Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My How Time Flies: The Effects Of Relativity On Faith

Dear friends, don't let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 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 3:8-9 - HCSB)

When we are young children, it seems like it takes forever for Christmas to get here. When we are old, it seems like we just put the decorations up and it's already time to get them out again. That's because, for all of us, time is relative. A month is a huge amount of time for a four year old, because she has only experienced 48 of them. A month seems like it flies for the 84 year old because it is a much smaller percentage of the life he has already lived.

For God, time is not relative. It is part of His creation. With the creation of the evening and the morning, He created the first day and time. Maybe that is how He can call Abraham a faithful man, and tell us that we are all heirs of the promise of Abraham if we believe. When I read about Abraham, I see him in bits and pieces. I see him leave his homeland in faith. Then I see him wander from the promised land to Egypt in faithlessness. I see his lack of trust in God as he tells his wife to lie in order to protect his own skin. Then I see him exhibit a faith beyond comprehension as he offers his son to God. But God sees the totality of Abraham's life and says that Abraham was faithful.

Every time we read the Bible, we interpret it. And, often, we interpret it or apply it incorrectly simply because we see it from our own perspective rather than from God's. If we do not trust God's perspective, we will not endure when the world mocks our faith. If we do not trust God's perspective, we will question Him during our extended trials. They seem extended and unbearable partly because of our perspective, as Paul writes, "Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:16-17)

We must refocus our minds, realizing that the way we perceive time is relative to ourselves, and that we must perceive God as He is. We must perceive the Bible as He has given it. We must mature our perspective of life, just as a child must mature his own, if we want to endure. Perhaps that is some of what God intends as Paul writes, "So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Cor. 4:18)

The lostness of our world, the seemingly antichristian, immoral, skeptical world is not the end of all things. God is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. And, He is not worried. And, he is also not late, not behind, not unfaithful. His desire is for our joy, and His desire is for the salvation of those we love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free Medicine At Walgreens

I like Walgreens. They have my drugs. My number one drug is cold Pellegrino mineral water in the small bottle. My number two drug is shelled pistachios in the small bag. That's why I like Walgreens. They have both. When I need a diet coke and a candy bar, I get Pellegrino and pistachios instead. I'm trying to live healthier, now that I've spent the last 50 years building up plaque in my arteries and brain.
So, this morning I went to Walgreens for a good multivitamin. I'm thinking it couldn't hurt, right? By the way, there are a lot of vitamins at Walgreens. Too many, if you ask me. I'm trying to make up my mind when another man walks by, excusing himself as he shops for his own multivitamin.
As he leaves, he says, "Man, medicine is expensive." I agree and keep shopping. "You know, it ought to be free," he added. I looked up and smiled. "No," he continued, "something that helps you live ought to be free because life is free. Why do they charge for something that's going to help you live?" He was totally serious.
I'm not going to bore you with the rest of the conversation, but it meandered from free medicine, to the environment, to the Mexican's conspiracy to poison us all with drugs, to . . . well, I don't quite remember everything.  I'm not sure what his worldview was, but I know it was unique.
And to think, all I went to Walgreens for was a bottle of vitamins. . . Oh, and some of that extra dark chocolate. It's supposed to be good for your heart.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Will Angelina Jolie's 'Unbroken' Be Faithless

Louis Zamperini is a real American Hero. He's also a hero of the Christian faith. His harrowing experiences as a WWII POW have been told in his own memoirs as well as several books, one by Laura Hildebrand entitled "Unbroken."  He has the distinction of having died twice. The first time, he was reported KIA during WWII. The second time was for real, this July 2, 2014. If he had died the first time, he would have spent eternity separated from God in Hell. Now he is in Heaven, because Louis came to believe in Christ several years after WWII at a Billy Graham crusade. His faith in Christ is what delivered him from the incredible trauma he suffered as a POW. It transformed his life.  Here's a video of an interview he did with Evangelist Greg Laurie before his death.

This December a movie about his life, 'Unbroken', will be released. It is being directed by Angelina Jolie. It was premiered in Sydney, Australia to great reviews. However, initial reports are that it radically downplays Louis' faith and focuses more on his torture and the strength of the human spirit. Initial audience reaction included shock at much of the graphic content.

Whether you see the movie or not will, of course, be your choice. I probably won't. I probably won't because of the R rated content, but more importantly I won't because it won't be a movie about the real story of Zamperini's life. The hope that he found was Jesus. Hollywood likes to downplay Jesus. I'd rather not pay for false hope.

If you want the real story, read the book Unbroken: A Word War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  or watch the full story told by Zamperini in a longer interview with Greg Laurie.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Humble, Hopeful Prayers

"O God, I am Mustafah the tailor and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali. The whole day long I sit and pull the needle and the thread through the cloth. O God, you are the needle and I am the thread. I am attached to you and I follow you. When the thread tries to slip away from the needle it becomes tangled and must be cut so that it can be put back in the right place. O God, help me to follow you wherever you may lead me. For I am really only Mustafah the tailor, and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali on the great square."

"O Lord, let me rest the ladder of gratitude against thy cross and, mounting, hiss thy feet."

