not likely to believe when the doctor says it was not cancer.

Tragedy does not save us any more than a clear diagnosis does. Almost every man, woman, boy and girl prays to God for help in times of trouble, and almost as many turn from Him when the trouble has passed. The only power capable of changing a life is the gospel of Jesus Christ believed, received, and followed. 

God does not waste anything. We often do.

Pray, preach the gospel, love, repeat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Star Light, Star Bright

Star light, Star bright
The first star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

Most of us live in towns or cities where, on a good night without a moon in the sky, we can see perhaps a few dozen stars. That makes a dark sky full of stars so wondrous.  When we go camping, or driving in the country at night, or if we are truly blessed and get to live out in the country, we look up and see thousands.  The first time I camped in the Big Bend area of Texas, an area completely devoid of the light pollution of city lights, the Milky Way was so bright on the horizon that I thought it was a cloud.  While the stars seem innumerable, scientists tell us that at the most we can see 4,000 to 6,000 stars with our naked eyes.

If every child who has been aborted in this country were a star in the sky, there would be 53 million stars visible to the naked eye. If they were of average brightness, their light would blind us at night and during the day. There would be no darkness anytime, anywhere.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Uncommon Valor

"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." ~ Acts 4:19-20

This week Jerod Lee Loughner committed a heinous crime. As he fired his pistol into the crowd, 76 year old Dorwan Stoddard died shielding his wife from the bullets. After emptying his first 31 round magazine into the crowd, a wounded 74 year old retired Colonel, Bill Badger, and another man wrestled him to the ground nearly on top of 61 year old Patricia Maisch. She saw his second magazine on the ground and wrestled it from him as Joseph Zamudia helped Badger hold the man on the ground.  When Maisch was called a hero and asked, "How could you do that?" she said, "You do what you have to do. I'm not a hero. Those other men are heroes."  No real hero every thinks he or she is a hero. I have never heard a medal of honor winner, or any other hero under fire take credit. Every one of them points somewhere else, to someone else.

Peter and John were heroes. They stood in front of a group of men who had murdered their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without regard for their own safety, and with concern only that their Lord was glorified, they stood against the enemies of the gospel. After being threatened, they gathered the church and praised and prayed to God. Miraculously, they didn't pray for protection, but for boldness to go out and do it all over again. s to do it again. "And, now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness," ~ Acts 4:29

They demonstrated uncommon valor, because they believed in the one true hero . . . the one who had already laid down His life.  Their valor did not lead them to boast, but to pray. It did not lead them to pray for safety, but for boldness, and God granted their request, "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." ~ Acts 4:31

Who's your hero? 

How do you pray?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Prayer Is Not Just Spinning Your Wheels

"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate, to ask alms of those entering the temple." ~ Acts 3:1-2

A truck was stuck in the mud and its owner just kept spinning his wheels in the belief that somehow, if he just pressed harder on the accelerator, he would get out. Two other men found him and told him to stop spinning his wheels. They would push his truck and rock it back and forth as he did the same with his gears. It took a little work, but he finally got out.

I don't know if you have thought of this, but the lame man was stuck. No matter how hard he tried, he wasn't going anywhere. For years, people carried him and laid him at the gate to beg. That was helpful, but it didn't change anything. Then two men on their way to pray came by, and he got unstuck.

How many times have you heard, "Well, the least we can do is pray," or "I can't do much. All I can do is pray."?  What a misconception. So much of what we do is just spinning our wheels until we pray. We try hard and go nowhere. Sometimes we find someone who will carry us along for awhile, a new pastor or teacher or author . . . but we are still stuck. Then we pray, earnestly giving up on ourselves and trusting in God by prayer, and He frees us from the muck. The prophet (Zech. 4:6) recorded God's Words , "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Does Your Life Look Anything Like This?

