Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poem: Freedom to Soar

This poem is about a bird who struggles with doubt.  Do I dare to try to leave the nest?  Will my wings carry me?  Can the wind really be trusted?  For many of us, this was the crux of our struggle with whether or not to follow Jesus.  Does God exist?  Does He know my name?  Can the God of the Bible be trusted?  All of the arguments people have made against the validity of Christianity over the years live or die with the answer to this one question:  Is there a God?  People love to use the laws of nature to show that the Biblical account is inaccurate, despite the fact that the Bible clearly shows that God is able and willing to bend and even break those laws periodically on a whim.  In the end, it still boils down to one thing.  Do I believe, and can God be trusted?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to be Saved According to the Bible

There has certainly been controversy over the years concerning the nature of salvation. Some may assume that salvation is based on church membership or affiliation. Some believe that its entirely based on our ability to follow either the Mosaic law, the teachings of Jesus, or both. Some believe that you can simply pray a prayer to get in, while others believe that no one goes to heaven without baptism. Some are even so specific that it must be baptism by immersion or the salvation experience was not genuine. So many different beliefs, all from people who use the Bible to find and define truth. So what does the Bible actually say about all this? Is it really that confusing?
How to be Saved According to the Bible

Monday, October 10, 2011

Is Jesus Who He Claims To Be?

It's easy to think of Christianity as a deep, dark hole that requires you to jump in without being able to see the bottom. But, there is in fact evidence to support the Christian faith if we are willing to look at it with open eyes. This article describes some of that evidence and makes a case that Jesus is in fact the Son of God.

Is Jesus Who He Claims To Be?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Act More Like Dogs"

Prepare to be amazed at this heartwarming story about a cat who was so desperate to make a difference in people’s lives that he infiltrated the home of a football coach and gave that coach the words he needed to motivate his team.  Hold on to your Kleenex as this heartwarming story turns tragic as Coastal Carolina loses to the Georgia Bulldogs 59 to 0, thereby completely wasting the efforts of this poor cat.  It is a very sad story indeed.

Poem: Abandoned

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Reason Why

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?  You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.  (James 4:1-3)  NLT

Have you ever wondered why things happen the way they do?  Many people walk around frustrated about the fact that this world is so unfair.  This one seems to have everything going their way while this other one can’t seem to get a break.  For some people, it seems that everyone is out to get them (including the IRS).  It’s easy to blame people around us or find twenty reasons for our mess that have nothing to do with us.  Circumstances can be complex and there are often several contributing factors.  This one should and that one didn’t and I wish they would have….  But, how much time do we spend actually looking at ourselves? 

If you’ve been through a divorce or a breakup in the last few years, in what ways did you contribute to the demise of that relationship?  You might be drawing a blank.  Most of us could talk at length about the ways in which the other party helped steer us toward the cliff relationally.  In fact maybe in your mind that person is completely at fault.  This mindset is very easy to understand in cases of abuse, infidelity, neglect, etc.  They crossed the line, you didn’t; case closed.  And while that may make us feel better about ourselves right now, we actually hurt ourselves long term going down that path.  This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships.  This same principle applies to struggles wiith friendships, relationships at work, etc.

In this passage, James is asking us to take a good hard look at the underlying reason for our circumstances and how we’ve contributed to it (even in a small way).  In fact, he actually wants us to look deep within and understand what core issue within us causes us to act the way we act.  It doesn’t help us to live as if we bear no responsibility.  Whatever Fred’s failures were in his past relationship, he is doomed to repeat them in the next one if he doesn’t look honestly and see them for what they are.  Denial gets in the way of God’s agenda to make you the person he desires you to be.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.  (James 4:7-8)  NLT

James says we need to humble ourselves before God.  Another way of saying “lack of humility” is “pride”, and we know pride is a sin that keeps us stuck.  Pride needs repentance so we can “purify our hearts” before God.  God loves us and wants us to grow, but we can’t do that as long as we refuse to acknowledge our failures and our faults.  When we see them for what they are, then we can take them to God and He will bring healing for our hearts.  Long before Michael Jackson showed up, James asked us to start with the “man in the mirror.”  If you can’t see clearly, go to a few people you trust and ask for wise counsel.  Let them be your mirror.  If you seek healing and growth rather than guilt and self condemnation then you will be on the right path. And God will come close to you as you draw near to Him.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Walking In the Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:5-7)  NLT

We have so many examples of people who did their best to keep things in the dark.  President Clinton was able to hide his indiscretions for a while but eventually darkness was overtaken by the glaring light of impeachment.  College football coaches are losing jobs, players are losing trophies, and schools are losing post-season eligibility and scholarships due to previously hidden dishonest practices and NCAA violations.  Numerous congressmen have gotten in trouble for sexual misconduct including harassment, groping, and explicit interactions with pages and other staff members.  We may be tempted to try it as well.  Many of us probably are doing things today we they don’t want someone to know about.  And yet Jesus calls us out of that life for our own good.

