Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It Ain't Me That's Moved

And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. 
Judges 2:12

It was a hot, dry summer afternoon. The air felt heavy like a mule that had balked on its haunches refusing to move at all. He refused to run the air conditioner in the old truck. Said it used too much gas. He also refused to drive over twenty miles an hour. There just wasn't any need to get in a hurry. There wasn't anything he needed or wanted to do. The maize was cut and the cotton was sweltering in the dry heat. He could plow something, or fix something, but not today. They were headed to town for groceries and for a bite to eat at the City Cafe. 

And, she was mad. He knew she was. You don't live with a woman 46 years and not know when she's mad. You may pretend not to notice, but you know. He figured it was something he had said, or something he hadn't done. He was ready for it, too. She never let him forget that the truck had an air conditioner. On more than a dozen occasions she had reminded him that the air would move a little quicker if he would drive a little faster. So, he was ready for whatever she was gonna say, 'cause she was lookin' at him out of the corner of her eye and he had seen it out of the corner of his.

"Do you love me?" 

Now, he really wasn't ready for that. "What do you mean, 'Do you love me?'" 

"You heard me." she said louder than before with that kind of staccato that she had used when one of their children used to complain, "Do you love me?"  There was a little sharpness to her tone that time.

He looked right at her now, "What kind of nonsense is this? Of course I love you. I've been married to you for 46 years. What in the world has gotten into you?"  

"Well," she blurted, "I just wanted to know."

"Why? What have I done now?" He was a simple, plain man. He worked hard. Provided for his family. Enjoyed his grandchildren and the smell of fresh plowed earth. His Bible was well-worn as was his pew at church. He had never been unfaithful to her in 46 years.  He just couldn't figure this one out.  So he carefully asked, "Honey, I'm sorry, I just don't understand. What is it?"  

She looked at him across the truck, and then cast her eyes down on the cracked vinyl of the old bench seat and said, "We've been down this road a thousand times and look at us. Me over here and you over there. I used to sit right up under your arm. Now I ride over here and you drive over there. What's happened to us? Do You Love Me?"

He didn't smile, 'cause that would have been a mistake. He just looked straight ahead and said, "Well, honey, I ain't the one that's moved."

We live in a society that has moved. God hasn't. If you continue to walk in His ways and speak His truths, the world will feel like you've moved far away. People will feel like you don't love them, even though you do. But God will know you're right where you're supposed to be. 

It's almost a new year. Don't move toward the world, and, if you're living your life close to God, don't expect the world to be comfortable with where you're sitting.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fallen From Grace

Maybe for some it's a no brainer, but the greatest commandment has just hit be between the eyes.  Paul's benediction to the Ephesians is swirling in my thoughts. Peace to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 6:23-24)
Love for Christ is wrapped so closely to faith, and the grace-filled live tied so closely to our love for Christ. What does God want most from me, my faith?  No. My good works? No. My witness? Apparently He wants me to love Him. How could we ever miss that?  Jesus, when asked by the theologians of His day which command was greatest, responded, "Love me. Love me with all you have and all you are." (my paraphrase)
This clarifies the whole issue of falling from grace.  Paul wrote that falling from grace is attempting to attain salvation through the law.  Read Paul's words in Galatians through the lens of this reality. "You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love." (Galatians 5:4-6)  What matters is faith working through love.
Fall out of love with Jesus and you fall from grace.  Perhaps that is what Paul meant in his benediction to the Ephesians, "Grace be with all who have undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ." 
Grace is receiving what I do not deserve. So, I do not receive grace if I think I have done something to deserve it.  Grace is received when I trust in the absolute love of Christ for me and my absolute unworthiness to receive it.  In that moment I cast off all attempts to prove I am worthy of His love, all attempts to be justified by the law, and I simply believe (faith) that He loves me. I receive that love, and in receiving it I love Him. Then grace flows in, through and over me in that moment as I realize He does not love me for any other reason than Himself. Jesus loves me because He is Jesus, not because I am me.  So I love him. How could I not love the one who loves me like this?
Now, no longer fallen from grace, my prayer is transformed. No longer do I ask Him to show me what I can do to encourage Him to love me.  Now I ask, simply, "Lord, how can I love you more?"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When You've Lost Your Hunger For God

I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.  Psalm 84:2

It is possible to lose your appetite. Patients with severe illness come to a point where they do not desire any food. They need it, but they will not eat. The result is weakness and eventually death.  Those who fast for prolonged periods reach a point where they are no longer hungry. That may sound strange, but in some ways we train our bodies to be hungry.  And, we hunger for what we eat. If we eat a steady diet of burgers and fries, we are not hungry for green vegetables and lean meats.

Why is it that we can be so hungry for God's presence that we cannot be kept away from his Word, prayer, worship, and His people and then find ourselves at a point where we could not care less?  There are many reasons we do not hunger for God, but it is mainly because we have trained ourselves to no longer hunger for him. When we eat a steady diet of worldliness, busyness, and self-sufficiency, we no longer hunger for God.

We, the church, seem very satisfied apart from God. We do not seem to long and yearn for the courts of the Lord. Pastors call us to corporate prayer, worship, Bible study, revival services, etc., and many feel no need, much less any desire to attend. Does your lack of desire alarm you? It should.

What do we do when we realize that we do not "long and yearn for the courts of the LORD?"

