To My Children...I Am Sorry

As I have watched what is happening in our society I feel the overwhelming urge to apologize to my children.  Let me explain.
As a parent it is my heart felt desire that my children inherit a world, a country, a church that will nurture them, give them hope and be something healthy and strong.   Instead we are giving them exactly the opposite; or at least so it seems.
Scripture states that:
          "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34, NKJV).
Or, as one paraphrase version words it:
          "God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak" (TMSG).
I am sorry to my kids that our nation has become weak.  Weak in its morals.  Weak in its willingness to stand up for what is right.  We try so hard to not offend anyone, that we avoid standing on God's Word or His standards.  We have worked so hard to take God out of every aspect of our society and daily lives that we have become morally bankrupt as a people; and then want to blame God for our distress. 
I have watched the recent political discourse, and just as in past political environments, I am amazed at the naivety.  We have people saying that their moral goodness or compromise won't effect their decision making processes; after all we are not electing a Pastor-in-Chief.  But it seems to me that what you hold dear; what you consider to be of most value cannot help but to influence the choices you make and the issues on which you are willing to stand.   As our leaders become more and more spiritually bankrupt we bury our heads in the sand and hope for something better.  The problem with burying your head in the sand is it leaves you in the perfect position to be squarely kicked in the.....well you get the idea.   We avoid the expectation of moral uprightness and godliness and so we become weak.  So, to my kids I say, "I am sorry."
Another area where I must tell my kids I am sorry, has to do with the divided world we are leaving them.  You turn on the TV and what you see and hear is a nation tearing itself apart.  We argue over who is the most racist, when the reality is racism is rampant in all areas of society; red, yellow, black and white.  We argue over whose lives matter most.  We become antagonistic when one side dares to disagree with our stance on this issue or that.  We yell that we are so angry with the establishment, but then proceed to divide our society even more.
In the Church we talk and debate about which sins are hurting our people the most.  Which is kind of silly.  It is like saying; "which is making us more dead; murder or decease."  Friends, dead is dead no matter how you get there.  We divide our congregations along political and societal morays; and in turn become more focused on our divisions than we do on God's call to unity in the Church.
In 1858 in an address to the Illinois Republican State Convention, Abraham Lincoln reminded the people of the words of Christ when he spoke of the "house divided."    Jesus said it this way:
          “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction,
          and a house divided against itself falls" (Luke 11:17, HCSB).
Lincoln saw, even before he ran for President, that if our nation continued down the road of division it was doomed.   So what have we given our children, a nation that is growing more and more divided with every political speech, every new social movement, every new way to be offended.   We have given our children a nation of hate, distrust and division, and for that I am sorry.  We have left for our children a Church more interested in political, social and personal agendas than being a people of the Book; letting God's standards draw us together.  And for that I am sorry.
I so desperately want my children to have the future that God has promised them (Jeremiah 29:11).  I deeply want them to know what it means to be the people of God seeing the blessings of God.  Perhaps it is time for God's people to start living God's purposes in our lives, our homes, our communities.  After declaring that God is Lord and that we should love Him with all that we are, Scripture goes on to tell us that we should make God's words a part of our heart and then:
          "...teach them diligently to your children, of them when you sit in your house,
          when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 
          You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets
          between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
          and on your gates"  (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
To my kids I am sorry for what we have left you.  But to my kids I also declare; "It does not have to remain this way."  In our home, our Churches, our community we must place God back on the throne of our lives, nation and society.  As parents we must live, teach and make a priority out of being a God-focused, God-honoring people.  As the people of God we must "pray, seek" His "face, and turn from" our "wicked ways" (2 Chronicles 7:14) for it is only then that we will see the hand of God heal our land.
I am tired of being sorry for what we are leaving our kids.  Perhaps instead of living in a state of constant "sorry" it is time for us to live in a state of proactive faith.