It’s not that we’re expected to never sin again.  John makes it clear a couple verses later that this isn’t the case.  God knows we will sin occasionally.  But we are expected to live a life that involves confession and repentance.  Confession keeps our sin in the light where it can be dealt with properly.  Not confessing (ie. hiding it) is in fact living in darkness.  The darkness seems to provide enough cover for us to be able to not only protect ourselves from being caught but to actually protect our sin.  Think about why we hide our sin.  Isn’t it often so we can keep on doing it?  We’re attached to our sin and we don’t want to let go of it.  If it hits the light of day, changes will have to be made somewhere.  But God knows that sin is bad for us and he wants to eradicate it.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.  (1 John 1:8-10)  NLT

Ultimately, being in the light boils down to our relationship with God.  If we are actively following, worshiping, and praying, then we will naturally gravitate to the light as part of that relationship.  It’s being with God relationally that gives us the desire and ability to stay away from the dark places.  God’s love in us drowns out the darkness.  Even strife within the church is an indicator that something is wrong with that relationship.

If anyone claims, "I am living in the light," but hates a Christian brother or sister,* that person is still living in darkness.  (1 John 2:9)  NLT

So for those of us who are following, it’s time to do a self diagnostic check.  Are you experiencing much darkness in your life?  Hint: if you are actively hiding something, it’s probably sitting in some dark place awaiting your return.  All of these dark corners just need you to pull the little string attached to the overhead light.  Just turn on the light and leave it there.  Our goal here is not energy conservation.  It’s important to have accountability of some sort so someone can partner with you as you work to break the hold these things have on your life.  For you, who is it that you trust as an accountability partner?  Who will support you, encourage you, and whack you over the head sometimes if you need it to get back on track? 

The good news is that when light meets darkness, the light always wins.  Light is where the power is.  Light is to darkness as Raid is to roaches.  And when the darkness dies, it takes with it the fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame the darkness created.  What can you do today to make light in your life a reality?  What long term changes are needed to make this a long term reality?

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Comfortable Boat

At our church, we have community groups where around 8 people (or 6 couples) commit to meeting together on a regular basis (usually weekly) to study the Bible and build relationships.  Even the children’s ministry has adopted this model.  My son started kindergarten last year and was placed with a small group leader who will follow him as he moves from grade to grade until he enters middle school.  He’s really gotten attached to his small group leader, and he really takes it hard when she’s not there.  Today we went to church and we walked him to his room like we do every week.  When we got there, they said that his group leader wasn’t there and that he would be in a different group today.  He completely flipped out.  You’d think they were about to haul him off to prison. 

Do you do that sometimes?  How do you respond when it becomes clear that you are going to have to leave your place of comfort and meet new people, go to a new environment, etc.?  Do you throw a tantrum?  Do you ignore it for as long as you possibly can and hope it goes away?  I’m embarrassed to say that in my younger years I did that for a while about the dentist.  I hate cleanings.  I especially hate the thing where they polish your teeth afterwards with that spinning, vibrating thing.  My teeth are very sensitive and it drives me crazy.  So in my infinite wisdom I just stopped going when I graduated from college… for 4 years.  7 cavities and a root canal later, I understood the value of dental cleanings.

We just don’t want to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, and we often don’t want to take risks.  This is especially true when God is calling us out of our comfort zones.  And if you haven’t noticed, God has a tendency to do that.  The best way to test and strengthen our faith is to ask us to get out of the boat, step into the unknown, and trust Him. 

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.  About three o'clock in the morning* Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.  When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, "It's a ghost!"
But Jesus spoke to them at once. "Don't be afraid," he said. "Take courage. I am here!"
Then Peter called to him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water."
"Yes, come," Jesus said.
Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.  (Matthew 14:24-29)  NLT

Following Jesus can be uncomfortable, even a little scary at times.  It’s supposed to be.  That’s how we grow.  But we can trust Him to meet our needs and take care of us in the uncertainty.  Is Jesus calling you to do something you don’t really want to do?  The God of the universe wants you to trust Him… and He wants to have an opportunity to come through for you and show you how invested He is in your life and how much he wants what’s best for you.  He wants to show you how real He really is.  If you never step out of the boat, you’ll never know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Harvest

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.  People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.  (Proverbs 10:9-10)  NLT

As you look back on your life, isn’t it true that much of the pain you’ve experienced in your life has been self inflicted?  Obviously this doesn’t apply to things like your parents’ divorce, abuse you may have experienced as a child, etc.  But I’m sure most of us can look back on our lives and see how our own sin (lust, selfishness, pride, etc.) has caused pain and suffering not only for us but in many cases for those around us.  Even if we can’t see it in ourselves, we can certainly see it in the lives of people we know.  What we do matters.  In fact, who we are matters—our character, our integrity, our capacity for self control. 

