Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ask Not

(2 Corinthians 8:1-5 NIV)  "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. {2} Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. {3} For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, {4} they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. {5} And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will."

In the early 1960’s President John F. Kennedy uttered the famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country”. His poignant words have been erased from the memory of today’s culture of entitlement. Very few political leaders talk like this anymore. They have learned that you win elections and become powerful by promising to take care of people’s needs… not by admonishing them to do something for others.

Unfortunately, many churches today have followed suit. We have become like the promising politicians. We have become virtual feeding troughs for what singer Amy Grant once called “Fat Babies”. 

As the shepherd of a local church, I tend to get a bit testy when people call on the phone, and the first question out of their mouths is, “What do offer at your church?” It’s my personal theory that the question is a sure fire indicator that you have a church hopper on the other end of the line. For some reason, they think the church is like the government. They think the church exists to offer them something.

A second question is usually, “What do you guys believe?” But we don’t usually get that far, because when they ask, “What do you offer”, I turn the question around and ask them, “What have you got to offer Jesus and the church?” This is usually followed by a long silence and many times a click.

Could we make it official that the church does not exist to attract church shoppers who are looking for a better holy huddle that offers more perks? Too many Christians today, shop for churches like they shop for merchandise. They listen to the advertising and try to discern who’s offering the best deal at the lowest cost this month.

But not once did Jesus say, “Ask my Bride what she can do for you.” Instead, He maintained that it is our calling to ask what we can do for His Bride and His Kingdom. Christ’s disciples are called to give more than they take… to offer more than they receive… to love, even when they are not loved.  

The church doesn’t exist for our personal pleasure. It can certainly help us in life, but the church exists to glorify God, and in this sin filled world, that happens best when we serve the world like Jesus did -- when we lay down our lives for others and for the gospel.   

The consumer mentality that has invaded Christianity has hordes of “customers” looking for the best deal, the coolest children’s ministry, the most published pastor, the most anointed music, and the flashiest program. Churches and pastors end up competing with one another like salesmen. They scramble to offer bigger and better productions. They do all they can not to offend anyone and lose a “sale”.  There is something wrong with this picture.  

The kingdom of God does not exist to serve us -- we exist to serve the kingdom. This is why God wants us to grow up in our faith -- so we can move beyond moaning and onto ministry -- so we can get past seeking pleasure and start serving people.  

How do we do that? Two words: sacrifice and commitment. We sacrifice our lives for the gospel. We commit our hearts to following Jesus. We commit to the word and prayer. We sacrifice by leaving the stuff, the people, the places, and the situations that continually compete with Christ. We commit to serve somewhere in our local church, and we commit to serve somehow in the world. We sacrifice and we commit!   

One of the great truths of life is that we become what we are committed to. It’s as simple as that. We become what we are committed to. What you are right now is what you committed yourself to, weeks, months, and years ago. If we will commit ourselves to Jesus and growing in his word, and if we will forsake the things that hold us back and keep us small, we can become the servants that God intends for us to be.

Get it done! Stop playing around with the faith and just get it done. Salvation is more than just a ticket to heaven. It’s a covenant, a contract, that calls us to follow Jesus and become His servant. Faith that doesn’t commit, and find a way to serve, is phony faith.

Ask not what your church can do for you!  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Great Fish and Slimy Pits

May 13

(Jonah 2:3-10 NIV)  "You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. {4} I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' {5} The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. {6} To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. {7} "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

(Psalm 30:5 NIV) "For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

(Psalm 40:1-5 NIV)  "I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.  Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare."

Vance Havner once said: "Sometimes our medicine bottle from God has written on it, "Shake well before using."" 

Jonah was being shaken here. Some of us know what that’s like. We’ve been “shaken” by God too. The Bible says it’s a part of life. Get used to it. Deal with it.

But in our “shaking” -- in our trials – God’s desire is always to deliver us to where we should be. When Jonah was reaping the typhoon of his disobedience, God was there and brought his life up from the pit. When his life was ebbing away, God remembered him and heard his prayer.  

Our God is a God of deliverance. Moses was delivered from Pharaoh. David was delivered from Goliath. Daniel was delivered from the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered in the fiery furnace. Jonah was delivered from the great fish’s belly. We could go on and on.

God specializes in lifting lives up out of the “slimy pit”. That pit may be the belly of a great fish, a boatload of disobedience, the chains of an addiction, the excruciating pain of betrayal, the grief of a devastating loss, the diagnosis of a disease, or the despair of depression.   

It doesn't matter what our slimy pit is, nor does it matter how we got there. When we cry out to God, and surrender our lives into his care, we will be heard. The Lord is our Deliverer.

Great fish are sometimes sent by God to deliver us from drowning in the slimy pit of our sin. They are sent to deliver us from ourselves. But great fish are also sometimes sent to deliver us to a destination of God’s choosing. They are sent to wherever we have foolishly tried to hide from God, in order to take us to where we were meant to be… where God wants us to be. 

