Thursday, December 3, 2009

Honoring Marriage Once Again

"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." (Hebrews 13:4)

Recent statistics have revealed, once again, that the divorce rate of the church is dangerously similar to that of the unbelieving world. After being confronted with this fact and questioned as to the reason this is so, Dr. Richard Land replied, "It's because, for too long, the church has been quoting the bible by the mile and living it by the inch!" Agreed.

Why is this so? Why is the church no different in the success rate of it's marriages? Want the painful (but true) answer? Here it is: the church has forgotten how to honor marriage.

The Greek word for honor here is timios--which means "most precious."

The most precious relationship a man and woman could ever have between one another is the one-flesh union of marriage. And, it is worth fighting for. Even when things get difficult. Even if it turns out to be a little different than what you initially imagined it to be. Even if. Even if. Fill in the blank.

On several occasions growing up, I have heard the expression "nothing worthwhile comes easily." The older I get and the more I learn about myself, I find this statement to be incredibly, increasingly true!

Marriage is not simply an event. Marriage is not a one-lane street of self-indulgence and satisfaction. Marriage is a commitment of honor! It is most precious! It is the uniting of two individuals, which were completely independent before, into a one-flesh, precious union. A union of sacrifice. A union of selflessness. A union of forgiveness. A union of making mistakes and learning from them.

Billy Graham, when asked the secret to his marriage, once said, "The secret to marriage is for two people to be very good forgivers!" Marriage is worth the forgiveness it takes to make it work. Don't give up on marriage! Don't give up on the most precious relationship you could ever have with another human being!

Let's make marriage precious "by the mile" once again! For the witness of the church! To exalt Christ! To the Glory of God!

God Bless!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Financial Tips for Black Friday

According to Business News, American consumers spent an estimated $41 billion on Black Friday in 2008. The average consumer spent $372.57 on retail purchases, a 7.2 percent increase from the year before. What does this piece of information tell us regarding our spending on Black Friday? Simply this: American consumers are becoming more confident shoppers on this day than any other shopping day during the Christmas season, if recent spending trends hold up. And given this confidence, it should be noted that there are dangers associated with spending on mega-retail days such as this. Here are a few, simple spending guidelines that I believe we would be wise to follow:

1) Know before you go.
  • Even though Black Friday is considered the day of great deals, it is still necessary to understand the dangers of shopping aimlessly. The aimless shopper is much more vulnerable to the random purchase. These purchases tend to be less expensive per item, yet they end up costing more due to volume. There is not a more deceptive way to spend monies than to aimlessly purchase on Black Friday. The aimless shopper looks at their receipt after the shopping day is over and wonders how in the world they spent so much on all of those unplanned purchases.
2) Buy to keep.
  • Black Friday presents a lot of "bargain" prices. And when shoppers see bargains, they are less likely to think through the implications of "bargain-based" buying. Bargain-based buying is the buying based on the "deal" and not the need/plan. The dangerous excuse for bargain-based buying is that if you change your mind or if it doesn't really fit, you can take the item back for an exchange/refund. Sometimes this type of buying is actually used as an excuse for shoppers to have a Black Friday carryover shopping day. But returning the bargains for exchange/refund can be costly. The gas to get there. The food court or the restaurant. The additional unintended purchases. The prices go up after Black Friday; therefore, many times the bargain-based purchase loses spending power when refunded. It is better (and typically less expensive) to buy what you intend to keep.
3) Don't be compulsive.
  • The danger of not knowing what you intend to buy before you shop is compulsive spending. The retailers are at the consumer's mercy, but they don't want us to know that. From displays to retail shopping music, all is set up to provide a relaxed shopping experience. Avoid the tendencies to wonder away from the game plan. Make a list and stick to it. Some say it isn't as fun. I beg to differ. It is much more fun to stick to items planned for, shop for the best prices on those items, and make it home with some semblance of a budget intact than to carelessly/needlessly spend the Christmas Holiday in financial hardship.

I believe that these tips are helpful for any shopping day; however, extra caution must be used on the day that every consumer seems to be a little bit more willing to open up their pocket books--a 7.2 percent more. Be wise. Have fun. Be careful. God bless.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Heartache of Forgiveness

"Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them." (Genesis 42:6-7a)

The memories had always been with him. Though it had been over thirteen years since he was handed over by his brothers, his heart still ached with bitterness. Things were better now. He had been sold into slavery. Made a servant in a high ranking official's household. Placed in charge of all of his master's house. Accused of immoral crimes he didn't commit. Locked in jail. Given discernment to interpret dreams. Released from prison. And now, Joseph was second in command over all of Egypt. His success was astounding.

Yet, his heart was still aching with bitterness. The success could not soothe the sting.

Selling grain during a severe drought came easy for Joseph. He had been granted, by God, the wisdom to portion out and sell the stored grain when the famine came. He knew the people would continue to come to buy grain. Yet, he was ill prepared for the heartache that this day would bring. As he looked into the distance, he saw strangely familiar faces coming to buy grain. His heart, as if it already knew, had begun to ache again--even before he allowed himself to recognize the faces before him. It was his brothers coming to him for help.

Joseph's story of forgiveness is a great inspiration for all of us. What is often overlooked in the midst of the celebration of reconciliation, however, is the heartache that preludes it. Joseph doesn't react in the most Christ-like manner when he speaks to his brothers. In fact, Joseph was far from being Christ-like. He was downright mean. He allowed the ache of his heart to give him a sense of hateful entitlement. His first responses were: 1) he accuses them, three times, of spying on Egypt, 2) he places them in custody for three days, and 3) he accuses them of stealing a silver cup that he planted in their midst before they departed for home.

Yet, even in the midst of the heartache, Joseph continued to struggle for a forgiving heart. Even when the pain of his heart stung the sharpest, he desired forgiveness.

Joseph's forgiveness struggle should be a great encouragement to all of us. True forgiveness doesn't mean that we no longer feel the pain. It doesn't require us to have a PhD on the subject. The lesson of forgiveness, in the closing chapters of Genesis, teaches us a very important lesson that we need to know about ourselves and the heartache of forgiveness: We don't have to be perfect forgivers in order to forgive perfectly!

So, if you have been struggling to forgive a former/current spouse, an estranged brother/sister, a fallen minister, and/or an apathetic father/mother, take courage! Forgiveness is often accompanied by the heartache of reconciling a painful, past experience with a person who, even in their absence, still causes our hearts to sting. Yet, we can remember Joseph. We can remember how he fought through the heartache. We can remember how, though he wasn't a perfect forgiver, he forgave perfectly.

May God bless you! And, may he give us the strength to forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave us! (Ephesians 4:32)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Aim of the Believer

"Let us fix our eyes of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...consider that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:2, 3)

Alright, I must confess. I grew up a HUGE fan of Michael Jordan. Huge! (Like Mike. If I could be like Mike. I want, I want, I want to be like Mike!) Remember the song? I remember just how amazed I was over Michael Jordan's incredible dominance on the court. I remember watching as John Paxson would nail a clutch three. I remember Dennis Rodman's crazy hair color changes, along with his dominant rebounding. I remember Scottie Pippen's dependability, even though his talents were underutilized at times. Most of all, though, I remember MJ! I remember gatorade ads. Nike ads. Wheatie ads.

Now, I knew that I was just a small-town, athletically challenged white boy, but that didn't stop me from pretending that I was MJ taking the game winning shot in the backyard every now and again. It was inspiring.

As we grow older and enter different periods of our lives, it is normal for us to draw inspiration from those who seem larger than life. The celebrity. The attention. The fame. The ability. The determination.

As Michael Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past Friday night, I had high hopes as I awaited his speech. Was it going to be a tear-jerker? Would he graciously accept the honor? And for a moment, I was back in the backyard learning to emulate Jordan's crossover move.

