Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sowing All Over Again

January is usually a rainy season in the south. The fields are wet and muddy. The water table is recovering. The hope of spring is still several freezes away. But it is not too early to start getting ready for new growth.

A new year sparks evaluations and resolutions. Many assess the past year and consider their ways. People usually don't go into the year saying, "I am hoping to have the worst year I have ever had." They think about opportunities and challenges and they dream that everything is going to be great. They want success, and happiness, and peace. But how can they help it happen?

Our lives are like fields. They primarily contain weeds. We do not just come up producing strawberries. Sometimes we try to mow the weeds, cutting our problems down on the surface. But if we really want to bear fruit we must go deeper. We need to get under the soil. We must plow the field and sow all over again.

This year, you will bear fruit if you...

1. Plow up the weeds of anger and resentment you have and remove them from your life. Did someone hurt you? Did you get a raw deal at work? Are you unhappy about some circumstance? Are you holding something in your heart? Such weeds will dominate your field and leave little room for growth. Forgiveness is one of the main ingredients to success in life. It is an attribute of God (Psalm 86:5).

2. Plow up the rocks of idleness. Most people bear no fruit because they sow no seed. Christians are supposed to be living stones built upon the foundation of Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). But many are just cold hard rocks taking up space. Jesus explained that people cannot belong to Him of they do not bear fruit for God - "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8). We cannot bear fruit alone. We need Christ (John 15:4).

3. Plow up the old, dead ground. You have to cultivate the soil. You have to add nutrients to your field. The best additive to your field comes from above. The farmer knows that nothing is better than good seed and the rain from heaven to water it. The Word of God is the seed (Luke 8:11). The rain that we need will come from God if we patiently and confidently wait (James 5:7).

"Father in heaven, thank you for today. Thank you for a new year. Thank you for hope. Be with us and help us. Help us to grow closer to you. Help us to sow all over again. Help us to glorify your name. In Jesus name, Amen."

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Nice List

This past week has been a very nervous one in our home. My two youngest children have been concerned about what Santa might bring. One of them said that Christmas Eve was the most stressful night of the year. When you are a kid you have a lot invested on what may happen on Christmas morning. This is the magic of the holiday - the joy of innocent imagination and the laughter of experiencing the reception of realized dreams.

And then my daughter said something to me, tonight, December 23, that really made me think. She was talking about whether or not she was on the nice list. Her anxiety about it brought her to tears. She knew her cousins were soon arriving and that she had one more day to be good. She said she would be good all day and share her toys and make sure that Santa would know that she was a nice person and that even though she wasn’t always good she surely wanted to be good. Being on the nice list matters to my daughter! It matters enough that she is deeply sorry for anything she might do to remove herself from it.

There was a time for all of us when being on the nice list mattered. It was when there was someone watching over us whom we considered more powerful than us – who held the key to our happiness. We did not want to disappoint him. But when we grew up and our innocence was lost there were many of us who no longer cared about our presence on the list.

A lack of genuine kindness is usually an adult problem. We become cynical, impatient, and we get distracted with things that are not important. One minute we are volunteering at a soup kitchen and the next minute we are cutting people off for a better parking spot at a busy holiday shopping mall. One minute we are delivering a fruit basket to a widow and the next minute we are cross with the waitress who isn’t serving our every whim. Kindness spent on others is often lost on our spouses and children. Patience we extend to a person for whom we have compassion is often shortened for anyone we don’t respect. And the scariest thing from all of it is our general justification for our bad attitude. We just don’t cry at the idea that a nice list might be something on which our name would not be found.

Jesus’ appearance to the earth was not just for salvation, but for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Titus tells us that the kindness and goodness of God toward man presented itself in the person of Jesus Christ. This is when grace came that taught us how to respond to love of God. Nice should not be a stretch for a people visited by the Son of God who willingly spilled His blood and forgave His murderers while still hanging between heaven and earth.

My child taught me a great lesson this evening. She reminded me I should always want to be on the nice list. She reminded me that the very thought of not making it on the list should reduce me to tears.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus and the 21st Century Sabbath


It was a three and a half year sticking point: Jesus and the Sabbath. In John 5 Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath. From then on it was all the unbelieving Jews could think about. The very next week His disciples were found plucking the heads of grain and eating them, again, on the Sabbath. Jesus spoke about the Sabbath on several occasions and expounded on why the Rabbinical teachings on the Sabbath were out of line. Jesus never violated the Sabbath. He simply exposed the Pharisees’ improper interpretation.

Two statements from Mark 2:27-28 basically explain why Jesus acted the way He did from Sabbath to Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” The first statement explains that God set aside the Sabbath to teach man a spiritual lesson. It was not just about the obedient resting, it was about learning what God had done. The second statement is a call to understand that Jesus was involved in creating the material universe, and every holy law. He had the right as having the divine nature in Himself to change any law He created without being questioned.

God ordained the Sabbath as a holy day for the Jews because He wanted them to remember His creative work. The Sabbath was a reminder of the fact that God had ceased from that work. But Jesus explained later (John 5:17) that since day seven the Father and the Son had continued working. Jesus had not taken a day off since day seven. When He came to earth He was doing the work of God seven days a week.

If one were to closely examine everything Jesus did during His human life on the Sabbath, it would be impossible to prove that he had in any way broken the commandment. The Jewish Mishnah, (a Rabbinical commentary on the law), had come up with 39 specific activities that were unlawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus certainly broke many of them, and in the meantime encouraged others to do so. He knew it did not matter, because the Mishnah was an addition to the Law of Moses. It was therefore not binding, and in fact it was causing people to miss the entire spiritual purpose of the commandment.

We can learn some very important things from Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath: 1. God’s law is for a purpose, it is divine, and men must do it. 2. We are not supposed to do more or less than has been commanded. 3. It is important for us to see why the law is there as much as it is important for us to follow the law. 4. The only one who has the right to make adjustments to the law or set it aside altogether is God.

Jesus shocked the people by what He did on the Sabbath. But He never broke it. They were just doing it wrong. Which makes me wonder, if Jesus came into our churches each Sunday, what we He do differently? Would we realize it was us, and not Him, doing it wrong? And would we accuse Him?

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Falling in Love all Over Again


Do you remember when you first fell in love? I am not talking about your first schooldays crush. I am not talking about your first infatuation. I am not talking about the time when you saw that person and thought to yourself, “I would be happy if they were mine.” I am not referring to those moments in your life because those moments were not about love at all. Those moments were about you, and genuine love at its very core is not about you. It’s about others.

I am talking, however, about the first time you really fell in love. When you knew that you and the other person truly cared for each other. When you knew the two of you were willing to do anything for one another. When it was a joy to hear their voice on the phone and you anticipated the next time you would hear it as soon as you sadly had to say goodbye. When every song you heard reminded you of them, and when everything you read found a relationship to your relationship with them, and when every thought you had somehow included them, too. And then that love matured when you came to the point that you decided to make a lifetime commitment to this other person and become their spouse.