These two prayers, the first by a Muslim who became a Christian, and the second by an Indian Christian are found in The Oxford Book Of Prayer, edited by George Appleton. I read found them at the end of a book about Christian history called Turning Points, by Mark A. Noll.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Christian Civil Disobedience

"So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it's right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:18-20

Arnold Abbott is a 90 year old twice decorated WWII veteran who has spent over two decades feeding and helping the homeless on the streets of Fort Lauderdale. He's also a criminal. He's a criminal for refusing to stop feeding these people where they live, which violates new city ordinances that limit that feeding to specific locations for "health and public safety" concerns.

Chase Windebank is a senior at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs. Three years ago he began meeting with other students when they had free time during the day. They read the Bible, sang songs of praise in an unused choir room, and prayed for one another and fellow students. He has been ordered by the school district to stop. He can't do that during free time anymore.

When the Armed Forces forbid Christian chaplains to pray in Jesus' name, Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt refused to obey the order. The result was a court-martial and his discharge from the Navy. In essence, the Navy required him to deny his faith so as not to offend the faith of others.

Bogdan Chaza is a Polish doctor who was dismissed from the hospital he had served as medical director for 10 years. The reason he was dismissed was that, because of his Christian faith, he refused to perform abortions.

Should Arnold Abbott stop feeding the hungry until he can comply with these new city ordinances?  If a student asks Chase and a friend to pray for them at their lockers in between classes, should Chase refuse? Should Gordon Klingenschmitt have denied Christ in order to comply with military regulations? Was it medically unethical for Dr. Bogdan Chaza to refuse to take the life of an unborn child?

To be sure, some of us (Christ followers) have been foolish and overbearing in the expression of our faith, and that foolishness has brought some of this on us. Some have used work time for Bible study, class time for prayer meeting, and some of us have used our position to push rather than to influence. Forced conversion to Christianity is no conversion at all. Yet, most of us have not.

Most of us are trying to live out our faith and bear witness to our Savior in an increasingly restrictive environment. We try to render honor to whom honor is due, submitting to the authorities established by God, while trying not to violate the authority of God. We use our positions and relationships to bear witness, not to push our agendas. We try to be as gentle as doves, and work to be as wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16) Still we experience the spirit of anti-Christ resisting us. The government and courts that are supposed to protect our freedom of religion are increasingly enforcing freedom from religion.

It's not all bad. Opposition often ignites action. Many who were passive now recognize the threat to the Gospel. They realize that without Christ, all are lost. So they have begun to love loudly and share the Gospel of Christ consistently. Thoughtful Christians are working out how to submit to the authorities while also submitting to God. (Romans 13:1-7)  All authority is God's, and He has appointed civil and earthly authorities to provide for a safe and peaceful society. When those to whom this authority has been delegated tell us to disobey the one who gave them authority (God), it is time to obey God rather than man. That is exactly what Peter, John and the church in Jerusalem did when ordered to stop speaking about Christ. If we are serious about following Christ, we will encounter this situation ourselves. When we do, we should be prepared.

When should a Christian disobey authority? When authority oversteps its bounds by forbidding what God commands, or by commanding what God forbids, we must disobey. We must "obey God rather than man." (Acts 5:25-29) Now, this is not just because our preferences have been offended. For instance, a Christian, above all others, should give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. So, we should not time we are being paid to work to have Bible study. Peter and John refused to obey the civil authority when it there was a clear command to violate Christ's command. So, a Christian may be required to violate civil law when that law clearly violates divine law. (see Wayne Grudem's, "Politics According To The Bible," p.88 & 499, for a good discussion of this principle)

How should a Christian disobey authority? Civil disobedience must be civil. Even if we are convinced that a law is unlawful, we must still render honor to whom honor is due. Civil disobedience by the Christian must always be motivated by humility. (James 3:13) To act otherwise would invalidate the Christian's witness.

How can a Christian be sure she should disobey a civil authority? Each Christian has the Holy Spirit living within. We no longer live by our personal conscience, but by the Holy Spirit's conscience. And, the Christian conscience is formed by three factors.

First, it is formed in the presence of a living, personal relationship with Jesus. (John 15:4) When we abide in Christ and He in us, then our will and our conscience is formed by Him. Fail to abide, and you will be more controlled by your old nature than by the Spirit of Christ.

Second, it is formed by the commands of Christ. The Christian mind is not completely given at salvation. It is developed by renewing our old mind with the living Word of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Third, it is formed in fellowship with other Christians. Peter had John and John had Peter. They did not act alone, but the Holy Spirit confirmed their actions with each other. Christians should seek the counsel of other Christians. 

The people of Christ and the witness of Christ have always been resisted. They will be until Christ returns. Christ followers cannot be faithful to Christ if they are silent, with their words or their deeds. We cannot deny, by passivity, disobedience, or cowardice, the one who first loved us.

So, we pray for all those in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) We pray for God's blessings on the authorities over us, so we may live peaceably in this world. And, when those authorities command us to defy God, we pray that the Lord will grant us wisdom, humility, and boldness to "obey God rather than man."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why We Don't Celebrate Halloween

"The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." Romans 13:12

Have you ever been re-convicted about something? This is what I mean.

