Recreational Christians

My journey into aquatics wasn’t exactly remarkable or exemplary as I literally ran away from my first Red Cross instructor as he tried to pull me into the water. One day, sometime later, while watching my siblings practice swimming, the instructor noticed me eyeballing the huge innertube the kids were allowed to play on following a successful lesson. I was told if I wanted to play on the innertube I had to swim out there. Without hesitation or ever having a lesson, I simply jumped into the water, swam out to and mounted the tube, and then summarily pushed everyone else off.

You might say I was born to swim. But natural talent alone would not help me develop into a champion competitive swimmer. With good coaching, mechanics, hard work, and hours in the pool daily, I became an Illinois State Champion and nationally ranked swimmer. The pinnacle of my training came one summer in Iowa City, Iowa while participating in an intensive training program. Looking back at it now, it seems over the top and crazy for an eleven-year-old to swim up to 11 miles a day plus dryland workouts. We literally practiced at 6 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. The intensity of the program empowered swimmers to leapfrog their competition when they returned to their respective cities and programs.

Spiritually, we too are born to win, but the new birth alone is no guarantee that we will develop into champions for Christ. Like competitive swimming, spiritual development requires coaching, focus, dedication, diligence, discipline, time, and great effort. The problem is too many Christians are more like recreational swimmers than competitive swimmers. Unlike competitive swimmers, recreational swimmers come to the pool just to have fun. They come when they want, stay only as long as they want, practice their cannonballs, and soak up the sun. Competitive swimmers understand that the more quality pool time they have, the more likely they will excel in the sport. They show up on time, follow directions, work hard, and as a result, develop great conditioning, endurance, and speed.

The Church in the United States, unfortunately, is filled with recreational Christians. They ignore the admonition of Hebrews not to forsake the assembling of themselves (Hebrews 10:25). They dismiss the command to be become equipped for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-13). They choose to frolic, splash, and float around the Church instead of valuing and entering into the kind of intense spiritual training that would help them make a mark in this world for Christ that could not be erased.

A few years ago, I went to see my doctor in Illinois who was my physician from the time I was in high school until his recent retirement. After checking my vital signs, running tests, drawing blood, and checking my heart, he commented that 30 years after ending intensive aquatic training I was still benefiting in my health from the investment made as an age group swimmer. My heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation, and blood work were all perfect.

Similarly, we benefit spiritually from a foundation of intense spiritual training and exercise. I can’t help but wonder if we’re setting future generations of Christians up for failure as the modern Church eliminates spiritual training, services, outreaches, and prayer meetings, to adopt a new mantra with little to no expectation for members and adherents to faithfully attend, serve, give, grow, worship, and witness. Church research groups now indicate that the average American church goer attends once a week for 70 minutes every two to three weeks. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that this is no recipe for developing champions for Christ as the average Christian is simply not getting in enough “pool time” to succeed. The modern Church culture is starting to look more like the kiddie pool than a venue for serious training and development. It’s time to take off those floaties, dive into the deep end, and get serious again about our spiritual health and development.

You Big Bully

Many thinking Americans sat incredulously in front of their television screens in 2016 as students privileged to attend some of the nation’s finest institutions of higher learning sat in circles in the middle of campus crying because their chosen political candidate lost an election. Some of these same universities set up emergency counseling centers to help the students through the “trauma.”  This picture, played out all over the nation, makes it clear that mental intelligence is no predictor of emotional intelligence. One can be a brilliant thinker but completely dominated and controlled by the emotions. We do a disservice to our up and coming generations by letting them believe that they can reach their potential without growing up emotionally. Emotional intelligence is not being unemotional, but being in touch with your emotions and the emotions of others without making them the basis of your choices and actions.

The modern church, unfortunately, is a reflection of the rest of society as a whole instead of a challenge to it. Many believers have traded in the authority of the Word of God for belief and conduct to obey the voice of feeling making emotion the absolute authority in their lives. The mantra is often, “I know what the Bible says, but this is the way I feel. Don’t invalidate me by bringing up the Bible.” This manifests when believers emphasize the “neither do I condemn thee” in the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, but reject the part that says, “go and sin no more” and then label as judgmental and bigoted Christians who ascribe to both parts of this verse. This manifests when we do not conform to the lens someone has created for us as to what we should do or not do, or say or not say. When we fail to live up to their frame (as if they were made the Lord of our lives), they get put out, offended, and bitter. This manifests when someone redefines, for their purposes or agenda, disagreement as abuse, which both misrepresents the reality, vilifies the individual, and at the same time detracts from the seriousness of actual abuse. It’s the same dynamic as when one politician labels another as a Nazi or a racist simply because they disagree with a certain policy or position thus minimizing the horror of what it means to actually be one. This manifests when we go through trials, setbacks, and hard times and wrongly believe that God instead of the devil is behind the killing, stealing, and destroying in our lives. This manifests when we make poor choices or handle matters inappropriately and then resort to blaming others for our situation. A fundamental marker of emotional immaturity is the refusal or inability to take responsibility for ones thoughts, decisions, and actions.  This manifests when someone rejects Jesus’ pathway for relationship healing found in Matthew 18 (go show your brother or sister their fault just between you two) choosing to yield to unscriptural counseling that encourages venting and ultimately emotional group think. The former puts the fire out and brings healing. The latter adds fuel to the fire and consumes more and more hearts and minds proving that spiritual experience, like mental ability, does not necessarily mean emotional intelligence.

The truth about Christianity is that it impacts each and every dimension of the human being. When Jesus redeemed us he redeemed us body, soul, and spirit. The spirit is to be born again. The body is to be subjected. The mind is to be renewed. The will is to be submitted. The emotions are to be used to experience life rather than controlling it. Any dimension of the believer not submitted to the Word of God will become the dominant influence and voice. For too many believers, the dominant influence has become the emotions.  In other words, for the Christian, Jesus, not emotion is supposed to be Lord. Emotion tells the hurt to be bitter, but Jesus tells them to forgive. Emotion tells the disappointed to quit, but Jesus tells them they will reap if they do not faint. Emotion tells the angry to lash out, but Jesus tells them that vengeance is his and he will repay. Emotion tells the despondent and depressed to throw their lives away, but Jesus tells them to give their lives to him. Emotion tells the grieving they will never be able to live again, but Jesus reminds them that he is the source all life and that he still has a plan and purpose for their lives. Emotion tells the lonely they have to compromise God’s standards to have a relationship, but Jesus tells them to delight themselves in the Lord and he would give them the desires of their heart. Emotion tells the addicted or bound up that they will never get free, but Jesus tells them whom the son sets free is free indeed.

Elijah (1 Kings 19) experienced a time when he was very emotional and on the verge of cracking under all the pressure. He had expended great physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy taking on the prophets of Baal and then fleeing for his life from Ahab and Jezebel. This brought him to the brink of exhaustion and a break down. We can feel the same way as we experience a loss, setback, affliction, disappointment, illness, persecution, false accusation, failed relationship, dysfunctional family, abuse, rejection, abandonment, financial disaster, work problem, or an unrealized expectation. There’s a reason roof structures in Colorado Springs are designed differently than in Florida. The house in Colorado is designed to handle the accumulation of snow. Put that Florida house in the Rocky Mountains and it will never stand up under the wintery onslaught. Like the snow covered house, the key for the believer to hold up under such pressure is the development of inner spiritual strength, not the domination of a bully called emotion. Christian or not, if we do not understand how to step back and see these situations through the eyes of God’s Word we are likely to allow the bully of emotion to step in and send us down an even more destructive path.

Like Elijah, we all can arrive at destination destruction by sheer exhaustion, ungodly and unscriptural thinking, fear, isolation, and wrong words, but we can overcome the voice of the bully by applying key principles also revealed in this story. First, tune up the body because a fracture in one part of our lives can cause other parts to fracture. The more wore out we are, the bigger the bully’s mouth. This means not apologizing for good self-care, including diet, exercise, time for personal recharging and reflection, and recreation.  Second, tune up the hearing. We can’t get our perspective back unless we relearn how to hear God’s voice. One word from God can change our lives forever. Joshua 1 teaches us that the key to courage under duress is hearing from God’s Word and then continuing to say what he says about things. The volume of the bully goes down when our intake of God’s Word goes up. Any emotional baggage, including loss of courage and hope, can be remedied by large and consistent deposits of the Word of God. Third, tune up the vision. We must realize our job is not done just because we are in a bad place emotionally. Like Elijah, who still had many important things to accomplish for the Kingdom, we must discover again our divine purpose in life and then pursue it. The more we focus on our purpose, the less the bully of emotion will control us.

Developing Contentment

To be covetous is to be literally obsessed and driven to obtain what you do not have. When believers covet, they focus on what they do not have rather than being thankful for what God has done for them. This sin of the heart and of the mind drives an individual to want something at someone else’s expense. Proverbs 14:30 states, “Envy is a cancer in the bones.” You can tell you are slipping into covetousness when you begin to spend too much time thinking about things.

There are two negative effects of coveting. First, coveting drives people to obtain what is coveted in inappropriate, unwise, and at times illegal or immoral ways. Second, obsessing on what others have denies our faith in the Father to provide for us equally well. There is no need for a covenant child of God to ever covet because what he has done for others He will surely and gladly do for us.  All we need to do is ask instead of worrying, fretting, or coveting.