Marriages go through periods in which the feelings of courtship fade and the relationship needs to be renewed. Couples must keep dating. They must continue to express their feelings and love for each other in a variety of ways. Exciting new things sometimes become everyday regularities. The once unexpected blessings soon become normal and there is a danger of each person in the relationship taking the daily sacrifices of their companion for granted. But a committed relationship also leads to seasons of falling in love all over again. The more things in life you experience together, whether good or bad, the more that you realize your mate loves you. The loyalty of your spouse and their constant support and sacrificial giving will hopefully lead to you falling in love with them over and over again.

Spiritual renewal is very much the same. Inward revival is falling in love with Jesus all over again. We remember the first time the cross brought conviction and tears. We recall the overwhelming weight of our sin coupled with the unconditional love of our Father. Then we add in the suffering of the cross and the yearning of Savior for our souls and we conclude in our minds and hearts that we are in love with Jesus. Because Christianity is also a lifetime commitment, the more time we stay in the relationship the more opportunities we have to fall in love with Jesus. And His blood remains. And His blood cleanses. And we love Him all over again because of it.

Every person wants to be loved the way they were loved in the beginning. It seems natural then to conclude that God also would want the same. Every new day is an opportunity for us to look at our loved ones and be thankful for their presence in our lives. By their simply being there and loving us we can appreciate what they mean to us and fall deeper in love with them - one day at a time.

When you woke up today I hope your first though was Jesus. I hope your second thought was of a very special person here on earth who loves you. And I hope that each day that you live God will grant you the ability to keep falling in love with them over and over again.

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” – Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Part of You God Doesn't Have Yet

One hundred percent! We have made an effort for this Sunday to have all of those people in attendance who have made themselves a part of the local congregation here at Willow. This is an impossible task. Some people will be sick or shut-in. Some people will be traveling. Some people will decide not to come. Some people will be at work. Some people will somehow not know about it (they must live on Mars).  So many barriers stand between us and one hundred percent. But does this mean we should not try?

Obstacles in life can remind us that there are things that are keeping us from completely belonging to God. Even if you are a strong and faithful Christian, there is a part of you that God doesn’t have yet. Although you may argue for it, you cannot convince me that you have given God everything. Your effort may be admirable and even worthy of imitation, but your activity gives you away. Be honest with yourself. It may be your thoughts, it may be your time, it may be your love – it really could be just about anything. The most important question deals with whether or not you have been able to identify which part of yourself you have been holding back from the Lord – and whether or not you plan to give it to him.

God knows everything about us. He knows every thought in our mind. He knows what our goals are. He knows what we are doing now and what we did five minutes ago. He knows for certain what part we have been holding back from him. He not only knows about it, but he desires for us to give it to him. This truth has been exemplified throughout human history in God’s interaction with mankind. Why else ask Abraham to offer Isaac? Why else ask for daily sacrifices from Israel? Why else consider the greatest commandment of all to be to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? God wants to know if we truly love him altogether. After all, this is the way he loves us.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!” (Psalm 119:2). The beginning of giving God our all has to do with what we are seeking. If we have no intentions to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, then we cannot be his disciples. Though we will always fall short of God’s glory, our Lord will be satisfied with our effort to be like him and much as possible. If we run the race with less than our very best we have missed the whole point of even running (1 Cor. 9:24).

There is something extremely exciting about unreached potential. It means we still have a purpose. It means we can still make gains. It means we can do more than we have ever done before. It means the future can be better than the past. God made us people with unlimited spiritual potential because he knew we needed hope. He created us in such a way that in the flesh we would never be perfect. God wants us striving, reaching, trying, so that one day when we have given all we can give and yet we have still failed to be just like him, he can take us home by his grace. In that moment God will know that we loved him because we gave everything we had. In that moment we will know how much he loves us because he accepted us in our weakness. In that moment there will be no more need to try, because God will have accomplished it all. In that moment we will give him all the glory and worship him in joy for eternity.

“I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; Be merciful to me according to Your word.” – Psalm 119:58

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Advice for Younger Preachers


I am amazed that I am writing this article. It means I am getting older. But at 41, I am not in the 20’s and 30’s group anymore. I claim no great knowledge or wisdom. I do have more experience than before. I am just doing the best I can with all of my flaws to serve in my Master’s kingdom. It is a privilege to do so all of the time. Christ is everything. I am nothing. The world does not need me at all. But the world definitely needs Jesus.

Over the past several years I have been watching and rooting for our younger crop of ministers. I am doing everything I can to encourage younger men to enter this vocation. I believe preaching is the greatest occupation in the world. It is not easy but the sacrifices and challenges are well worth it. I always do my best to think the best of the younger men and give them the benefit of the doubt (I needed that early on and still need it). With all of this in mind I would like to address a few areas in which I believe younger preachers are struggling. Younger preachers, I love you and I believe in you.

1. Please get out of your office. Younger ministers in the 21st century love blogging and texting and writing and the interchange they can receive over social media. They love being great from the pulpit on Sundays. It builds our confidence, boosts our ego, and helps us to see we are making a difference. Articles and books and our best Sunday morning sermons are great and we need them, but lost people are dying and they need a minister’s personal touch. Rarely is personal evangelism emphasized anymore – door to door work – home Bible studies – hospital visits and phone calls - these are invaluable. Even if this is not your area of expertise it needs to be developed. The book you write with your feet will have more eternal impact than the one you write with your hands.

2. Please respect the past generation. I am reading more and more articles by younger preachers that are full of idealism for the 21st century church. While they may seem full of light, they are at times questionable when it comes to practicing pure Christianity. I know we cannot do things the same way the older generation did them. I know we are restoring the first century church anew in every generation. But some of the folks that have been restoring it for decades are still here. Don’t isolate them by making them feel that they are out of touch. Spend some time with them and learn what mature Christianity is like. It will bless you and also let them know that all they have labored for will not be in vain. Don’t forget that any work you do for the kingdom is done while you stand on their shoulders.

3. Be careful about vanity. Early success in ministry can be both a blessing and a curse. When you are younger people love you. You are Absalom and David is old hat. Everything you do is fairly new because you are new. But eventually you will have been preaching a while and something else and someone else new will come along. If anything, this humbling reminder helps you to refocus and give the glory to God. He must continually increase while you decrease. The greatest preacher in the brotherhood has no individual fame and is probably only known by the lives he has personally touched.

4. Take criticism with grace. Early on in preaching I thought because I loved the Lord that I could not be doing anything wrong. Well guess what, I was wrong. I need help and I need criticism. I need criticism of all kinds from all kinds of people. Jesus was probably criticized more in 3 years than any other preacher in history, and He was perfect. In time, you will see that you can love the Lord and do your best and continue to make improvements along the way. Your best day is still a work in progress. Therefore we need to embrace counsel. While no chastening seems good for the present, in time it will bring the peaceable fruit of righteousness by those who have been trained by it.