Thank God It's Friday

Thank God It's Friday!  How many times have we said, or thought, those words?  I mean, these words are so popular there is even a modern restaurant chain called T.G.I.F.  People seem to live for Friday.  So, what's the big deal with Friday?
I remember an old spiritual that had these words: "All my trials, Lord, soon forgotten."  And that kind of sums up Friday.  We have stresses that have built up throughout the week.  Yet, no matter what the week throws out at us, it's OK because Friday's coming.  And with it will come hope and rejuvenation.  Let's face it, many of us live for the weekends.  We love the freedom from the stresses of the "work" week.  We love spending a couple of days with no real expectations.  We need our batteries recharged.  So yes, Friday is a big deal.  So we all cry: "Thank God it's Friday!"
Yet, this Friday is a special Friday, because this Friday is "Good Friday."  It is the day that we remember the death of Christ on a cross.  It is the day we remember the sacrifice for our sins.  And you know what?  Thank God it's Friday!
In Romans 5:6-11 we read:

6For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
In this passage we see an exciting statement of TGIF.
Just like the life of the hectic work week, we all have those times of struggles and pain.  For some it is the pain of illness or relational discord.  For others it is the pain brought on from our own sinful choices.  For others the pain might be harder to define.  Yet one thing is sure, we have times in our lives when we are "without strength."  In the midst of this difficult life God has made promise, that in our struggles, His death shines.  It was on Friday that He fulfilled His promise that even though we are sinners, He would still die for us.  When we are without strength He would die for us. For those of us who needed the weekend of salvation to arrive:  Thank God it's Friday!
As we struggle through our lives we find, that just like the one living for the weekend, we need relief from the ravages of life.  We need freedom from the pain; freedom from the stress; freedom from the power of sin in our lives.  It was the blood of Christ shed on that fateful Friday that justified us and freed us from sin's dark sway.  In our bonds, His death releases.  For those of us who need to experience freedom that only God can give: Thank God it's Friday!
Life is hard and the trials severe.  Because of sin in our lives we live struggling to experience the relationship with God that we were created to have.  It is exciting to think that on that momentous Friday, God reconciled us to Himself and gave us the life we so desperately need.  At the end of the work weak we are tired and worn, similarly we find that life wears us down and we are weak.  Yet, in our weakness His death, and resurrection, revives.  For those of us who need to be rejuvenated and reconciled we find that it is only possible through that death of Christ on Friday:  Thank God it's Friday!
Because of Friday we have life.  Because of Friday we have forgiveness.  Because of Friday we have hope.  Because of Friday we can face tomorrow.  Thank God It's Friday!


Table Scraps And The Beggar God

Imagine with me a great estate during ancient times.  You have entered into a large dining hall filled with guests, and at the front of the room is a raised dais upon which sits the head of the household and the special guest for this banquet.  As is customary, when the main meat of the meal is served the host stands and carves for the honored guest the choicest cut of the meat, serving him with his own hands.  Once the guest of honor has been served then the meat is carved and served to the rest of the evening's guests.  At the conclusion of the meal, whatever is left over is taken outside of the estate and given to the beggars.  This is done for two reasons: as a means of disposing of what is left over, and as a way for the lord of the home to assuage his guilt and be able to say that he has done his duty and given to others.
This scene was the norm in ancient times, and, for me, is a poignant image of the lives of many Christians today.  Think of our lives as being served up as a great banquet.  Then, ask yourself this question: "What part of my life do I serve up to the Lord?"  Do I give Him the first, and finest cut of my life, or have I reduced Him to the role of the beggar God who is only worthy of my left over table scraps.
When we who have claimed Christ as Lord and Savior allow our lives to become consumed by our families, jobs, recreation, social status, social media, and so forth, and then try to fit Christ into what is left over in our schedule, we are giving Him the table scraps.  When God is what we try to make time for rather than the first priority in our lives, then we have turned Him into the beggar God of our lives. 
There should never be any doubt about whether we will worship in His house on Sunday.  For if He is truly Lord, then we will remember His day "to keep it holy."  We will not "forsake the assembling of ourselves together."  We will give Him the first cut, not the left overs.
There should never be any doubt about our commitment to discipleship and growth.  For if He is truly Lord, then we will "deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him."  We will give Him the first cut, not the left overs.
There should never be any doubt about our love for, and ministry to, others.  For if He is truly Lord, then we will have "love for one another, and thus show the world that we are His disciples."  We will give Him the first cut, not the left overs.
The list can go on and on.  But, to put it another way, let's look once again at the great statement of faith for the Jewish people, the SHEMA, which Christ declared to be the greatest commandment.
"Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord,
your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."
-Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Dear Lord, I pray, let me never reduce You to the role of my personal beggar God.  May I not be guilty of just fitting You into my timetable, but rather fit my timetable around You.  Father God, please be the honored guest of my life to whom I serve the first and finest cut of myself.  Be the One, Lord God of my life each and every day. Amen.