Andrew Carnegie was asked, “How much money is enough?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” Contentment, in contrast to covetousness, is to be satisfied with what you have. It is not laziness or a lack of ambition, but being grateful for what you have at every stage of life rather than bemoaning what maybe missing or is yet to come. Who can forget the story about a thirteen-year-old surfer named Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack? She has maintained a positive outlook on life, choosing to see her possibilities rather than the limitations that are the result of the injuries. An old rabbinic teaching says, “Who is wealthy? The one who is content with his life.”

The ability to rest contented in God is priceless. Every believer can develop contentment in his or her life by overcoming three hindrances to contentment. The first hindrance to contentment is the competitive spirit. The Bible warns us about comparing ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12). James 4:1-2 teaches that the root of strife, fights, and quarrels in the believer’s life is coveting. The key is to be the best you can and focus on yourself, rather than trying to beat the other guy.

The second hindrance is the materialistic spirit. “I saw a man who had no family, no son or brother. He always worked hard but was never satisfied with what he had” (Ecclesiastes 4:8, NCV). Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep you lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” It is interesting that this often quoted Scripture is directly tied to the concept of contentment. We don’t have to worry about stuff because God will always be there to provide for us! Materialism is trying to fill a spiritual need with something physical or material such as property, relationships, money, or even power. Many people have acquired all this and yet remain discontented, anxious, and covetous.

The last hindrance to contentment is the empty spirit. Every human heart was designed for God to dwell there. The empty spirit is a heart that is not filled with God and his word. “If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment” (Job 36:11, NIV). There is no real prosperity or contentment without a relationship with the Father through faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle John tied well-being and health to the condition of one’s own soul (3 John 2). Paul said he learned how to be content, at rest, and at peace in any situation—the impact of the strength that only comes from walking with the Lord (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV). When the human spirit is empty, people will covet, slash, burn, steal, and manipulate to acquire what they desire. They are driven by emptiness. Fill yourself with God and there will be no room left for covetousness.

Rest in God

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-9, 11, NIV).

Few concepts are as difficult to get a handle on as the Sabbath. How does the Sabbath apply to Christians today? What biblical principles for living can the believer draw from the fourth commandment?

To understand the relevance and applicability of the Sabbath for believers we must first understand what the Sabbath meant to the Hebrews. The Old Testament concept of Sabbath meant the complete stoppage of all labors to worship the Lord and reflect upon his goodness (to literally rest in God). The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign that a person was in covenant with God—to keep the Sabbath was to demonstrate your faith.

Technically, Sabbath is the cessation of activity, intermission, or rest. It is to take a break for a specific purpose and agenda—to draw close to God. The Sabbath requirement was God’s way of corralling his covenant (but not born-again) people into fellowship with him. In this sense, the Sabbath represents “sacred time,” or set aside time for God.

For believers today, the Sabbath commandment (a type of spirituality) finds its total fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “So do not let anyone make rules for you about eating and drinking or about a religious feast, a New Moon Festival, or a Sabbath day. These things were like a shadow of what was to come. But what is true and real has come and is found in Christ”(Colossians 2:16-17, NCV). Paul also explained that any future keeping of this type or shadow of Jesus is now strictly a matter of personal conscience and conviction: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter” (Romans 14:5, NLT).

The Scriptures teach that the true Sabbath rest is a relationship and lifestyle rather than a certain day of the week. Jesus called out to the world to come find rest in him: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MES).The rest God promises is ultimately found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ: “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1, NIV).

Jesus repeatedly ran into opposition from the Pharisees over his ministry activities on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not something that people were ever to serve. It was an opportunity for God’s people to enjoy complete restoration. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28, NLT).Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would teach on the Sabbath, encourage on the Sabbath, make provision on the Sabbath, and heal on the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath rest found in our personal relationship with the Lord is for the total restoration of man, not for the codification of more religious activity.

The true, genuine rest of God on earth (only a glimpse of what waits for us in heaven) is not accessed through a certain day of the week, but through faith. We enter the rest of God by faith. The writer of Hebrews declared that the message of the gospel is of no value to those that hear but fail to combine what they hear with faith (Hebrews 4:2). Our rest on earth (and in heaven in the future) is compromised when we fail to develop and maintain the spirit of faith: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19, NIV).

 

It’s a Sin Issue

The Bible is filled with clear references to the viability of life in the womb and God’s value for it. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” John the Baptist literally jumped for joy inside his mother’s womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:41). The Lord declared to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Ronald Reagan argued, “Simple morality dictates that unless and until someone can prove the unborn human is not alive, we must give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is (alive). And, thus, it should be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (The Conscience of a Nation). Recent scientific evidence supports the viability of life in the womb by now documenting the perception of the human heartbeat at 16 days. The science, combined with the fact that the overwhelming majority of abortions have nothing to do with the health of the mother, rape, or incest, is cause for reflection, action, and certainly a rejection of late term abortion.

After 63 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973, it is time for the spiritual conscience of the nation and particularly the people of God to awaken. This loss of life is over 46 times greater than all the lives lost in all the wars ever fought as a nation (1,354,664). The lost earning power and subsequent buying power of the aborted work force is estimated to be 90 trillion dollars, and the lost tax revenue at 22.5 trillion dollars (enough to pay off the current national debt in its entirety). God only knows how many problem solvers, scientists, inventors, and spiritual leaders have been lost to the modern-day incarnation of the spirit of Pharaoh and Herod who ordered the death of the infants to destroy any threat to their power (Exodus 1:15-22; Matthew 2:16-18).

If we are to address this issue biblically and effectively, we have to be reminded that abortion is not a political issue or a social issue, but a sin issue. The Bible still commands, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Abortion is ageism at its worst denying a child even the basic right to life. The spirit of death that drove Herod has now shown up in places like New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia where legislators and governors pushed for (and some succeeded) in paving the way for abortion up to the point of birth (and beyond if the embattled governor of Virginia had his way). It’s baffling that people (and even believers) who decry child poverty, lack of clean water, limited education or healthcare, or even border detainment of children have nothing to say about the execution of the unborn.

How we personally deal with abortion as believers is a great indicator of the condition of our own conscience. Advocating for or justifying the slaughter of the unborn indicates the hardened or seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). Brushing off abortion as a political or social issue demonstrates an insensitive, darkened, or damaged conscience (Ephesians 4:19). Being disgusted by this culture of death and attack on the most defenseless among us to the point of raising one’s voice and intercession indicates a healthy, working, and good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Let us take our functioning conscience and pray for our court system, lift up our voices in opposition to this wickedness, rebuke the demonic spirits behind this slaughter, support our foster and adoption systems, get behind legislation that seeks to limit abortion such as heartbeat laws, and provide biblical counseling and healing for those who have experienced the trauma of having an abortion.

When Believers Hurt

Live long enough in community with other believers and you will experience some type of hurt, and you will no doubt be the source of hurt at some point.  We have all received the Judas kiss from someone, and we have all at one time or another been the one doing the kissing. Throughout Scripture we also see individuals like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter who at times were on the receiving end of the hurt, and at times were the ones dishing it out. We as the people of God and particularly the body of Christ, are not dysfunctional because we experience hurt or inflict it, we are dysfunctional because of how we too often handle it.

This is why it’s vital that we understand and apply the grace-filled and mercy-filled Scriptural pathway when believers hurt. When the commands and principles of Jesus are followed, the result is healing, restoration, unity, anointing, and fruitfulness (Psalm 133). When the principles are not honored the result is strife, confusion, and every evil work (James 3:16). When the teaching of Jesus is dismissed it opens the door for believers to be defeated and to damage their witness among unbelievers (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). Paul warned it would be better to be wronged than to be compromised in this fashion. When the instruction of Jesus is not known or ignored it puts the believer in a position to be taken captive by the enemy to do his will – to become his tool rather than an instrument of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24-26). When we exempt ourselves from Jesus’ teaching on this matter we set ourselves up for the repeated destruction of relationships when we are called to model his love (John 13:35; 1 Peter 4:8). Finally, when we choose not to apply his directives we neutralize the power of the keys to the kingdom, including the prayer of agreement, and binding and loosing power and authority (Matthew 18).

The pathway is described by Jesus plainly in Matthew 5 and 18 and involves a series of spiritual steps that are outlined for the sole purpose and reason of restoration and the preservation of relationships among the brethren. The pathway prescribed by Jesus and its honest and deliberate application by believers does not invalidate the one who is hurt or trash the one who did the hurting, but provides wisdom, counsel, and supernatural power to bring people back together.

The first step, if practiced, has the power to quickly defuse and protect relationships. It simply calls for the offending party to go to a brother that has an issue with him or her and seek forgiveness and restoration (Matthew 5:21-24). The Scripture teaches that we are to leave our gift at the altar until restoration is pursued. This more than implies that we deceive ourselves when we think we can be in strife with others and pretend that everything is fine with our walk with the Lord. In reality, our horizontal relationships impact our vertical relationship with God. How many issues would be resolved and resolved quickly if we followed this teaching with conviction.