5. Preach the Word!  (2 Tim. 4:2). That is all.

6. Don’t quit. Even if you are fired. Even if you are cheated. Even if you are ridiculed. No matter what happens, the Lord needs you. The church needs you. The Lost need you. God chose the preaching of the gospel to save those who would believe. He has no other plan. Love Him always with the same fervor you had when you decided to preach in the first place.

Preachers of all ages, God loves you and I love you. Second to Jesus, you are my heroes. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for preaching the glorious gospel of Christ!

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” – 1 Timothy 4:15-16

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can We Choose When We Die?

Brittany Maynard, age 29, has terminal brain cancer. She says she does not want to die. But she has chosen when. You can read and watch here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/08/terminally-ill-brittany-maynard-29-has-scheduled-her-death-for-nov-1/. This link will make you sad. You will empathize with this family. Cancer is a terrible disease. I was diagnosed 10 years ago. I have had many friends and family die from cancer. As a preacher I have been there until the last breath was taken numerous times. I have seen the worst it has to offer. But consider for a minute with me the moral issue at stake with euthanasia. Excuse me, in 2014 the political world prefers to call it, “Dying with dignity.”

I am not going to pretend to tell you that I think I have all of the answers to such a sensitive subject. One of my best friends and mentors in ministry took his life several years ago. He had suffered from bipolar disorder and chronic depression for years. He had been suicidal on occasions that caused periods of hospitalization. Suicide is not a black and white issue. There are people who take their lives who are so fragile mentally and emotionally that it would be difficult for any human being to say what was happening in the moment they chose to kill themselves.

For any person who is reading this article that has been affected by cancer, or some other terminal disease, or for any person out there who has had someone close to them choose to end their life, I want you to know that I love you. I could never understand how much you have suffered and how difficult it has been to go through such a terrible experience. Please understand that what you are about to read is being expressed for the purpose of pleasing God and promoting mental and physical and spiritual health for all people. Life is very precious. It is God’s greatest gift to man both now and eternally. This is why the issue of ending life is so important. Do we have the right to choose what day we die?

Arguments and discussions about specific situations can go on and on concerning this topic. Without a doubt, I would never think it was morally right to force someone to try to keep themselves alive by unnatural means. But I want to simply address the particular case at hand. Brittany Maynard has chosen doctor-assisted death for November 1, 2014. She moved to Oregon because it is one of 5 states that allow it. She has rejected other forms of medication and treatment. In the meantime she has been traveling and spending the last few months and weeks with the people she loves.

The scenario in which one chooses early termination of life has been thrust upon us recently through the tragic death of actor Robin Williams. So many things were written about that episode, that I chose to write absolutely nothing. In his case, nobody would say he died heroically. Rather, he was a victim of mental illness and he needed help. For many his iconic superstardom swept the morality of the issue aside while people celebrated his achievements. I enjoyed many of the things he brought to the entertainment world, but I also realize that putting people on a pedestal is dangerous and can be spiritually unhealthy. Our determination should be that of allegiance to the one Man who ever lived perfectly. Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but our only ideal example, role model, and hero.

There are several moral questions that trouble my mind in Maynard’s case. Is it ok to be euthanized while refusing forms of treatment, even if we have been told there is no cure? Is it ok to accept defeat and not battle for earthly life as much as is within us when we know this world is not our home anyway? Is it ok to refuse to suffer any pain that may come to us in life or death? Is there a difference between what Maynard is doing and people who choose not to be resuscitated, or cancer patients who accept a morphine-induced coma at the last stages of their illness? I believe so.

The difference is faith. Faith believes in unseen things (Heb. 11:1). Without faith, pleasing God is impossible (Heb. 11:6). What if even though no one has ever survived this disease, Brittany Maynard was the first? What if November 1 rolls around and on that particular day she is feeling healthy and strong? What if the experience of suffering caused her to rely on spiritual things over physical things, and helped her to change her mind about what she really wants to do? What if this suffering changed her future eternally? I have some current relationships with a few very close friends who I love dearly who are dying at this moment from terminal illnesses. They do not know how long they have. Some have days, maybe weeks to live. But they have not chosen the day of their death. Are they not also, “dying with dignity”? I would like to tell you that I believe beyond all others they are. You see, they believe in God, but they will not play God. They trust in God, and they know that we are not supposed to “die on our terms.” After all, are we even supposed to live on our terms (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?

I am afraid that we are living in a world that is progressively devaluing life. I have heard no mention of God in this case at hand. My heart goes out to this young lady and her family. On some level, but admittedly not completely, I understand their dilemma. I was 31 when I found out about my cancer. I had a wife and two small children. I did not know what was going to happen to me. But I chose life, not death. By the grace of God ten years later I am still here. But if I had not lived, I would not have chosen euthanasia. Because God is the giver of life, and God alone has power over death. And whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s. And I accept His will for my life, and also for my death, no matter the suffering.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why Forgiveness is Hard

Have you ever been hurt? I mean really hurt. I am not talking about falling down and scraping your knee hurt and getting a bandage from mommy. I am not talking about some wound that was your fault or that happened accidentally. But I am talking about being hurt by someone you loved so sincerely and completely that you fail to understand why they hurt you. I am talking about that part of yourself that says you would never do to your worst enemy what has been done to you by someone for whom you would have given your very life.

How do you forgive when you have been hurt so deeply by someone you love so deeply? Why is forgiveness so hard?

1. Forgiveness is hard because forgetting is impossible. I know we've heard and been told to "forgive and forget." I have counseled with Christian people who have said hatefully, "I will forgive them but I will never forget what they've done!" I have walked away knowing that there was no forgiveness there. But can we really forget? No. Will we forget? Impossible. But will we learn some things about trust? Yes. Will we learn some things about healthy boundaries? Yes. Will we lean on God more knowing that He alone will never leave us or forsake us? Yes. God wants us to remember so we can learn lessons and thank Him for His steadfastness.

2. Forgiveness is hard because trust is difficult to regain. If you have been lied to, if you have been betrayed, if you have been slandered, or if your loved one has cheated on you, there is a wound that has been created that goes all the way through. This wound rarely heals completely. Whenever a familiar moment arises that reminds you of the time trust was broken, the surface that has healed above that wound is removed and you begin to bleed again. Human beings have a hard time trusting because we tend to over-emphasize our own personal feelings. We categorize and compartmentalize faithfulness. We forget that we are not always trustworthy in all things. We decide that if our loved one has broken trust in an area that we feel is more significant, they can never truly be trusted again.