Halloween was huge in my hometown. It was good for business. The stores stocked up on and sold out of the two essentials - candy and eggs. Yes, I said eggs. You see, once the little kiddies had filled up their bags of candy and headed home, the big kids came out to play. They treated. We tricked, and our trick was throwing eggs. We didn't egg houses. Occasionally we would egg a car or truck. Sorry about your truck, Jimmy Ray. Mostly we just prowled around in gangs egging each other. Just like candy and beads all over the streets after a Mardi Gras parade, the morning after Halloween revealed hundreds and hundreds of spent eggs littering the town's streets.

Cut to young adulthood. Halloween had lost a bit of luster. My wife and I were never really into horror movies, or all the scary stuff. Occasionally we would buy candy and hand some out from our home. Then life changed. I was born again. We started going to church, and both of us were involved in working with people who were seriously into "the deeds of darkness." There was a lot of sensationalism at that time about the evils of Halloween, and I wasn't much into the sensationalism.  But, I was strongly convicted that the celebration of Halloween had little to do with the celebration of Christ. So, we started having times of prayer on that night.

Then a young woman started coming to our church. She had moved down south to get away from an abusive family situation. As we got to know her, we found that her family had been very involved in witchcraft and then Satanism. She had pictures of their family's unholy altar. Several of the young adults in our church got involved with helping her, but then strange things began to happen. In the long run, it appeared that she was still very involved in those deeds of darkness. Chaos seemed to follow her. Couples who tried to help her found themselves at odds. There was nothing specific, but alot of strange things happening.

Well, life went on, and my wife had our first child. God was good. Life was good. We were good. One day, as we were cleaning up in the yard, we discovered that someone had attempted to break into our daughter's nursery from the outside. They had disconnected automatic lighting we had in the yard, come at some point when we were home, and used a crow bar to try and get her window up. They went to great lengths to avoid getting caught. As we thought about who would possibly have done such a thing, the young lady and several others came to mind.

The young woman had shown a keen interest in any pregnant woman in our church. My wife was working with some people who we knew to be into witchcraft and Satanism. I worked in emergency mental health services with law enforcement, and they told me that they suspected there was a local cult that could be attempting to steal very young children for potential sacrifice.  We did not know, but we thanked God she was still with us.

Ok, right now you're thinking I'm a nut. I'm reading too much into all of this. But, all of this did happen. Do I know if Satanists were trying to kidnap our 10 month old daughter? No, but someone was. Do I know if that young lady was sent into our live and the life of our church by the enemy to disrupt? No, but that is exactly what she did.

So, we made the decision to avoid all darkness. We never let our children watch shows about witches, vampires, zombies, etc. We did not play with Ouija boards, or read our fortunes, or do anything on Halloween night or any other night that was remotely connected. As a pastor, I preached about the dangers of Halloween. I endured criticism because I was "overzealous" since "it's all just good clean fun."

Then I slid. A few funny, scary movies here and there. A zombie show here and there. It seemed to lose its darkness, and I lost a bit of my edginess, until last week.

My wife and I were attending a pastor appreciation banquet put on by a para-church ministry that distributes Bibles, and heard the testimony of a woman who had been raised in a home full of the dark arts. She told how she escaped, and how her family was always able to find her no matter how far off the grid she got. She told how, in despair, she was about to take her own life when she found a little Bible and read about the hope of the Gospel. She told of spiritual battles, and the victory we have in Christ. And now she is the wife of a pastor, and the mother of godly children, and she has nothing to do with Halloween or any of that anymore.

So, thank you, God, for reconvicting me and for awakening me. Thank you for reminding me why we don't celebrate Halloween, even though so many think we're crazy not to. We don't celebrate Halloween, because, for some, it's more than candy and eggs. We don't celebrate it, because it is a dark holiday and we no longer walk in the dark. We don't celebrate Halloween, because even in its seemingly innocent forms it is a doorway to far less innocent practices. Honestly, I like a lot of the scary entertainment stuff, but why would I want to open my mind and heart to that when Jesus died to save me from the darkness. It's so much better to walk in the light.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Responding To The Evil Of ISIS

Evil is defined as anything that is profoundly immoral and malevolent. ISIL, ISIS, or just IS, it is evil. Sadly, though, if it had not been for the public execution of Americans, most of us would not have been moved to action against that evil. We did little while thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Syria, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan were murdered by ISIL.

How is it that we can so distance ourselves emotionally from evil? The world is so evil that we often feel overwhelmed, so we distance ourselves. The 24 hour news cycle has contributed to our spiritual and moral numbness. Our immersion in the entertainment culture has certainly played a huge part. We watch the acceptable beheadings of Zombies, sympathize with murderous vampires, and laugh with illegal moonshiners. All of this has served to dull our reaction to evil and has watered down our own personal morality.

I wonder if we could get a message to ISIL that they went too far, too fast. These gruesome beheadings will backfire on them, because repeated exposure to evil eventually dulls, rather than heightens our senses.

No, they do not care. They are evil. They have already scripted the next episode of Jihadi John, and unless something miraculous happens, Peter Kassig will die. Sadly, tragically, evilly, he will die a Muslim. As he served the Syrian people, he came to accept their majority religion, converting to Islam and taking the name, Abdul-Rahman. So, he will not die believing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He will die believing in a false god.

Has he ever heard about the one who died for him? Hopefully he has heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and we should pray that he believes in it before he dies.

Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

So, what will you do about this evil? 

Will you PRAY for Peter Kassig, his parents, and the families of the tens of thousands slain? Pray for all the Christians in that region to share the Gospel boldly and wisely.