Second, if this does not happen, the offended brother is to go to the individual and share the grievance just between the two of them (Matthew 18:15). In this day of instant communication through social media and the blogosphere, this simple principle is too often ignored or rejected. When we violate this mandate we make it hard, if not impossible, to achieve restoration.

Third, if the individual does not respond, then we are told to bring along one or two other witnesses or people who have first-hand knowledge of the incident involving us (Matthew 18:16), rather than people we have told about the situation (and certainly not people we have sent an email, tweet, text, or Facebook post or instant message about the matter). Again, the goal is to bring healing and restore the relationship rather than putting together our own posse of sympathizers who may agree with us.

Finally, if we fail to achieve reconciliation through the taking of responsibility by the offending person seeking restoration, or by going to the offending party personally, or by bringing one or two personal witnesses to the situation, then the matter should be brought to an individual or individuals that both parties would agree constitute spiritual authority or government in their lives (Matthew 18:17). This is made plainer and simpler when both individuals are in the same body, but still possible when there is agreement as to the right of an individual or individuals to speak from a position of spiritual authority into the situation to navigate and work towards restoration and healing. If reconciliation fails at this point, Jesus instructed such a person to be treated as a pagan or tax collector (Matthew 18:17). We need, however, to be honest at this point and reflect on just how Jesus treated the pagan and tax collector. The story of Zacchaeus makes plain Jesus’ behavior and his intent that we should continue to love and reach out with the hope of life transformation and restoration (Luke 19:1-10).

The question many believers would have is what they should do if the individual in question is either not available or no longer living. The question is also what they should do if there are no true witnesses to the situation or there is no clear spiritual leadership able to steer the process. We always have the Lord to entrust the matter to expecting him to bring healing and to work in and through the situation. We also have people with integrity and honor who can help guide us through the process without enabling us in our strife, excusing the hurt, or vilifying the offender.  We must make certain, nonetheless, that we do not embrace and employ current social norms and modern means of communication that violate the teachings of Jesus, that facilitate the transmission of feelings and opinions without the benefit of context, tone, or nonverbals, and that engender strife rather than promote healing and restoration.

We are the end-time Church with amazing opportunities, tremendous responsibility, and unprecedented warfare and persecution. In the process of fulfilling our Father’s will we will be hurt, and we will be the hurter. At those times, let us value the principles of the Word of God, relationships among the people of God, and the benefits of handling hurt properly so that our witness is intact, our influence is sizable, and our power discernable. During those times you are the hurt or hurter, the kissed or the kisser, do not exempt yourself from the prescription of Jesus and you will see the miracle of restored relationships.

Supernatural Forgetfulness

Matthew 5 shows us that the real key to murder is not the violence itself, but the underlying reason for the violence—unresolved anger and unforgiveness. The fact is no one will kill if he or she is in the habit of genuinely forgiving the offender.

Because man is a multidimensional being consisting of spirit, soul, and body, it is possible to “murder” an individual without killing the body. For example, we can murder someone’s reputation, character, influence, self-esteem, courage, hopes, and dreams. A person can be emotionally dead and live on for decades in his or her body. It is important to realize that we can commit murder without ever taking someone’s life physically.

Jesus taught that we must actively forgive those that sin against us. Our sin debt remains if we embrace God’s grace and forgiveness but refuse to extend that same grace and forgiveness to others. Consider the story of the unjust servant. He owed his master millions of dollars. Facing imprisonment and the enslavement of his family, the man begged for mercy and the debt was forgiven. This same man went out and found a man who owed him a few dollars and began to demand immediate payment showing him no mercy. Word of his duplicity came to the master and the unjust servant’s debt was reactivated and the man was thrown in jail to be tortured until he repaid the debt.

You might be saying, “Well, I’ve forgiven them, but I can’t forget.” The biblical truth is that if you intentionally remember, you really haven’t forgiven. This practice of remembering and meditating on the offense is proof that we have never really released the person from the offense. God forgives us and his forgiveness includes the forgetting of our sins. Micah 7:19 (NIV) declares, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” The writer of Hebrews quoting Jeremiah 31:34 wrote, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12, NIV).

The normal reaction here would be to say, “but that’s God.” We can’t be expected to forgive like God does and actually, consciously forget the sin committed against us—or can we? We are called to be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1). If God with is omniscience can voluntarily choose not to remember our sins, then we can also choose not to remember what has been done to us (given our lack of omniscience). Like forgiveness and redemption in general, the supernatural power and grace of God through the blood of Jesus is needed to empower us to walk in true forgiveness and forgetfulness with others. In the natural you can’t be forgiven—so how could you possibly forgive and forget in the natural?

Climb Little Bear

I saw a video on Facebook recently where a mama bear and bear cub were trying to scale a steep snow-covered mountain slope.  The mama bear with her big claws seemed to reach the summit just fine, but the baby bear struggled.  Time and time again he would make progress only to slide right back down the mountain and once nearly off the slope face. Amazingly, the little bear became more resolute and energized instead of defeated with each attempt until he reached the top to join his mother. Like the little bear, the ultimate key to success in every area of life is developing guts and grit in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The video reminded me of the story in the Bible where a man came to his friend in the middle of the night seeking provision for a friend who stopped by on a journey. The man refused saying his children were already in bed and the door was locked.  The Scripture indicates that the man would eventually rise and help, not because of friendship, but because of the man’s “importunity” (Luke 11:5-8, KJV). This word, rarely used in today’s world, actually combines three concepts, including boldness (confidence to do and say what is right), shamelessness (not ashamed to ask and keep asking no matter how it looks to others), and persistence (steadfastness despite difficulty or delay) to show believers how to approach God in prayer.

The highest form of faith is to keep believing when everything tells you it will never happen. This type of perseverance qualifies us for the eventual breakthrough and victory. The Scripture clearly shows a connection between persistence and obtaining what is promised (Hebrews 10:35-36). Those who sow will also reap if they faint not (Galatians 6:7-9). It’s hard to miss the lessons of people like Job and Joseph who simply refused to quit and refused to turn on the Lord. Job received the double for his trouble and Joseph went from the pit via persecution and prison to the palace. There’s no telling where you can go if you will just choose to hang in there. All the really great triumphs in life are going to come through this type of endurance.

So how do you develop importunity or that bold and shameless persistence? First, Keep your eyes on the promise instead of the circumstance, the date on a calendar, the time on the clock, or the amount in your checking account. Second, keep your emotions under control because they will try to control the situation and you. Always remember that your emotions are given by God to experience life, not to run your life. Third, Keep your righteousness mentality remembering that he gave you the gift of righteousness and that consciousness of right standing with God will always make you bold and courageous. Finally, keep plugging away. Keep doing what you are doing. Be faithful, diligent, and consistent, and like the baby bear, you will find yourself standing on top of the summit.  Keep climbing little bear! Keep climbing!

Excuses, Excuses

Jesus told the story of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The invited were told to come, for everything was now ready.  Instead of discerning the importance of the opportunity and showing gratitude for the invitation, one by one the invited guests began to make excuses.

The first one excused himself saying he had just purchased a field. The second said that he had just purchased five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out. The third declined to attend saying that he had just got married. The master of the feast then replaced them with the poor, crippled, blind, lame, and those outside the city.

The story reflects the current spiritual climate of the Western Church.  When we ought to be discerning the times and seasons and preparing ourselves for the momentous end time events like the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), so many believers are completely caught up in this natural life having lost spiritual sensitivity and an appetite for spiritual things.

Just like the person who purchased a field, believers today, after believing God for them, have no problem putting their houses, lands, vehicles, toys, and possessions before the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:17 tells us to remember the Lord for he is the one who gives us power to get wealth.  Instead of remembering him when we prosper and things go well, we tend to withdraw from him, a pattern the people of God have followed for thousands of years.

Just like the person who bought the oxen, believers have no problem today putting their money, jobs, and personal economy before the Lord.  Amazingly, the job we so desperately asked God for becomes the basis for blowing off the things of God like personal devotion, public worship, and Christian service. Having been blessed by him, we should honor his involvement in our financial lives by staying faithful to him, his house, and his priorities, including honoring him with the first thin dime of every dollar from the job we say he gave to us.

Just like the person who just got married, believers have developed the erroneous theology and idol of family first before everything, including God.  The truth is Jesus said if we were to be his disciples, we could not put any human relationship before him (Luke 14:26). It’s not uncommon for a man or woman to pray for a spouse and then after that prayer is answered to withdraw from God’s presence and people. Today we let children tell us if they want to go to church (but we make them go to school), involve them in activities that keep them out of church, and teach them by parental example that spiritual things are not the priority.

If you don’t want to lose your reservation and seat at the table get rid of the excuses. Get ready by preparing your heart and life for this great day. Get excited about spiritual things and especially things to come. Get active in inviting others into the Kingdom.

What Is Faith?

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things of unseen” (KJV). The NIV renders this verse, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is not nothing. It is the invisible substance or heavenly matter from which everything in the universe, seen and unseen is derived. Faith is critical because without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Four times in Scripture we are told that the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38) which means that faith is the prescribed way for every believer to live.  It is the law of the kingdom of God (Romans 3:27) and the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5).