If it feels like your life is ebbing away, remember, God knows where you are. Your times are in his hands. If you’re in the slimy pit or in the belly of a great fish, cry out to him. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust. The things he has planned for us are indeed, too many to declare.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

April 23

(Matthew 18:23-35 NIV) "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. {25} Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. {26} "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' {27} The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. {28} "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. {29} "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' {30} "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. {31} When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. {32} "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. {33} Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' {34} In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. {35} "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.""

“I've been tryin' to get down to the heart of the matter. But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it's about forgiveness, forgiveness, Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.”   Don Henley in “Heart of the Matter”

Today Jesus speaks to one of the chief sins of the church: un-forgiveness. 

We look at the unforgiving debtor in this parable and think, “He’s getting just what he deserved. He should have been more grateful and more compassionate.”

Then it soaks in. If we are a Christian, we are that forgiven debtor. Just like him, we have been shown great mercy by God. On the cross, all our debt was forgiven by our Master, Jesus Christ. When we are unwilling to forgive others who owe us, we become the unforgiving servant in this parable.   

One of two things is true about Christians who will not forgive. Either we have not truly experienced and accepted the forgiveness of God, or we have received that forgiveness, but have decided to live in disobedience to the will of God. 

There are no loopholes in this parable. What anyone else owes me is paltry compared to the debt that was forgiven on my behalf. My sin alone was enough to nail Jesus to the cross. And so was yours.

Forgiveness seems unnatural and unfair and unjust, but it is at the heart of Christianity. Our mind rebels at the idea of “bad people getting off the hook”, but that’s what happened when we cried out to God for mercy. It’s called grace and we are commanded to pass it on.

Forgiveness may be hard on us... but un-forgiveness is even harder. Un-forgiveness turns our hearts bitter and that bitterness will eat us up from the inside out. It’s like battery acid in a wooden box. Eventually the box will be devoured.

Un-forgiveness is a poison that will destroy us and harm those around us. Many of the physical, mental, social, and emotional problems we face today are the direct result of un-forgiveness.

It is also a relationship killer. That’s why unforgiving people often end up alone in this world. The only antidote is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard on us, but un-forgiveness is even harder. That’s why with Jesus, it’s the heart of the matter.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

He Showed Them His Hands

April 20

(Luke 24:36-40, 45-48 NIV)  "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." {37} They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. {38} He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? {39} Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." {40} When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. … {45} Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. {46} He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, {47} and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {48} You are witnesses of these things."

(John 20:19-20, 24-29 NIV)  "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {20} After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord… {24} "Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. {25} So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." {26} A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {27} Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." {28} Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" {29} Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the disciples were fearful and in disarray. Then came the resurrection. Almost immediately we see the risen Jesus moving to help his disciples regain their courage and faith. He came and stood among them and did several things.

First, he showed them his hands and feet. They saw the holes caused by the spikes driven through his hands and feet into the cross. The wound from the soldier’s spear was still in his side. It was definitely an eye opener for them and it verified that this was indeed their Jesus… literally back from the dead.  

Second, he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them. Before this time the simplest parable seemed to stump the disciples. After this, they became teachers and evangelists.

Before Jesus opened their minds the disciples could not figure out why the Messiah would have to die. After this time they understood the gospel and became preachers for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Third, he changed their hearts. Wavering hearts became committed hearts. Despairing hearts became joyful hearts. Doubting hearts became believing hearts. Frightened disciples soon became fearless apostles. Expressions of fear became statements of faith: "We have seen the Lord!"  General faith in God became personal faith in Jesus Christ. Thomas proclaims: "MY Lord and MY God."

Fourth, Jesus called them to be witnesses. He hadn’t suffered the cross and risen from the dead so he could be the only spokesman for the Gospel. He called the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Fifth, he called them to deeper faith. He told Thomas, “Change your heart. Stop doubting and believe.” At that point, Thomas had a choice to make, and so do we.

Jesus Christ is risen! We too are called to a deeper faith and to be His witnesses. Stand up and step out for Jesus in the weeks and months to come. He rose so you could shine.    


Friday, April 3, 2015

Three Crosses - Three Attitudes

April 11

(Luke 23:32-43 NIV)  "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. {33} When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. {34} Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. {35} The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." {36} The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar {37} and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." {38} There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. {39} One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" {40} But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? {41} We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." {42} Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." {43} Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.""

Spring is the time when new life springs up all around us. What an appropriate season to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The day has become known as Easter, although that particular word is not found in scripture. Still, it could easily be called the most important day in Christianity.

But on this Good Friday, it’s important to remember that before the rising came the dying. Before the resurrection came the cross.

The bible tells us that Jesus died between two thieves on a hill called the Skull. There were three crosses on that hill… three men - three crosses - three attitudes.

First, there was the thief dying IN sin. He had been caught and found guilty. You can hear the anger and bitterness in this unbeliever crushed by his sin. He curses God. He mocks the Savior. He lived his life without God and he goes to his death without God.

The second cross held the thief dying TO sin. You can hear in his voice the recognition of God's holiness and power as he asks the first thief, "Don't you fear God?"