But, then the speech began. It started with a few tears. But soon, a few mild-mannered acknowledgments and an inappropriate profanity later, I quickly realized that although this man was super talented in basketball, he was never worthy of my emulation or aim. For a man to have had four other men on the court that helped him win multiple, multiple championships, not much credit was given. Sure a mention was given. Here and there. But as the camera scanned the crowd, it focused on some of Jordan's teammates--who seemed somewhat muffled in their applause.

For a man who played a team sport, not much gratitude was given to the team. In fact, more than anything, MJ boasted of his abilities and his determination to be the very best. But, the athletically limited youngster inside of me was hoping that more acknowledgement would be given to that clutch three-point shooter, that solid rebounder, and the consistent, dependable comrade on the court.

When the speech was over, I began to think about what kind of people we should seek to emulate in life. Immediately, I thought of Jesus. I thought of Him alone. Then I thought of his attitude toward recognition. Then I remembered the words of Paul written to the Philippian church, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness...he humbled himself." (Philippians 2:5-8) I was reminded that we live in a world of self-exaltation. We are a prideful people. And for the few who really excel, awards and recognition can be a fuel of temptation to flame our egos. Yet, believers are called to a higher standard. Even in the midst of recognition, we are called to consider others better than ourselves. We are called to humble ourselves. We are called to be like Christ Jesus.

We should be very careful where and who we draw our inspirations from in this world. Acknowledging athletic accomplishments, academic excellences, and job achievements are all wonderful opportunities to show appreciation to those who have earned them. Yet, we must be careful when looking up to these figures. We must esteem those who receive such honors with extreme selection. The manner in which these honors are received are more telling of an individual's character than the success that led to the recognition itself.

And although we are encouraged, inspired, and challenged by such people for their accomplishments, they should never become our aim. They should never become our model. They should never become our ambition. Rather, we should, "fix our eyes upon that you will not grow weary and loose heart." (Hebrews 12:3)

It was a wonderful thing for me (and others like me) to be inspired by the amazing feats that Jordan accomplished on the court. As I grow in my walk with the Lord, however, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesus Christ is the only one deserving of my heart's aim. And instead of a commercial song encouraging me to "be like Mike", I can truly say, with all of my heart, that I want, I want, I want to be like Jesus! Corny, but true.

Let us make our aim in life the person of Jesus Christ. Let us fix our eyes upon Him alone. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Making the Most of our Maladies

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:20-21)

C.H. Spurgeon once said, "So surely as the stars are fashioned by His hands, and their orbits fixed by Him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us." Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a malady? If not, prepare your heart. Life is full of them. Trials, some call them. Others call them hardships. Just the words themselves are enough to make us quiver. Aren't they?

Paul is near the end of his life as he writes this letter to the church in Philippi. He is under house arrest in Rome. Shackled. Secluded. Supervised. Roman guards for companions. Is this the reward for years of faithful missionary work for the Lord? Is this the end-of-the-line for God's determined worker? Will Paul's finale result in such a great malady?

Paul didn't ask these questions. Paul viewed his malady differently than what you might expect. You see, Paul didn't gauge God's goodness in his life by the health, wealth, and prosperity teachings we hear so much of today. He didn't measure his checkbooks or reconcile his financial statements in order to determine whether or not this had been a successful season of his life. He didn't hold his chains, look toward heaven, and cry, "Why me, Lord?" Instead, Paul saw the opportunity that God had given him in his malady--and looked to make the most of it!

In fact, he taught the church in Philippi what Spurgeon would later recognize--our trials are allotted to us. God is sovereign over the maladies of life.

If we are to learn to make the most of our maladies, we must be completely surrendered to the will of the Lord and say as Paul did, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." We must be surrendered to God in the midst of our maladies because He is sovereign over them. We must also have courage because the outcomes might not always be what we expect them to be. Yet, we can always be sure that we have an opportunity to make the most of our troubles. We will always make the most of our hardships when the end result is that Christ is glorified by the witness we exhibit during them! Always! One-hundred percent of the time!

We have an eternal impact on those around us not when we master our maladies. Nor when we hide them from others. Nor when we ignore them altogether. Rather, we have an eternal impact when we exalt Christ through them and trust Him with the results.

Take courage! Hope! Let us give our maladies to the Lord and make the most of them (for His glory) when they come our way!

God bless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Danger of the Happy Hollows

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

Goodness. Simple, yet pleasing to the ears, eyes, and soul. Goodness. Our youngest thoughts remember the simple idea of it, right? Be good. Play good. Act good. We are taught what good looks like. And as we grow, we learn what it looks like to breathe goodness. To live goodness. To play goodness. Before we know it, good becomes the standard. Good becomes the goal. Good becomes what we are "good" at. We learn to play by the rules of goodness for goodness' sake, right? So what's the problem? The problem is that though we learn to present ourselves as being good, we are simply not good. It is a cover up. It is a sham. It is an outward projection of what we wish to portray without any inward confrontation of who we really are on the inside. Sound familiar?

Jesus had a problem with religious people who spent all of their time projecting goodness outwardly without taking an honest inventory of their inward problem. Exuders of goodness with happy, hollow insides. The deception is in that which we exude. We have placed so much importance on the appearance of goodness that the appearance has BECOME goodness to us. Just the appearance of it then means that it is real in our minds. And the Pharisees say in unison, "Amen, pass the potatoes!"

There is danger in the Happy Hollows. There is danger in believing that when we get the goodness game down pat, we magically become the goodness we portray--without dealing with our sin inwardly and without repentance in our minds. We have become a people who need not repent as long as we can project goodness outwardly. Happy but hollow. Happy outwardly. Dead inwardly. No wonder there are so many dying churches in America. No wonder the church has seen drastic declines in the past decade. Who needs repentance when we can cover ourselves with goodness to cover the unrighteousness that screams out loud from the hollows within?

Jesus shared his sharpest rebukes for those of us who play the goodness game. "Hypocrites!" he said. "Blind guides!" he yelled. "Empty!" he discerned. Happy. Hollow. Dying on the inside.

It would be an understatement to say that we live in a culture of people who put all importance on what is noticed outwardly, church included. But there is danger in the happy hollows. We need to re-learn repentance. A masquerade of goodness leaves our internal sin problem unresolved. This is Satan's lie, "Be good and hope for the best. God wouldn't condemn a good person, would he?" We need to re-learn the biblical truth that although we play a "good" game, "there is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10a, 12b) We need repentance! We need Christ! We need to deal with the inside, for once in our lives!

Jesus pointed out the inward need of people, the happy hollows, to show just how much our sin is masked by goodness. Jesus didn't come to save good people--he came to save sinners. Sinners who come to grips with the reality of their condition. A heart filled with spiritual cancer. A heart that is dying. A heart that resembles a bunch of dead man's bones.

There is good news for all of us! Really GOOD news! Jesus loves us in spite of us, not because what we outwardly project or for goodness cover-up. God sees past our good game, even when others around us do not. Even when the church does not. Even when the preacher does not. Everyone can buy into our happy hollows game. God does not.

Have we convinced ourselves of our own goodness by the outward projections we have learned so well to display? This is the danger of the happy hollows. May we be the people in our generation who are willing to deal with the hollows within us. May we turn to Christ for forgiveness. May we repent before God. May we live genuine lives which are concerned with much more than an outward facade.

Lord save us from the danger of the Happy Hollows. Amen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the Glorious Escape

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air...gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:1-2a, 3b-5)

Do you remember the prison? Do you remember the chains? The darkness? The selfishness? The self-centeredness? We were spiritually dead. We were enslaved. Many prisoners have told stories of the horror of being behind bars. Many have even been able to see the light shine in from the window above their cell and dream of what existed outside of their dark imprisonment. Yet, we were not this way. We couldn't see any light. No flicker of hope was noticeable. In fact, we didn't even know of our imprisonment. We were blinded to it. We were blinded by it. And we were unable to do anything about it. We were enslaved without hope. Satisfied with sin. Doomed by sin. Awaiting the wrath of a holy God.

But, then it happened. The Glorious Escape. The prison break that would expose our helpless condition and provide an eternal means of escape from bondage. Only one thing could break down these sinful prison walls. Only one thing could save the day for the guilty.