What passes for faith these days, however, is too often presumption or wishful thinking.  God honors Bible faith, not presumption, so it is critical to understand the difference between presumption and faith, and how faith is developed and used.  F. F. Bosworth famously said, “Faith begins where the will of God is known.” To know the will of God we must know his Word.  Unless our believing God is based on the promises of his word, we will most likely be in presumption, and God is not obligated to honor our presumption because we are only authorized to believe what God has said.

To understand the difference between faith and presumption, suppose someone tells a friend you are going to take their family to Disney World.  What would mark this as faith and separate it from presumption is if you actually told that person you were going to take them to Disney World. They have no right to believe that if you never said that.  It’s the same way with the Word of God.  We can’t believe God for things he didn’t say. We just can make something up he didn’t say and declare we are believing God for that because real Bible faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 1:17).

Faith does begin where the will of God is known, but it does not end there. Faith begins where the will of God is known, but it is established in grace, energized by love, developed on a blueprint of hope, undergirded by patience, released by confession, made alive by action, activated by praise, and identified by joy. The process begins when the Holy Spirit creates a vivid picture on your heart of what can be based on the Word. As Jerry Savelle said, “The heart is the canvas, the Word is the paint, and the Holy Spirit is the artist.” The inner image of your heart affects your decisions, direction, and ultimately your destiny. Change that image and you change your future.  You can be assured that any picture painted on your heart by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God is always faith and never presumption. That’s something you should believe every time.

The Conclusion

Celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s posthumous release of his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, expressed his conclusion that there is no God, there is no one controlling the universe, and there most certainly is no heaven or afterlife.  In the same text he affirms his belief in alien life forms and cautions attempts to contact or respond to these more evolved and sophisticated species of life before we are more developed technologically ourselves as a species. This declaration is proof that despite his brilliance, Mr. Hawking, lacking spiritual intelligence and education, chose to worship the creation without acknowledging the creator (Romans 1:25).

The contradiction could not be more conspicuous.  He does not believe in a God he cannot see despite the preponderance of physical evidence of His existence scattered throughout the universe and specifically on our planet.  He does not believe in God even though it is illogical to conclude that exquisite order and complexity can come from complete chaos and randomness. He does not believe in God even though the renowned physicist’s belief in the origin of the universe requires such intense heat that no building block protein could possibly survive without instantly denaturing at the onset of its formation. According to the latest theory of Hawking and Thomas Hertog on the origin of the universe, the universe expanded rapidly like bread in an oven a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. That oven cooks at a much higher temperature than the 105.8 degrees needed to destroy any protein. And yet, Mr. Hawking believes with absolutely no empirical evidence, no direct evidence, no indirect evidence, no interaction, no communication, and no creative footprint left behind that alien life exists in the universe.

Mr. Hawking’s  conclusion that there is no God is a classic case of a man’s worldview informing his science rather than science informing his worldview.  It’s a paradox forged in secular man’s drive to resist any notion that there is a higher order being to whom we must be accountable.  So intense is this drive that men are willing to be perceived as fools as they ignore the obvious in the adoption of self-serving attitudes and conclusions.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  The conclusion of such an irreplaceable mind as Hawking’s should have been similar to the conclusion of Solomon:  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NIV, 1984).

Mini Maos

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) to centralize his power and influence, and purge capitalist, traditionalist, and nationalist elements from Chinese society. His campaign led to abuse where millions of people were stripped of profession, livelihood, possessions, liberty, and even life, all without due process on the basis of a simple accusation by a member of the Red Guard or other complicit political group. Physicians were forced to clean toilets, builders and engineers were made to harvest crops by hand, business leaders were stripped of the businesses they built and forced into labor camps, university professors were required to attend reeducation sessions (indoctrination), and all of this based on unsubstantiated accusations. Contrary to Mao’s intentions, these actions paralyzed China politically and severely damaged its economy and society. His actions did, however, utterly destroy countless innocent lives in the process.

It’s striking to me to watch an American version of this develop in our freedom-loving nation where our citizens are now guilty until proven innocent and due process is just a dusty and irrelevant concept of a bygone jurisprudence.  What’s more striking is that the source of so much of this incitement is a growing list of politicians who inspire mob rule, encourage violence against colleagues they disagree with, promote harassment in public places including restaurants and retail centers, and slander with the cynical partnership of a media that can’t discern the truth if it bit them on the behind. Eclipsing all of this is the complete destruction of a public servant’s reputation and family with a methodology and fervor that would make Mao proud.  These politicians, most of them lawyers by trade, were taught early in law school about due process, the presumption of innocence, and the meaning of corroborating evidence, but choose to set aside these sacred elements of the American legal system for political reasons (the same motivation as Mao). Flipping our legal system upside down may seem like a good idea when it potentially benefits a person or group, but what happens when that system is then flipped on them?

To say our nation faces a political identity crisis is an understatement. Many Republicans have become Democrats and many Democrats have become Socialists.  One thing we don’t have to be confused about is our foundational and shared values as Americans. It is obvious, and sad, that some of our leaders have slipped into a political abyss by adopting Maoist tactics to advance their standing and power. My hope is that Americans of all political persuasions who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who honor our constitution and institutions, who respect the rule and process of law, and who put our country above their own self-interests would rise up, reject, and resist such practices and return to a spirit of civility. Those who are perfectly willing to trade principles for power by employing these tactics must be held accountable.  The best way to do that is during this election cycle. Vote for those who share our American values and not for the mini Maos.

The Church Drop Outs

There’s a lie and heresy that has infiltrated the Church in the United States. It says that commitment to Christ is all that matters. It asserts that we can have a relationship with Jesus without a relationship with his Church.  Current church related statistics in the U.S. reflect this flawed and man-made theology. Although 40% of Christians in America claim to attend church weekly, research shows the actual percentage to be between 14 and 18%.  Each Sunday, the average church is missing 33-40% of its church attenders, a mere 15-20% serve in some volunteer capacity, and giving as a percentage of income is lower than during the depression.

Contrast this, however, with the plain teachings of Scripture and the example of the one we say we are following, Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews noted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25).  The implication is that some who were previously faithful have become unfaithful. Luke observed of Jesus, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). It’s important to notice that there is no asterisk in the text excluding us from the command and example based on how we feel, what we want to do, or how put out we are with the Church.

Unlike the command of Hebrews and the example of Jesus, American Christians are dropping out when they should be digging in. They are disappearing for a variety of reasons. Some have gotten hurt or offended forgetting it’s hypocrisy to expect the Church to accept their imperfections while demanding perfection from the Church. Others became distracted by the cares of the world and pursuits of the flesh. Some have simply become lazy, apathetic, and without passion losing their priority for the things of God. Others have been deceived and isolated having missed a signal from the Head of the Church. Many, unfortunately, have simply grown stingy and selfish disappearing from the Church because they just don’t want to attend, serve, or give. We may or may not feel we have a valid reason for withdrawing from a church, but we are never right to completely drop out of the Church.

Commitment to the Church without commitment to Christ is religion, but commitment to Christ without commitment to the Church is rebellion. If we really loved him, we would keep his commandments. People in the Church who would never board and demand to take the controls of the plane or attempt to perform surgery on themselves in the hospital or interrupt their college professor and take over the class, have decided, without call or anointing, to isolate from the Church and pastor themselves. They have the mindset that they do not need anyone but Jesus to teach, guide, or lead them. But consider that the simple action of tapping one’s toe requires that a message come from the head, down the neck, through the torso, down the spine, past the thigh, knee, calve, ankle, and foot to get to the toe.  Sever the signal at any level and the message does not get through. Just like the natural body, believers need Jesus and one another to function.

Perhaps as a culture we are forgetting just how important the Church is in this world. It is the body of Christ of which he is the head, the expression of his nature, will, and power in the earth, the seat and locus of his authority in the earth (Matthew 18), the source of revealed wisdom, mysteries, and manifestations (Ephesians 3:9-10), the benchmark of his standards and expectations, and the moral conscience for society. We must remember that there will be no transformation in isolation because life transformation takes place in community.  There will be no restoration in isolation because even Lazarus needed the Church to take off his grave clothes following his resurrection. There will be no revelation in isolation because even Peter’s great revelation from God that Jesus was the Christ came in fellowship. There will be no impartation in isolation because only those who showed up to the upper room in Acts 2 experienced the outpouring of God’s Spirit. There will be no direction in isolation because God has ordained leaders who are anointed to guide us and seasoned believers who provide the wisdom that can only come from a multitude of counselors. This is why misdirection so often accompanies isolation from the Church and why deception is so prevalent in the body of Christ today.

The confusion caused by the drop outs has many sincere believers wondering what they should do with the Church. Instead of isolating from the Church and dropping out in these days, we need to plug in like never before.  First, we need to love the church, appreciate it, and be positive about it by focusing on the virtues rather than the weaknesses. Warts and all, the Church is still the best thing going in the world. Second, we need to commit to the Church. We need to rededicate our lives to Christ, but we also need to rededicate our lives to the Church. Third, we need to support the Church by faithfully attending, serving, and giving.  After all He has done to purchase our redemption, the least we can do is reciprocate with our time, talent, and treasure. Fourth we should honor the Church by living right and modeling the message of redemption. Fifth, we should grow the church because church growth is every believer’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the pastoral staff and leadership.  Sixth, we need to defend the Church from those that would attack and malign it internally, externally, culturally, or globally. Finally, we need to be the Church by expressing God’s love, power, and goodness in our community and throughout the world.