Don't be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7)  NLT

In other words, you reap what you sow.  A pornography addiction can derail a marriage.  A sex addiction while you’re single can actually derail your future marriage (not intuitive, I know).  A gambling addiction can derail your finances.  A drug addiction can derail your entire life.  Worse than that, you don’t even have to sow for a long time to experience the consequences.  One night of indiscretion can get a 15 year old girl pregnant (or worse).  Fifteen drunk minutes behind the wheel can end somebody’s life.  Sometimes a single seed is all it takes.

The outcome of our lives depends not only on our general wisdom in the various areas of life (ex. should I buy a new or used car?) but it depends even more so on how closely we are following our Savior.  When we have a relationship with God, He leads us toward things like honesty, integrity, purity, holiness...  These things are the foundation for living a life that avoids pitfalls and avoids being on the receiving end of punishment and justice.  God honors and blesses us as we strive to be who He wants us to be.  When we choose the wrong paths, we are wise to expect correction in one form or another.

The Bible is full of passages that make it clear that what we do will catch up to us.  Here are a couple more:

Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15) NLT

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?  Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?  So it is with the man who sleeps with another man's wife.  He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:28-29) NLT

Are you doing something that, if you were caught, would likely create serious difficulty in your life?  What is it in your life you least want someone to know about?  Examine the risk associated with being found out.  If you assume that what scripture says is true (ie. you will be found out eventually), is it worth it? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Kind Of People

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.  If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, "You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor"—well, doesn't this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?  (James 2:2-4)  NLT

When I was just out of college, I went to a small town church in rural Mississippi.  It was a growing church that loved Jesus and was incredibly focused on outreach, moreso than any other church I had been to.  One Sunday night, I was sitting with the choir when I noticed a black family had chosen to attend.  They were sitting about halfway back on the right side.  They had the entire row to themselves, ignored even through the “fellowship hymn”.  At the end of the service the church joined hands across the aisle to sing a last chorus, and that’s when it dawned on me why no one sat in their row. 

What kind of person would you rather not sit next to “on the pew”?  Who is it that, having run into them on the street, you would have difficulty inviting them to church?  For some of us it’s porn stars or strippers.  For some it’s homosexuals.  Maybe for you it’s rich people.  Or poor people.  Maybe it’s based on the way she dresses, a tattoo on his arm, or how long his hair is.  For some it’s the fact that they’re Missionary Baptists instead of Southern Baptist.  Isn’t it easy to want to help God determine which people belong in “His house” and which seem to fit in better “out in the world”?

But we know Jesus didn’t do that.  He was constantly being berated by people around Him for socializing with tax collectors and sinners (ie. the proverbial bottom of the barrel).  Remember the story of Zacchaeus? 

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today."  Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.
But the people were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!"
Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost."  (Luke 19:5-10)

If we truly follow Jesus, we’ll realize that God has called us to reach those who desperately need His love—who desperately need salvation.  As it turns out, this would be everyone.  The business man, the stay at home mom, the ex-marine, the homosexual, the porn star.  Everyone.  God loves all of us, calls all of us, desires to have a relationship with… all of us. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Father Knows Best

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat.  But the Pharisees said to Jesus, "Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?"
Jesus said to them, "Haven't you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions."
Then Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath...”  (Mark 2:23-27)  NLT

Many people I’ve talked to about Christianity over the years believed Christianity is primarily about rules—“Do”s and “Don’t”s.  God is viewed as the heartless, controlling parent who is hiding something good behind his back and controls his children with fear and anxiety.  The world sees Christianity as a collection of prudish rules (about sex in particular).  This isn’t terribly surprising since Christians often make the mistake of representing Christianity that way themselves.  Just within the church, we can sometimes become legalistic and wrap our lives around the rules we find in the scripture.  After all, rules we can see and hold on to.  Rules give us a measuring stick, which means we can compare ourselves to those around us and feel better about how we’re doing.  But if we are wise, we’ll realize that the rules found in scripture don’t work in our favor at all.  We can’t be good enough to satisfy the standard (which, it turns out, is perfection).

Jesus certainly didn’t come to create rules.  He came to create relationship.  He died to clear a path between us and God, to pave the way for us to receive the most incredible gift we could have been given:  to be adopted into the family as heirs to the kingdom.  He died to put our focus on Him rather than on a set of rules or those around us.  And he wants us to know Him.  In fact, our salvation hinges not on how well we follow the rules but rather on the presence of an actual relationship--whether or not we know Him and He in turn knows us.

"Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord! Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, 'Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'  But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws.'  (Matthew 7:21-23)  NLT

As part of that relationship, God wants us to follow His will for our lives and to trust Him with everything that we are.  Is that to control us or put us under his thumb?  Of course not.  Do factories ask people to wear hard hats to control them?  The correct answer would be no.  We know we are no longer slaves to the law (just ask Paul) and we know that God chose to do that for us.  God wants us to be free--free from the law's condemning nature, free from sin, free from regret, etc.  At the end of the day, God wants what's best for us.  The rules he put in place (the law) are now a guide, meant to protect us from our own stupidity, our own nature, and the fallen nature of this world we live in.  

So now let’s consider the Sabbath.  Jesus said that we weren’t made to benefit the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made to benefit us.  The Sabbath is not simply another part of the measuring stick.  Instead, it’s for our benefit because God made us and he knows what we need (in this case, rest).  God knows that our spouses need us to rest, our children need us to rest… We need us to rest too.  The Sabbath honors God whom we love and it also puts work in its proper perspective, helping us to create the right balance for our lives.  Work is something we do, not who we are.  I do not belong to my employer; I belong to God.  I do not trust my employer to meet my needs.  I trust God to do that. 

So how will you honor God this week on your day of rest?  Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Choosing a Path

In life, how do we get where we ultimately want to go?  10-20 years ago, where did you see yourself ending up at this point in your life?  Are you close financially?  Are you close with your relationships?  Is there something you can do to have influence over where you end up 10-20 years from now?  In this message, Andy Stanley unpacks a principle that may change your life if you choose to heed its advice.  It may explain why you are where you are and may guide you as you try to reach your goals for the future.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Princes From Paupers

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  (Ephesians 1:4-5)  NLT

The path I went down in order to bring home my six year old was a difficult one.  Ten years of trying to have a child the old fashioned way (amidst my then wife’s infertility treatments, injections, and charting temperatures) ultimately bore no fruit.  IVF was an option but the idea of freezing “embryos” was not something I personally could sign up for.  So finally we looked at adoption.  We looked at different options, but were surprised and excited to learn from a friend that there was a woman in my old home town of Hattiesburg, MS who was pregnant and looking for options to give up her baby.  We contacted her and eventually drove to Hattiesburg to meet her.  It turned out that she was actually related to me since she had been adopted by a relative on my father’s side!  You can imagine our excitement.  She agreed that we should adopt her baby, and we impatiently waited for the day when this little one would arrive.

Finally the day came and we were there in the hospital for two days, allowed to spend time with this little baby we were so excited to take home.  On the third day, we woke up at my grandmother’s house and drove to the hospital to take the baby home.  On the way, our attorney called and told us that the birth mother had changed her mind and was keeping her baby girl after all.  We had no choice but to drive home empty handed to our house in Atlanta and start over.  Four months later we found out through the same friend that the baby had died due to negligent behavior of the mother.  And once again, God made absolutely no sense.  After ten years of infertility, how could this possibly make sense in His grand design?

Many long talks with God later, we adopted Caleb (which is an adventure story all its own).  We ultimately drove to Savannah, GA and met a 4 lb. 7 oz. premie who was 6 days old.  He and I have had many little conversations talking about his adoption, what it means, etc.  It was important to me that he would never have the earth shattering “I’m adopted???” moment when he gets older.  He has just always known he was adopted.  We read him children’s books about being adopted even before he could talk.  I love that he will grow up knowing that we pursued him—that we went looking for him and didn’t stop until we found him. 

The verse above from Ephesians chapter 1 is very important to me.  It’s a reminder to me about how deep God’s love goes.  He doesn’t love us because we love Him back.  He in fact loves us whether we return that love or not.  And he doesn’t love us based on our performance, inherent goodness, or perceived return on investment.  Somehow he sees past our performance, our lack of goodness, and utter lack of return on investment and he chooses to love us anyway.  He chooses to love us and to pursue us—to reach out to us with an offer as great as any man or woman has ever heard.  The offer:  to be made princes from paupers—to be given freely the right to  be called children of the Most High God.  It is an opportunity to be adopted by the King of the Universe with all the love and acceptance that comes with that.  My pursuit and adoption of this little boy is a reminder to me of what Jesus went through in order to bring me (and you) home.  It is an adoption certificate signed in blood and a gift none of us could ever hope to earn or repay.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Choosing to Follow

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake.  Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man* has no place even to lay his head.”

Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”  But Jesus told him, ”Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.”.  (Matthew 8:18-22)  NLT

There are many who are still trying to figure out the whole Jesus thing.  Maybe you’re in that camp, trying to make sense of the claim that a man went walking around after he died and later just floated on up to heaven.  We want to figure it out intellectually before we can follow and be engaged at the heart level.   Others of us aren’t ready to follow Jesus because there’s still too much fun to be had.  “I don’t have time to follow Jesus.  Spring break is coming up.”  We build timelines in our head about when an appropriate time would be to follow Jesus.  Maybe you want to follow Jesus after you’ve reached a certain age or stage of life.  All the while, Jesus continues to knock and wait… knock and wait…

In this passage from Matthew, we get two insights from Jesus about choosing to be a follower of Christ.  The first one I would paraphrase as “don’t choose lightly.”  We forget sometimes that followers of Jesus are not promised an easy road here in this life.  In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.  Jesus told us pretty clearly that we would be despised by the world.  Because they persecuted him, they will persecute us as well.  We will suffer sometimes because God disciplines those he loves when they do things they shouldn’t.  We suffer other times because God wants to show up and shine through us during our suffering and to produce a dependency on Him (1 Corinthians 11:24-32).  We should not look to follow Jesus with the expectation that our lives will be easier here in this life.  Our reward is not here in this life but in what’s after all this.  We need to understand what we’re signing up for so that our faith will not be shaken later on. 

The second insight is “don’t delay.”  When Jesus said “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead”, this was not a reply born out of sensitivity training.  Jesus looked at these men and communicated great urgency.  Don’t wait until after you’ve gotten your personal affairs together.  Even a funeral should not be important enough to prevent you from following Jesus right now.  When we look at that, we might think He is being incredibly insensitive until we stop and consider that this was God talking.  Jesus saw things from an eternal perspective that we often fail to see.  Our eternal future literally hangs in the balance of our decision to follow.  We know instinctively (though we don’t like to think about it) that we aren’t guaranteed to be alive in a week.  Every time we get behind the wheel of the car, we are at some level at the mercy of the people who are driving around us.  Jesus’ sense of urgency should be ours as well. 

If we truly realize what our predicament would be without the cross, we will recognize that we are fully indebted to Him and could never repay that debt in a thousand lifetimes.  If we truly understand how narrowly we escaped disaster, we will make it our mission to do our best to lead those around us to Jesus.  The persecution we receive for being a Jesus follower is nothing compared to the love and compassion He has shown us.  In light of His love and mercy and in light of the potential consequence of delay, we should run (not walk) into the open arms of our savior.  With every day that we wait, it's like the door to heaven closes a little further.  Every day that we wait, the odds of our choosing to follow becomes more and more slim.  Do you hear Him knocking?  Why not answer the door?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Brother's Keeper

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. … Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.  (Romans 14:1,4)  NLT

Christians seem to be known for our ability to judge those around us.  We have it all figured out and if those around us would just listen to us then everything would be fine.  We do our best to fix pretty much everyone, regardless of whether they're inside or outside the church.  Still, isn’t that what we were called to do?  Weren’t we called to straighten out our Christian brothers and sisters when they go down the wrong path?

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers.  You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler.  Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.  God will judge those on the outside; but as the scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) NLT

Doesn’t Paul say in this passage that Christians are supposed to judge other Christians?  He seems to say it fairly clearly.   But Romans chapter 14 seems to say exactly the opposite. 

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. … If we live, it's to honor the Lord. And if we die, it's to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  (Romans 14:5-6, 8-10)  NLT

Paul looks at those of us who are bent out of shape over whether we should worship on Saturday or Sunday and says, worship on the day to which God has lead you!  We get stressed out about following the letter of the law, when instead we should be following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  The direction of the Holy Spirit is our law.  In the passage from 1 Corinthians however, Paul is speaking about morality:  sexual sin, greed, swindlers, idol worshipers.  We are definitely responsible for not associating with Christians who are living an immoral life characterized by sin and selfishness.  But this is not the same thing as “What are we allowed to eat or drink?” or “On what day are we supposed to worship?”  So then why do we look to the left and to the right, searching for those who aren’t following Jesus the way we think they should?  Is that our job?

Those of us who are Christians do not all have identical backgrounds and life experiences.  We do not all grow at the same rate.  Where we are on our faith journey is ultimately between us and God.  Instead of looking around at everyone else and trying to get them to conform to our standard, maybe we should focus on our own spiritual growth and let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit for those around us.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need us to fill in for him.   And I’m just guessing that he’s smarter than us as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finding Down Time

“Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions?  They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day.” So the people did not gather any food on the seventh day.”  (Exodus 16:27-30)  NLT

How many hours a week do you work?  According to BillShrink, the average here in the United States is 35 hours a week. 