You can hear the acknowledgment of his sin and guilt as he says, "We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve."

You can hear the recognition of Christ's sinless innocence as he proclaims, "This man has done nothing wrong."

You can hear the acknowledgment of Christ's Lordship as he cries out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

This is one of the most beautiful salvation stories in all of scripture. We have honest confession, sincere repentance, and humble acceptance of Jesus as the way to heaven. This man had seen the light. In his last hour he chose repentance instead of rebellion. His body and his heart were broken by sin, but his soul was saved by Jesus.

He was fortunate that there was a third cross on the hill that day. And on that cross was the Savior dying FOR sin. 

God was there… dying between the two thieves... dying for their sin ... dying for my sin ... dying for your sin. With labored breath he tells the repentant thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

In a three second sentence, the thief who appealed to God's mercy was spoken into eternity. No time to straighten out his life… no time to be baptized… no time to join the church… just spoken into paradise by our Lord.

The three crosses on that hill divide all humanity into two camps -- those who reject Christ and die in sin… and those who receive Christ and die to sin.

Jesus died for us, whether we believe it or not. It is finished. The rest is up to us. Choose wisely. Choose the right camp. Choose the right cross.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Divine Valentine

February 12 

(1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails." 

With Valentine’s Day just two days away, maybe it’s a good time to take a look at love. Regardless of what the advertisers tell us, true love is not found in roses or chocolates. True love is found in hearts that know how to love. 

When one looks at 1st Corinthians 13, we see a checklist for determining the quality and depth of genuine love. Paul lists 16 characteristics that should be present in our love for one another. These 16 traits of biblical love also make a good personal evaluation. They can help us see how well we are doing in loving. They can also make a good pre-marital checklist for couples considering marriage.  

Here’s how the love test works. According to 1st Corinthians 13, the word love will fit in every blank below. But the question is… will your name fit in the blanks? If these traits are the definition of love, and we are loving as we should... then we could place our name where the word love would normally go. See how many blanks you can honestly write your name into. And remember, this is a test, so be honest with yourself. It won’t help to fudge your answers. Tell the truth. 

1. _________________________ is patient.

2. _________________________ is kind.

3. _________________________ does not envy.

4. _________________________ does not boast.

5. _________________________ is not proud.

6. _________________________ is not rude.

7. _________________________ is not self seeking.

8. _________________________ is not easily angered.

9. _________________________ keeps no record of wrongs.

10. ________________________ does not delight in evil.

11. ________________________ rejoices with the truth.

12. ________________________ always protects.

13. ________________________ always trusts.

14. ________________________ always hopes.

15. ________________________ always perseveres.

16. ________________________ never fails.  

How did you do? OUCH? Me too! But take heart... nobody will be perfect here. Most of us have a lot of work to do. None of us are probably as far along in this area as we would like to be. So don’t feel defeated... instead, feel motivated. Those lines where you can’t sign your name with integrity should become growth points, not sore points. 

You will need God's grace and God's help to accomplish this. One of the main ingredients we need for producing genuine love is Jesus. Do you have the Lord in your life? One of the greatest Valentine’s Day gifts you can give yourself and others is to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Only he can change our hearts so that we want to get better and better at the “love test” above. He not only gives us the tools, he gives us the desire.   

So take the love test. Then praise God for the love traits you already have, and ask for his help in those areas where you fall short. Remember, learning to love is like learning to live… it takes time and you should get better at it as you age. Never quit growing and never quit loving.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A New Song

January 18

(Psalms 40:3 NIV) “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Music is an amazing gift of God… given to us for his worship, praise, and glory.

The traditional musical scale contains a mere seven notes. Yet within the framework of that seven note scale, music almost as varied as creation can be produced. Out of this “do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti” scale, we continue to produce new songs and arrangements that have never been heard before. From this one finite scale comes an almost infinite number of varied sounds, melodies, and arrangements. In just Western culture alone, we have classical, blues, country, jazz, soul, big band, rock, symphony, folk, rap, gospel, bluegrass and many other genres. Worldwide the variety is almost endless.

What a great metaphor for humanity. God creates each of us as a unique new song of praise to him. Even though we have similarities, we are also very different from everyone else on earth. God gives each of us a melody of our very own.

But as the years roll by, our notes can grow flat. The strings of our life get stretched --sometimes even broken. We may continue singing, but it’s the same old song. Our melody becomes strained and out of tune with God. Our notes end up producing dissonance instead of harmony. We begin to compose more protest songs than praise songs. When this happens, we can end up singing a sour note solo.

Then comes Jesus, who by grace, offers to rearrange our sad song. If we say yes to His gift, He puts a new song in our mouth… a song that gets us back into harmony with God… a song that once again fulfills its purpose of glorifying the Lord… a song that others will listen to.  

What a great way to spend this next year. What a great way to spend one's entire life. So in this first month of the New Year, why not ask God for a new song... and then listen for it. You’ll be glad you did.