From Scars to Stars

Physical, mental, and emotional scars are a reality and byproduct of life.  They mean that you have actually lived, that you survived the cut, that you are in the healing process, and that you now have some valuable experience and expertise to help others along in their journey. Daniel 12:13 tells us those who lead many to righteousness will shine “like the stars forever and ever.” Paul, picking up on this truth, stated, “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15). The Lord wants to take his people from scars to stars.

Many Christians have bought in to the lie that they are just too scarred and flawed for God to do anything special with their lives. Too many identify with the scar letting that scar define and limit them. Some pet the scar milking it for all the pity and sympathy they can get from other people. Some attempt to deny or hide the scar living in shame over what they did or what was done to them. Still others unwittingly begin to serve the scar doing what it tells them and controlling their direction and viability in life.

Contemporary society is filled with examples of people who overcame scars in life to triumph and make a significant contribution to the world at large.  Stephen Spielberg was rejected by the USC film school, twice. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded (Apple) and then after selling Pixar to Disney for billions, he returned to Apple to eventually turn it in to a trillion dollar company. Charlize Theron overcame the horror of witnessing her mother kill her father to become an Academy Award winning actress. Walt Disney, surprisingly, was fired from a Missouri newspaper for lacking creativity.  What do all these examples have in common? They all experienced wounds and scars in life but  refused to be defined or stopped by them.

Even more compelling are the many biblical examples where God took his people from scars to stars. Rahab went from being a prostitute and brothel owner to becoming a key asset in Israel’s defeat of Jericho (and she is listed in the lineage of Jesus). The woman at the well went from multiple failed marriages and illicit living to becoming an evangelist who influenced her village for Jesus. The Egyptian slave went from being oppressed, abused, and abandoned by his Amalekite captor to guiding David and his men in the pursuit, capture, and plundering of the Amalekites who raided Ziklag.

We can learn from the slave at Ziklag that we too can go from scars to stars by letting the Lord nourish and revive us, by coming over to the other side and turning our back on the enemy and the scar he gave us, by dedicating what we have left to the King, and by doing everything he tells us to do.  Don’t let the past scars in life control your future and snuff out your light. Be God’s star.

Spiritual Crack

Addiction specialists tell us that one hit of crack or meth can cause a rewiring of the brain and a lifelong addiction.  One moment the individual is enjoying meaningful relationships and pursuing their goals in life.  The next moment nothing matters but finding that next fix.  Family no longer matters. Friends no longer matter. Dreams no longer matter. Pleasing God no longer matters. Before and after pictures of addicts show the devastation of drugs as users experience accelerated aging, hair loss, sunken cheeks, hollow eyes, and rotted teeth. Addiction is not a pretty picture.

Most Christians will never face the risk of domination that comes with taking that first hit of crack or meth, but they do flirt with a spiritual drug just as dangerous and addictive.  That drug is called strife.  I have witnessed solid Christian people make the decision to take a hit of this spiritual crack to nurse a wound or offense not realizing they will spend perhaps the rest of their lives serving that strife. In many ways, the drug of strife is the worst drug of all because it becomes more potent the longer it is in your system.  As illicit drugs make a person look hideous on the outside over time, the drug of strife makes a person look hideous on the inside.

To be in strife is to be at war with another person in one’s heart characterized by conflict, discord, antagonism, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Paul warned Timothy about the dangers of strife declaring, “The servant of the Lord must not be in strife” (2 Timothy 2:24).  The person in strife is actually taken captive by the devil to do his will. He captivates our lives, our hearts, our time, our thoughts, our energy, our faith, our perception, our relationships, and our destiny. James said, “For where envy and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16). Strife, just like crack or meth, opens our lives to a world of destruction and devastation.

It is, however, possible to protect yourself from spiritual crack.  First, count the cost of potential addiction because no one expects to become a strife addict.  Second, guard your heart so that when the opportunity to get in strife comes, you have the power to just say no. Third, reject your pride because pride, not a pipe, is the delivery system that gets strife into our system. Fourth, practice mercy and forgive quickly because slow forgiveness increases the likelihood of strife. Finally, stay away from strife pushers or those who peddle strife like some peddle drugs.  It is hard to believe that any Christian would want to get another believer addicted to spiritual crack, but it happens all the time.  My college roommate kept a bag of various drugs in his closet to sell to students who knocked on our door all hours of the night.  I couldn’t move out and away from the pusher fast enough.  Believers need to do the same with the peddlers of spiritual crack.

 

 

The Sin Killer


To sin is to miss the mark and fail the standard and expectations of God.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 warns us that “The wages of sin is death.”  The good news is God didn’t leave us in our sin, misery, and future destruction, but in his rich mercy, he sent Jesus to be a sacrifice for us all (Ephesians 2:4).

Mercy is not just a simple religious platitude or concept, but a spiritual force that when released impacts and changes us by mitigating the punishment for sin, and by moving to alleviate the distress that sin caused.  Sin is a killer, but sin has a mortal enemy.  Mercy is the sin killer, and that sin killer is available in unlimited supply and renewable daily (Lamentations 3:22-23). God’s mercy provides power to help the believer to do three very important things regarding sin.

First, the mercy of God gives us the power to admit our sin. Like the thief on the cross, or the woman at the well, or Zacchaeus the tax collector, the mercy of God empowers the individual to admit sin and repent. The desire to admit the failure and repent is a privilege and indeed the mercy of God because it is the pathway back to the Father and because there is no healing in denial. Like the Psalmist, we should be completely honest and transparent: “I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (Psalm 32:5).

Second, the mercy of God gives us the power to quit our sin.  Jesus granted mercy to the woman taken in adultery saying he would not condemn her. Unfortunately, many people today stop too soon in the story forgetting that the same Jesus that refused to condemn her also made a demand on her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).  When Jesus grants us mercy from sin’s punishment or consequences, that very same mercy provides the power to quit the sin. That’s why Paul told Titus to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:12), and why Paul urged the Romans, in view of God’s mercy, to offer up their bodies as living sacrifices, holy land pleasing God (12:1).

Finally, the mercy of God gives us the power to forget our sin. The Scripture says Paul was extremely zealous in persecuting the church until his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). His reign of terror against believers included arrest, incarceration, and even murder.  As a result, Paul was plagued with regrets stirred up repeatedly by a messenger of Satan.  But the accuser of the brethren is no match for the mercy of God that gave Paul the ability to forget what was behind and press forward in his life and calling without a sense of condemnation, guilt, or shame (Philippians 3:1-14). Mercy alleviates the distress caused by sin, and part of that work is the Lord scrubbing our consciousness of our sins and failures so that we can walk in righteousness mentality instead of sin consciousness and condemnation.

Hi, Peter

The Bible says, “And Simon he surnamed Peter” (Mark 3:16, KJV).  The name Simon means a piece of grass, a reed, weak, and easily pushed or manipulated. Peter, in contrast, means a rock, stable, fixed, established, and strong.  It seems like such a minor piece of Scripture, but in reality it is an explosive revelation about the heart of God.  Just like Jacob called his son Benjamin (son of the strength of my right hand) refusing to allow his dying wife Rachel to call him Benoni (son of my sorrow), Jesus named Peter not for what he was, but for what he would become.

Despite his new name, Peter often reverted back to Simon moments throughout Scripture, including proposing the building of three shrines in honor of the transfiguration, sinking in the water after taking his eyes off Jesus, being rebuked by Jesus for saying he would not die, refusing initially to allow Jesus to wash his feet, boasting he would never deny the Lord, cutting off the ear of Malchus in the garden, and then ultimately denying the Lord three times.

The truth is we all, despite the new birth in Christ, stumble and have our own Simon moments.  But Simon moments do not change the Lord’s mind about our potential and destiny.  Jesus has mercy when we act more like a Simon than a Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, the angel of the Lord told those at the tomb to tell the disciples AND PETER to meet Jesus in Galilee. This simple statement made it clear that Jesus had not given up on Peter.

But Simon had to do a few simple things to get the Peter back.  First, he had to show up.  Too often condemnation and shame keep us away from God’s love and mercy.  We don’t need to give up, we simply need to show up (John 21:1-14).  We don’t know what Jesus said to him that day, but I can imagine (as Leslie Hale suggested) Jesus walking up to him and saying these simple but powerful words, “Hi, Peter.”  Believers may fall seven times, but they get back up (Proverbs 14:26).  As Micah 7:8 says, “when I fall, I shall arise.” Our victory comes in just getting up and showing up even when we don’t feel like it.  Showing up means we receive the mercy that is available to us.

Second, he had to grow up.  Our Simon moments are really just a developmental and maturity issue. Jesus challenged Peter to focus on loving, caring for, and feeding his people (John 21:15-22).  The Simon moments in our lives become scarce when we mature and begin to focus on the needs of others. We all have Simon moments, but God help us if we are not merciful to others when they have them too. Growing up means we share the mercy we have enjoyed with others. Peter would eventually say that growing up would keep believers from being unproductive and ineffective, and would keep them from falling (2 Peter 1:8-11).