It was the love of God.

Through Jesus' obedience to the Father, He took our spiritual darkness upon Himself. He carried out our sentence on our behalf. He defeated it on the cross and was raised triumphantly in victory over it for all of eternity. The result you ask? The result is that those of us who are in Christ will never know the darkness again. We will never know the chains. We will never again know the futility that comes from living only to satisfy our own desires. We have been ultimately, finally freed from this dark prison of death.

Oh, how God's saints need to remember this! We get so good at Christianity. We get so good at "doing" church. We get so good at casually skimming the surface of the Christian life that we forget the marvelous extent of God's love for us. We forget the prison break and somehow become somewhat content with our abilities as a freed man, turning a blind eye to our complete, unending need for what Christ has done for us. Almost as if we end up giving ourselves partial credit for what only Christ could do. Discrediting the full measure of God's love for us. Discrediting and forgetting the glorious escape.

This is where so many of us burn out in our Christian lives. We settle for a self-centered Christianity and forget about the marvelous love of God. We forget that we were ever imprisoned and even, at times, doubt that God may still love us. What a tragic thing it is for God's redeemed to settle for this type of living. Yet, it happens doesn't it?

A.W. Pink puts it this way, "Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people. Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love. Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary."

Are you satisfied with your life today, Christian? Or, has your love for God died alongside the ever weakening remembrance of just how sinful we once were--imprisoned in darkness? If so, maybe we just need a good reminder of the love of God. Maybe we need to remember the condition which imprisoned us with no intention of letting go. Maybe we need to remember the glorious escape that has been provided for us by the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ. A loving Father. An obedient Son. A needy sinner. A prison break. With each hand that was nailed down to the cross, a greater amount of bricks and bars were thrown to the ground by Divine love. With each thorn that pierced His brow, another shackle fell to the ground. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the work was finished. The means of escape was available. The love of God was demonstrated to the sinful, selfish world.

God loves you. May you never forget that. We need Him just as much today as we did the day He set us free. May we never forget that.

Remember the Glorious Escape and the love of God that set us free!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Good Soldier of Christ Jesus

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3)

I can recall singing the song in children's Church when I was young:

I may never
march in the Infantry,

ride in the Calvary,
shoot the Artillery.

I may never fly ore' the enemy,
but I'm in the Lord's army!

As we go through the years, the Christian life can seem, at times, more like survival instead of victorious living, can't it? The longer we live, the more hardships we face--and the results can be quite detrimental if we forget what we are. We are soldiers. Paul David Tripp acknowledges, "Scripture presents spiritual warfare not as the violent, bizarre end of the Christian life, but as what the Christian life is!" The Christian life isn't supposed to be easy. Through trials and perseverance, we prove ourselves to be good soldiers of Christ Jesus our Lord. Our general. Our commander. Our king.

A soldier is trained to do two main things. The first is to keep orders. The soldier must listen to the commands. Equipped with the Word of God (the sword of the Spirit) we battle through the mire of temptation and darkness while keeping our orders. Scripture contains the marching orders and is our greatest weapon.

A willing heart. A willing body. A willing mind. Determination. Fortitude. This is the mark of a good solider.

The second is to carry out the mission--even in the face of resistance. Jesus taught His first fighters that, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) The same is true for His soldiers today. We will have troubles. We will face hostile spiritual battles. We do have an enemy that desires to see our mission fail. There is a dark resistance. But, we can take heart. We can take heart because we know that our Lord has already won the victory. We are not fighting a loosing battle! Though he may be determined, Satan will soon know his end.

Today, no matter where you are on the battlefield of life, take heart. The statistics show us that America is now a post-Christian nation with the things of God slowly degenerating like a slow spreading Alzheimer's disease. But, though the church slumber, and though the darkness grin with evil intent, there will always stand a remnant of redeemed who are willing to fight as good soldiers and the Gospel of Christ Jesus will always prevail.

Jesus has conquered the enemy. There is nothing that this world can present that the redeemed in Christ cannot triumphantly, ultimately overcome through His power working within us.

We are in the Lord's eternally victorious army.
So, be encouraged. Continue marching forward as a good soldier in Christ Jesus!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Hidden Life of the Redeemed

"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:3, 4)

An overwhelming sense of surrender came over me as I prayed to the Lord that night. For the first time, I got it. I understood what it meant to follow Jesus. I had been a quote, unquote "Christian" for many years. I had prayed the prayer. I had walked down an aisle. I had been dunked underwater by the preacher. By all accounts, I had made the Spiritual Honor Society in the First Baptist Church of Going Through the Motions. Yet, in my heart, I was still clinging desperately to my self-identity. My rights. My dreams. My ambitions. MY LIFE!

But finally, I did it. I finally just gave up. I surrendered my life to God.

Many mistake this as a call to full-time vocational ministry. Indeed, it is a call to ministry. It is a call to follow Jesus in obedient service. But we often confuse this as a separate call apart from the call to salvation. It is not. We are called to die to ourselves. Our sense of entitlement. Our ambitions. We are called to live in Christ. An eternal exchange takes place. My life for Jesus' life. Paul says, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) Paul has removed himself from the equation altogether. He had a new identity. A new mission. A new direction. A hidden life with Christ.

We are all called to Jesus this way. We are all called to be witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to die so that Jesus Christ will live in and through us. This call is expressed in many different ways. The call, however, is the same for us all. Our lives are now the lives of the hidden life. Hidden with Christ in God. Obedient to Christ. Surrendered. Our lives become Christ.

Oswald Chambers aptly writes that we are to have "no end, no aim, and no purpose but His." We come to Christ for what He can do through us, not simply for what he can do for us. We surrender all. We no longer live for ourselves. Rather, we live the hidden life of the redeemed. This is what it means to truly come to Jesus.

Have we truly removed ourselves from the equation and made Jesus our whole life? This is the call to the hidden life of the redeemed. This is the call to follow Christ Jesus.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pressing On with Post-It Notes

"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus...let us hold true to what we have attained." (Philippians 3:14, 16)

Post-it notes are somewhat of a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, they are a very convenient way to leave myself reminders and important memos. They are convenient in that they can be attached to pages, desktops, and other important, relevant places. They do not take up space. From all accounts, the post-it note is very helpful. They even make for nice bookmarks from time to time.

However, there is a downside. They become outdated so often. Old news. Old information. They are easily misplaced. They are small, so they are often lost in the clutter. Also, they are known to fold up and become a source of unwanted desk-trash if they are not eventually discarded and maintained all along. Although they are extremely convenient when we need them, they also can become a source of aggravation.

Paul introduces an interesting concept as he relates our spiritual walk with the concepts of both pressing forward and living up to past attainments--old information, old growth. Sometimes, we can become frustrated with our spiritual lives because we, like a post-it note, just seem so cluttered with spiritual information that we have no clear direction. So much bible knowledge. So little clue as to what to do with it. So much church clutter. So much Scripture scribble. And before we know it, we feel almost overwhelmed with the clutter of the Christian life. Maybe we don't feel like we've grown enough in comparison to the amount of knowledge we've gained over a specific amount of time. We have all of these spiritual "post-it notes" and "bookmarks" to show with little or no feeling of spiritual growth in our lives. Sometimes we all can feel like we are spiritually "lost in the clutter". Lost in past growth. Lost in yest er-years growth. Yet, Paul tells us to press forward. Then he tell us to remember back to be "true to what we have attained" already. What is Paul really saying here?

In a way, Paul is telling us to press on with post-it notes.

As we go about our walk with Christ Jesus, we have all of these reminders of the times that God has spoken to our hearts. We have all of the spiritual "post-it" notes that remind us of the things we have been taught. We need these. But, we are not to be content with them. We should strive to continually balance the desire to grow forward while remembering and putting into practice what God has already shown and made fruitful in our lives in the past.