Will you GO?  Peter Kassig put himself in harms way out of a humanitarian desire to help the hurting in that war-torn region. There is a better reason to go. The love of Christ compels us to go. So, perhaps you, or your child should go somewhere in the world other than the safety zone.

Will you SPEAK? Speak against evil, but also speak about Christ. The only answer that defeats evil is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It must be our weapon in this war against evil. So, speak it. Share the Gospel.

Will you CHOOSE? Refuse to slip into the news cycle. Refuse to be entertained by evil. Ask God to resensitize your heart.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Do Not Let This Go To Your Head

Let me begin this blog with a clarification. If you're a drop in, it's not for you. If you just drop into church once in awhile, stop reading. If you just drop into work, collect your check and head on home, stop now and read something else. This is for those who are connected and committed. It's for those whose caring can sometimes drive them to compulsion.

If I said, 'don't let this go to your head,' you'd probably think I meant, 'don't get too proud about this.' Maybe you'd hear me say, 'Don't get too big for your britches.' Jesus had to say something like that on numerous occasions to His disciples. He told the 12 that the key to greatness was not greatness, but service. Apostle Peter did the same for elders in the church, warning them not to use their authority like the puffed up leaders of their day. We all need to hear that part of it. Even the meekest of us occasionally feels our oats. Parents do it. We are the authorities in our homes, but all it takes to deflate our egos is one three year old pitching a fit in public. 

There's another way things can go to our heads. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but we can often think that we are the answer to peoples' problems. We can actually think that if it has to be, it's up to me. See, people who fall into that trap are not uncaring. They care. They're not unprincipled. They have standards. They are pastors, elders, deacons, youth leaders, social workers, parents, grandparents, mothers, mothers-in-law and good friends.

Well, it begins to go to their head. They begin to think that if they don't fix everybody, if they don't meet every need, if they aren't there for every one of their child's ballgames, then . . . 

Oh, and there are a lot of people who will feed this kind of big-headedness. There are always a few groupies who will tell you you're great if you're a dictator. But, if you're the one who's meeting their needs, then you'll never be alone. Pastors, listen up. If you're good at what you do, your people can think you are da man, and you can start to believe it. Don't fall for it. You're not. There's only one who can save, heal, redeem, convict, and truly protect. The preacher may say, "You are to be the hands and feet of Jesus," and He would be right, but don't let that go to your head.

If there's a definition of big-headedness, it would be thinking that you are what only God can be.

This may not be for you right now, but I needed to remind myself of just who I am. I am a pastor, elder, husband, father, friend and son, and in each of those relational realms are situations in which I want to be the answer but do not have an answer. I want to make it better, but clearly cannot. That is what has led me here to these keys to type these words. I, and perhaps even you, need to be reminded that while we may be used to comfort, we are not the comforter. While we may be instruments of healing, we are not the healer. While we may be parents, we are not the eternal Father. While we may be the pastor who teaches, we are not the transformer of minds. While we may be the elder who rebukes and disciplines, we are not the convictor of sins. While we may share the Gospel, we are not the Savior. While anything God has called us to is important, we must never forget that we are all replaceable. And, if we think we are not, we should remind ourselves by reading the epitaph of Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:15-26.

Only God can be God without letting it go to His head. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Old Fisherman Love This Picture

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Branson Vacation

Well, we just got back from 5 days and 4 nights in Branson, Missouri. We've talked about this trip for about 15 years, and finally got yo it. We've talked about an anniversary trip for several years, and finally got around to it. I'm glad we did.  I want to tell you about our favorite stops, our not-so-favorite stops, and a few things I learned from the trip.

It seemed like everywhere we went there was a show. Someone was singing at Mel's Hardluck Diner, at Grandma's Rolls, and everywhere else we went. We attended a couple of paid-for shows - Jonah at Sight & Sound studios, and the Hughes Brothers 'It' show. Jonah was hands down the best show we saw. The story of redemption was told with incredible singers, acting, and special effects. If you get to Branson and see one show, this is it.

Our favorite attraction was riding the Branson Duck. Ducks are revamped WWII amphibious vehicles. The one we rode had a great group of passengers - a mom & dad and four grown sisters with their husbands. They sat in front of us and they were hilarious, but the driver of the Duck was just a hoot. He informed us, drove us, captained us as we went amphibious, and made the trip the best hour we spent in Branson. We got to watch the Branson Belle paddleboat leave dock from the Duck. It was great.

Here are some of the things I learned:
1.  No one who lives in Branson is from Branson. They've all moved from somewhere else.
2.  Branson has a family-friendly, very moral atmosphere.
3.  There are more flea markets in Branson per capita than anywhere else on earth.
4.  Even family friendly can be worldly.

Let me talk about that one. If you've never been worldly, then it won't register. If you have, it may. We stayed in a boutique hotel - meaning small & one-of-a-kind. It was a romantic spot that catered to couples who weren't bringing their kids. Denise told me I did good. It wasn't wild and crazy. It had a wine bar/cafĂ©, outdoor garden-like seating, and live music each evening. The guests listened to music, didn't get rowdy, and were civilized. I mean, this was a nice, romantic place. But . . . that whole music, beer/wine garden, live music scene is seductive to me. It's a draw, not back to my wild west days, but rather to my worldly days. And, I've discovered that worldliness is a much greater danger than wildness for me. So, I'm thankful for the wake up / reminder from the Lord about that.