Learning From Billy Graham

Just as we can learn from historical biblical figures like Paul and David, we can also learn much from servants of God in our time who have lived faithful and dedicated lives for Christ. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), and “Follow the way of love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).  I think about Billy Graham when I read these two powerful challenges, and I think about the many things we can all learn from his godly and faithful example.

First, make pleasing God the highest goal in your lives.  The Bible teaches us to please God rather than ourselves (John 5:30; John 8:29; Acts 5:29).  Paul said that while we are here in the body, our goal should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9), and we need to find out what pleases him (Ephesians 5:10).  Ruth Graham stated that Billy Graham wanted to please Jesus more than any person she had ever met.

Second, stay humble no matter what does or does not happen in life because Jesus deserves the glory. This man of God preached to over 200 million people and won millions to the Lord, and yet when he was visiting with Kathy Lee Gifford to read the Christmas story to her children for a television special, all he wanted was a Big Mac from McDonalds. Success in life and ministry should increase humility not arrogance, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).  Like Paul, and Billy Graham, we should have the same mind and practice as Christ (Philippians 2:1-8).

Third, stick to your call despite pressure and influence to deviate from that call.  Billy was enticed through the years with business opportunities and political opportunities, but would always turn them down saying that any step away from the gospel would be a step down and a demotion. As Paul was called to the gentiles, and Peter was called to the Jews (Galatians 2:8), Billy Graham knew he was called to the lost billions of the world.  He showed us how important it is to stay on your course and finish it (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Fourth, live a life of purity and integrity because the presence of impurity is the seed of your destruction.  Billy Graham created the “Pence Rule” or the personal conviction not to ride in a car or be in a room by himself with a member of the opposite sex.  Vice-President Mike Pence adopted this rule for his life and was ridiculed severely for it, that is until the onslaught of sexual harassment allegations in the news today.  Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them.” We are called to purity (1 Thessalonians 4:7), commanded to abstain from even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), and told we should not even have a hint of immorality in our lives (Ephesians 5:3).

Finally, speak the truth in love because some speak the truth without love, and some, appealing to a false construct of love, fail to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15). Billy Graham took sin seriously painting clearly its destructive power on lives and society.  He also took redemption seriously and shared the way out of sin, Jesus.  He prayed with every President since Eisenhower and challenged each with the truth of the gospel.  We learn from Dr. Graham that we need the right manner for this most perfect message.  Billy Graham said it best when he said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”

The Faithful Church

Jesus had nothing but commendation and encouragement for the church at Philadelphia.  The city that was known for its aggressive efforts to Hellenize the known world spawned a church that was committed to evangelize that same world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus told that church that even though their strength (numbers and power) was small, they had kept his word, they refused to deny his name, and they had remained faithful, loyal, constant, and steadfast.

As a result of their faithfulness, Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia they would have an open door or opportunity to spread the gospel that no one could shut, they would see the hearts of their enemies turn toward them, they would be kept from the tribulation to come, they would receive a crown, they would be made stable and permanent, they would have security, they would enjoy heavenly citizenship, and they would ultimately receive and share in the authority and power of his name.

We too can be like the highly regarded church at Philadelphia but we must be mindful of the threats to our faithfulness looming in our world today.  The spirit of carnality seeks to ensnare the believer through the lusts of the flesh, indulgence, amusement, sloth, and entertainment.  The spirit of deception seeks to trick the believer through lying spirits, bad company, and subtle misdirection.  The spirit of offense is a liar and thief that seeks to engender strife so that believers will be separated from their faith community, spiritual leaders, and their destiny. The spirit of weariness seeks to wear the believer down with the cares and responsibilities of life until they faint and give up.  The spirit of oppression seeks to assert cultural, religious, academic, and institutional pressure until the believer craters under the weight of it all.

Every believer can remain faithful in these crazy times by applying the wisdom from Hebrews chapter 12.  First, we can remain faithful by considering the cloud of witnesses that have already made it and are no doubt cheering for us to make it as well. Second, we can remain faithful by considering the weights and sins in our lives and making the conscience decision to remove them.  Third, we can remain faithful by considering and committing to our part of the race or open door of opportunity to spread the gospel.  Finally, we can remain faithful by considering how Jesus made it despite all the spiritual assaults and attacks he experienced.  He made it by looking past the challenges and circumstances to the joy that is to come.  The Scripture says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).  We can be faithful because he was and is faithful.

Overcoming Persecution

Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was considered to be “the flower of Asia” for its strategic planning, culture, education, science, and medicine.  It was also a place of great persecution for the believer.  Jesus warned the church at Smyrna they would experience persecution, arrest, and even death for the sake of Christ at the hands of people who claimed to be the people of God, but were in reality a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:8-11).

The persecutors accused the Christians of cannibalism (ignorance of the Lord’s Supper), sexual perversion (mistaking the Christian fellowship meal for an orgy), political rebellion (because they would not declare Caesar as Lord and would not petition Rome for permits to meet), atheism (due to the absence of pagan idols in their homes), and destroying Jewish homes (as they converted to Christianity). The persecution of the believer always involves some type of spurious and injurious accusation, for that is the nature of the devil, the accuser of the brethren. We should not think that we are immune to persecution because anyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

To persecute means to pursue, follow after, aggressively seek after as a hunter searches to apprehend, capture, or kill an animal.  To be persecuted is to be viciously and relentlessly hunted because of the gospel.  Although there are a variety of types of persecution, including spiritual (oppression), life (martyrdom), financial (denying employment, advancement or benefit), mental (condemnation or accusation), emotional (fear, anxiety, and despair), relational (rejection and marginalization), and physical (affliction and infirmity) the purpose of the persecution is the same – to press the believers to compromise, to denounce their faith, and to give up.

The keys to overcoming any kind of persecution are revealed also in the Book of Revelation.  Jesus said, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11, KJV).  The first key is to know and understand the covenant that is the basis of your salvation.  The Christian is blood bought and blood washed, and ultimately and eternally safeguarded by the resurrected Jesus.  The sacred and irrevocable covenant means that no matter how bad the persecution or pressure, the Lord will eventually turn things around.

Second, we must continue to speak faith-filled words of our personal testimony and the truths of God’s word no matter how difficult things are in life.  By sticking to the word, we are harnessing the power of life and death that is in the tongue of the believer (Proverbs 18:21), and not in the persecution of the evil one. By sticking to the word, we demonstrate that the most prominent influence in our heart is the truth, rather than the persecution we are facing, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

Finally, we must live as though we were dead, meaning dead to self, dead to self-interests, and dead to our propensity to want to direct our own lives while claiming that Jesus is Lord.  We may or may not face a literal life threat that so many of our brothers and sisters face daily around the world for their faith in Jesus, but we will be tempted to live our lives forgetting the sacrifice of Jesus and the example of service at the expense of self.  Given the condition of the world and the spiritual trajectory of our own nation, it’s never been more important for believers to overcome the persecution, live out their natural lives, and live them out for the purpose and glory of God.

The First Love Killer

The Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the triumphant and victorious resurrected Lord. It is also an urgent and pressing message to the Church that the return of Jesus is imminent, and that the Church is not ready for that return. Jesus’ message to the seven churches of Asia Minor reflect his appreciation, encouragement, correction, and promise to the loveless church (Ephesus), the persecuted church (Smyrna), the deceived church (Pergamum), the seduced church (Thyatira), the slumbering church (Sardis), the faithful church (Philadelphia), and the lukewarm church (Laodicea).

Dealing first with the Church at Ephesus, Jesus commended them for their works, their perseverance, and their commitment and zeal to preserve doctrinal and leadership purity. He then corrected them for forsaking or leaving their first love.  The phrase, “first love,” refers to their early love for the Lord or the love they had when they were first converted and passionate about the things of God.  The concept of leaving that first love means they gradually departed from that deep, intimate, early love over time.

He challenged them to repent and remember the height from which they had fallen, described in the Bible as a people who had enthusiasm, passion, devotion, faithfulness, and spiritual sensitivity.  The condition of the Ephesian believers is not that different from the church world today, and similar to the condition of Martha in Scripture when she sacrificed being with the Lord for doing for the Lord.  We are called to serve, but we are also called to sit.  Like Martha, we get distracted, angry, upset, worried, and belligerent when we begin to lose our first or early love for the Lord.

It’s easy, however, for any believer to watch that first love become dampened or even killed over time.  We begin to lose our first love when we get so busy like Martha focusing on all the things we need to do instead of being like Mary who chose that one thing that is better, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10).  We also lose our first love when we get out of God’s Word and presence.  The moment we sever ourselves from living contact we begin to lose that early love. We lose our first love as well by getting disconnected from the body of Christ through its expression in the local church.  The church is one of the few remaining sources of accountability, and without it we can find ourselves becoming hard of heart and indifferent to the priorities of the Lord. Finally, we lose our first love when we indulge sin, meaning that we yield willfully to its influence even when we know it is unscriptural. As Paul said, “They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to vice and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint” (Ephesians 4:19, GNT).  Simply put, sin kills our appetite for spiritual things.