3. Forgiveness is hard because it is natural for us to try to protect ourselves. We build physical walls to protect our families, mental walls to protect our intellect, emotional walls to protect our hearts, and even spiritual walls to protect our individuality. Anytime a fortress has been penetrated we are prone to pack up and leave an area that was once safe, never to return. If you have been hurt bad enough even one time, you would rather experience anything than to be hurt in that same place all over again. We don't want to be fools, so when we have been badly injured we wrap up and find a cave. There is no forgiveness for the one who has inflicted the pain when we are too busy sulking and licking our wounds.

4. Forgiveness is hard because everything is amplified when it is our loved ones who have been hurt. We would much rather be hurt ourselves than to have it be our spouse or children. Especially in cases where the sin was egregious and unnecessary and cast upon the innocent - we find ourselves seeking retribution and justice. We suppose that if we could see the guilty party suffer for what they have done at least we would have something to hold on to over which we had some control. It is hard to forgive when you are reeling. It is hard to forgive when you see the pain in the face of your pierced and yet sinless child.

And then it hits us. We can't forget, but God has promised He will forget our sins. We can't trust, but God has forgiven us enough to trust us with the precious gospel and adopt us into His family. We can't be vulnerable, and yet God has opened the gates of His eternal abode and invited us into His most intimate dwelling place forever. We can't overcome the suffering of our loved ones, and yet God has forgiven us for crucifying His only Son.

Forgiveness is hard for one simple reason. We make it about us! God forgives so freely and perfectly because for Him forgiveness is about others. This is the love of God. When we deserved punishment, He chose mercy. When we deserved banishment, He chose fellowship. When we deserved nothing, He chose to give us everything. When we did what was unforgivable, He chose to forgive.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." - 1 John 4:10

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Mistakes Parents Keep Making

As I write this I am scooting my chair up to the table and fastening a bib around my neck in order to keep from allowing any humble pie to get on my clothes. Parenting is tough! I have made and continue to make many mistakes. I constantly pray to God for help and forgiveness. But thankfully, with God as my heavenly parent and with His manual close by, in this process of being a father I am learning. Through my own misguided struggles as well as my observations of others, I would like to share with you five major mistakes parents continually make.

Some parents worship their children rather than worshiping God. It is easy to love our children and to do things for them. We are happy when they are happy. But when does their happiness become too important to us? What children want and what children need are not always the same. Our children are here to be loved but not worshiped. We need God-centered homes rather than kid-centered homes. Our lives are supposed to be about God first so our relationships must be guided by the same principle (Exodus 20:3).

Some parents try to live their second childhood through their children. Maybe it is because they never got to live their first childhood, since their own parents rode piggyback, too. Parents need to be parents. When you grow up you are supposed to put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). It is time parents stop trying to make their kids be the sports stars they never were. No more with the baby pageants. No more with the crazy parents in the stands. No more with the excessive efforts to make the world adore your children. God loves them. You love them. That should suffice.

Some parents believe their children can do nothing wrong. Let me qualify this problem by saying it usually only starts when the kids leave the house. We may see their faults at home, but the minute a teacher or friend or authority figure accuses our child of anything but excellence, the guard goes up. If our children are going to have any respect for authority, we have to back up those people who are not us who are trying to do their best for our children. Your kids not only can do wrong but they certainly will. When others see your children struggling, take it to heart. They may draw attention to something they need help with that you have been unable to see because you are their parent.

Some parents choose friendship over discipline. Sorry, mom and dad. You cannot be your teenager’s BFF. Not now anyway. Right now they need boundaries. Right now they need to be told, “No.” Right now they need you to tell them that even though that is cool and popular with their friends it is not cool and popular with you and it is absolutely not good with God. Friendship is easier than discipline. It is tempting to be a neat parent. But wimping out when it is time for discipline will lead to disrespect. They may not like you now when you keep them from getting their way. But they will love you and thank you later and be your best friend when everyone becomes an adult.

Some parents don’t let their kids be kids. This one may be the biggest mistake of all. In an age of information our kids are learning things they don’t need to learn. Children cannot process adult topics and problems and they were never meant to. In the name of entertainment we have all said, “Oh, I think they can handle this movie,” and then came regret. Not limiting their internet and phone access and exposure is the same as letting them play with the devil as if he were a schoolmate. Giving into pressure from others about having “the talk” too early keeps a child from retaining innocence. The days are coming when sin will be real and innocence will be gone forever. Our young children are sinless now. Why would we initiate and encourage the process?

Children are our heritage and joy. They are both our greatest blessing and our greatest responsibility. There is too much at stake to keep reliving the same mistakes over and over. Remember the child. Ask God for help. Do your best. Pray often.

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Disappointment

William Miller was a prosperous farmer and Baptist preacher from the state of New York who began to share his predictions about the Advent (Second Coming of Christ) in 1833. Through extensive studies of Old Testament prophecies he predicted that Jesus would come again in 1843. During a period between 1843 and 1844, approximately 50,000-100,000 people followed his teachings. After several unfulfilled predictions from 1843 to 1844, hundreds of "Millerites" left their homes and businesses behind and all of their earthly possessions, concentrating on the specific date of October 22, 1944, when Jesus would surely return. When Jesus did not appear the date became known as "The Great Disappointment."

Since the first falling away until the restoration, and even today, Christianity has been bombarded with disappointments that are the direct result of men going beyond what is written. To predict the Advent is to not accept words of Jesus in Matthew 24:36 - "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." If God had wanted us to know the specific time of our Lord's return, He would have told us. But instead His admonition is, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:44).

Our 21st Century world is now full of beliefs that are merely warmed up leftovers of human doctrines that have been inserted over the centuries. The early church never worshiped with man-made instruments, but not only are they all over the landscape today, most people truly believe God will accept whatever worship they may offer. "Once saved, always saved" remains through the influence of Calvanism, and many religious groups still have part or all of this doctrine in their creed. Sprinkling of infants, salvation by faith alone, and the aspects of premillenialism, to name a few, are ideas that live in the hearts and minds of many religious people. Confused by what they have heard time and again, it is now to the point that many risk their very souls to put faith in teachings that cannot be found in the Scriptures.

Perhaps the saddest truth of all...people don't know that what they believe is not of God. We cannot believe differently about salvation and all be right. We cannot believe differently about the identity and worship of the church and all be right. We cannot believe differently about the return of Christ and the judgment scene and all be right. The only way to be in line with God and abiding in truth is for us to stop automatically believing what we are told. Remove the filter, open your Bible, and be taught of God!

Jesus is coming again with clouds (Rev. 1:7). He may come at any time, and when He does, even atheists will bow (Rom. 14:11). I cannot help but think that for many it will be another "great disappointment." But for those who follow God and keep His word in truth and humility, it will be a day in which Christ will be admired and glorified by those who are truly His (2 Thess. 1:10).