Now, on to the last thing I learned:
5.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most precious thing I possess. 

Where to worship last Sunday. Would we stay in Branson? Would we side-step to Fayetteville to hear Ronnie Floyd? Well we ended up stopping at Summit Church in Little Rock on the way home. It was good to worship with them, and  hear their senior pastor, Bill Eliff (co-founder of One Cry), share the first of three sermons that were sort of a vision-casting for the next year for their church. He shared, with his church of over 1,000, mostly younger adults, that this year they would equip every one of them to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By the end of the year, every person in their church will know how to present the most precious gift to the people in their lives. He shared his testimony with tears, and I was renewed and reminded.

The time away was a blessing. The time with my best friend, Denise, was a blessing. Jonah, the Ducks, the flea markets, all blessings. The reminder from God about worldliness, a blessing. We met a lot of people, enjoyed our time, and were reminded that we already have the most precious gift in the universe - the privilege of knowing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nowhere To Run To: Robin Williams

I love Saturday mornings - always have. Cartoons only showed on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. On Saturday mornings we mounted bicycles with fishing poles in hand and headed to the pond. After marriage, we cleaned, did the yard, washed cars on Saturday mornings. Then Robin Williams joined us.

He'd starred in Good Morning Vietnam, and I bought the soundtrack on album (yes, vinyl), and every Saturday morning I made coffee, cranked the volume on my stereo and dropped the needle on "Gooooooood Morning, Vietnam!!!" shouted by Robin Williams, followed by Martha & The Vandellas singing Nowhere To Run To. My wife has never forgotten.

Is that what happened? After fighting the drugs, the alcohol and the depression, did he finally get to the place that there was just nowhere to run to anymore?  He was so funny, so singularly funny. And, funny, the really funny kind of funny, often comes from a mind and soul that is prone to deep, dark hopelessness.

I saw Williams interviewed dozens of times, and never felt I got a glimpse beyond the mask. He would always sidetrack into an impersonation or some crazy rabbit trail when things got personal. Did the funny cover up the real man?  Maybe the funny was the man. I don't know.

I just know a human being is dead. People still say, "Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do."  Really? I've seen alot of selfish. I've seen narcissists live for decades, using up every person in their path. I've seen people drive $60,000 pickups away from church after dropping a $20 bill in the plate for world missions. There's a lot of selfish in the world, so let's just move on.

Yes, it's wrong to kill yourself. God gives life, and it's wrong to take it even if it's your own. Suicide, though, is just the wrong at the end of a long line of wrong. See, hopelessness is nothing more than the fruit of unbelief. Unbelief is the greatest sin. It's the one sin that puts everyone in Hell. That's what Jesus said. He said he came, not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved by believing in Him. He said the world was already condemned, and that it remained condemned because it did not believe in Him. Unbelief is the one consistent, universal sin in Hell.

It's wrong to take my life, but it's also wrong to believe my sin is greater than God's ability to forgive. It's wrong to believe that my failure is greater than His ability to restore. It's wrong to believe that my addiction is greater than His ability to deliver. It's wrong to believe that my wound is greater than His ability to heal. It's wrong to believe that my understanding is greater than His. That's what I'm really saying when I find myself in the pit of hopelessness because some tragedy has made me doubt the inherent goodness of God. "Why me, Lord,?" is nothing more than me accusing God of not living up to His end of the bargain. All of that is sin. All of that is found in Satan's playbook.

We need to identify the players in this deadly game. Jesus came to save sinners, not condemn them. They, we, are already condemned. Satan lives to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus came to rescue us from that pit so that we might life. 

Jesus' plan was simple. Leave Heaven. Enter the pit. Offer life. Pay for passage out of the pit with His life. Save people who trust Him. Empower those previous pit-dwellers with His Word and His Spirit, and then leave them down here amongst all the people in all their pits to tell them that there is a way out and the way out is named Jesus.

So, pick your side. Condemn the man who takes his life, or join Jesus in His mission of rescuing people still living in their own pits. 

If you find yourself sliding off into a pit, or you're already at the bottom, don't believe the Satan, the snake. Believe Jesus, the Savior. It may seem like there's nowhere to run to. You are just so far down in the pit that you can't see over the edge, but there is an edge. There is life beyond the pit.

And . . . listen, this is so important . . . pay attention to others who are in their own pits. Jesus has left. He's in Heaven, but YOU ARE HERE. And, you are here by design. And that design includes carrying Jesus into the pits of others.

If there is such a thing as a greater sin, which is it . . . the sin of suicide, of the sin of avoiding people who are in their own pits?  Both are against the nature of God. Suicide is antithetical to life, and Jesus is life. Failing to love people who are in their pit is antithetical to love, and God is love. Which sin is worse?  You tell me.

I'm not trying to guilt trip you. You may have had a friend who committed suicide. I have. So, hear me. You can't save anyone. It's not your job to be Jesus. It's not within your ability to pull people up out of the pit. It is your job to love people in their pits with the love of Jesus. It is your responsibility to move toward them, not away from them. It is your responsibility to tell them about the hope that is found in Christ Jesus.