First, recognize you do not love God.  A lack of longing and yearning in any relationship is a loss of love and devotion. Jesus warned the church in Ephesus that if they did not return to their first love - Jesus - they would be shut down by God. If you do not desire to be in God's presence in prayer and in worship, you no longer love Him.

Second, repent of a lack of longing and yearning for God. It is no small thing to take the Creator and Sustainer, the Savior, the King for granted. It is neither acceptable nor wise to be so self-satisfied or caught up in the things of this world that we do not long and yearn for God's presence.

Third, return to a lifestyle of devotion to God. Do not wait until you feel hungry again. Jesus told the church at Ephesus to "Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent." (Rev. 2:5)

If you wait to feel hungry for God again, you will reach a point of starvation.  You may already be there and not even know it. Don't wait for the hunger to return. Go to God now.  Begin to pray, to press through until the hunger for God returns. Turn away from the world and the things that satisfy, but starve you.  Go to church, to worship, to prayer meeting, to revival meetings. Read His Word and pray until the Bread Of Life and the Spirit create a hunger for God in your soul.  Say no to the world and yes to God and you will once again begin to "long and yearn for the courts of the Lord," and you will once again be satisfied by the things of God that do not starve, but which give peace and sweetness to your soul.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Entertainment Matters

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,  whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable -  if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise -  dwell on these things.  Philippians 4:8
51 years old, raised in church, born again for the last 23 years, hearing many preachers speak about the evils of the entertainment industry, and working out my own salvation with fear and trembling has allowed me to see many pendulum swings in our culture regarding what is acceptable for Christians to watch, listen to, and participate in. One of the greatest swings in the pendulum has been away from the "you can't join 'em so fight 'em" conservativism of the moral majority 70's, 80's and 90's to the "they won't join you if you fight 'em" inclusivity of much of the church today.  In other words, it used to be that a faithful Christian was expected to remove themselves from the influences of the culture so that there was holiness and a clear distinction between a regenerate and unregenerate life.  Now it seems that, since we're saved by grace, since no one is perfect, since God wants to save more people by grace, and since being perceived as a prudish Christian is a turn off, we have to become like the unregenerate to win the unregenerate. We have to find common ground with the lost so we can win the lost. After all, that's what Paul seemed to be saying, "To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some." (1 Cor. 9:22) So, it makes sense that if I want to reach a biker, I become a biker. If I want to win a golfer, I become a golfer. If I want to win a cowboy, I become a cowboy and it continues ad nauseam. Look, if going fishing with someone gives you the chance to build a relationship that allows you to share the gospel, then get your license, some bait, and get out there. That, however, is the noble side of this issue.
The question that has been hanging around in my heart for months now is once again, "How can I, a Christian, or how can you, a fellow Christian, be entertained by that?"  That music, that show, that game, that hobby, that movie, how?  And, how far should I go with my own self-censorship, or how far should I encourage self-censorship in my friends and the people I pastor?
If I picked on your show or your music, you would just pick on mine. It has to be greater than culture, greater than preference. It has to be about Christ and His glory. It has to be about learning to be entertained by Him (please don't think I think God is all about my entertainment). I simply mean that the way to answer the question, "Should a Christian watch that, listen to that, go to that kind of sporting event, get a tattoo, chew tobacco, listen to Elvis, etc.?" is answered in Scripture. It's partly answered in the passage above that Paul wrote to Christians in Philippi. Sadly, though, terms like true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable have lost their meaning in our morally relativistic culture. We must recognize Paul's willingness to adapt to certain aspects of culture in order to remove barriers to what really matters. Yet, we must also realize that while Christ was called a drunk and a sinner, He didn't get drunk nor did He ever sin. He didn't become like the culture to win it. He just loved sinners, and many believed - though most never really did.
I believe that, in the end, it comes back to this. If I am being entertained by anything that Jesus took upon Himself on the cross, I am wrong and I need to repent by changing what I watch, listen to, or enjoy. 
My strongest sense of this comes from Romans 1:28-32, "And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do whatever is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God's just sentence - that those who practice such things deserve to die - they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them."
We cannot applaud that for which Christ was crucified.  God help us choose our entertainment well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Attack Of Satan

Don't be afraid of what  you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  (Revelation 2:10)

Before we were made alive by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we were not at war. We were at peace in a lost world because we were on Satan's side. So, while there was a war raging, we were behind the lines. The moment we put our faith in Christ, we changed sides in the battle. The moment we changed sides, we became the target of Satan. We are now at war, and we will forever be at war until our Lord returns to defeat our enemy.

We battle the siege of our sinful nature and the siege of a world dominated by the Devil. Sometimes, though, it is more than a siege. Sometimes God allows the Devil to mount a full frontal assault. The church in Smyrna was about to experience one of those frontal assaults, "the devil is about to throw some of you into prison."  

Notice five specific things in this attack that apply to us:

1.  God allows the attack - "the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison" - We are never promised absence of war, only victory in the end.

2.  God uses the attack - "to test you" - Satan means it for evil, God means it to test our faith.  We can never be what we want to be in or for Christ apart from testing (James 1)

3.  God limits the attack - "you will have affliction for 10 days" - God limited the Devil's assault on Job, and He limits it on us. He will not allow us to be tested beyond what we can endure in Him. So, there is never an excuse to fail to fight the battle. He will put more on us that we can handle alone, but He will never allow more to happen to us that we cannot handle in Him.