So if you are frustrated today that you aren't farther along in your Christian life by now. If you feel as though you are walking through your Christian life with "post-it" notes stuck all over you. If you just don't feel like you have made much forward progress lately. Take heart. We need the reminders. We need the guidance they provide. But more than that, we need to be able to press forward even when we feel like we've accumulated a bunch of spiritual clutter.

After all, reminders are a good thing. Let us live up to what we have already attained. And after doing so, continue to press on in Christ Jesus our Lord. Post-it notes and all.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Can America Make Peace with Islamic Nations without Becoming One Herself?

"You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3)

Today, much controversy is brewing over the statements made by President Barack Obama during his visit to Turkey yesterday. In his speech to the Turkish parliament, Obama stated:

"The United States is not and never will be, at war with Islam...We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
Whether we observe America as "Christian" or not, there is an essential understanding that must be reached if we are to keep a correct perspective on the relationship between America and Islamic nations.

Although Obama ultimately says many of the same things that former President George Bush has said over the last several years, he is making an observation that is inherently contradictory. That observation centers around the goal of Islamic belief and thought. The goal of Islam, as commanded by the Qur'an, is for all lands to be submissive to its rule. It is a dominant religion. It is a dominant theology. And as much pain as Obama has taken to disassociate terrorism with what he called a faith that he has "deep appreciation for," the understanding that Islam is not a religion of peace must be reached.

To the Muslim world, America, as Dr. Albert Mohler rightfully cited, "appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution." And as long as we are viewed as such, America, and thus Christianity, will remain an enemy of the Islamic faithful. Better yet, as long as America is viewed as un-Islamic, this will remain the story. You can label them extremists if you would like. But according to the Qur'an, they are simply being obedient and faithful to the cause.

The true conflict, then, is not a political conflict--although Obama takes pains to make it seem so. It is a theological, religious conflict. And as Obama is overseas making claims that America is not religiously united (as is truly the case), he undermines the very substance of his claim to live peacefully with the Muslim nations--for they seek religious unity. Unity through domination. Religious belief runs much deeper than political alliances or affiliations.

We must remember that America did not wake up one day with an angry desire to go to war against Islamic extremists without cause. America was attacked into war by a religion that ultimately wants it no other way. At its deepest roots, Islamic belief encourages a violent baptism for its opposition. And although Barack Obama seeks to establish that America is not in opposition to Islamic belief, political speeches can do little to change the drastic theological differences and extreme desires that will eventually prevent any type of substantial, enduring alliances from forming. Politics do not change or influence religious fervor. Religious fervor influences political stances and aspirations. And this shared "set of values" that Obama speaks of are only shared insomuch as they are held in common by the beliefs of the people. And beyond this, the unity dies.

Unless, of course, America continues to be a breeding ground for its fastest spreading religion--Islam.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Bright Morning Star

"I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." (Revelation 22:16)

I can remember it vividly. When I was very young, my mother took me down to the steps of the living room during a severe thunderstorm. I remember seeing the sky light up beyond the blinds of our living room windows. I remember counting the seconds until the thunder clapped in applause to the light show provided by the lightning. To her credit, mother provided an unmatched comfort and sense of safety by teaching us to sing My Lord is Near Me all the Time:

I've seen it in the lightning;
heard it in the thunder;
and felt it in the rain.
My Lord is near me all the time.
My Lord is near me all the time.

Now I teach the same song to my children.

Over the last week or so, it has rained almost non-stop. Dark clouds have replaced the sunshine. Regardless of what time of the day it has been, most every weatherman in the state of Alabama seems like a genius these days. All they have to say is that it will be dark, cloudy, and that there is a strong chance of rain and thunderstorms. Guess what. They would be correct. Two weeks of saying this has probably erased two years of inaccuracies for many a weatherperson. Now, they are brilliant because they knew the rain was coming. They knew the storms were on their way. They knew it was going to be dark for a while.

Sometimes it is the same with life, isn't it? Sometimes we go through long periods of darkness, don't we? Uncertainty. Trapped in the thunderstorms of life. Sound familiar? You are not the only one. No matter how often we go through them, we know that sooner or later another band of showers will be on their way.
But, it takes the storms of life to help us appreciate the sunny days. It takes a little rainstorm every now and then to help strengthen our roots so we can grow stronger.

In the concluding chapter in the Book of Revelation, Jesus introduces himself as the Bright and Morning Star. In ancient times, the morning star was seen as a sign of a new day. A new time. A period of refreshment and new beginnings. The darkness subsided at the sign of the morning star.

Jesus is reminding the Church, through the signs and visions of the apostle John, that he is the light of the world. He is the light that penetrates the darkness. He is the voice that calms the storms. He is Lord of the thunderstorms. He is our source of refreshment. He is our source of a new beginning. He is the Bright and Morning Star.

Tired of feeling abandoned during the thunderstorms of life? Look to the Bright Morning Star. Need a sense of refreshment and renewal? Trust Him during your trials. Even in the darkness, we have a shelter from the storm. And from Him, all darkness must flee.

As we struggle through the storms of life, we do, indeed, see it in the lightning, hear it in the thunder, and feel it in the rain. Too often it seems. It is good to know, however, that our Lord is with us all the time.

Is it raining as much inside as it is outside today? Has the weatherman been right about much more than the weather outside lately?

If so, look to the Bright Morning Star. He is our source of comfort and safety during the storms of life.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Preacher on Television

"Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John v. 12)

In the apostle John's second letter, he writes a warning to the church congregation to guard the truth by holding firmly to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There had been influences, possibly both within and outside of the church congregation, that had been teaching false doctrines. John goes as far to say, "if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (the teachings of Jesus), do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." (v. 10, 11--words in bold are added for clarity)

The word truth is the dominant theme in John's greeting to the church. If the church was to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, it faced the task of guarding the truth from corruption. So it is today.

Over the years, I have come across many professing believers who have told me that they do not attend church because they are content with, "Watching the preacher on t.v." As much as it is up to them, they are content and satisfied to have Sunday morning service right there in their living rooms. So, from the comfort of their recliners, they turn on the television and eagerly await the message from their favorite preacher.

There can be many compelling, biblical arguments made as to why this type of church participation is unbiblical. But, today I would like to simply write about some of the dangers that this approach to church attendance presents.

The purpose of John's second letter directly involves this issue. In fact, in his closing remarks he mentions his intent to visit the church face to face. Instead of relying wholly upon ink and paper to deliver his message of truth, John desires to visit the church and lead it as its elder (or pastor). The church was not to simply be content with his letter. In order to make their joy complete, John would visit them face to face. Personal. Confrontational. Pastoral.

The television today has a smorgasbord of preachers to choose from. And though many may teach from a biblical standpoint, there are many who preach nonsense, watered-down truths, and even false teachings. For example, I have heard of many who love to listen to Joel Osteen-- the smiling Texan. They cling to his every word. They are wooed in by his prosperity preaching and his self-empowerment messages. But, Joel Osteen would tell you himself that he refuses to preach on the subject of sin. He refuses to include such negative comments. He would say, and has said, that this is just not his gift.

This is not in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, there can be no clear gospel presentation made unless the truth of the sinfulness of man is preached. There can be no power of salvation unless the gospel is preached (Romans 1:16). In my humble opinion, Mr. Osteen is well short of preaching the plain truth of the Word of God. And for this, I discourage others from listening to his messages.

The danger of the television preacher and the Lazy-boy church pew is that there is no accountability for truth. The listener is left alone to decipher truth. In John's second letter, the entire congregation is charged with the guarding of truth. Simply put, we are more easily deceived when we are disassociated with a church congregation. (It must be honestly mentioned here that not all local churches abide by biblical teaching. But, that is another devotional for another day.)

Furthermore, the television preacher cannot meet with us face to face. He cannot pray with us in our times of need. He cannot visit us in the hospital. And when a false teaching arises within the church, he cannot correct, rebuke, and train us in all righteousness as Scripture teaches.

Understandably, there are many people who cannot physically make it to a church service on Sunday morning. However, this does not excuse us all to attend church on our own terms--apart from the clear teachings of God's Word.