If you have a friend who is in a pit, don't wait for the professional or the preacher to show up. You're the friend for a reason. Move near. Encourage, intervene if necessary. If you are afraid that your friend or family member is about to reach that nowhere to run to place, do something. DO IT NOW.  Talk to your pastor. And, if he doesn't know what to do, then talk to a professional.

And, listen, if you are the one in the pit, don't do it. I know you feel like there's nowhere to run to, but there is. I know you can't see it now, but believe me. There's someone in there with you who loves you and wants you to live, not just exist, but really live. His name is Jesus. Maybe you can't see Him now. Maybe you can't believe in Him now, but taking your life is not the answer. Trust me. Trust someone. Don't do it. Call for help. Call now.

If you think someone is thinking about suicide, or you are, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-8255.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Blessing Of Sharing A Meal Together (Dinner For Eight)

And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:46-47)
We had been parents for all of nine months. It was a tough nine months, but we had lots of help facing the challenges of parenthood. My mom and Denise's were close enough to lend support, but there were others, too.  I worked in a business whose office staff were all grandmothers. They shared their experience with colicky babies, late night issues, and everything else. But, there was also a very special group of people who helped us.
We were committed members of a local church. We had invested the previous two years in building relationships with the people in our younger adult Sunday School class so that we had real friends who shared our Christian values. It didn't happen overnight. When we first arrived at that church, I felt like an outsider. Denise didn't. She fit in almost immediately, but I had to work at it. I started serving people. We started having dinner with people, sharing meals and time together. And, it worked.  I had more friends at that point in my life than I ever had, and almost all of them were sharing the Christian's walk of discipleship with me.
So, when God called us into ministry and we had to leave that church, it was gut-wrenching. We were not prepared for what lay ahead emotionally. We moved 90 miles to a smaller church where I would become the pastor. Everyone knew me, but I knew almost no one. Sunday night visits to the burrito place with friends disappeared overnight. Meals with friends, gone. The people in the church we were called to didn't even go to Dairy Queen after church for ice cream. Denise and I will probably never forget driving around after church on Sunday nights with tears in our eyes, feeling so alone.
Fellowship, the practice of building Christian relationships, is not an afterthought. Sharing a meal together has been part of God's plan from the covenant meals of the Old Testament, to the breaking of bread in the New Testament, to church-wide fellowship meals. God uses these meals and this time to strengthen the local church.
That's why we are doing "Dinner For Eight" at Calvary. There is a friend, a family, out there who God will use to transform your walk with Him, and all that is needed is a table, a meal, and a some time spent building a Christian friendship.  And, just in case you have forgotten, it's not just about you. There is someone out there who is driving around with an ache in their hearts, hoping and praying for a friend to help them walk this lonely road.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The No Paper, 100% Digital World

This video is for all my friends who have forgotten what a real Bible or book even looks like.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Seminary Scholarship - LOGOS Software

LOGOS BIBLE SOFTWARE SCHOLARSHIP - Going to Seminary is expensive. On top of that, finding a scholarship can be really difficult. That's why I was so excited to find this http://www.seminaryscholarship.com">Seminary Scholarship website today. Not only are they giving away a $1,000.00 scholarship and a digital theological library, all I had to do to apply was watch a short video and answer a few questions! It took less than 15 minutes. What is best of all is that if you're in seminary and apply for the http://www.seminaryscholarship.com">Seminary Scholarship, and put my name as the person who referred you, if you win the scholarship, so do I! We could both get a $1,000.00 scholarship and digital theological library. So, do us both a favor and go apply for the http://www.seminaryscholarship.com">Seminary Scholarship today.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fasting, Prayer And The Solution For Just About Everything

12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me,
and I will listen to you. 
 13 You will seek Me and find Me
when you search for Me with all your heart. 
Jeremiah 29:12-13

God says that sin is our problem.1 Sin is why we are dead spiritually and why we die physically.2 Sin is the reason there are wars and rumors of wars. Sin is the reason the earth is decaying.3  But, sin isn't what most of us think it is.
These things are sin. Adultery, abusing others, bestiality, cheating, covetousness, cowardice, disobedience to parents, drunkenness, envy, fornication, fortune telling, gluttony, gossip, greed, hate, homosexuality, idolatry, lust, lying, murder, polygamy, polyandry, pornography, prostitution, sexual immorality, sorcery, stealing, swindling, and unbelief are all sins.4  But, the particular mix of sins in each of our lives is not the problem. Sin is, and sin is nothing less than self in the place of God.5 Here's the deadly formula that describes each and every one of us.6
Self > God = Sin
God made it clear though the prophet Isaiah, "We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)  The Him is God's Son, Jesus.
I wonder if that may not be why God added fasting to prayer as a spiritual discipline that He expected His children to develop. Fasting is denying oneself of food, and we think about nothing more than food. Even those whose thoughts are twisted about their own self-image with eating disorders still obsess about food. The most common question asked in human experience may  be, "what are we going to eat.?"
Listen, though, just like individual sins are not our problem, self-denial alone is not our answer. When self-denial, as in the practice of fasting, is practiced for the betterment of the self, then fasting becomes the kind of religious grandstanding7 that Jesus denounced.
Fasting is a spiritual practice that denies self, but it is always paired with two other things. It is always paired with prayer and action. Fasting without prayer is self-promotion. Fasting with prayer can become God promoting. Seeking God in prayer with fasting is walking in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit, not self-denial, is the way we overcome the lust of the self.8
Yet, even prayer itself can become self-seeking, self-promoting. And, Jesus denounced grandstanding and selfish praying as well.9
Fasting and prayer are part of the solution, but the real solution is found in the mortification of the self. Not the death of self physically or self-abusively like flagellators (religious people who beat themselves with whips in an effort to put down sin and impress their god).  The death of self as evidenced in self-less behavior.
Fasting must be coupled with prayer and both coupled to spiritual action. The solution for just about everything is found in fasting and prayer that produce the heart of Christ within us so that we "break the chains of wickedness, and untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore your own flesh and blood." (Isa. 58:6-7) 
Seeking God with all our heart is not just a religious, Sunday morning altar call experience. It is not even a month of fasting and prayer. It is denying self, seeking God with all our heart, and living out that heart (doing His will) in the world.
Then and only then will everything change. Isaiah described it to God's people, "then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. The LORD will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry." (Isa. 58:10-11)
1 Eph. 2:1-3; 2 1 Cor. 11:27-32; 3 Gen. 3:7-19, Rom. 8:19-21; 4 Deut. 5:6-21, 17:14-17, 1 Cor. 6:7-11, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:22-6:4, Rev. 21:5-8; 5 Gal. 6:3; 6 Rom. 3:23; 7 Matt. 6:16-18; 8 Gal. 5:16; 9 Matt. 6:5-8