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." - 1 John 4:1

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Robbed by the Thief on the Cross

"What about the thief on the cross?" This is the question I have heard so many times that I have stopped counting. This question arises whenever I get into a conversation about salvation with a person who does not believe in baptism as one of the essential elements. In Luke 23 we read of the conversation between Jesus and the thief who showed penitence and admitted guilt while asking to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. We recall the wonderful love of God and extension of grace that brought these words from our Savior's dying lips, "Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Some allege this event proves that salvation is possible by simply believing in Christ, admitting personal sin, and asking God for forgiveness and a place with Him in heaven. While all of these are necessary for a person to be saved, these alone do not exhaust the requirements that God has left for us in His word.

There are many Bible answers for why the thief on the cross is not our perfect example. We could point out that both Jesus and the thief lived and died under the Law of Moses, or that Jesus nailed the Law to the cross when He brought forth the new covenant in His blood (Col. 2:14; Matt. 26:28). We could mention that New Testament Christians are those who have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-4) - which would have been impossible for the thief since Jesus had not yet died. We could note that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins was not available, nor was it a requirement for salvation until the day of Pentecost, when the church began (Acts 2:38). And do we really want the thief to be our example? Do we want to live a life dominated by Satan only to repent in our final, tragic hour? This account is given to us not as an example of how to be saved, but rather as a testimony of the unsearchable and matchless grace of Jesus.

There is one simple passage which brings a great deal of light and truth on a subject that so many have clouded in an attempt to justify their denominational mode of salvation. In Romans 10:9-10 we read, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." I only bring up this passage because it has become a proof text for many who believe that baptism is not required for salvation, but merely belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the corresponding confession that Jesus is Lord. In other words, the people who use the "thief on the cross" reasoning for saying baptism is non-essential will quickly go to this passage in order to prove their point. I want to thank them for doing that, because they just proved why their reasoning is false.

Look again at the passage. Did the thief believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? Paul says in Romans 10:9 that this is a requirement for salvation. But how could he believe it? Jesus wasn't even dead yet! The thief didn't even know Jesus was going to be raised - the apostles didn't understand it until after it happened, and Jesus had been telling them virtually every day for three and a half years. The thief was dealing with a different set of requirements. Those under the patriarchal law and the Law of Moses were cleansed by the blood of Jesus and sanctified through their animal sacrifices. It was impossible for the thief to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But we must believe it. The thief was not required to be baptized for the remission of sins, but we are commanded to do so today (Acts 2:38, 10:48).

We need to rightly divide the Bible. The church does not determine what the Bible teaches, the Bible determines what the church teaches. Study. Humble yourself. Change your mind if you are mistaken. Obey the gospel - and obey all of it - not just part.

"...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." - 2 Corinthians 10:5

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Preaching Mistakes

This past Sunday while trying to quote Mark 16:15-16, I accidentally called out, "Matthew 16:15-16." Then Sunday evening, while Mike Dyer was preaching, when meaning to refer to Jeremiah 29:11, he instead said "Jeremiah 22:11." This happens all of the time. If you speak very much you are going to make mistakes. The most eloquent, polished speakers are going to commit errors because every person is fallible. Preachers don't need to beat themselves up about it, and members don't need to be overly concerned about it. For those of you who don't preach but who worship regularly, us preachers are asking you to give us the benefit of the doubt.

When I became a preacher I knew I would make mistakes. I have made many in the past, I continue to make them in the present, and I suppose that even though I never want to make another one, I will still have trouble in the future. But all of this reminds me that a preaching mistake, when unintended, can be a blessing to everyone in attendance when our focus is as it should be. Here's why:

1. The listener has the opportunity to catch the mistake. I did not know I said, "Matthew" instead of "Mark," until someone told me. I was so thankful they told me. This let me know that someone was paying attention. It also let me know that they either knew the Scripture or looked it up. Their communication gave me the opportunity to correct my mistake. One of the reasons I am even writing about this and putting it on the front page of our bulletin is to own up to the misquotation. Every preacher who loves the Lord would never want to preach anything but what the Bible teaches. When it is brought to our attention that we have made a mistake, it is a blessing.

2. Not everything you hear in life is true. We have the responsibility to "test the spirits, to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). Paul said, "Test all things, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes. 5:21). The reason why many people leave the church is directly related to how they view preaching. If preaching is someone talking while you listen and nothing else then there is a major problem. There needs to be a meeting of every mind and heart at foot of the cross to hear the word of the Lord. Padded pews and comfortable temperatures are overrated. Paul said that in latter times people would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their ears. This is not gospel preaching. A Bible man tells the Bible plan. Everyone should be engaged in the discussion as if their souls are on the line because in reality this is the case. Preaching must be examined, evaluated, tested, and applied. It must be in keeping with the standards of the holy and inerrant word of God.

3. Mistakes in the pulpit remind us of God's perfection. Paul told the Corinthians, who often attacked his preaching, "I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:3-5). God deserves all of the glory in everything, especially preaching. It is His will, His word, and His wonderful grace. Paul reminded the brethren that he was not behind what was being preached, but every word came by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Today preachers only have the Bible, but the Bible is all we need and it is still the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Our faith cannot be in preachers. No preacher ever wants to be believed because he is the preacher. Genuine faith is hearing and believing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

4. Mistakes from the pulpit keep the preacher humble. Every Christian who commits much time to service in the church can be in danger of becoming arrogant. When we receive compliments we might start to believe them. My grandmother (a preacher's wife) always used to say it was her job to keep her husband's head the correct size. If he got complimented too much his head might not fit through the door, but if he was being ridiculed and criticized too much he may get discouraged and decide to leave the ministry. Compliments and criticism together will both be a blessing to a Christian with the right attitude. I have had different people walk out the door with a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the same sermon I had just preached. This humbled me. It also reminded me that God was the only one I was trying to please.

Preachers make mistakes. People make mistakes. How thankful we are for the Father who resides in heaven who is perfect and holy but who gives grace! How thankful we are for the Son who stands by His side and intercedes with His blood! How thankful we are for Comforter who rules in our hearts and gives us peace!

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." - Isaiah 55:7

"Ohhhhhhh Boy!"