Nothing can replace being active in a church body that desires to live in accordance with the teachings of the Word of God. Worship. Encouragement. Prayer support. Challenges. Loving, caring interaction with brothers and sisters in Christ. The pastor is present not only to preach, but also to personally shepherd the members of the congregation. This is what Scripture teaches...

Just ask the preacher on television.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Purity in the Midst of Pain

"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl." (Job 31:1)

It seems a bit awkward when you read it for the first time. In fact, Job 31:1 seems to be completely out of place. In the middle of turmoil, suffering, and personal loss, Job includes this important, yet seemingly out-of-place statement. The first time I read this verse I remember thinking, "Where in the world did that come from?" A covenant with my eyes? Look lustfully at a girl?

Just what are you saying here Job?

Job had been devastated. He had experienced more loss and tragedy in the last passing hours than an entire community of families could expect to face in a lifetime. He was in complete agony. He was suffering in physical torment and sickness. Yet here, he turns his attention to purity. Here, Job proves to be resilient. But, his resilience isn't directed toward his physical pain; rather, it is aimed at the temptations of the flesh. Why is this? Why is Job worried so much about purity during this tragedy? In the middle of all of his questions, he guards his purity. In the middle of all of his pain, his focus is on keeping a clean heart.

I believe that this one verse is pivotal to the rest of Job's story.

Although Job doesn't know the answers, he desires to stay pure before the One that does. He desires to stay pure before God, even though others (specifically his wife) had told him to curse God and die. The result of Job's purity in the midst of pain was that God ultimately blessed and restored Job. Because Job remained pure before God, he was restored and blessed beyond measure. Ultimately, Job would understand that God had a great purpose in his sufferings. We can see the same truths through the promises found in Romans 8:28, 29.

Last week, my hometown of Samson experienced tremendous tragedy and pain. And like Job, many people were left wondering why it all happened. During times like this, we often make two major mistakes. The first mistake we often make is that we blame all of the tragedy on God. Just like Job's wife, we desire to curse God for any evil that takes place in our lives. We blame him for tragedy. And although God allowed these things to happen to Job, He was not the culprit. The culprit was Satan. The second mistake we often make during these times is that we often dismiss God's association with tragedy altogether. Though God could not be accused as the culprit, we must acknowledge that God was sovereign over the circumstances. He did, for His perfect reasons, allow these things to happen to Job.

It would be outrageous for us to blame God for what happened in Samson last week. However, it would be just as outlandish to say that He had no control at all over the measure of the happenings. That would be saying that God isn't sovereign. Whatever the reason, we need to understand that we will never truly be able to see God's purpose on the other side of our pain unless our hearts are determined, like Job, to remain pure in the midst of it.

I believe Job understood what Jesus would later teach in Matthew 5:8. Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." We should be careful not to blame God. We should also be careful not to dismiss His purposes. Our sole priority in pain and disaster should be to emulate Job's example. We should desire to remain pure in the midst of pain. We should pour out our hearts to God. We should ask the questions that dwell in our hearts. We should ask for comfort and mercy. But most importantly, we must seek to remain pure before Him.

God give the communities, families, and the individuals involved in this tragedy the mercy and strength to remain pure during this time of pain. And, may they experience your blessings and provisions on the other side of it. Amen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Cup of Coffee, a Morning Walk, and a Boxer Bulldog

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Timothy 6:6, 7)

Far be it from me to start the morning anymore without a nice cup of coffee. It is really quite funny. Just a few short years ago, I would have never guessed I would have developed a taste for it. Yet I find myself waking up to the thought of a nice cup of Maxwell House coffee these days. Master Blend. Medium. French Vanilla creamer. Now we're talking a good morning indeed! Just one good cup. That is all it takes.

This morning, after I took hold of my cup of coffee, I set out to do what was becoming my favorite daily routine just before it began turning colder late this past fall. I took my cup of coffee with me outside, let my dog (Butler) out, and began a walk around the backyard. And as I walked, I began my daily prayer. Customarily, I begin my prayer time with a few words of thanksgiving and praise. Then, I move on to make my request and petitions known. However, this morning was different. Though the morning had started with some challenges, I found myself sheltered from them as I began my prayer time. Coffee in hand. Dog by my side--step for step. There was just one difference in the arrangement of prayer time this morning. I couldn't stop being thankful. For my family. For my church. For my health. For my friendships. For the simple blessings. And yes, I even was thankful for my dog.

And as I continued down this seemingly endless list of thanksgivings, I was reminded of this verse:

"Godliness with contentment is great gain."

Gain. We are obsessed with the word, yet we often know little about what it actually means. We often associate a monetary value to it. Or, we ascribe a higher level of material satisfaction to it. Yet, so often we miss its meaning altogether. One can never truly recognize gain for what it is unless he/she reaches a point of contentment toward what is already possessed. But underlying this contentment is the most foundational issue we all must understand. We must seek godliness. We must seek to understand God's purpose for our lives. There is a level of contentment that is found in being and doing what God desires for us that cannot be matched by anything this world can offer.

I never would have guessed that, at 28 years old, I would be a pastor in the small community of Reeltown, AL. I would have never guessed that I would be the husband of a wonderful wife, a father to two beautiful children, and an owner of a goofy boxer bulldog. Yet, as I made my rounds this morning I was overwhelmingly thankful. Thankful for my beautiful bride. Thankful for my two amazing children. Thankful for the church congregation that God has called me to shepherd. Thankful for the small, rural town that I now call home. Thankful for God's provisions.

There are some things money just can't buy:

The peace of knowing that you are doing what God intends for you to do, the joy of family, and the blessings of friendships...

a cup of coffee...

a morning walk...

and a goofy boxer bulldog.

That is what I call great gain.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Give Me a Break!

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Ever felt bored and burdened with life? Not a popular question, is it? Yet, to be honest, how many of us often find ourselves desperate to break the routine and find some way to rejuvenate our perspectives. I remember the feeling as if it were yesterday. I had counted more money that day than I cared to count in a month. It was busy. Real busy. And as people came in and out of the bank lobby with their deposits and checks, something struck me.

I had been working at the bank for some time. And the more I worked, the more I noticed how this week looked much like the week before. The same people brought their same deposits. They drove the same paths to the bank. Parked in the same parking spots in their same cars and trucks. Many of the clients even brought the same conversation to the teller booth with each passing visit. There wasn't anything wrong with it. It was just somewhat redundant for a wide-eyed, twenty-year-old that was searching for his place in the world. I was learning a new lesson. Life 101 was just beginning and the bank lobby was my classroom. And the burdens of work, school, and of adjusting to all of my new found responsibilities began to feel heavy on me. I wanted a break.

We often do the same things every day. Don't we? Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. And MONDAY, TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, get the picture. Bank teller. Doctor. Wall Street advisor. It doesn't matter. We all will face the next day much as we did the day before.

The truth of it is that it is supposed to be this way. God created all that is in six days (YOM--literal 24 hour interpretation) and rested (or ceased from His work) on the seventh. There was evening and there was morning (qualification of literal 24 hour interpretation). God then declared all that He had made as being "good." So is our workweek. So are our lives. (Genesis 1)

There is meaning in the repetition. Yet, through all of this, we feel frustrated and burdened at times, don't we?

Augustine once said, "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in Thee." Until we surrender to the maker of our days, we will never truly be able to understand the meaning behind them. Until we know the God that rested on the seventh day, we can never truly understand rest in our own days. Last week I saw an old bumper sticker that read, "Know God, know peace. No God, no peace." Fitting. True.

And as the busy day at the bank drew to a close, I remembered this verse. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Much more than just temporary, physical rest. Jesus offers rest that penetrates our being. When we understand this invitation rightly, we understand that he is not just offering rest from our stressed-out moments. Rather, He is inviting us to continually rest in Him. For forgiveness. For a new start. Freedom from guilt and the bondage of sin. And consequently, from the routine difficulties and hardships we face in this life.

Have you felt dried-up and burdened lately by the repetition of life? By the heartaches? Pains? Stresses? Have you endured life to the point of unsatisfied submission? Then take Jesus up on His offer.