I just finished reading Acts chapter 2. There is no command in the Bible for us, those who follow Christ today, to do what they did?  We are to pray, but there is no command to gather in an upper room for 10 days and pray until the Holy Spirit descends upon us. (There is a command to pray without ceasing.)  Acts 2 describes the moment of the birth of what we are - the church. There is no command, but there is a description that bears little witness to most of the churches that I have ever been a part of, or have been to, or even know about.

This scene begins and ends with a group of people committed to obey God until He comes through. It begins and ends with a people committed to one another. It begins and ends with a church that does alot more praying than it does anything else. In the middle, Acts 1:8 is fulfilled.  They are filled with power that does not result in the fulfillment of their own petty prayers, but results in their rushing into the street to preach the gospel. Peter, once coward, now puts his life at risk to preach the gospel to a known hostile crowd. Thousands believe in Jesus, though no one says the sinners prayer. The church grows from 120 to over 3,000 in one day. They worship daily, pray daily, hear preaching daily, and take care of every need that arises in the church family.  And, in the end, it doesn't stop. It continues.

Acts 2 does not prescribe. It merely describes. Yet, it describes a scene utterly unfamiliar to the experience of most of us who follow Christ.  And, in the middle is a prophecy that spans the church age from inception to culmination . . . the prophecy of Joel.

There has never been another time when it happened exactly like that, but there has also never been a time when we did not need the power of God more than now. And, may I remind you, it all began and ended with a group of people praying together.  At first, they were just lost followers praying together. In the end, they were the church of the risen Savior praying together.

That is worth praying for.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black Cats versus TNT and Faith

TNT is the standard measurement of explosive power, containing 4.7 megajoules of energy per kilogram. If you're like me that's rocket science, so let me put this into perspective. When an apple falls from a tree and strikes the ground, that is about 1 joule of energy. A megajoule is the power of 1 million apples falling from the tree and hitting you on the head, or the power of a one ton vehicle hitting you at 100 miles per hour.

Every boy's favorite firework, the Black Cat, is filled with flash powder, which is significantly less powerful than TNT.  While a Black Cat can do serious damage to the fingers of anyone dumb enough to hold one too long, it would take about 3,000 black cats to do the same damage as just one stick of TNT.

The promise of God in Acts 1:8 is really an answer to a misconception that his disciples had. They asked Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"  (Acts 1:6) In essence, they were asking, "Lord, now that you've risen from the dead, are we going to be powerful again?"

His response was, "But you will receive power when the Holy spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8) It was almost like He said, "You think your Black Cat is powerful. I'm going to send you dynamite."

Satan and the world want us to believe that our faith is the black cat and that "reality," as defined by them, is the TNT.  By and large, we seem to believe Satan and the world. We spend most of our days and most of our prayers trying to get stuff in this world, power that will keep us safe and comfortable. We must not settle for the kingdoms of this world when God offers us the power of His kingdom.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It Was Such A Small Chip

Over a year ago, a small rock struck my windshield. The chip was so small that I really didn't think it was necessary to have it filled. That was my first mistake.

Three days later, after baking in the hot sun, a three inch crack had appeared. However, it stopped. Things stabilized, and since the crack was on the passenger side of the windshield down low, I thought I could hang on for a few months. That was my second mistake.

The crack grew slowly, but still didn't move much. I thought I was safe. A few weeks ago it was time for my car to be inspected. The crack hadn't moved into line of sight so I passed. I felt like I could go another year with the crack. That was my third mistake.

Last week while fishing on the river in Oklahoma, the temperature dropped dramatically. It was about 21 degrees the night the crack travelled more than half-way across my windshield. Still, I thought, "Well, I just had my inspection done. As long as the crack stays low and doesn't interfere with my vision, I'm ok."  That was my fourth mistake.

Today I noticed the crack has turned up.  It won't be long before what was a small chip requires the replacement of an entire windshield.

Sin is often nothing more than a small chip in the windshield of our lives, but it will not just go away. It will continue to spread, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, until our vision is obscured.

Deal with your stuff, before it deals with you.