Credits:  The picture came from The Gospel Coalition site, and there is also an excellent article there by Tullian Tchividjian where he sites a sermon about self by Gerhard Forde.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fear Of Public Praying

Does the request, "Would you lead us in prayer" strike fear into the depths of your soul?  If it does, you're not alone.

"Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They've got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who is in secret will reward you."  (Matt. 6:5-6)

My first Sunday as a pastor was wonderful. Donuts were washed down with coffee, hands were clasped, and necks were hugged as we gathered for my first official service.  As people introduced themselves, an older gentleman approached me. Coffee in one hand, the other reached out for mine and pulled me close as he said, "Peacha, I need tell you somethin. I don pay." I was confused, "I'm sorry, what?"  "Peaz don caw on me to pay in chuch. I don pay in chuch." I saw his hearing aids and realized why he spoke the way he did. He had been nearly deaf since childhood. "Don't worry," I replied, "I won't do that to you."

He never prayed in church and never attended any of our small groups, because he was afraid he would be called on to read or pray. Yet he was one of the most faithful to serve our church and to attend worship the whole time I pastored that church. Always arriving at least 15 minutes before Sunday School ended, he would pick up a leftover donut, grab a cup of stale coffee, and wait by the button that rang the Sunday School bell. He would munch, sip, check his watch, and ring that bell at precisely the right time. Did he ever pray? Never in church, but he prayed. His wife was sick for many years, and countless times he called me and asked if I would come and pray with them and for them.

I've been teaching and thinking about shameless prayer. There's no reason born again children of God should ever be ashamed to talk to their Father, but does that automatically translate into a desire to lead the congregation or a small group in prayer? I don't think so. As a matter of fact, it may mean quite the opposite.

Confidence in our Father leads to confidence in prayer, and we need to be confidently unashamed to pray. It's just not possible for us to live lives that glorify our great Savior apart from living lives of prayer. I want to know all God teaches about communicating with Him. I want to know where to pray, when to pray, how to pray, and above all to whom I pray. And, I want to share that with our church the next few Sundays. So if you're ever uneasy about prayer, in public or in private, join us as we grow together in Christ through His Word.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who To Pray For Today

If you're going to be a growing Christian, you're going to be a praying Christian. I'm not talking about taking the bold stand of praying over your meal in a restaurant, but the bold stand of daily prayer in your prayer closet. It takes much more boldness and discipline to spend an hour of prayer a day in private than 3 minutes of prayer 3 times a day at meals. 

It helps if you have a prayer list in your Bible of specific people groups to pray for. Every day you will pray for family, friends and church leaders. Who should you pray for on Mondays? Here's my suggested list headings. Put them on one of those blank pages in your Bible and begin to add names under each heading:

Mondays are for missionaries

Tuesdays are for teachers in schools and in church

Wednesdays are for worship, the leaders and the congregation

Thursdays are for the lost

Fridays are for revival

Saturdays are for your pastor

Sundays you don't need a list because you'll join in prayer with the others at your church

Pick these or your own. Just get busy training yourself in prayer.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Easy Steps To A Better Prayer Life