4. God defines the response of the faithful - "Be faithful unto death," - We must endure the battle in faith. Popular spiritual warfare says we go out and sling the Devil down with our Scriptures and brave proclamations. It is true that we fight the Devil with the Word of God. It is true that, in Jesus' name, we can cast him out. It is also true that there are times when we cannot cast him out. There are times when we must be faithful to Christ in the middle of the onslaught like a warrior kneeling down with his shield held above his head as the enemy beats on him with a war hammer.

5. God limits the reward - "and I will give you the crown of life." - We will not lose the war. It is already won in Christ, but sometimes we lose the individual battles because we do not believe. The victor's reward is not given to those who give up, but to those who endure.

We are at war. Sometimes it is worse than a siege. It is a full frontal assault. But all of it is in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Will you respond in faith. Will you endure in faith. Victory is ours. Do not surrender. Do not doubt.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Know A Guy . . . actually several guys

I know a guy, really several men who cook breakfast once a month for other men. Like all of us in the body of Christ, they're all very different. There's a left fielder, a right fielder, a short stop, and one who's on injured reserve. I hope you get the picture that they are all very different guys, but they have three things in common - they all love Jesus, they all love their church, and they all love getting up very early to come and cook breakfast for other men.  Might not seem like much to you, but I think it's much to Christ and to the men they serve.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Know A Guy (Gal) . . . who gave Easter baskets

I know a guy, actually a very old lady in the church I grew up in. She gave us Easter baskets. We weren't her kids, her grandkids, or in any way related to her. Yet, every Easter she would show up with baskets loaded with chocolate, candy, and special toys for me and my sister. She came by the house on birthdays and brought us cards. Lots of people thought she was crazy, touched, or a few steps beyond eccentric, but I think she just found great joy in life and in giving. If that makes you crazy, then be crazy. I don't remember her doing anything else in our church, anything grand or significant in the eyes of the world. I do, however, remember her smile, and her generosity to me and my sister.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Know A Guy . . . who loved people and his church

I know a guy. He was the first person who visited our home after we visited the church, coming just a couple of days later. He wasn't the pastor, didn't get paid to do it, but clearly loved his church and we sensed he loved us. That was twentyy-five years ago. I later discovered that he had been doing that for more than a decade before, and he did it until he was no longer able to do so. His church changed much in those decades, multiple leadership changes, turnover in membership, but this guy . . . this guy apparently loved and served them all.  And, he loved and served hundreds of people like us - people who needed a church.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Know A Guy

Ok, this picture may border on sacrilegious to you, but I thought it was funny and it expresses my thoughts about a few blogs I want to do. I've been preaching through Ephesians, and got to Ephesians 4, particularly 4:7 where Paul writes, "Now grace was given to each one of  us according to the measure of the Messiah's gift."  I like that. Every single born again believer in Jesus Christ, no matter what age, education or background has been gifted by Christ. I wanted to write about some of those people. I'm going to try to keep it anonymous for many reasons. I want this to encourage you to serve in and through your church. I want this to encourage you just to glorify God by serving. I want you to see some "ordinary" people serve, since so often we think the only really qualified people are those standing behind pulpits, planting churches, or going to the mission field. I'm gonna call it "I know a guy."

I know a guy, actually a lady, who sat in church every Sunday in virtual silence. Her dusky gray hair pulled back in a tight bun, petite frame and quiet demeanor were like a social camouflage that caused her to blend into the crowd. But, I caught her one day. I was a part-time youth guy at the church, and I caught her cleaning up the kitchen. The pastor told me I was not to tell anyone, because she didn't want them to know. This was how she served her church, and she wanted no credit for it. Her stealthiness didn't work, because I have never forgotten her.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Most Dangerous Gateway Drug For Christians

For years, opponents of legalization of marijuana have argued that, while it isn't as dangerous as heroine or methamphetamines, it is dangerous because it is a gateway drug. In other words, most people don't start their drug use with shooting up heroine. They start with marijuana and try more and more potent drugs.  Studies have shown that both alcohol and tobacco usage almost always precede marijuana usage. All in all, the theory is sound. Addicts seem not to be born addicts as much as they are raised and nurtured into addiction progressively.

Read something Paul wrote to his young disciple, "Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith. Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them," (1 Tim.1:18-20a)

Surely these two men didn't start off shipwrecked.  Apparently they were part of the church, doing ministry, growing as disciples. Somewhere along the way, though, they slipped, then stumbled, and finally fell. Was there a gateway drug for them, a seemingly harmless temptation that led to greater and more deadly habits and consequences?

We have an innate, I believe God-designed, desire for acceptance. Before sin, mankind lived in the bliss of acceptance. The moment Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced the loss of that perfect relationship with God and with one another. Strangely enough, God had not rejected them. They had rejected Him.

No man is an island. We are perpetually changing based on what we think others want from us. Even the hermit living in a cave thinks about and reacts to what he thinks others think of him.  It is inevitable. The question is not whether we desire acceptance. The question is simply which drug we will take to comfort our need for acceptance.

If we take the God drug - trusting that we are made acceptable to God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ - we will live our lives toward Him. Our desire will be to fit into God's way of living. Whoever we desire acceptance from we will change for.

That's why I think that the most dangerous gateway drug for Christians is the desire to fit in. It always starts small, and seemingly harmless.  And, it almost always grows large and dangerous.

Where do you fit in best?  Whose approval do you want, whose acceptance?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Cure For Dissatisfaction: What Do You Bring?