A much needed break from a loving Savior.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bloody Truth

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Ephesians 1:7a)

As the 21st Century has brought about an even more calloused attitude toward sin, so too has it brought an ever weakened understanding of the price of forgiveness. As sin is celebrated in our streets, a disregard for accountability and an disregard toward the need for forgiveness accompanies the parade. What does the bible say about our condition? Answer: We are sinful and separated from God. What does the bible say must be done to fix the problem? Answer: Blood must be shed. Our sin costs life.

In the Old Testament, we see that the shed blood of a sacrifice (which met God's requirements) was as a pleasing aroma to God. Why was this so? It is because the sin of Israel had been covered by the shed blood. A sacrifice had been made. God's wrath had been appeased.

The penalty for our sin remains the same. Blood must be shed. Every sin carries this price. The wages of sin is death. Blood must be shed. That is the truth about sin. Sin is ugly. Although it promises pleasure, it provides isolation. There is no amount of pleasure in this world worth the penalty that accompanies sin. Blood must be shed. God's holiness demands that sin be dealt with. God's wrath will be poured out upon sin. Upon those that choose their sin over Christ. Blood will be shed.

The good news? God loves the world. God loves the world so much that, in spite of our sin, he sent His only Son to be sacrificed to settle a sin debt that we could not pay. Only Jesus could meet the requirement necessary to satisfy our sin debt. Once and for all, Jesus died a sacrificial death. So instead of our blood being shed, it was Jesus' that flowed. Jesus shed His blood to pay for sin that we fail to recognize today. The sin that we celebrate, He spilt his blood to forgive. How often do we trample on the shed blood of Christ by minimizing the severity of our sins? How often do we fail to revere the love of Christ by failing to acknowledge the price He paid? And as we are "living it up", Jesus was "laying down" His life on a cruel cross. As we are busy failing to acknowledge our sin, He was busy becoming "sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) In other words, Jesus paid our sin debt as a propitiation--to satisfy the wrath of God against our sin--to bring us back to a right standing with God. A pleasing aroma to God. And because of this act, we not only can be forgiven of our sin(s), we actually become the righteousness of God. Jesus shed His blood, became our sin, and then gave His righteousness to those who would but place their faith and trust in Him.

His blood was shed for us. Sinful, selfish, and unacknowledging us. He brought us into right standing with God by shedding His blood. And how dreadful it will be for those who dishonor, disrespect, and deny the cross of Christ Jesus. For they, as Scripture teaches, are still "enemies of the cross." (Philippians 3:18) Lovers of sin; haters of God. And we so often accuse God of being unjust (due to the fact that people will go to an eternal Hell apart from Christ). The real question is, "How in the world could God love such a sinful people to the measure of sending His Son to die for us?" For the world. For anyone who would but turn from sin and believe in Jesus. Love God. Hate sin. It is funny how we love to shift the blame upon God. Make Him the enemy. Yet, Jesus shed His blood. He made the way. He paid the penalty.

That is the bloody truth.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It Matters to Him about Me

"Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:26b)

Economic hardships often reveal much about the fortitude of an individuals faith in God. When we can see God's provision leading us into prosperity, we are encouraged. When we are swimming in abundance, we are often complacent. But when we are at the point of maximum need, we finally understand that we are always dependant upon His provisions--even during those periods of overflowing. As a former financial advisor, I am aware of the many different types of people that this economic recession will negatively impact. The retirees' interest income is reduced from the dropping interest rates, the nearly retired are having to hold off from their retirement plans in hopes that their 401(k)s and their 403(b)s can recover quickly, and everyone in between struggles to continually watch their hard earned investments take such a nosedive into the red.

When push comes to shove, though, the believer has a certainty about his situation that others simply do not have. That certainty comes from an unmatchable satisfaction that our Father in Heaven sees our needs. He cares about our circumstances. He notices when we hurt. And, he is able to provide for us in our need.

I am reminded of the great testimony of George Muller--a 19th century English missionary. Muller never drew a salary. He was absolutely convinced that God had led him to build the many orphanages he had built in Ashley Down, England. Yet Muller never knew how he was going to provide for the hundreds of orphans that relied upon him daily for their needs. He admitted the many days in which he was discouraged and overwhelmed with the responsibility that was upon his shoulders. He had to provide for those children. He also felt his own financial situation grow extremely tight from time to time.

Years later, when his ministry was finished and he had passed on his responsibilities to another, he told the secret of his success. Years back, during one of the most difficult financial hardships of his ministry, he made a sign and placed it on his desk. The sign read, "It matters to Him about me." Simple, yet powerful. He relied on this message during the often tough times. And when all was said and done, God had never let him down. It is good to be reminded that God cares. He doesn't turn a blind eye. He doesn't delight in our misfortunes. He genuinely cares. He is interested. He is concerned. It matters to God about our struggles. Our pains. Our sorrows. Our financial need. Even down to the clothes on our backs (see Matthew 6).

When we hurt, we can take comfort in the fact that it matters to Him about us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Observing the Nations from Ft. Lauderdale

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9a)

Today, and for the first time, I am embarking on a journey outside of the continental United States. My lovely bride and I are celebrating our 5th anniversary (although it was technically Sept. 27th) by taking a trip to the Bahamas. Currently, I am sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale, FL airport waiting to board our flight to Nassau. Moments ago, we walked off of the plane and into a crowded airport that was noticeably different from the previous gates we had just recently left in Atlanta, GA. If this difference could be summed up in word one, it would have to be "diversity." Cultural. Socioeconomic. Racial. I find myself studying each passer-by with intrigue. Where is this man from? What is his story? From Jamaican to Caucasian. From Spanish to Indian. Everywhere in between can be found here. And in an instant, my south-Alabama, bible-belt culture seems distant. It seems confined to the airport I left just a few hours ago.

Due to time restraints (and limited internet connectivity), I need to be brief and to the point today (did someone just shout Amen?). Oftentimes, we tend to develop a self-defined, personally confined understanding of the Kingdom of God. Too often, we cannot even see beyond our own church walls and into the surrounding communities outside of our own. Yet, God sees all of us--the whole world. The Kingdom of God extends to all peoples. To all nations. To all tribes. To all peoples and languages. God's redeeming purpose for humanity is not confined to our particular cultural context. Plainly put, I have brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. It is a wonderful, powerful truth. God's love and salvation extend to the WORLD!

If we are to understand the Great Commission as Jesus commanded, we must be able to see beyond our limited context. Our compassion must reach beyond the stagnant grounds we trod in our every day lives.

Sometimes, I guess it helps to have a few minutes of quiet observation in a Ft. Lauderdale airport. Perspective is often a powerful thing.

God bless.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Considering the Inconsiderate

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)

Daddy-daughter date day. One of my favorite days of all--especially when daddy is taking daughter to an Auburn basketball game. Saturday was going to be a blast. Little did I know the work that was going to be involved with this past Saturday's date day. When we arrived at the campus, the parking lots were full from Beard-Eaves coliseum all the way down to Mama Goldberg's Deli (if you haven't been to AU's campus, this is roughly 500 yards or so). Consequently, I end up parking in the very last parking lot right across the road from the distant deli. The walk began. Not your ordinary, everyday walk mind you. This walk consisted of a 30 lb. child in one arm, a packed bag of diapers, snacks, camera, and other child products in the other. And the traffic. Did I mention the traffic? Unreal!

People and cars seemed to limit my walking space with every single step. People were cutting in front of us left and right. Vehicles were failing to stop at the bright red sign with white letters that command them to "Stop!" Daddy was nervous. And by the time that daddy managed to carry daughter to the steps of the coliseum, he was exhausted. Nevertheless, we were there. No more walking and carrying for daddy--or so he thought. I paid for a ticket and walked into the stadium with youthful expectation that this game would be promising. I could feel myself getting excited as I heard the band play. I could see the cheer on the face of Ellie Kate as she took in all of the happenings around her.

That is when it happened.