"I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."
Galatians 5:16
In my last blog, I promised you that I would give you fifteen easy steps to discipline your flesh so that you pray more and better. I may have exaggerated., because I'm not sure I'll end up with a full fifteen.  But, if you want your prayer life to get better so that your Christian life gets better, here you go.
STEP 1 - Go To Bed Earlier So You Can Get Up Earlier To Pray
Forget all the mess about being a late night person, or an early morning person. Whenever you go to bed and whenever you get up, if you're going to have a better prayer life, you have to get up earlier (whenever that is) to pray. And if you don't go to bed earlier, you probably won't get up earlier.
STEP 2 - Set Your Alarm For At least 30 Minutes Earlier
STEP 3 - Go To Bed
NOTE:   If you are under the age of 12 over the age of 50, refrain from drinking fluids after 6pm the night before (especially refrain from any caffeinated beverages). If you're under 12 or over 50 you know why.
STEP 4 - Get Up When The Alarm Goes Off
WARNING:  Do not check your smart phone for messages, the weather, or anything else. Above all, DO NOT CHECK FACEBOOK, TWITTER, OR ANYTHING ELSE ON YOUR SMARTPHONE!
STEP 5 - Go To The Bathroom
STEP 6 - Make Strong Coffee Or Tea
NOTE: It is not sinful to go to get up before 5am, to go to the bathroom, or to make caffeinated beverages before you pray. At least I do not think it is.
WARNING:  Do not take this momentary pause to check your smartphone!
STEP 7 - Get Your Coffee Or Strong Tea, Your Bible, And Get To Your Place Of Prayer
NOTE:  Get a real Bible. Do you use your smartphone or tablet.  The temptation to be distracted is too real.  Remember the warnings above.
STEP 8 - Pray . . . asking God to help you to pray as you read His Word
STEP 9 - Read the Bible prayerfully
A good place to start is Psalm 1.  Read until God speaks to you and then pray about what He is saying to you - whether convicted, reminded, or encouraged.
STEP 10 - Begin A List On One Of Those Empty Pages In The Back Of Your Bible
As God lays situations on your heart, people, etc., note them briefly so you can pray for them daily. It's also a good idea to pray for specific things on specific days.  I'll give you a suggested prayer list tomorrow.
STEP 11 - When You've Prayed As Long As You Can, Stop
STEP 12 - Live Your Day And Pray Whenever You Think About Praying
STEP 13 - Return to Step 1
Now, remember this. Your flesh doesn't want to do any of this.  Don't expect your flesh to want to turn off the TV the night before and go to bed earlier. Don't expect your flesh to want to get up early. Don't expect your flesh to just ignore your smartphone. Expect your flesh to resist you kicking and screaming, but also expect God to honor your obedience.
As you walk after the Spirit and NOT after the flesh, you will begin to walk in power and freedom in your prayer life.  You will change and then things will change.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How To Pray more

"Pray constantly."
1 Thess. 5:17
Almost everyone says they pray. Most Americans say they pray every week. Yet when you open the Bible and see what prayer looks like to God, most don't pray. I'm not making this up to make a point. While most Americans pray (70-85%), most of them (65%) say that prayer for them is basically just sitting still and thinking God thoughts.  That may be a form of meditation, but it's not really prayer.
So, when you realize that prayer is not what you're doing, and that you aren't the kind of great pray-er you would like to be or that God would like for you to be, what are you to do?
The way to pray constantly is to pray.  Don't pray when you feel like it. Pray because God feels like you praying.  As a child of God, born again by faith in Jesus Christ, every conversation you have with God is prayer. You may need to learn more about how to talk to God, but you already know how to talk to God. Just talk to God.
The more you talk to Him, the more you will desire to talk with Him. The more you pray, the more you'll pray.  Prayer is abiding in Christ, and if we abide in Him we are changed by Him.
If you want to want to pray more, you must pray more when you don't want to pray more.  Don't say, "Well, if I don't want to do it God doesn't honor it."  There's some truth there, in that God doesn't want ritual.  But listen, if you are a born again child of God and you don't want to pray, you're listening to the wrong you. You're listening to the old you - your flesh.  The part of you that doesn't want to pray is the part that doesn't want to follow God.  You must discipline the old you to follow the new you. You've given your life to Christ, and He has given you His Spirit, and there is a new you - a new creation.
Don't listen to your flesh.  Choose to pray, whether you feel like it or not, and you will soon begin to feel like it. Then, not many days from now, you'll desire to pray more and more.  You will come to the place where you long to pray, where you will be unhappy with the things of this world that interfere with your prayer time. 
Tomorrow I will give you approximately 15 easy steps to discipline your flesh so that you can pray.  No, really, only 15 easy steps.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Do You Need A Better You In 2014?

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Do you need a better you in 2014? Are you tired of being enslaved to old habits, old patterns of thought and behavior that result in unhappiness and emotional and physical bondage? Have you made resolutions again, or have you given up because you never keep them?  There is hope. Freedom and transformation are available, but how? 

As you look into the mirror of your life today, ask yourself this question, "Do I want to be a better me?"  If the answer is yes, then you're in trouble.  You're in trouble because what you need is not a better you.  If all you focus on in 2014 is being a better you, all you'll get in 2014 is more of you and you are the problem with you.  The answer to a better you in 2014 is to change your focus. 

Freedom is where the Spirit of the Lord is. If you have been born again by faith in God's Son, Jesus Christ, then His Spirit is in you. But, the purpose of His Spirit in you is not to make you a better you. The purpose of His Spirit in you is to set you free from you and make you like the Son, Jesus Christ.

So, look into the mirror again, only this time don't look for more of you. Look for more of Christ, and ask God to do what God is determined to do. Ask Him to make you more and more like Christ, transformed moment by moment by the Spirit of God.  Look into His Word today and every day, and give yourself over to the transforming and liberating power of God's Spirit to create the image, the reflection of Christ in you. Read, believe and obey His many promises to transform you so that you and your life give Him glory and He gives you freedom. 

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-29