The front door of my house faced the front doors of our church. Growing up I wasn't wild about that. It made it easy for Mom to make sure we were at church. I really didn't like that on Sunday night, because the Wonderful World Of Disney came on TV at the same time as Training Union. But, not all Sunday nights were that bad. During the summer on most Sunday nights, we had a fellowship after church. The menu was simple. It was either watermelon or homemade ice cream. On those Sunday nights, I was a happy kid. It was great to live across the street from the church, because I could eat watermelon and play with friends. I was a child. I thought as a child. Church, like the rest of my life, was about what made me happy. I didn't bring anything. I went to get. Life was about what others did for me. It wasn't a conscious thought. I was a child. I thought like a child. 

Sadly, it's also the way adults think who are still not mature. The adults in Corinth thought this way. They came to church to do their thing, to fill their own hearts. They all had spiritual gifts, but they were using what God had given to fill their own hearts. Paul instructed them, "Brothers, don't be childish in your thinking, but be infants in evil and adult in your thinking." (1Cor.14:20)  As a result, there was little satisfaction in their lives, and there was much confusion, chaos, immaturity, and immorality.

There is a much better way. Grow up. Mature. Focus on what you bring rather than what you get. Mature Chrsitians don't come to the table at home at church or in this world to see what they can get. They come to see what they can bring. They come to use whatever God has given them to build others up.  The solution to all the dissatisfaction and confusion in Corinth is the same today.  "How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm a teaching, a revelation, another language or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification." (1Cor.14:20)

Want to know the fulfillment of Christ's purpose in you? Stop focusing on what you get. Focus on what you bring to build up others, especially in your family and church.  Cure dissatisfaction with your life, with your church, with your job, with your spouse by putting away childish, self-focused, gimme-gimme-gimme orientation. It's about what you bring and it's reflected in everything you do.

At church it's about everything you do. Your maturity is reflected in your giving - do you tithe? In worship - do you sing, clap, raise your hands?  In your fellowship - are you there for others? In your service - are you just coming or serving? In your attendance - are you there because others need you? In your witness - do you share the Gospel?  It's even reflected in the covered dish fellowships. Do you bring something, or just eat what others have brought? 

The wonderful thing is this. If you come to life with a servant's heart, asking the question, "What can I bring to this?" you will rarely be hungry, thirsty, or dissatisfied.

What do you bring?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Only Way To Experience Love

It is a beautiful passage in the Bible, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph.3:17-19)

It is a prayer for God's people, a prayer that God will increase their capacity to experience and comprehend that which cannot be comprehended apart from God's divine revelation - the limitlessness of God's love.  Paul, praying that God will expand the hearts of God's people by His own character so that they might not just know about Him intellectually, but so that they might know Him experientially.

So, if you have ever felt like you did not have enough to face the day, this prayer is for you. If you ever felt that you were not enough to face the challenge, then this prayer is for you.  Especially if you ever came to realize that you did not have the love to love as God loves, this prayer is for you.

It is a prayer for experience, for something real in our hearts, not just in our minds. God wants us to know His love by experiencing His love.  Listen closely.  God's love is not so much what God feels as what God does.  It is action rather than condition.  If it were not, you would not know love or life.  Since it is action, you can know both. 

The answer to this prayer, then, is not simply a change in your condition, but a change in your action. To experience the limitlessness of God's love, you must act. You must love limitlessly.  Identify the borders of your love. Who do you not wish to love? How do you not wish to love? Where do you not wish to love?  The only legitimate, life-giving borders to love are those established by God.  So, if your borders are not His, it is time for you to cross the borders and begin to experience the width, length, height and depth of God's love. Remain behind your borders, and the prayer will not be answered in you. Remain behind your limitations, and you will not be filled with all the fullness of God.  Trust in the power of God to enlarge your heart, and you will find that life is huge, its opportunities limitless.  Trust in the power of God to enlarge your heart by stepping across your love borders, and you will begin to experience a depth of God that you have only dreamed of.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Fifth Grade Teacher, The Disappearance Of The Original Europeans, And The Reality Of The Flood In The Days Of Noah

My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Frances Shannon, passed away a couple of weeks ago. I remember her for several reasons. First, because she was calm, cool, collected, and consistent. Teaching 5th graders is challenging, and we were particularly so. She taught us well in spite of  ourselves. Second, because she had some sort of health issue while she was teaching. I did not know what it was then (I believe I learned later it had to do with her eyesight), but she had to miss some of that year. We missed her and prayed for her while she was out. Third, because of something that happened one day in her class. She was asking questions and we who thought we knew the answer were straining our hands upward, hoping to be called on. One of my buddies was so excited that he raised his hand, jumped up out of his chair and grunted, "Oh, oh, I know!" It was at precisely that moment that the natural processes of his own body betrayed him. Fermenting digestive gasses audibly escaped his body in front of a classroom full of 5th graders. I will never forget that, nor will I forget Mrs. Shannon handling it calmly, coolly, and with great dignity.

Today, I read an article from Live Science detailing a strange new quandary for scientists. In studying the remains of ancient Europeans, scientists have discovered that the genetic lines of those Europeans completely disappeared approximately 4,500 years ago. Scientists are puzzled, since the society was successful and there appears to be no clear reason for the introduction of completely new genetic lines. The article states, "Instead, about 5,000 to 4,000 years ago, the genetic profile changes radically, suggesting that some mysterious event led to a huge turnover in the population that made up Europe." What does Mrs. Shannon's 5th grade class and this story have to do with each other, you ask?