The Beginning of Victory (Ephesians 6:10)

I have recently begun a study series at our church entitled SWAG: Spiritual Warfare and the Armor of God.  In preparing for this series I have, of course, gone back and revisited God's Word on the topic in my own personal times with God.  Over the course of the next several blogs I wanted to share what God is teaching me.

In Ephesians 6:10-18 we see God's insights on spiritual warfare.  Spiritual warfare is real and until we accept that fact we can never truly experience victory over our temptations and sins.  Each of us have areas in our lives in which we are going to be under attack from the evil forces around us; and that attack will depend on where we are most vulnerable.  I know that for me spiritual warfare is a reality that I can never escape.  But what has bugged me the most is why it seems that when I have finally gotten victory I turn right around and succumb to the same old temptations and weaknesses.  So I decided that I needed to address this issue for myself before I even thought about teaching these lessons to the young adults in our group.  With that said, let me share what God has taught me is the foundational building block to victory during spiritual warfare.

Finally brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. - Ephesians 6:10

This simple verse hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it, for it lays bare my own worst enemy...self.  Notice that the Apostle Paul provides for us two clues to victory in this passage that I know I needed to come to grips with.

Be Strong In The Lord

Wow!.  When I look back at the times that I have sought to experience victory over my areas of weakness and eventual sin I have made one big drastic mistake.  I have stood myself.  "I am a 'man of God' so certainly I know what it takes to beat the devil," I would say to myself.  I would read the Bible and pray, while all the time being confident in my belief that I was strong enough to stand against all that this world and the devil might throw at me.  And so naturally I would fail time and time again.  Simply put, when we are standing in our own spirituality, confidence and personal pride we will lose the battles. 

We must "stand strong in the Lord."  It is He who fought the grand battle for our souls on the cross.  It is He who descended into hell and took the power of life and death from the grave.  It is He who rose and assured the victory.  And it is He whom we must trust.  To stand on Christ is to stand on the Solid Rock of salvation.  To stand on self is to stand on the shifting sands of weakness and unworthiness.

In The Power Of His Might

Closely related to the truth that we must stand on Christ if we are going to experience victory is that we must also trust in His power and not our own.  I do not know about you but one reality has hit me hard in recent days, I am not strong enough in and of myself to win the battles.  For my own personal battlegrounds I find that when I stand on my own pride and trust in my "inner strength" I will fail every time.  Oh, I might have victory for a season, but ultimately I will fail because my strength and power reserves are limited.  God's strength and power is not limited!

If we are going to find victory in times of spiritual warfare it must begin with the Lord.  We in and of ourselves cannot win these battles, but He has already won the war.  And when we put our trust in Him, stand on His assurances and fight with His might then victory is assured.  There is one simple truth that we must never forget.  GOD ALWAYS WINS!  Victory in spiritual warfare begins and ends with  the Lord and so we must choose to begin our march towards victory with Him.

Dear Lord, You know that I am weak.  Yet I know that You are strong.  I struggle on a daily basis with the spiritual warfare that threatens to overwhelm me.  Please help me to get out of the way and to stand on You, and trust in Your power to defeat the temptations in my life.  I need You to win these battles.  So here I am Lord, I choose to trust Your battle plan as You go before me into the land that You have given me.  Thank You Lord for being my...Lord.  Amen.


The Shepherd, The Sheep and A Shrub

Recently I was writing the second chapter of a new book about a Christian life that is Built 2 Last.  In this chapter I was writing about the foundation of our life being built on Jesus Christ.  At one point I was talking about the hope that is found in Christ, and especially the role of the Shepherd with His sheep.  During this time God taught me a valuable lesson.  Isn't it amazing that when we are trying to write lessons to teach others God goes and decides to make it personal for us instead?  The lesson had to do with the Shepherd, the sheep and a shrub.

Have you ever thought about what a shepherd really does for the sheep?  He nurtures them when they hurt.  He protects them from harm.  He disciplines them when they stray.  And he leads them to green pastures.  And one thing about the leading of the sheep to pasture that struck me was that the Shepherd will always lead the sheep to the pastures that he has determined to be best for them at that moment.  Sometimes the pastures are lush and green, and sometimes they are full of nothing but shrubs.  Either way, the shepherd always seeks to lead the sheep to what is best for them at that time.