The expectation of Jesus in addressing the church at Ephesus is that they would (a) remember what it was like when they first got saved and dig up that early love from the grave where they buried it, (b) repent or change their mind with a corresponding change of action and behavior, and (c) rededicate themselves to the one thing that is needed, getting back to their first love, their early love, their wonder, and their total infatuation with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He offers that hope to us as well if we are feeling like we have traded that early love for simple religious duty.  All we too need to do is remember, repent, and rededicate, but we need to do it quickly because his return is at hand.

The Ananias Anointing

The Scripture indicates that in the middle of his High Priest sanctioned rampage against the early Church, Saul of Tarsus had a supernatural encounter with the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9).  Falling down from the overwhelming force of God’s glory, Saul exclaimed, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul, now blind and infirmed, was taken into the city of Damascus to receive care.

The Lord then came to a man named Ananias in a vision and commanded him to go to Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him that he might be healed and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Despite the threats Saul had made and his notorious track record of persecuting, arresting, and even affirming the execution of Christians, Ananias, whose name means “to be gracious and to show favor,” honored the call of God and went to Saul because the Lord had great plans for Saul of Tarsus. Jesus called him his chosen instrument to preach to the gentiles and to their kings.

The Ananias type of believer, or the Ananias anointing, is desperately needed in the day we live.  Like Ananias with Saul, they help to restore to God what was previously lost, allow God to use them to bring healing to those that are afflicted, help God’s people get filled with the Holy Spirit, and help raise people up for God’s service and glory. We need more individuals in the body of Christ who, like Ananias, will be dispensers of God’s grace and favor, refusing to pay attention to the anti-supernaturalist and cessationist who deny the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit.

How can you become an Ananias in this critical hour in Church history? First, you must yourself be born again and filled with the Spirit. You cannot impart what you do not possess. Second, you must be tuned in to the realm of the spirit so that you can pick up on the signals of the Holy Spirit’s direction.  Notice Ananias was told to go specifically to the house of Judas in Damascus on Straight Street where he would find a praying Saul who had a vision Ananias would come to him. Third, you must be fearless in the face of the ominous threat and intimidation so prevalent in the world today against Christians.  It’s not that Ananias didn’t feel afraid. He simply refused to be ruled by that emotion. Fourth, you must be obedient and simply go.  It’s amazing how often Jesus uses that simple command.  Finally, you must be deliberate to carry out the details of your assignment, including the who, the what, and the where.

When Ananias placed his hands on Saul he was filled with the Holy Spirit, healed of his blindness, received water baptism, and began to eat and regain his strength. The Lord is in need of bold believers just like Ananias to share the resurrected Jesus with the lost, confused, religious, bound up, and hurting of our world.  He has sovereignly chosen to use people to lead people to salvation, Spirit baptism, deliverance, and healing.  Ask the Lord Jesus to send you, and don’t be surprised when he says, “Go!”

Bamboozled!

Jesus made it clear that deception would increase in the end times.  In fact, he warned his disciples that even the very elect would be in danger of deception (Matthew 24:24). Paul also warned believers that deceiving and deception would increase in the last days (2 Timothy 3:13).  Many believers do not realize that they are the targets of deception designed to thwart God’s plan for their lives, and take them off the path He has ordained for them. That’s why Peter challenged believers to be self-controlled and alert because the enemy, as a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour or deceive (1 Peter 5:8). 

Satan is a master at customizing deceptions for believers based on their predispositions, weaknesses, attitudes, maturity level, and current life situation.  Much like a suit tailor will measure a man’s neck, chest, waist, arm length, and leg inseam, the enemy carefully crafts the perfect deception for each individual believer. The closer we get to the end of all things, the more the devil will be active in his attempts to bamboozle or trick, delude, mislead, and fool believers.

The people of God under Moses and then Joshua were told not to enter into any treaty with the people in the land they were to possess (Deuteronomy 7:1-3; Exodus 34:15-16).  The Gibeonites, who lived no more than ten miles from the camp of Israel, heard about the success of Israel.  They developed a preemptive ruse to trick Joshua and the other leaders into believing they had come from a great distance by presenting cracked and mended wineskins, moldy and stale bread, patched sandals, and old rags for clothes.  The Bible says the leaders sampled their provisions, but did not inquire of the Lord.

We can learn much from the negative example of Joshua and the leaders of Israel how to overcome the deception of the enemy, no matter how strategic, custom made, or diabolical.  First, the people had forgotten the instructions of God not to enter into any treaty.  The first step into deception is to willfully minimize, rationalize, or compromise the truth we already know.  The Lord had already made it clear not to make covenant with the people of the land through his Word and through his servant Moses.  Alarm bells should go off in our hearts when we find ourselves suddenly at odds with the Word and spiritual leaders God has placed in our lives.

Second, the Bible says the people sampled the belongings and provisions of the Gibeonites. This is a great example of sense based living where believers rely on their five senses rather than the Word of God and discerning of spirits, the spiritual gift whereby we can know the source of an utterance or manifestation (the human spirit, a demonic spirit, or the Holy Spirit).  Believers are deceived because they begin to give more weight to their experiences than they do to the Word.  A way can seem right to us and yet end in death and destruction (Proverbs 16:25).

Finally, Joshua and the other leaders failed to inquire of the Lord about the encounter with the Gibeonites.  No doubt, the Lord would have reiterated his command and exposed the ruse of the enemy.  Too often we start out in the Spirit, but then revert to our flesh thinking we can handle things on our own.  When we cut ourselves off from the presence of God, we cut ourselves off from his unlimited knowledge base (omniscience) that would prevent our deception.

Any believer can overcome the devil’s targeted deception against them by doing what they already know to do, by walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh or the senses, and by inquiring earnestly of the Lord when they feel confused or uncertain.  When we don’t do these things we become a willing participant in our own deception, and the problem with deception is we don’t fully comprehend we are deceived until the consequences begin to manifest.

The Know-A-Lot-A

Better Late Than Never is a hilarious “reality” television show chronicling the travels and antics of celebrities William Shatner, George Foreman, Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw, and funny man Jeff Dye.  In a recent episode, the group gave William Shatner a hard time for seemingly knowing everything about everything.  Winkler called Shatner a know-it-all.  Shatner replied laughing, “I’m not a know-it-all…I’m a know-a-lot-a.”

The laugh out loud moment underscores an important principle for our lives, especially our spiritual growth.  Too many believers, as they grow up in the faith, begin to act just like adolescents knowing everything and no longer respecting and receiving from the adults entrusted with their care and development.  They sound a lot like a know-it-all forgetting that being correctable and teachable are keys to breaking out of adolescence to become a steady, mature, and productive adult in the faith. The day we stop receiving is the day we stop growing.

It reminds me of a man in the Bible named Gehazi.  Gehazi was the servant of the prophet Elisha who was the servant of the prophet Elijah.  Elisha followed and learned from his mentor Elijah and received a double-portion of his anointing.  Elisha would go on to do great things just like his father in the faith Elijah.  But somewhere along the way of Gehazi’s training and development, he began to reject Elisha’s influence, guidance, and instruction.  The day Naaman was healed of leprosy, Gehazi wanted to receive a reward from the Assyrian general, but Elisha made it plain this was not a time to do so.  Gehazi rejected the counsel of Elisha, took the goods and money from Naaman, and instead of enjoying an even greater anointing and ministry, became leprous himself.  His future, his life, and his call were all compromised because he developed an unteachable spirit.

As growing believers, we should get to the place where we know a lot, but we should never get to the point where we know it all treating our fathers and mentors in the faith with contempt, and ignoring their counsel.  I have found in working with hundreds of young converts and disciples over the years, the most dangerous stage of the seven stages of spiritual growth (newborn, infant, child, adolescent, young adult, adult, and senior adult) is the adolescent stage.  Newborns need the milk of the Word, infants need great mercy and grace as they attempt to walk, children need strong doctrine to protect them from deception, adolescents need humility, young adults need faithfulness, adults need balance, and senior adults need to stay in the game.  Like Gehazi, if a believer is going to wash out, they most often wash out at the adolescent level becoming stiff-necked and uncorrectable. Ironically, most adolescents don’t even discern that they are in fact adolescents in the faith.

Make up your mind you’re going to continue to grow at every stage and level of your spiritual development.  Continue to learn, be used of God, and follow his path for your life, but do not allow yourself to become a could have been man or woman of God like Gehazi disqualified because you traded in your destiny for an adolescent chip on your shoulder.   A few years back, a great man of God called his sons in the faith to a special meeting to correct certain doctrinal and behavioral issues in those that counted him as a spiritual father.  One man refused to attend the meeting saying simply, “Let him teach what he wants and I’ll teach what I want.”  You don’t hear much from that man these days for it seems his upward trajectory was compromised by his know-it-all attitude and disrespect for the man of God.  Stay humble, teachable, gracious, and respectful.  Become that know-a-lot-a without becoming a know-it-all.

The Octopus of Offense

I don’t regularly repost the blogs of others, but the article by Ryan Johnson on the Spirit of Offense is too important not to share.  In the article (link below), he explains that, like an octopus, offense attaches itself to eight vital areas of life to control and destroy them, including the mind (can’t think correctly), vision (sight is distorted, filtered, and compromised), heart (actions become toxic), relationships (ones unrelated to the offense are destroyed), hearing (difficulty discerning God’s voice and direction), health (physical consequences of strife), time (life is cut short due to dishonor), and finances (attacks your financial situation).  Strife and offense are just not worth the cost.  You can find the article HERE.