Well, when I read the article, I wanted to jump up in my chair and shout, "Ooh, ooh! I know! I know!"  See, there are some of us who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is truthful and without error in all that it addresses. That means we believe that Creation occurred in 7 days, and that there was a literal world-wide flood that killed all of life on the earth except that which was protected in the ark God instructed Noah to build. So, why did this article about the obliteration of the genetic lines in Europe make me want to jump up and shout?

Young earth scientists like myself have estimated that the Noah Flood occurred approximately 4,500 years ago.  I know the answer. Those genetic lines were wiped out because they were wiped out in the flood. New lines appeared because they were descendants of Noah. You can read more about it at Answers In Genesis.

P.S. If Mrs. Shannon were still alive, I don't think she would be surprised by my story. She would handle it with her usual calm, cool, and collected demeanor, even if the digestive gasses began to flow.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I Knew This Would Happen: Responding To The Suicide Of Matthew Warren

Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15
When I heard the tragic news of the suicide of Rick Warren's son, Matthew, I prayed for his father, his mother and his church. I prayed for them, not only because of their grief, but also because I knew what would happen. It happens when anyone commits suicide, whether their father is a pastor, a politician, or a postman. Whether it is via innuendo or is more direct, any time a child does something that is wrong, or falls short, or fails people begin to blame the parents. Now, sometimes that is warranted. If an 8 year old child is allowed to play in the street and is struck by a speeding automobile, a parent should be blamed. However, if that parent had warned the child repeatedly, taught them not to play in the street, and the child snuck out a window, ran after a puppy dog and was struck, what blame is there?
Matthew Warren was 27 years old. He was not a child. He was a man who took his own life, and left behind grieving parents, grieving friends, and a grieving church. God is clear. Now is not the time for blame of any sort. Now is the time for compassion. Now is the time to weep with those who weep.
Rick Warren is Matthew's father. Whether you agree with Rick or not, his ministry has effected millions of people worldwide. His book, the Purpose Driven Life has been used by God to change millions of lives. Many love what he has done. Many hate what he has done. And, many of the haters have used the tragic death of Matthew to write, text, facebook, tweet and blog their accusations against Rick Warren. Many blame his theology for his son's death.
I worked with suicidal, homicidal and mentally people in a public mental health setting for 10 years. I have worked as a pastor and hospice chaplain for nearly 20 years after that. I have worked with suicidal people who were pastors, priests, politicians, atheists, agnostics, children, parents, gays, straights, whites, blacks, browns, republicans, democrats, libertarians, doctors, dropouts, addicts, tea-totallers, rich, and poor. I say that to point out that no one is immune from the potential hopelessness that convinces a person that death is the only way out of suffering.
I do not mean to say that theology is not important. It is. Ask Jim Jones' followers if theology is an important influence. I do not mean to say that everyone who commits suicide is mentally ill. I have seen perfectly sane people make bad decisions in the middle of an overwhelming crisis. I do not mean to say that demonic influence is not involved, because I believe it often is.
I mean to say this. When someone commits suicide, it is not time to be mean. It is time to be compassionate. It is time to weep with those who weep. It is time to pray for the survivors who are now fighting their own depression, guilt, shame, and hopelessness. It is time to comfort them, for they will surely blame themselves, needing no help from the mean, thoughtless, and vulgar comments of those who are not God but who have decided to play God.
Suicide is not a time to ask why. It is a time to ask God what I can do to support those who are left behind.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Irritated Or Angry, Serve

Have you ever been irritated? Medically, irritation is a state of inflammation, a painful reaction to cell lining damage. It means you hurt because something rubbed you the wrong way.  Again, I ask, have you ever been irritated? 

I have. Something rubbed me the wrong way. In defense of myself, it would have rubbed you the wrong way, too. That doesn't make the irritation go away. Defending an irritation does the same thing to us that scratching a sore does. It keeps it from healing and makes it worse, often causing it to spread like an infected wound. Soon we are covered with irritations, and eventually we become an irritation to everyone around us. Is there a remedy?

Well, we can try to avoid irritations, going with the flow. But, people and situations will not go with us. Friction is inevitable, especially if we are people of conviction in a conviction less world. In this world there will be friction and so there will be irritations.  Is there something else we can do?

We can try to overlook it. Love covers a multitude of sins, and often we are able to overlook the things others do.  Applying patience, forbearance, and prayer to a person or situation is often all it takes - like a bandage on a wound. Sometimes, though, that doesn't work. The irritating person or situation is like a pair of shoes that rubs us the wrong way, a pair we have to wear. We cannot avoid them or the situation, then we find the blister under the bandaid festering rather than healing. What are we to do then? 

Well it helps to apply Jesus to the wound in a specific way by serving, preferably serving the one who irritated us. If that is not possible, just serve someone. Jesus came to serve and if you want to abide in Christ and experience His healing power and presence you need to serve.  If you can't serve the source of the irritation, just serve.