I looked at the ticket to find our seats. Could you believe that it was at the very top row in the entire arena? In addition, it was the longest distance from where we were at the time. And so, daddy now has a 30 lb. daughter in one arm, a bag full of stuff in the other, and a cardboard container full of nachos and cheese plus a coke balancing somewhere in between the two while walking up an ever growing flight of stadium stairs! Talk about a workout. Talk about a safety hazard!

As if the journey to the top row wasn't enough, some of the people around us seemed exceptionally rude. At several times during the march to the top, it was as if I had a sign on my forehead that read, "Please cut in front of me! Please act as if I do not exist! Please act as if my daughter and I are insignificant casualties of your world!" I guess that you can tell by now that this preacher was getting frustrated. Well, that would be an understatement.

But, then something hit me like a ton of bricks. A conviction from the Holy Spirit stirred my soul. As I stepped up the last couple of stairs, I realized that I was that person/those people. I was that college student that didn't show courtesy to a struggling daddy just trying to enjoy some time with his daughter. I was that lady in the car that didn't stop at the stop sign. I was the disgruntled old man in the seats in front of us that made disrespectful remarks to the refs during the game. I was all those people toward God. How many times had I cut in? How many times did I act like he didn't exist? How many times did I say exactly what my sinful heart desired without regard to his holiness? And then I thought of this verse:

"We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

How many times had I turned my own way, without regard to my heavenly Father? More times than I would like to admit. How many times had I cut in and insisted that I live my life by my own standards, without regard to His will? More times than I'd like to admit.

When all is said and done, we are all these people (or have been these people)! Selfish, arrogant, inconsiderate, and inappropriate sinners in need of unconditional love. The good news? The good news is that God loves us just this way--unconditionally. As we cut in, He loves. As we fail to stop, He waits patiently. As we are inconsiderate, He considers us enough to send His own son to die on a cross for our sins. For our rebellion. For our selfishness.

Auburn ended up loosing the basketball game. Yet, it was a wonderful daddy-daughter date day. It was also a wonderful Father-son experience. It was a wonderful reminder of just how much my heavenly Father loves me. It was a wonderful reminder of how much He loves all of us.

When everyone around us seems to find us insignificant, He sees significance. When we fail to consider Him...

He considers us still.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Prayer for Barack Obama--originally posted by Dr. Albert Mohler

Our Father, Lord of all creation, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: We pray today with a sense of special urgency and responsibility. We come before you to pray for our new President, Barack Obama, and for all those in this new administration who now assume roles of such high responsibility.

We know that you and you alone are sovereign; that you rule over all, and that you alone are able to keep and defend us. We know that our times are in your hands, and that "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord" [Proverbs 21:1]. Our confidence is in you and in you alone. We come before you as a people who acknowledge our constant need for your provision, wisdom, and protection.

Father, we pray today for Barack Obama as he takes office as President of the United States. We pray that you will show the glory of your name in our times and in these days, confounding the wisdom of the wise, thwarting the plans of the arrogant, and vindicating those who do justice and practice righteousness.

Father, we pray with thanksgiving for the gift of government and the grace of civic order. Thank you for giving us rulers and for knowing our need for laws and ordered life together. Thank you for this nation and the blessings we know as its citizens. Thank you for freedoms unprecedented in human history. We understand that these freedoms come with unprecedented opportunities.
Lord, we pray with thanksgiving for the joy and celebration reflected on millions of faces who never expected to look to the President of the United States and see a person who looks like themselves.
Father, thank you for preserving this nation to the moment when an African-American citizen will take the oath of office and become our President. Thank you for the hope this has given to so many, the pride emerging in hearts that had known no such hope, and the pride that comes to a people who have experienced such pain at the hands of fellow citizens, simply because of the color of their skin. Father, we rejoice in every elderly face that reflects such long-sought satisfaction and in every young face that expresses such unrestrained joy. May this become an open door for a vision of race and human dignity that reflects your glory in our differences, and not our corruption of your gift.

Father, protect this president, we pray. We pray that you will surround this president and his family, along with all our leaders, with your protection and sustenance. May he be protected from evil acts and evil intentions, and may his family be protected from all evil and harm.
We pray that the Obama family will be drawn together as they move into the White House, and that they will know great joy in their family life. We are thankful for the example Barack and Michelle Obama have set as parents. Father, protect those precious girls in every way -- including the protection of their hearts as they see their father often criticized and as he is away from them on business of state. May their years in the White House bring them all even closer together.

Father, we pray for the safety and security of this nation, even as our new president settles into his role as Commander in Chief. We know that you and you alone can be our defense. We do not place our trust in horses or chariots, and we pray that you will give this president wisdom as he fulfills this vital responsibility.

Father, grant him wisdom in every dimension of his vast responsibility. Grant him wisdom to deal with a global financial crisis and with the swirling complex of vexing problems and challenges at home and abroad. May he inspire this nation to a higher vision for our common life together, to a higher standard of justice, righteousness, unity, and the tasks of citizenship.
Father, we pray that you will change this president's heart and mind on issues of urgent concern. We are so thankful for his gifts and talents, for his intellect and power of influence.
Father, bend his heart to see the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, from the moment of conception until natural death. Father, lead him to see abortion, not as a matter of misconstrued rights, but as a murderous violation of the right to life. May he come to see every aborted life as a violation of human dignity and every abortion as an abhorrent blight upon this nation's moral witness. May he pledge himself to protect every human life at every stage of development. He has declared himself as an energetic defender of abortion rights, and we fear that his election will lead directly to the deaths of countless unborn human beings. Protect us from this unspeakable evil, we pray. Most urgently, we pray that you will bring the reign of abortion to an end, even as you are the defender of the defenseless.

Father, may this new president see that human dignity is undermined when human embryos are destroyed in the name of medical progress, and may he see marriage as an institution that is vital to the very survival of civilization. May he protect all that is right and good. Father, change his heart where it must be changed, and give him resolve where his heart is right before you.
Father, when we face hard days ahead -- when we find ourselves required by conscience to oppose this president within the bounds of our roles as citizens -- may we be granted your guidance to do so with a proper spirit, with a proper demeanor, and with persuasive arguments. May we learn anew how to confront without demonizing, and to oppose without abandoning hope.

Father, we are aware that our future is in your hands, and we are fully aware that you and you alone will judge the nations. Much responsibility is now invested in President Barack Obama, and much will be required. May we, as Christian citizens, also fulfill what you would require of us. Even as we pray for you to protect this president and change his heart, we also pray that your church will be protected and that you will conform our hearts to your perfect will.

Father, we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the ever-reigning once and future King, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He and he alone can save, and his kingdom is forever. Above all, may your great name be praised. Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Righteous Problem

Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once, Suppose ten (righteous men) are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:32)

In Genesis 18, we have an amazing dialogue between Abraham and the Lord God. God decides to speak of his plan to destroy the city of Sodom due to its wickedness. And as is the case with us today, Abraham had a hard time finding justice in the wrath of God. It might have been difficult for him to believe that a Holy, loving God would do such a thing. So he bargains with God. Sound familiar? He begins by being honest before God. He says quite boldly, "Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the bargaining continues.

Abraham was wanting God to withhold his wrath if he were to find but fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom. God agreed. Abraham then asked the same for forty-five righteous people. God agreed. Then the bargaining continued. Forty? Agreed. Thirty? Agreed. Twenty? Agreed. And finally, the numbered withered down to ten. God agreed.

One very distinct question rises out of this dialogue for me. Why did God continue to entertain Abraham's questioning? Why did he endure the questioning as it withered down to one-fifth of the initial numbering? Same question. Different angle. I believe God had a purpose in doing so.

I believe the answer to that question takes us to the book of Romans. Romans 3:10 says, "As it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one who understands; no one seeks for God'." God was tolerating Abraham's questioning not to validate Abraham's point. Rather, God was making a point of his own. There is no one who is righteous. Fifty...forty-five...thirty...twenty...ten. It could have evaporated all the way to zero and still Abraham would have been left searching for answers. The problem wasn't God's inability to look for the remaining righteous. The problem was that there weren't any righteous people to be found.