Now that truth hit me kind of hard.  I look at those times in my life when God has led me to a life with plenty of resources to live comfortably.  Life was good.  But then I think of times when life has not gone as planned.  There have been times when we did not know how we were going to pay the electric bill that month, even now we are in a time of want and uncertainty.  It seems that God has led our family into a time of shrubs and not so tasty grass.  But the real lesson that needs to be learned is that even the shrubs are good.  Why?  Because the Shepherd has led me to them.  When you are following the Lord He will always lead you to what is best for you at that time.  The real challenge is to trust His plan enough that even in those times of shrubbery and tasteless grass you can is good.  Because life is always good when you are where God intends you to be at that time.

Father God help me to trust Your plan.  As I learn to live on the means You have provided, help me trust Your plan.  As we live a life of faith that is challenging and even at times discouraging, help us to trust Your plan.  When it does not make sense, help me to trust Your plan.  Thank You for all the times when my family and I have had to trust You to be our provider.  May we never forget that need, even when, or if, You finally lead us to lush green pastures.  Wherever You may lead us, help us to trust Your plan.  Amen.


The Humble Prophet...Is That an Oxymoron?

It seems that God is constantly seeking to teach us new things.  And sometimes those lessons are not easy ones to accept.  Perhaps that is because His lessons always meet us where we are, and if where we are is not where He wants us to be, then it is us who must move.  Lately, one of those difficult lessons has been warring within my soul.  Let me try to explain.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to take one of those spiritual gifts inventories or questionnaires the same two gifts from God always appear at the top of my list.  Now God has allowed me to see Him develop other gifts in my life as I have matured or changed in my journey.  At the same time there are other gifts that I wonder if they were even on the inventory, mainly because I simply do not have those gifts in any measure.  But these same two gifts have remained a constant for me for the just under 30 years that I have been saved.  These are Prophecy (which usually has scored within a couple of points of being maxed out) and Evangelism in a close second.  I have also noted that these two gifts often times go hand in hand, especially for someone God intends to be serving Him in that intimidating field of the vocational evangelist.

For me the acceptance of these two gifts, especially the one of Prophecy has been difficult.  You see, to say that I have the gift of prophecy sounds almost arrogant.  And I truly do not want to be known as an arrogant man (believe it or not).  Now, for the New Testament church the prophet is one who has been gifted by God to speak forth His mind and counsel concerning His church.  Literally, when I go into a congregation it takes almost no time before I begin to see and sense issues and needs.  Most times I will become overwhelmed with the desire to stand up and say "don't you see, God's word speaks to this.  Why are you not seeing it?"  What is clear to a prophet may not be so clear to others, and for the prophet that is very frustrating.  Inherent in this Christ given office is a passion for proclaiming God's word to His people, clearly and effectively.  The prophet is driven by the need to see God's people catch that vision of what God can do in their midst if they will only respond to His call. 

With the gift of prophecy comes an unfortunate side-effect.....arrogance and pride.  Or at least the appearance of arrogance and pride.  Before you judge too harshly remember that anyone who has been placed in a position of influence and responsibility must guard against this very temptation.  And as if that is not hard enough, God then turns around and commands us to be humble.  In Proverbs 29:23 we read:

A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.

The humble prophet.  It can literally seem to be an oxymoron.  But that is the very need and call that God has had me wrestle with for years.  Today I found myself on my face at the altar of my home church (no lights on or watching eyes to be impressed) simply crying out to God to give me a humble spirit.  For any minister that has to be our deep prayer.  If humility is not at the forefront of our hearts and minds, then when someone responds to God's call to salvation...then for our minds it is a short step to seeing that obviously it was because of our great powers of persuasion.  If humility is not a primary element of our ministry then the addiction to the praises of the people when we preach, sing, teach or whatever we may do "for the Lord" can and will grow. 

To be humble, according to the dictionary, is to not be proud or arrogant, to be modest.  And here is the challenge I face.  With all my heart I plead with God to make me a humble man, seeking to be all that He has called me to be.  At the same time, I have to pray that God will also never let me be afraid to stand and preach His message, even when others do not want to hear.  God has plans for His people, and sometimes God sends His prophets into our midst to lead us back onto His course and His plan.  I pray that God will give me the ability to speak His words without reservation and fear, but to do so with a humble spirit and a modest attitude.

Dear Lord, humble my heart and ministry.  May it never be about the message I preach but always about the Message that is from You and You alone.  May Your people hear Your words, spoken by Your servant with humility and grace.  Here am I, Lord, send me.