I’m guessing this is significantly skewed by part time workers.  Most people I know say that they work a lot more hours than 35.  Between 1999 and 2004, I worked for a software company in Roswell, GA.  Most people in my department worked between 50 and 75 hours per week, especially between 2000 and 2001.  The head of the department would actually walk around at 7:00 pm and look to see who was committed to making the dates.  I probably averaged between 50 and 60 hours per week myself for much of that time.  I was in my twenties and desperately wanted to make a good impression.  But I was burning myself out in a bad way.  I was working all through the weekend.  I even took my laptop on vacation with me that year.  One day in 2002, I actually went into the bathroom stall, leaned the top of my head against the wall, and fell asleep right there on the toilet.

But God doesn’t want us to live this way.  He wants us to work incredibly hard while we’re at work and play/rest incredibly hard when we’re not.  We have responsibilities at work, and we also have responsibilities at home.  That’s a lot of work when you add it all up!  We weren’t made to work constantly without down time.  When we read Genesis chapter 1, we see that God rested on the 7th day after spending 6 days creating the world around us.  He rested not because he needed it but as an example to us.  Eventually, God gave us the "Sabbath” (Saturday) and made it a day of rest for us.  Several passages in Exodus give us information about the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9-11, Exodus 16:27-30 shown above).   Our rest is clearly very important to God.  The day of rest has become a day of worship as well.  The early church eventually moved the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday because that was the day of the resurrection.  And, here we are. 

So the question is, what would a day of rest look like?  My wife and I have implemented a day of rest that looks like this:  On Saturday, we clean the house and prepare dinner ahead of time for Sunday.  I take out the trash the night before.  On Sunday, we use paper plates and plastic cups only.  Sunday is relaxing and fun.  We go to church and the rest of the day is spent playing with the 6 year old, swimming, resting, reading a book, etc.  Lunch is something quick (ex. soup and sandwiches, eating out, etc.).  It’s amazing what a difference it makes walking back into the office on Monday after having actually rested the day before.  I have more mental energy, better focus, etc.  I think that’s the point.  God knows what he’s doing, and he knows what we need.  When he tells us that we need rest and how often, maybe we should trust him and follow his leadership.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Pure Heart

Can you be trusted?  I’m sure most of us would say yes.  Selfishness isn’t something that’s easy to see in ourselves, but consider it for a minute.  Do your friends trust you?  For those of you who have borrowed money from friends or relatives in your lifetime, how many times have failed to pay the money back?  How much do you owe?  What about playing games to get ahead at other people’s expense?  Have you ever accidentally damaged someone else’s property and failed to compensate them for the loss?  When you promise to do something, do you follow through?  How often have you lied or withhold information knowing that you would benefit if the other person never found out?   It's not something we like to think about but it's important to see ourselves clearly. 

Think about David and Bathsheba.  David decides Bathsheba is hot and that he's "gotta gotta gotta" have her.  But...  she's married.  So, he decides to send her husband to the front line of David's little seige that's in progress in a city named Rabbah.  And, of course, the husband died there.  Score!  So he let her mourn for a bit and then made his move, undoubtedly impressed with his own brilliance.

“When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the LORD was displeased with what David had done.”  (2 Samuel 11:27)  NLT

God was not as impressed.  While David had seemingly gotten away with it, we see in chapter 12 that he actually hadn't gotten away with anything.

"This is what the LORD says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view.  You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel."    (2 Samuel 12:11-12)  NLT

This is a tough subject, because at the end of the day we were all born selfish.  We all instinctively and naturally value our own desires above the desires of those around us (even those we love).  While over time God can and will work on our selfishness, none of us are natural-born givers.  We’re takers, with needs and wants and desires.  Haven’t you met seemingly generous people who deep down give out of an ulterior motive?  Maybe they give to get leverage, or they give to get recognition.  Why do we do what we do?  Is it for the benefit of those around us, or for our own benefit?

This is one of many topics where I can honestly say I don’t have it all figured out.  When I write on topics, I often write from the perspective of one who tries to do the right thing and occasionally completely messes it up.  I’ve messed up friendships by speaking out of selfishness not realizing that my words would soon come back to haunt me.  There are ways in which I need to act on this as well. 

Many of you would agree though that selfish behavior can damage or destroy relationships or reputations because you've been the victim (in some cases self inflicted) of this principle.  Some of us are going down a path right now that will damage or destroy relationships that are important to us.  Those around us we care about deserve our integrity and our honesty.  But instead, we claw and fight to get in good with a rich parent so we can be first in line for the inheritance.  We stretch the truth to make coworkers look bad in front of the boss so we will look like the only ones who know what we’re doing.  We know that God disciplines us to bring us back in line, and that when we are faithful the blessings of God far exceed what we could gain by our dishonesty.  And yet we do it anyway, don't we?  For those of us who are Christians, surely we recognize that this will profoundly impact our witness and hamstring our ability to have an impact on people's lives.