When we think of God's judgment, we must be careful not to fall into the same trap that had caught Abraham. We must be careful not to think of God as not being just or righteous in his judgements. If we do fall into this trap, it means that we have forgotten two very important things. First, we have forgotten the holiness of God. God is holy. And because God is holy, he must punish sin. If God were able to tolerate sin, he wouldn't be God at all. His love for us wouldn't be pure. Even more, he would be unable to save us from our sin. Second, we have forgotten the depths of our own sin. Our unworthiness. Our rebelliousness. Our inability to reconcile the problem of our own unrighteousness--for there is no one who is righteous.

This should lead us all to an absolute adoration of the gospel message. Romans 5:8 explains, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Each time a repentant sinner receives the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in faith, God does not destroy Sodom--figuratively--for we all deserve the wrath of God because there is no one righteous. But, the punishment was still given. It just didn't fall on the repentant sinner. Rather, God's wrath fell upon his son--Jesus Christ. This is what is meant by, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

God's love and holiness cannot be fully understood unless we are willing to acknowledge our own righteous problem.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Where Did We Come From and Where are We Going?

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them." (Genesis 1:27, 28a)

Matthew Arnold wrote a very poignant, insightful poem concerning the deep questions of our existence:

But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life:

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us--to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.

Where did we come from? Where are we going? Every moment in between these two reference points of origin and destination is greatly influenced by the way we answer these two questions. If we hold to a naturalistic worldview, we just simply appeared. We evolved from matter which has no plausible explanation. Hence, the direction of our lives can truly be summed up in the quote, "We are nothing but the sum of our experiences." No course. No purpose. No reason behind it all. Pure chaos in the strictest sense.

This, unfortunately, is one of the dominant worldviews of postmodernism. It is easy to see, then, how our country has slowly began to redefine a Constitution that was greatly influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview. A Judeo-Christian worldview that believed in standards, accountability, and ,when necessary, punishment for crimes committed. But, why did we once believe this way? It is because we believed in a holy God that has given us standards to live by. Postmodernism attempts to reverse this type of thinking with teachings of relevance and autonomous significance. Postmodernism leaves no room for a holy, loving God that creates, loves, guides, enforces, and acts among his creation for his good purposes. Rather, postmodern thought leads to a struggle to reconcile a godless, authority-less, and revelation-less thought process with the innate knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, and intrinsic processes of sickness, decay, and death that we will all experience.

Arnold expressed poetically what each of us, regardless of our worldview, must wrestle with if we are to seek a purpose in our existence. Earlier today, I spoke with a very polite middle-aged man who had just undergone a successful surgery to remove his gal bladder. I asked how he felt. He said he was doing fine. Then, as if he knew I would be interested in his story, he began to enthusiastically describe how he was given permission by the doctor to look on the monitor to see his gal bladder functioning while he was being examined. And then, it was easy to hear Arnold's poem underlying his next words to me. He said, "I have always taken so much for granted. I never even thought about something like my gal bladder. But it has been there working all along." Then he turned to me and said in a very simple way, "There has to be a God."
He continued, "There are just too many things happening and holding together around us for there not to be a God in control." Surgery and illnesses often force us to ponder Arnold's expressions for ourselves in a new light. And for this man, his final conclusion was that if there was a creation there has to be a Creator. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? In fact, it is statistically more probable than naturalism--even by the measures of science.

So why do so many refuse to acknowledge the existence of God? Well, Tom Cruise summed up his reason very bluntly and honestly in an interview a couple of years ago. When asked about this, he responded, "I refuse to believe in a God who holds us accountable to his standards." Honest and to the point. If we do not acknowledge the existence of an almighty God, maybe we might be able to better live by our own ways--by our own desires and choosing. It comes as no surprise, then, that Cruise holds to a belief system that exalts the individual as a form of deity--Scientology. Self-reliant. Self-accountable. Self-centered to the nth degree.

Through natural revelation (God's creation) and special revelation (God's Word, Jesus' incarnation, and God's supernatural acts), God has made known where we have come from and where we are going. The Bible teaches us that God created us and blessed us above all of his creation. It also gives us all a plain description of our destination. There are only two options. Heaven or Hell. Heaven for the forgiven sinners. Hell for the unforgiven sinners. Enter the gospel message, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."
We are marred by sin--every rotten one of us. Consequently, we are separated from the holy God that created us in his image. The bible teaches that we are all destined for hell--eternal separation from a holy, loving God--apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, God demonstrates his love for us in that, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God not only created us in his own image, he also loves us all dearly. He loves us so much that he provided a way for us to be reconciled into a right relationship with him--Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life. He died a sinners death. He rose on the third day in victory over sin and death. The result? Anyone who believes in him will not perish. End result? Destination...Heaven.

Arnold was right to ponder what we all, at one time or another, are pondering.

Where did we come from? Where are we going?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Ministry of the Home

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

One of the most dramatic realizations that any parent can have is to understand that a parent has more influence (either passive or active) over their children than any minister, teacher, friend, or other family member could ever have. Just a few days ago, I sat in a room full of youth ministers from all over the southeast United States. And as a series of questions rang out from around the room, concerns were being honestly expressed by these different youth pastors. Were the concerns regarding an inability to get students to pay attention in bible study time? No. Was the concern regarding a lack of interest in youth group activities? No. Surprisingly, several of the concerns focused on the parents of the students.

Interestingly enough, many of the kids that are growing up in so-called "Christian homes" are suffering silently in the shadows of our church buildings. They are suffering in the corners of their computer lit rooms at home. What is this suffering based upon? To be blunt, it is based upon a lack of reinforcement of the truths learned on Sunday within the walls of their own homes. Plainly put, the homes are becoming more and more "worldly" and less and less "godly." Parental influence/training is not only diminishing, it is often contradictory to the truths we claim to believe. This leaves our youth in more conflict than you and I could ever imagine.

We live in a culture that is increasingly giving adulthood status and freedoms to a increasingly younger age of adolescent youth who are ill prepared for the challenging responsibilities given to them. The attentive parent must be proactive to prepare his/her children. The attentive parent must be available. The attentive parent must be teaching at every opportunity.
What have parents done for the training/education of their children? They drop their children off at school to learn. What have parents done for the spiritual development of their children? They drop their children off at the church. Then, on the drive home, or to work, they feel as if they are doing their parental duties by simply providing transportation toward whatever area of formation that they carry their children to. Passive parenting does not deserve a pat on the back.

Yet, Scripture teaches that parenting is applied. It is practiced. Scripture teaches that it is the parents' responsibility to TRAIN UP their children. According to biblical truth, parents are to be the primary influence in the lives of their children--not simply facilitators of influence. Not the only. The primary. The pastor preaches once or twice a week. The teachers teach five days a week at school. Yet, parents are given the primary responsibility to teach and train their children every day of their developing lives.

As these youth ministers poured their hearts out concerning their young students, it became very evident that there was a bit of animosity in their hearts toward some of the parents that leave the spiritual development of their children completely up to them (and hold them accountable for it). This animosity should be repented of. However, I couldn't help but hurt to hear some of the stories of many spiritually orphaned kids that are being left to the world for their training. Left to the school systems. Left to the coaches. Left to the ministers. Left to the televisions. Left to their ipods. Left to the Internet to secretly discover things that ought to be rightfully taught in careful, loving fashion by parents. Right under our steeples. Right under our noses. Right in our "Christian homes."

And as more and more parents (fathers and mothers) are allowing themselves to be bombarded by responsibilities outside of the home, the ministry of the home is becoming more and more of a distant memory. We often work late so that we, as parents, can afford the next five-hundred dollar PlayStation 3. And in truth, it is probably easier to do that. In reality though, our children are screaming silently for our time, attention, and parental guidance.

Wouldn't it be nice to reclaim an active part in the development in our children? Wouldn't it be nice to reclaim the ministry of the home?