Serving brings us in step with Jesus. He came to serve. So, if you're going to walk in His presence, a.k.a., abide in Christ, you must serve. It also distracts us from our irritations so God can heal them. Serving is a holy distraction that takes our focus off ourselves and our irritations so we stop fiddling with them.  Then Jesus can heal them.  It's like in the movies when they cowboy is shot and they have to cut the bullet out with no anesthetic. Someone puts a stick or twisted bandanna in the cowboy's mouth and says, "Bite down hard. This is gonna hurt."  Biting on the stick does nothing to take away the pain, but it does distract the cowboy long enough for them to remove the bullet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Christian Maturity Is Not

Something dawned on me this week. It may be simple, maybe misled, but I was thinking about this. Becoming a mature Christian certainly involves caring more and more about what Jesus cared more about.  Here's what hit me, though. It also involves caring less and less about what Jesus cared less about. I mean, if it didn't bother Him why should it bother me?  If it wasn't a major focus in his life, or in his teaching, why would I want it to be a major focus in my teaching?  If it didn't bother him, why should it bother me?  And, if I want to help my brothers and sister become mature, becoming clearer reflections of Christ, then I want to help them major on the major and minor on the minors as defined by Christ.  So, if it wasn't a topic of Jesus' conversation, wasn't an issue with the apostles, it doesn't need to be an issue with me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Wonder If Heaven Is Like

Sometimes it's an odor. Sometimes a snapshot. Sometimes it is a voice that is so similar to one we haven't heard, one that we will never hear again, that we are transported back to another time. Some of those times were difficult. The memories are storms we survived. At other times, though, the memories flood our hearts and minds with peace, hope, and a sense of wellness that is like a warm blanket on a cold evening. This blanket doesn't wrap around our shoulders, but around our hearts. It fills us with a sense of wellness and wholeness that we long for. I just saw the picture.  My mind fled to that time when the world seemed kinder, gentler, when I felt safe and warm. I asked, "I wonder if this is a little of what Heaven will be like?"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

First And Last Name

The last book in the Bible is also the last inspired.  John recorded the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to him late in his life near the end of the first century. All the other Biblical books were completed years before. This last book speaks about last things and the last name in this book is Jesus. "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen." 

And, if you read the last chapter in this last book, you will find that the last name was also the first.  Jesus said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the end. . . I, Jesus have sent my angel to attest these things to you for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star."

I know that it is not possible to live life anonymously. God didn't intend us to do so. John mentions himself several times in the book of Revelation itself. He identifies himself as the recipient of the vision of God. He tells the churches he is writing to that it is he, John, the apostle who is recording the words of Jesus. His identification as an apostle certified what he wrote. There were many people writing many things in the church then, just as I am writing this today. But, the vast majority of them had no apostolic authority to claim their words were from God. John's signature in this book let the church know it was from God through an apostle.

Yet, as John identifies himself, he does so, not as an authority, but as a brother "I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ," (Rev. 1:9).  And, the last mention of John in this last book is anything but boastful. He wrote, "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me. But he said to me, "Don't do that! I am a fellow slave with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." (Rev. 22:8-9)

The first and last name in the Bible, and in history, is Jesus. How can you live today so that it is the first and last name of your day? How can you live today so that it is the first and last people hear from you?  How can you live this day so that what people remember about your life today is Jesus?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Name Recognition

I have been reading the book Embracing Obscurity off and on for a couple of months. It is written anonymously, and it has caused me to think deeply about the heart of the Christian life.

Tour ancient ruins and you will find decapitated statues. Ancient murals meant to immortalize the successes of kings and pharaohs are defaced, their names chiseled off. Why? The next ruler, king, or pharaoh obliterated their identity to promote his own. It is the age-old marketing principle of name recognition. And, it also plays a huge part in the original sin of pride.

Satan was originally called Lucifer. His Hebrew name, heylel, means "shining one" and is similar to the Hebrew word for praise, halel. We say it each time we praise God with the word "hallelujah."  Lucifer was not satisifed with shining for God. He wanted a little limelight for himself, a little of his own name recogntion. He said to himself, "I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (Isa. 14)  Be careful what you say to yourself.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having a name. There is just something wrong when we are more concerned with our name recognition than with God's. We are not here to be known, but to make Him known. Even when Christians and churches are known, the purpose is that men will see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven (Matt. 5:16).

Even with our monuments of granite and marble, few people really remember us more than a few decades after our deaths. His name, however, will endure forever. It is the only name by which men may be saved. It is the only name by which our prayers are answered. His name will endure forever, not because it is etched in granite, but because He was and is and forever will be. 

Every day God gives us the choice to make our name great, or His. When we take pride in our own accomplishments, those of our families, our children and grandchildren, our education, our careers, our accomplishments and even our churches, we will make some name great. Will it be His?

God does not call us to deface ourselves, our families, or our accomplishments. He does not expect us to walk around saying "I am worthless" all day long. That's just self-pity, and the focus of self-pity is still self. He gives us the choice to make His name great or our name great. Will you give Him all the credit, or keep a little for yourself? 

The blessed life is the life that makes much of Jesus. He has given us the opportunity to be immortalized.  But, that immortalization is not in our names or accomplishments. We are immortalized in Christ. "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,a nd if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him." (Rom. 8:16-17)

Our privelege now is to live so that Jesus gets recognized, so that He gets all the credit. When we suffer obscurity, we glory in Christ, and we will enjoy His glory forever because we are now hidden in Christ. His name is the name by which we are and will be saved. Our job is not to deface ourselves, but to be living, breathing monuments that call attention to His name. Our joy is to make sure that His name gets recognized - that His name is great.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Idols vs. God

"God says in verse 11 (Isaiah 43), "Besides me there is no saviour." Every idol, if you don't toe the line, demands its pound of flesh. If you're serving the idol of career, for example, and you don't sacrifice to that idol as it demands, your career is over. If your idol is political utopianism, and you don't sacrifice to that idol as it demands, your hoped-for world is shattered. If your idol is a perfect body, and you don't sacrifice to that idol as it demands, your self-image is devastated. But when we have defied the one true God, what does he do?  He saves us. Why? To make us witnesses that he is not just good; he is the only goodness anyone will ever experience."

Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., "Isaiah: God saves sinners." p. 283

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Finally Home

Jeremiah 22:1-8

We long for home, but the home we live in today will be occupied by another tomorrow. The "old homeplace" will eventually deteriorate. Sin and the fallenness of our world make a permanent home on this earth improbable if not impossible. Families divide like God's people divided. Leaders fail like the kings of Israel and Judah. Churches fall into disuse as did the temple of God. Friends and family are led away into the captivity of sin.  Most of us even want to die in our homes, but we have never really been home. But, "The days are coming' - this is the LORD's declaration - when I will raise up a righteous Branch of David." (Jer. 23:5)  He, Jesus, will be the faithful father, the righteous leader. He is the one who gathers all the children of God, from all their failings, sins, and captivities - all the places their sin has taken them and "They will dwell once more in their own land." (Jer. 23:8) That longing for home can only be fulfilled by One - Jesus, the righteous Branch of David.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Great Blessing

Genesis 12:1-9

God promised Abram that He would make him a great legacy, a great reputation, make him a blessing to others, and protect him when others cursed him. All he had to do was leave his relatives, his father's house and his own land and go where God would lead him. Think about the things that we count on. We count on our families being there, our parents, those people who love us and are familiar to us. We find peace and safety in the familiar. God's great promise required Abram to stop trusting in the familiar, and trust only in God. True trust always results in a step of faith. Abram took that step. God tells us "So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith." (Gal.3:9) When we trust in Christ, we share in the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of faith, "so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Gal. 3:14) Take the step of faith into the great blessing of faith. Trust in Christ alone.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jesus In My Place

Psalm 22:1-31

This is a Messianic psalm - a prophetic picture of Jesus. The Holy Spirit moved David to write it, but David's heart is here also. Near despair, he cried out, "My god, my God, why have You forsaken me?" And while he sang he was delivered, "I will proclaim Your name to my brothers; I will praise you in the congregation." Between the agony and the ecstasy God intervened. David did not self-talk himself into hope. He cried out to God, and God delivered. I do not know if David understood that the Messiah to come would bear all the agony he expressed in the first verses of this psalm, but I do know that Jesus knew. David's heart's agony was born by Jesus, the Messiah. What an amazing thought. David cried out in agony of soul and God did not just deliver him. God delivered Him by sending His own Son, Jesus, to bear all of David's agony (and all ours) so that we could begin to be the people who sing forth the praises of the one who has delivered us from darkness into the kingdom of His marvelous light.

Friday, January 25, 2013

One Greater Than Jonah

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah. It was an Assyrian city, and the Assyrians had been enemies of his people for years. At first glance, Jonah's flight from God doesn't make sense. If God tapped you on the shoulder and said, "I want you to go and declare my judgment upon your enemies," you might jump at the chance. But, Jonah knew something about God. "I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster." (Jonah 4:2)  It is sad how poorly we read the Old Testament, how many of us don't get that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and that "The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) Jonah knew that if he preached to his enemies, they might repent, and then God would forgive. He didn't want that. He wanted his enemies judged. Do you? Or are you ready for God to forgive and deliver them, just as He forgave and delivered the Ninevites from His own wrath?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When It Seems Like Forever

1 Kings 8:1-21

It took a large part of two lifetimes to see the temple built in Jerusalem. David wanted to build it, and was blessed by God for that desire. Solomon, his son, took all that David had prepared and added to it, finally completing a place to honor God. It must have been an incredible day when Solomon turned toward the people and said, "May the Lord God of Israel be praised! He spoke directly to my father David, and He has fulfilled the promise by His power." It had been approximately 500 years since their deliverance from Egypt. David reigned for decades, died, and then Solomon reigned and began work. It must have seemed like forever, but God was faithful to His Word and His glory finally filled that place. It may seem like forever, but He will fulfill His Word.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When The Snake Looked Like Jesus

Numbers 21:4-9

It seems strange that God would tell His people to create a bronze snake, mount it on a poll, and look toward this image for healing and life, but He did. The people had complained that God was not providing for their needs, and the consequence was an invasion of poisonous snakes that bit the people so that many of them died. When they repented, Moses prayed and God told them to make an image of their curse, hang it on the pole, so that whoever chose to look upon the image of their curse would be saved. Then Jesus said that His crucifixion was like the snake, that He must be lifted up (becoming the curse for us), so that whoever would look on Him in faith would be saved. It's a strange story. It's an even stranger reality that the Son of God would take on the sins that we committed against Him, bearing the penalty for our disobedient to Him, and offering us redemption from our rebellion against Him . . . all by His own will and hand.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

God's Provision

Exodus 16:1-35

"I'm starving," is a phrase spoken by children in every age. The immature are so controlled by physical desires. Whether its our children, the children of Israel, or ourselves,  we starve foro attention, pleasure, and prestige. "I'm starving," sounds like a complaint against parents, but it isn't. While Israel directed their complaints against Moses and Aaron, they were too immature to realize their complaint was really against God.  Since He is sovereign and the faithful father of His children, to complain about circumstances is to complain about the God in charge of our circumstances. We correct our children. They are not starving. They are just hungry. Yet we still put food down on the table in front of them. God did the same with Israel.  More importantly, many of us don't trust that Jesus is a sufficient provision for our salvation. We spend our lives trying to work for our salvation rather than working out our salvation by trusting in Christ alone for our redemption. Those who work for salvation usually end up sounding like Israel, "I'm starving," when all they need has been provided in Jesus.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jesus Our Passover - A Special Celebration