Many years ago a gentleman was born in western Kentucky named Odell Lamb. They called him “Red Lamb” because of his wavy red locks and his ruddy complexion. Odell went from the Kentucky farm to the German battlefields. He served in World War II and was present at the Battle of the Bulge. He came back to the Unites States and settled down with his wife Edna.  They had two children together. He worked at the stove plant and also farmed in beautiful Calloway County.
By the time I came to the New Providence church, Odell had lived a long and healthy life. He was retired, but still farming. He had served as an elder in the church for many years, but had now left that work, too. I was only 25; he was about to turn 80. He had a kindness about him. His smile was warm and genuine. He never missed an opportunity to worship with the saints. He always – ALWAYS wore a suit.
Every once in a while there is a person in your life who brings nothing but positive things. In the four years I preached at New Providence, Odell Lamb was peace and joy. Always encouraging – always thankful – always one of my biggest fans. He was dependable, and as solid as a Christian man could be in every aspect of life. He was honorable, he was gentle, he was strong, and he was loving. If you wanted a walking definition of a mature Christian, you would look no further than Red Lamb. When he prayed, you could tell you were listening to a man who had prayed before. He talked with God as one who had carried on life’s conversations with his Creator for more than a generation.
In 2003, I left green fields of Kentucky winter wheat for the rolling hills and streams of southern Tennessee. But I still go back to Murray State Racer country now and then. When I go, I always stop by and look for Mr. Lamb. He resides at Emeritus, an assisted living facility for the elderly. Last October when I saw him he was in bed and could not leave it. I was sure that visit with my friend would be our last. But this past Wednesday, I stopped by again and he was still there; still in bed, and only two weeks short of his 95th birthday. When I walked in the door he immediately straightened up, smiled, and exclaimed, “Jeremiah! I never would have thought it!” We sat and talked for awhile about old times and caught up on the new. What a wonderful visit we shared with one another!
Before I left our discussion turned to more serious matters, and he said to me plainly, “I am ready to go to heaven.” “So ready….Ohhhhhhh boy!” As I relay his words it is impossible for me to express his tone of voice and the look behind his eyes. But he said these words with excitement, joy, and a deep longing for something he had been working toward for 95 years. He did not say this because he was unhappy. He was not complaining about his age or the weakness of his body. He was simply saying that he was so blessed to be a Christian and that his time on earth was over and he could hardly stand to wait any longer. He said these things with the understanding that the better country was on the horizon and he could almost touch it. I have seen many a weary Christian long for heaven on a bed of affliction. But I do not know if I have ever seen a deeper joy, a greater hope, or a truer, more genuine faith.
I left and thought, wow! I had just seen something really special. I now know what I want if I ever live to be old. I want that feeling. I want that confidence. I want that anticipation. I want that hope.
Heaven is really going to be glorious beyond imagination. I pray that one day I will be able to see it from the place where I lay my head and say, “Ohhhhhhh boy!”
“For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.”
- See more at: http://www.faughnfamily.com/ohhhhhh-boy/#sthash.HO5IUq25.dpuf

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ask People

About two years ago I met Charli Wilson at Hardees. As I remember it was at the drive-thru window. I don’t eat there often but sometimes I will grab breakfast. It is not far from the church building. Not long after that first hello I talked to her inside the restaurant during another morning breakfast. I invited her to worship. I believe we were having a special emphasis Sunday.

Soon after getting to know Charli  I met Levi Brewster. He works at McDonalds and yes, I admit it, I go there for breakfast even more than Hardees. As coincidence would have it, I discovered Levi and Charli were dating. At least once a week one of them was handing me food at the drive-thru. About a year and a half ago Levi and Charli attended worship at Willow avenue for the first time. It was a very busy Sunday and I barely got to speak to them before they left. Since they were both Tech students I was hoping to introduce them to some people their age. But I didn’t have the chance. Although expressing some interest after their first visit to Willow, they did not come back for about a year.

But as time went on I kept running into them all over town. Eventually through our talks and a little encouragement they decided to start attending Willow again. Since Hunter and Mindy Harp had started a special Sunday night study for the college age group, Levi and Charli had an opportunity to spend time with people their age and fellowship and study and build friendships. They have been studying for a few weeks now and have become regulars on Sunday night and Wednesday night. As of now their work schedule keeps them from worshiping on Sunday morning.

And then it happened. I got a phone call. What was supposed to be a premarital counseling appointment turned into something better.  Charli called me and asked if I would meet her at the building to baptize her.  Surrounded by her new college age friends and Levi she obeyed the gospel. Levi then requested to be baptized as well. They had both been thinking about this decision for quite some time, and were convinced from the teaching of the Bible to become Christians. What a wonderful day!

This all happened because they were asked. They were asked to come to worship. They were asked to study. They were asked to dinners after services.  They were asked to be a part of a group of friends who love the Lord and one another. Above all, this happened because they were asked by God to be a part of His eternal kingdom through the blood of Jesus Christ even before the foundation of the world.

Ask people. Stop hesitating. Enough with the good intentions. No more blaming your lack of evangelism on your fear of rejection. Nothing, absolutely nothing will happen if you do not ask.  Be His hands, His feet, and His mouth, and give glory to God in the church and it will grow. Have faith in God. He will give to those who ask.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Monday, August 11, 2014

Respect for the Bible

I am just going to say it. I cannot believe what I am witnessing in our 21st century world! We are living in an age in which God is more of a figment of our imagination than the enthroned Creator of the universe. There is a lack of understanding of who God is and what He has done. There is an even greater lack of respect for the authority of Scripture. Some may be offended by some things I am about to point out. But if these things offend you, please know that I love you. I merely ask you to examine the divine text and see if your beliefs measure up to God's perfect and holy word.

1. To preach various and sundry methods of salvation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. An honest examination of the conversions in the New Testament will lead a person to understand that God is not saving people by different methods. He is not requiring different people to do different things. And yet as I speak with people about their salvation they regularly tell me they went about this process in different ways. It seems for many of them, that as long as they were sincere about their decision that is does not matter what they actually did. This takes the mode of salvation out of God's hands and places it in ours. Last time I checked salvation was something God did. We should comply to what God requires in His word.

2. To call a church by any other name than a Biblical name is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. I can give you 50 different names for churches in our city. There are not 50 different names in the Bible. There are several different ways in which the church is named or described. But you will never see the church of the New Testament named after a man or a methodology. You will never see the name of the church of the Bible attribute glory or honor to anyone but deity. I cannot see how anyone who respects the words of Scripture could even begin to be a part of a church that doesn't even honor God with its very name.

3. To worship God by another method other than what is found in the New Testament and exemplified by the apostles and the church is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. People want to know why I don't worship God the way they do. This is not the correct question. The correct question is, am I worshiping God according to the commandments that He has left for His church? The responsibility lies with the one who is worshiping. Have they done all the Lord has commanded? Have they added anything? Have they left anything undone? God can and will reject our worship if it does not please Him. He has that right. Who is being worshiped here, anyway?

4. To believe that Scripture is open to individual interpretation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. If I had a nickel for every time a person has told me, "Well you know, the Bible can be interpreted in many ways" - I would be a millionaire! No, the Bible is meant to be interpreted God's way. We do not shape the word of God, it shapes us. We must adhere to the teachings of God's transforming, Holy Spirit delivered will. If the Bible is open to individual interpretation, then throw it away. It has no power over us if the power resides in us. The truth is that the Bible as it stands is the very thing that will measure our souls in judgment. It is the bread of God. It is the breath of God.

As a Christian, I still sin daily. I have plenty of issues and problems. I am realizing as I get older just how little  I actually know. But I am confident of this one thing - The Bible is the divine and perfect word of God. It saves us all the same. It teaches us all the same. It will judge us all the same. It has not changed in 2000 years and it never will. I may do many things wrong in my life, but I will not disrespect the authority of the Bible. When I see something, anything in the Bible that is lacking in me, it is time to make a change.

"Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven." - Psalm 119:89

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thanks for Asking!

Have you ever had this passing conversation: "Hello, how are you today?" "I am doing fine, how about you?' "Doing well, thanks for asking!" We appreciate certain questions, especially when they are sincere and concern our personal well-being.

But other questions come to us that hardly have us so excited; questions that challenge our character, our knowledge, or our activity. Farm Bureau Insurance Company has a television commercial that illustrates the frustration some parents experience when their children ask them difficult questions. They present the idea that their representative has all of the answers. It is a clever piece of propaganda. But we all know the truth. Some questions are just too tough for any of us to handle well.

As a preacher, I get asked a great deal of questions. People call me, facebook message me, email me, text me, catch me after class, after worship, at the store, in the parking lot, you name it - I may get a Bible question anytime from anyone in anyplace. All I can say is 1 Pet. 3:15 is intimidating!

But from the bottom of my heart I want people to know it is an absolute honor to be asked. I am not afraid of any question. I may not know the answer, and I am not afraid to tell people I do not know the answer. But I might know it. And when I don't know it, I will promise to study and get back to them and point them to the Scriptures. Being asked questions is a privilege and I look forward to every question I receive. Here's why:

1. I am going to learn something.
2. Someone actually thinks I have something valuable to offer.
3. It keeps me on task with my responsibility of study.
4. It gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned.
5. It may lead to the saving of a soul.
6. If my attitude is right and my study diligent, God will be glorified.

If anyone ever asks you a spiritually driven question, be thankful. When this occurs, you have one task - deliver only what the Bible truly teaches. Human opinions are plentiful, but the Word of God is true and living and powerful and it saves and it will abide forever. It contains the only answers that matter eternally.

And if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask (Matt. 5:6). Something wonderful is potentially going to happen because of the question. God is looking for people who are looking for Him. Thanks for asking!

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." ~ 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A People for the House of God

God's intention for the church was in existence before the world began. In His infinite wisdom He provided for its establishment with the sacrifice of the blood of His Son. As I age in His kingdom and experience kingdom life, I learn more and more about the superior foreknowledge and design God has for His family.

In my mind today is how God has set each of the members of His body into the church just as He pleased (1 Cor. 12:18). From the widow struggling to get to worship because of health concerns, to the lawyer or doctor in his suit and tie, to the family of lesser means who needs the church to provide groceries from time to time, God has made each of us essential to the kingdom. He knows we need Him. He knows we need each other. He knows we all have something to offer to the church and that the something we each have is very special.

To illustrate, I would like to share a few thoughts that have come to me through study and conversations with other Christians this week.

1. God is interested in workers for His house. Last night I was reading 1 Kings 5 to my children before bed as a part of Bible Bowl preparation. This chapter discusses Solomon seeking out King Hiram to help him with the construction of the temple. There were 30,000 laborers summoned for the house of the Lord. There were 70,000 who carried burdens. There were 80,000 who quarried stone. There were 3,300 who supervised. All essential jobs, all essential people. All different types of work. All contributing to a house that would glorify the Lord. God wants people. God wants different people. God understands and it is by design that we are all doing something meaningful to build His house.

2. God is interested in the lesser even more than the greater. Paul said to the Corinthians in his description of the church, "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor..." (1 Cor. 12:23). We overemphasize the preachers, the teachers, the elders, and the deacons. They get a great deal of praise and are the subject of many public prayers. Certainly we are thankful for their work and the prayers are much needed. But the backbone of the church is comprised of the people who do all of the things we call "little things" that in God's mind are not little at all. A friend of mine said to me this week that we are probably teaching the wrong idea to our young people sometimes. We have made them think that unless they go to Africa and do mission work they cannot be spiritual giants. The fact is that there is something to be said for a person who wants to get married, become a part of a local community with a regular job, and raise a Christian family. This type of dream made the America of the past a beacon and it is what has made the church the last great hope on earth.

3. The senders are as important as those who are sent. As a preacher, I want to personally thank every individual who contributes to the spread of the gospel. If you participate in the public offering each week for the work of the local church, you are contributing to the greatest work that is going on in the world. Paul reminded the church at Rome, "...And how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14b-15a). Not every person will publicly proclaim the gospel of Christ. But every person has ownership in gospel preaching who supports it by hearing, seeking, learning, doing, giving, and sending. Those who preach will be forever indebted to those who support preaching. Those who are saved by the message preached can give glory to God for every person who had a part in the name of Christ and the plan of salvation coming to their ears.

Church, let me tell you - you matter! Every single one of us matters. God sent His Son to die for us both collectively and individually. He created a house for His people and a people for His house. If you have become one of those people, praise His name. Do your part and be thankful. He is preparing an eternal city for you.

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where the Heart Is

 
David Livingstone was born in England in 1813. He spent most of his life exploring Africa and bringing his knowledge of Christ to the people of that country. In 1873, Livingstone died among the people he had grown to love. His body was shipped back to Great Britain for burial, but not his heart. The villagers dug a hole at the base of a mvula tree in Africa. They buried David Livingstone's heart in its rightful place. His heart, his life, and his every desire remained in the country and among the people to which he had given himself completely.

The Bible tells us a great deal about the desires of the heart. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7). "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:18-20a). "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

One cannot hide the treasures of the heart. Sooner or later, given time and opportunity, the truth about the desires of the heart will be known. We will go wherever our heart leads us. Thus we must shape our individual human heart to conform to the heart of God. God's heart is in our salvation and our sanctification. His desire is our spiritual transformation to His superior will in everything, which will demand all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

This leads to a revealing question, a question that demands honesty and humility and self-examination. If you were to die, where would your heart be buried? Would it be located at some place where you work, since you spent all of your waking hours and overtime in that place? Would it be buried at the bank? Would it be buried in the couch next to the remote control? Would it be buried at the field where all those sporting events took place? Would it be buried at the lake, at the store, or some vacation spot? Would it be buried in a place where your family could think of you and give thanks because you had lived an unselfish, honorable, and godly life?

At our very essence we are whatever our heart is. God knows us completely. He looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He searches the heart (Jer. 17:10). He weighs the heart (Prov. 21:2). He knows the desires of our heart.

"Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way." - Proverbs 23:19
"O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways." - Proverbs 23:26
"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Land of No "Goodbyes."

 
Being a member of the Lord's church is sometimes bitter sweet. There are no people on earth that compare to the people in God's spiritual family. The closest relationships we will ever know in this life will be found with the Lord's people. We share our deepest anxieties and feelings. We work alongside each other. We spend our social time together in friendships. We travel around the world together, staying in intimate settings, spreading the gospel of Christ. We laugh together. We cry together. We even disagree and have hurt feelings and fight and make up. We dream together. We do life together.