The Man of God...What Ministers Tend To Forget

Let me share with you something God has placed on my heart.  I honestly wish that God would allow me to stand before a group of seminarians someday and preach this simple message.  I was thinking about the call of the ones who call themselves Pastor, or some other vocational minister.  What exactly is our call?  For that matter, are we living up to our call?  Of course there are passages of Scripture that come to mind when talking about God's expectations for His servants.  Such passages as the call for every believer to be about the business of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, making disciples (not just converts) of the Lord.  Then there is the gift of ministry from Christ found in Ephesians 4:11ff, where each of those gifted by Christ for the gospel ministry are expected to be about the business of equipping the saints for ministry.  And who can forget Paul's challenge to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, challenging him to preach the word, be ready in season and out of season and so forth.  God has certainly placed a high calling on those whom He has set aside for vocational ministry.

Then I realized that among the many other passages concerning God's servant there is one that stands as an indictment on many of us.  It is a simple one verse passage found in Habakkuk 2:1.  It says:

I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected. (NKJV)

Within this passage are four aspects of the man of God that we tend to forget, or at the very least neglect in our ministries.  Let's look briefly at these four challenges.

First...The Man of God will be a Watchman (I will stand my watch)  When I first thought of this idea I was drawn to Ezekial 33.  God tells Ezekiel that he as been made a watchman.  The duty of the watchman was to be faithful to keep up the watch, looking for what threatens the people.  And when that threat arises, they are to speak out with all their mighty voice.  When the watchman calls out, if the people do not listen then they suffer their fate, and it is on their own heads.  But God warns Ezekiel that if the watchman does not stand their watch and warn the people, the people will still perish, but God will require their blood at the watchman's hand.  Wow!  How many ministers are so busy being popular and non-threatening that they are sitting by passively and watching thier churches crumble and the people around them die without Christ?  Habakkuk's statement was one of intentionality.  I WILL STAND MY WATCH.  It is so much more than writing an elloquent sermon, or doing some deep blog for your people to read and go "Gee look how great our Pastor is."  It is about being faithful to do your duty, which will supercede your comfort zone.  Can God count on us to do the same?

Second...The Man of God will be a Warrior (I will set myself upon the rampart)  I have always loved the image in Nehemiah 4.  As God's people were working to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem they worked with the one hand while holding a spear or sword in the other.  No matter the task they found themselves engaged in they were always ready to do battle with the enemies of God.  Sometimes we as ministers forget that we are called on by God not to be popular or avoid conflict, but to fight for God, His people and His word.  Too many ministers are cowards, unwilling to rock the boat, unwilling to take a stand on something that might cost them tithers for the collection plate.  Tell me Pastor, are you ready to be a warrior for God; not just fighting the devil in the great battle scenes of history, but fighting his smaller battles in the trenches of your congregation and community?

Third...The Man of God will be a Wise Man (And watch to see what He will say to me)  So often ministers will reach a point where they are so convinced of their "expertise" they forget to be teachable.  They can become convinced that they have the knowledge they need...often times even forgetting to listen to God.  I know a minister who's church has been in a state of steady decline for over 15 years.  From worship to Sunday School, people have been leaving out the back door far faster than the church is winning new believers.  In a conversation with him one day he basically informed me that he was a guru of church growth, knowing just how to grow the church.  I sat there stunned, wanting to ask him if he had looked at his congregation recently.  Job 12:13 tells us that: "with Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understadning."  Tell me oh man of God, are you actively looking for what God may have to teach you?  A wise man never stops learning and growing.

Fourth...The Man of God will be a Willing Servant (And what I will answer when I am corrected)  Have you ever considered the fact that a true servant has to always be willing to adapt and change, meeting the needs and desires of their master?  I have known way too many Pastors who would never be willing to admit when they might be wrong, or have failed in some way.  No, they will assume that it is someone else's fault, or that the devil just won a victory today.  But the true servant of God is always ready to be remade and reformed by God.  We must be like the clay in the potter's hand that Jeremiah 18 speaks of.  When we fail or are marred, God must be able to remold and remake us into whatever He may choose.  It is curious to note that Habakkuk states that what he is most anxious to know is how will he respond when those times of chastisement and challenge from the Lord come.  Are we, as servants of God, willing to let God change us; remold and remake us?  Are we willing servants of His?

God has placed a great call on those who serve Him fulltime.  But perhaps greatest of all deals with their integrity as men of God.  We are called to be Watchmen, Warriors, Wise Men and Willing Servants. Dear Lord, make me into the man of God You have called me to be.  Here am I, send me.