Selfishness.  Greed.  Spitefulness.  These are ugly things to see in ourselves.  Is this something you would honestly admit to yourself that you struggle with?  What if you started to put others feelings, needs and desires ahead of your own?  Think about the impact this could have on a marriage, relationships with friends and family, people at work, or even people you don't even know!  And, what if God saw your generosity and your humbleness and blessed you in a way that only God can?  Andy Stanley once said that every night his children pray a specific prayer at bedtime:  "Lord, give me the wisdom to know what's right and the courage to do what's right even when it's hard."  Maybe a good place to start is to apologize...  To repay what we owe...  To stop stomping on other people's fingers as we climb the ladder of success...  Maybe we need to repent and ask God to help us have a pure heart (just like His).

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)  NIV

Monday, February 7, 2011

Andy Stanley: Why Worry?

Are you a worrier?  What kinds of things do you worry about?  Most of us who worry would probably agree that we’ve never actually accomplished anything by worrying.  I’ve never met someone who said they worried themselves into a job or worried themselves into a raise.  Does worrying make healthier kids or stronger relationships?  We can spend hours, weeks, and months doing that and have nothing to show for it.  In fact for some of us, it actually made things worse.  My 6 year old son is learning how to catch a baseball, and his biggest problem is that he closes his eyes and turns away when I throw the ball.  I try to explain to him that if he would keep his eyes on the ball and just try to catch it he would do fine, but he instinctively turns away.  His fear of getting hit is stronger than his desire to catch the ball.  I think worrying is a lot like that.  For some of us its distracting, for others its debilitating.  Worry definitely has the ability to keep us from doing what we need to do.

In this video, Andy Stanley shares with us what Jesus said about worrying and how we can guard against it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Having No Fear

Recently, Warren Larson wrote about St. Francis of Assisi’s trip to go see “the most powerful Muslim in the world.”  An excerpt is shown below.  This is a great story of fearless faith.  This man knew what the end result could be of walking into this Egyptian sultan’s palace and telling him about Jesus.  He did it anyway.  He did not fear death, and God was with him.  What do we have to fear?  We shouldn’t be harassing and antagonizing people.  We should always treat people with respect, and they have the right to make up their own minds.  But do we hide who we are (or whose we are)?  Or are we willing to share the love of a God who completely changed our lives?  What are we afraid of?

The date was 1219. The purposeless Fifth Crusade dragged on and on.  St. Francis of Assisi and a few chosen friends prayed about what most Christians in that day thought was a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. Attempting to win no less than the Kamil Sultan of Egypt was incredible to say the least. Such faith, holy audacity, and spiritual concern for Muslims provide a shining example in our day, when many Christians are tempted to hate and fear them.

 Francis took a dozen brothers through Syria and then on to Egypt. He had first appealed to Pope Gregory IX, but was denied permission, so he appealed to Cardinal Pelagius for permission to travel to the sultan. So radical was the sultan that he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. The cardinal described the sultan as “treacherous, brainless, and false hearted,” but after some delay granted permission because of Francis’s unusual zeal. Where other Christians saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior, and compassion welled up inside of him.

For the last lap of the journey Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato left the Crusader’s camp without looking back. As the friars walked straight into the battlefield, they were caught, beaten, and brought to the sultan, who was pleased because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” Francis said. “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” With this introduction, he proclaimed the triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. When the sultan was advised to behead them, he said no, and invited them to stay on as guests. Francis said, “If you are willing to become converts of Christ, you and your people, I shall only be too glad to stay with you.”

Such a response to Arab hospitality was unheard of. Francis then offered to walk through fire if it would help convince the Muslim leader. If he came out unharmed the sultan should be prepared to embrace Christ. The sultan demurred, but was impressed, and offered presents, which Francis declined to accept. Kamil became even more amazed and permitted him to preach the gospel in his house and compound. Upon his departure the sultan asked the friar to pray that God would show him the right way.

Lord, grant me the courage to not hide who you’ve made me to be.  Please help me say what you want me to say when you want me to say it.  May I be a sign always pointing in your direction..

Grace and Mercy à This way.