And then, in a moment, someone we've gotten so close to has to leave. They have to go somewhere else and do the Lord's work. The kingdom of God is bigger than any of us individually. When I decided to work full-time for the Lord I knew it would mean living in different cities and having no permanent, life-long hometown. But I am completely alright with that. The new Jerusalem is supposed to be my hometown anyway (Heb. 11:13-16; Phil. 3:20).

Christians who know agape love - "God love" - the altruistic (your needs are above my needs) love, experience a supreme fondness for others which brings a sense of loss upon separation, and at the same time they can cheer for those who leave them behind for the sake of the kingdom. That is what is so bitter sweet. You can learn to love someone completely, as family, and at the same time you can root for them when they leave home, though they are most likely never to return.

There is an inexpressible yearning of the heart that longs to be communicated with those we love who leave. No words can be spoken to explain the level of our thanksgiving to the people who have loved us and made our lives better by their presence and their sacrifice. There is rarely enough time to express it anyway, because we blink and they are gone. We have all had loved ones leave us. They have taken their last earthly breath and have stepped into eternity. How we long from time to time to tell them they are loved and they are missed! Oh, how we want them to know they remain so close to us inside our thoughts and within our hearts!

As James and Whitney Lane leave us here for the next chapter in their lives, I cannot help but admit that I am sad they are going. But it is a good kind of sad. It means they have done well here. It means they have loved and are loved. It means they have made a difference. It means they have done what God would have wanted them to do in His church. And what makes this acceptable is the place God is preparing for us that will be beyond our comprehension. It is God's prescribed location for the eternal family reunion, at the banquet table of our Lord, for all of the children of God. It is a land without sorrow, death, pain, or tears. It is a land of love and joy and peace. It is a land of "hello" and "welcome home forever." It is a land of no goodbyes.

"...in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." ~ Ephesians 2:22

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Winning by Losing

Phil Wilson was a man of integrity. He was most of all kind and generous. He was soft-spoken and respectable. In business he was not only visionary, but he worked hard, always multitasked, and he treated his employees with respect and consideration. In fact, he treated them in such a way as to always tip the scales in their favor. If there was ever a need he would go the extra mile. Phil Wilson graduated this past week from this earthly life into eternity. I will always have fond memories of his genuine compassion and sincerity as well as his kindness and friendship and support which he expressed to me directly.

Phil used to say that if he were to ever write a book about his life it would be entitled, “Winning by Losing.” When those close to him were trying to understand why he sacrificed so much and often took losses to bless others, they were prone to wondering why Phil would be willing to go to such lengths. But Phil Wilson had discovered the key to living a life free from guilt and regret. He made sure to not leave any room for doubt concerning his love for the Lord and for people. He was the perfect example of what it meant to be an honorable businessman.

It occurs to me that when our Savior walked the earth he perfected the art of winning by losing. From His humble birth to his persecution and death, and every minute in between, His life was a constant series of losses. His family mocked him and thought he was crazy when he began His ministry. He traveled long dusty roads and depended on others for his sustenance. He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) He chose the prime years of his life to teach 12 men how to win by losing. He was ridiculed, reviled, and rebutted every day. Eventually he was friendless, rejected by His people, and hanging on the cross as the scourge of all humanity.

When others would have taken vengeance, He forgave. When others would have accepted praise, He retreated to seclusion. When others would have used such power to become famous, he said, “Tell no one.” When others would have used such wisdom to promote their greatness, He simply responded with questions to cause people to grow. The little that He had in the physical realm He shared or gave away. He was even willing to remain on the cross when those who were killing Him challenged Him to prove Himself by coming down.

If we are truly disciples of Christ, our lives will be models of how we can win by losing. We will think of the needs of others above our own. We will love people according to their best interest. We will deny ourselves to supply others. We will take pleasure in our losses when it results in somebody else’s gain.

Phil’s son-in-law remarked about this book that never had been put to paper, that had it been written it would have been a best seller. He is probably correct. But in a sense it has been written. It was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But it was not about the life of Phil Wilson. It was about the physical life of the one and only Son of God. Jesus gave it all. All to Him I owe. He won by losing. So will I.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Must Do's for Dads

Happy Father's Day! If you are a father you are blessed. If you have or have had a godly father you are beyond blessed. Unfortunately, many children are growing up today without a positive spiritual influence from their father. Some do not have any kind of relationship with their physical father at all. Still some fathers, though present in their children's lives are too busy spending time in the world to spend time with their families. But I know some GREAT men who deeply love the Lord and who are strong spiritual leaders. These men all have several things in common - things they practice that qualify them as good fathers and teach others what being a man of God is all about.

So here are some "Must Do's" for dads:

1. Be your family's "worship leader." I always think it is interesting anymore to hear about churches hiring and paying "worship leaders." Really? I don't see that anywhere in the New Testament. What is needed is a father in every household who is a worship leader. Job was. Abraham was. Cornelius was. It worked out pretty well for their families spiritually speaking. A father who loves the Lord and the church above all else will likely produce children of the same persuasion.

2. Love the mother of your children. Without a word your wife and the mother of your children should be the same woman. This is God's plan. When we think about our children's future - what are we hoping for? If we are in our right minds we would think about heaven first, and this earthly life second. When we consider their future here, we should be praying that one day they will find a Christian spouse who will love them and be committed to them for life. Real men will express love to their wives in the daily activities that will be witnessed by the whole family. Children will find comfort and rest and joy and love in a home where men love their wives as Christ loved the church. A man who loves his wife will nourish and cherish her. This will equip her with the ability to do the same for the children.

3. Let your favorite hobby be your kids. I have counseled failing marriages for years now. A common problem in these struggles is a man who has checked out on his wife and kids. He always wants to golf, be at the lake, go hunting, or engage in some other "me time." I was entrapped by this once myself - and thankfully, only for a short time. Satan was lying to me. I was miserable. The outings did not provide the happiness and solitude they had promised. A man who wants all of his hobbies to be away from his wife and kids is a selfish individual. The greatest things he has going, and the most important people he will ever influence - live between the corners of his house.

4. Take pride in what you provide. My father taught me that there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to expressing the value of those who have been entrusted to your care. The size of your house, the newness of your car, and the amount of money you have in the bank are not what make you a successful man. But working and sweating and sacrificing for what you have is honorable at all times. When you give your all every day with your wife and children as the objects of your love and sacrifice, you can rest easy on your pillow at night. In time your family will understand what you have done for them. They will love you and respect you - not for the rest of your life - but for the rest of theirs.

If you will be a spiritual leader, love your wife, spend time with your children, and provide for your family, you will fulfill your God-ordained purpose and duty as a father. The satisfaction you will receive from doing these things will far outweigh the sacrifices. You will enjoy deserved rest. You will have peace of mind and peace with God. Your life and your heart and your home will be filled with all the fullness of God.

"The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him." ~ Proverbs 23:24