Exodus 12:1-30

Jesus is our Passover. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29)  This festival of freedom provided by God alone is our eternal celebration and practice. The only appropriate response to all He has done is to live in that freedom. "Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed." (1 Cor. 5:7)  This first Passover was an annual event. Jesus is the Everlasting Passover. The first required continual sacrifice. Jesus is the finished sacrifice. Yet the picture of Christ in the first Passover is clear and rich. Jesus is our new beginning (v.2). He sets us free the moment we believe (v.11).  His blood is fully sufficient to protect us from the wrath of God coming upon all unrighteousness and the unrighteous (v.12-13). He cannot be approached lightly (v.14-16). He is our hiding place (v.21-23). He is our Gospel (v.24-30).  He is God, the God who saves sinners.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Call To Repent

Amos 5:1-27

Amos was a poor farmer sent by God with a message for the elite of his day. His nation was at peace, self-sufficient, and prosperous - but at a cost. Spiritually, the cost was a sense of self-sufficiency from God. A full bank account is often a greater hindrance to true faith than a belly full of beer. Self-sufficiency always gives birth to sin. The rich oppressed the poor, robbing them of justice, oppressing them from a position of assumed privilege. God did not tell them to get rid of their wealth. He told them to get rid of self-sufficiency, seeking Him so they could live, and in the seeking they were to seek justice and goodness for all people. Do we think God is more impressed with our personal quiet times than He is with the way we treat others? In these days prosperous Christians must not let the government's attempt to redistribute wealth keep them from seeking justice and goodness for the poor. Perhaps the most incredible thing in Amos is that, as passionate as God is about the poor, He still offers the prosperous the opportunity to repent of their self-sufficiency, and once again become an active part of His plan.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sin, Consequence, Redeemer

Isaiah 59:1-21

Sometimes our prayers are not answered because of unconfessed sin. It is not that God cannot hear. He hears but will not respond to a heart that is barracaded behind unconfessed sin. Unconfessed sin multiplies; especially sin that effects others. "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;" (Heb. 12:14-15)  When we are walking in the consequences of our own unconfessed sin, experiencing the terrible consequences of a broken relationship with God, there is still an answer. "The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression. This is the Lord's declaration." (Isa. 59:20)  Jesus will deliver those He has saved, when they turn from their transgression back to Him. Consequences may remain, but forgiveness is given.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Old Hymn - No One Does Good

Psalm 14:1-7

David wrote this song before there was a temple, probably during the time of the tabernacle of David. Worship then was different than it was in the wilderness and than it was during the time of the great temple in Jerusalem. Some scholars say it was more like God's desire for our worship today. Can you imagine walking into church today, the choir director raising his hands, the instruments playing the introduction and the first words you hear are, "The fool says in his heart, 'God does not exist.' They are corrupt; their actions are revolting. There is no one who does good. "? The good news of the salvation of God is good news only for those who have believed the truth of the bad news. The bad news is that, apart from God's intervention, we are all fools, corrupt, those who do no good. If we admit that, believe in Jesus the Messiah, confessing Him as our Lord we will be saved from ourselves and from the captivity of self-assurance.  This hymn keeps us humble, hopeful, and compassionate toward others.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Rebellious People

Exodus 32:1-33:6

Moses interceded three times for Israel. When God declared His intent to destroy them in their rebellion, Moses interceded. God declared His intent just as He did to Jonah regarding the Ninevites, but He had not decreed their destruction. His decrees are unchangeable, His intent is often conditional upon our response. Those who repented that day were saved. Again Moses interceded for the people and God spared them, but there were consequences for their sin. The people would live, but they would live without God's presence. Even within this punishment there was mercy. God told Moses that He knew the heart of the Israelites, that they were stubborn, and that if He went with them He would destroy them for their stubborn rebellion. Then all Israel repented, and Moses interceded for them again. He knew that without God's presence, they were nothing. "Then He (God) replied, 'My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.' 'If Your presence does not go,' Moses responded to Him, 'don't make us go up from here.'" (Ex.33:14-15)  Sin impairs our relationship with God. It imperils His presence, but we have an intercessor greater than Moses. Our intercessor is Jesus. His salvation does not give us permission to sin, but rather the provision of forgiveness and cleansing. We still have to respond. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The First Sin

Genesis 3:1-24

Our beginnings are filled with paradise, temptation, self-protection, consequences and redemption. God created us and gave us a paradise to live in with only one command - do not eat of the one tree. The serpent tempted us to doubt God's command, God's provision, and God's sovereignty - encouraging us to be like God. We believed the serpent rather than God, and the consequences were immediate. Our fellowship with God was broken, shame replaced innocence, self-protection replaced self-awareness, and accusations began to fly. That was not the end of the story. It was not even the beginning of the story. While paradise was lost to Adam and Eve, they were not lost to God. In spite of their sin, He covered their shame. He covered their shame with clothing made from animal skins, meaning He had shed the blood of innocent animals to cover the shame of guilty humans just as He would one day shed the blood of an innocent Lamb, Jesus. He redeemed them. That has always been His plan, to redeem sinners.