Complete post about St. Francis:

You Write the Blog

What if you could take over the blog for a day?  What would you write about?  Is there a topic related to Christianity that you’ve been dying to discuss with someone?  Is there a question you’ve  been wanting to ask people to get other opinions?  This post is an open discussion for any of you who just want to get something off your chest (remember "You Make the Call" from back in the 80s?).  So what’s on your mind?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thumbprints of God

Lots of college students refuse to declare a major during their freshman or even sophomore years.  They’re in school studying, taking all of the general coursework common to most majors.  And yet they really aren’t sure why yet.  If you asked them what their goals are, they might say “to graduate.” Most of them will find their purpose eventually.  It just hasn’t happened yet.  Many of us are in that same boat with respect to life in general.  Are you asking yourself why you’re here?  “What is my purpose?”  In his popular book “The Purpose Driven Life”, Rick Warren points out that the Bible says our purpose, identity, and significance are found in God.  
You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God—and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.  Many people try to use God for their own self-actualization. They want God to be a personal “genie” who serves their self-centered desires. But that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, not vice versa, and life is about letting God use
you for his purposes, not your using him for your own purposes.  (The Purpose Driven Life, chapter 1)

Isn’t it reasonable to think that God would have a plan specifically for your life?  He is our creator, after all. He certainly had a plan for John the Baptist.  

Before John was born, he was already set apart from God’s perspective.  Isaiah even wrote about him hundreds of years before he was born (Isaiah 40:3), which was later referenced by all four Gospel writers (ex. Matthew 3:1-3 below).  

“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 'Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.*" The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, "He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,'Prepare the way for the LORD's coming!  Clear the road for him!"'” (Matthew 3:1-3) NLT

John had a purpose given by God--to go ahead of Jesus and announce the coming of the Messiah.  Luke wrote that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born!  He was created for this mission.

“God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.  John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.  The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world...  John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, ‘This is the one I was talking about when I said, 'Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’" (John 1:6-9, 15) NLT

Even for us, God has a plan.  He knew us before we were born as well, and he calls us to follow Him and be his hands and feet.  We have a mission too, chosen for us by God.  We have a specific purpose that we were designed to fufill.  Our talents, our abilities, our personalities, were carefully crafted to live out that purpose.  All we need to do is discover it--to uncover the mystery of that purpose.  Jeff Henderson recently said that everything about us (our personalities, talents, abilities, interests, strengths, weaknesses) are the thumbprints of God--clues about what we were made to be and to do in this life. As you look at the thumbprints of God on your life, what clues do you see?  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Two months ago today was the Son Followers Blog kickoff.  Thirty seven posts later, Diego is still following the sun around in our living room.  Today I was driving to work and noticed it was overcast, which reminded me of something my wife had said not long ago after reading the "Introduction" post from December 1st.  The question was what do you think he'll do on a day where he can't see the sun?  So, I called home to check on the dog, and sure enough he had spent the morning just laying on the couch moping around.  He hadn't bothered to go looking for the sun or lay down by the window waiting for it to reappear.  Out of sight... out of mind.

Isn't that exactly what we do?  When God gets our attention we're interested in him, and when he disappears from view we find other things to hold our attention.  God sent Moses to Pharoah and ten plagues later out walk the people of Israel, freed from the tyranny of Pharoah.  They had just experienced the passover, where God had spared their children and took those of the Egyptians.  Finally they're leaving Egypt, and suddenly they see Pharoah's army chasing them.  Do they seek God?   Nope.

“Then they turned against Moses and complained, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?  Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt?  Why did you make us leave?’”  (Exodus 14:11) NLT

So God parted the Red Sea for them.  They were saved, as He promised.  So off they went through the desert, and immediately they began to complain.  “What are we going to drink?”  “At least in Egypt we had plenty to eat.”  Cue manna from heaven and water from a rock.  God provided for them miraculously and over and over they complained about the next problem, the next trial, the next concern. 

God called Moses up onto Mount Sinai to give him the law and the Ten Commandments.  But when it started to take a little longer than they were expecting, they grew impatient.

“When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron.  ‘Look,’ they said, ‘make us some gods who can lead us.  This man Moses who brought us here from Egypt has disappeared.  We don’t know what has happened to him.’”  (Exodus 32:1) NLT

Out of sight… out of mind.  Just like us.  For those of you who are Christians, think about your spiritual history.  Hasn’t God sustained you?  Hasn’t he been faithful to you?  Do you still find yourself forgetting about the times in your life where you could see His hand so clearly and ignoring Him to run off to take care of things yourself?  God is God all the time, even when the storm clouds hide his face--even when the thunder overpowers his voice.  It’s then that we must look for him and seek him earnestly. It’s then that we discover just how deep our trust goes.  When God hides behind the clouds, do we seek Him anyway?  Do we still look to the heavens in hopes that His light will return and cast out the darkness?  Or do we go find our $2 flashlight and traipse around in the darkness on our own? 

When the sun is out and the light is shining, let’s be followers of that light.  When the sun goes behind the clouds, let us remember that, though hidden for a time, the sun is still there and earnestly seek to catch another glimpse.