 

Attitude Adjustment

The attitude on an aircraft is the orientation of the plane with respect to the earth’s horizon.  The plane can be banking left or right, and its nose up or down.  The attitude of the plane can be adjusted by the pilot regardless of the circumstances.  In other words, the attitude of the aircraft is dependent upon the action of the pilot rather than any storm or turbulence it may pass through.

Similarly, we control our attitude in life.  No matter what is happening or what we’re going through, we have the ability to choose our attitude.  Just like people have an IQ (their level of intelligence), an EQ (their dimension of emotional intelligence), an SQ (their level of revelation of spiritual things particularly the Word of God), they have an AQ, which is their ability to be aware of, take ownership of, and adjust their attitude.  We can be intelligent, be in touch with our emotions and the emotions of others, be growing spiritually, and yet be defeated because we refuse to tend to our negative attitude.

Paul told the Ephesians to “be made new in the attitude of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23, NIV), he challenged the Philippians to have the same selfless, humble, and obedient attitude of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5, NLT), and he questioned what happened to the positive attitude of the Galatians (Galatians 4:14, ISV). Paul understood that the attitude is a self-directed pattern or mental position that affects our expectation, energy, and outlook in life.   Attitude is not a reflection of what happens to us, but a reflection of what happens in us.  It is the greatest predictor of our success and failure in life.

The return of the twelve spies after being dispatched by Moses to scope out the promised land illustrates perfectly the impact of a negative attitude in life.  The spies, excluding Caleb and Joshua who had a right attitude, focused on the obstacles, talked the problem, spread negativity, and became self-fulfilling prophets of their own perspective.  The Bible says, “A man’s spirit (attitude) sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit (attitude) who can bear (Proverbs 18:14).  There’s nothing more powerful than a positive attitude, and nothing more devastating than a negative one. 

As a spiritual leader I’ve found that people, including Christians typically function in one of four attitude types.  First, some believers walk in a sweet spirit or an attitude that is tender peaceable, agreeable, pleasant, and edifying to be around.  Others are empowered and encouraged when they get around a sweet spirit.  Second, some believers have a salty spirit or an attitude that is opinionated, passive-aggressive, sarcastic, and critical.  Third, other believers have a spicy spirit or an attitude that is easily hot and bothered, reactionary, and frequently angered and offended.  Finally, some believers have a sour spirit or attitude that is prickly, bitter, downcast, and discouraged.

The good thing about attitude is we can, just like the pilot, adjust our attitude.  This requires first that we are aware of our attitude (sweet, salty, spicy, or sour), and that we monitor our attitude day-to-day because the attitude is not fixed or static.  Second, we need to analyze and honestly evaluate our attitude in light of the Word of God through self-accountability.  If you are having trouble with this, simply ask your spouse or good friend.  They can probably fill you in.  Third, we need to expose ourselves to spiritual disciplines and activities that foster an ongoing sweet attitude like time in God’s presence, His Word, public and private worship.  The Holy Spirit has a way of jerking us out of a lousy attitude when we spend time in the things of God.  Fourth, we need to give our attention daily to making a quality decision (one from which there is no retreat) that we are going to be positive and sweet and not salty, spicy or sour no matter what happens in life.

The Wheels on the Bus

A recent guest speaker at our church said something that pretty well summarized the ebb and flow of church commitment these days in the United States.  He said the local church was like a bus with people constantly getting on and people getting off.  His statement was designed to encourage churches and leaders about the commonality of the experience across the nation.  It got me thinking about why people, in this day where “I” is at the center of everything from our portable devices to our political theory, so willingly get off the bus God supposedly told them to get on.

Before I get the usual “the church hurt me” or “the church is unhealthy” routine, I concede up front that there are abusive churches and leaders, and church leaders and churches that are unhealthy.  I’m not suggesting that anyone should stay on the bus in that kind of environment. The fact is, however, church leaders and churches can do 1000 things right, and the first time they do something wrong or disagreeable to the bus rider, the rider gets off the bus citing abuse or a lack of love.  The fact is buses are no more or less dysfunctional than the people who ride on them.  Churches and church leaders are not abusive merely by virtue of doing their God-ordained teaching, leading, guiding, and decision-making.  Most of the getting on and off has little to do with the spiritual health of leaders or churches, and everything to do with a fatal flaw in the spiritual formation of modern American Christians: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This standard is for the driver and rider alike.

American believers get off the bus God told them to get on for a variety of reasons. Some simply do not like the direction the bus is going and they want to do the driving. They seem to forget that the church must operate form the perspective of the uni-vision (one vision), rather than omni-vision (all vision) or di-vision (two visions).  Many ride until they decide they have a better idea where the bus should be going. Others get off because they can’t sit where they want to sit, meaning they don’t get to do what they want to do or when they want to do it. Still others get off because they don’t like the rules on the bus.  Even though every segment of society has rules of operation and expectation for participation, some believers think the local church should be devoid of rules and guidelines.  Some choose to live at odds with the Scriptural standard and morality and hop off implying the church was somehow judging them when the rider, by virtue of jumping off, was the one doing the rejecting. Still others are seduced off the bus by the lusts in life and agendas inspired by pride. Some fall out with other riders and just want to get away from the conflict instead of applying biblical principles to the issue.  Some look outside and see a shinier bus passing them up with its perception of relevancy, innovation, or higher understanding. Many believers just want to ride the latest fad bus, or they erroneously conclude they are now too spiritual for their drivers and fellow riders, not realizing faithfulness is a much greater mark of authentic spirituality than one’s revelation level.  Of course, some jump off the bus simply because friends or others got off the bus. Finally, some just flat don’t like the driver. With all the analysis, statistics, new paradigms and models, and church growth methodologies, at the end of the day, right or wrong, so many riders get on and off based on the likeabilty of the driver.

As church leaders (drivers), we have to keep our perspective in this generation of bus hoppers.  We need to remember to keep on moving down the road resisting the temptation to park the bus because some folks got off.  It can be difficult not to become paralyzed with discouragement when it seems the people you did the most for and developed the most are the very ones who will jump off the bus. It’s to your credit that you, despite often being thrown under the bus, are not the one doing so to others.  Our priority needs to be picking up new people along the way instead of constantly pining over and grieving over the ones who jumped off.  We also need to follow the route assigned to us staying true to the God-given vision and mission of the house.  The integrity of the vision is not always authenticated by the number of people on the bus, but in the fidelity to the direction of the Lord. Finally, our focus needs to be on getting the riders who faithfully ride with us month after month, and year after year to their destination, instead of being defeated by those who got off.  Too often we as spiritual leaders teach and preach to bus riders who aren’t even on the bus instead of helping the faithful in their journey of discovering divine purpose, Christian maturity, and development.

 

 

 

The Dysfunctional Church

People today are looking for connection, and they will cross all kinds of boundaries and lines to find it.  They will hang out with people engaging in destructive behavior, or join groups, gangs, and criminal enterprises just to belong somewhere.  It’s interesting that no matter how dysfunctional the group, people will still join because of the connection they crave.

The Scripture says that, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6, NIV).  According to 1 Corinthians 12:18, KJV, “God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.” To set means to place, establish, arrange, or even ordain.  The Lord has a set and even ordained place and purpose for all of His people.  He determines the location for the believer as well as the function of the believer.  He has a set place and purpose for you too.

Every Christian needs to get and and get quickly the revelation that it is impossible, however, to bring hundreds of dysfunctional people together into the church and expect the church to be automatically highly functional.  We just can’t walk through the church door, and swoosh, instant function.  Why?  Because the curse from sin damaged everything in life, including our ability to relate, communicate, and belong.  But thanks be to God we have been redeemed from the curse so we can become functional in every social structure of our lives, including the church.

The first key to restoring function to the church is to be mindful of our own dysfunction.  People in the church, just like the rest of the world, struggle with a performance mentality, anger, drama, alienation, addiction, sexual looseness, pride, selfishness, trying to fix others, social backwardness, control, strife, jealousy and envy, pessimism, gossip, fear, deception, and many other types of dysfunction.  Our places of worship can never become functional unless we all become aware of our own dysfunctions.

Second, we need to be graceful to the dysfunction of others.  One thing I’ve observed over many years of ministry is that we want grace for our dysfunction and problems, and judgment for the dysfunctions of others.  The Bible says that the merciful are blessed.  The church is filled with people at varying levels of recovery from dysfunction.  Mercy empowers them to change, but condemnation helps to lock them into a pattern of destructive repetition.  We simply can’t reject others for their dysfunction without ignoring our own.

Finally, we must be faithful to the one who can heal the dysfunction.  The Lord longs to restore His people, but we must remain plugged in and under the means of grace or the place He has set us.  What many Christians do not realize, it’s the dysfunction, not the Holy Spirit, pushing you to leave your set place and faith family.  Many believers just do not stay set long enough to get healing from the dysfunction before that very dysfunction drives them from their set place and their restoration.

By being mindful and aware of our own dysfunction, gracious and merciful to the dysfunction of others, and by staying where the Lord puts us, we can expect the Lord to begin to bring healing to our dysfunction while he elevates the degree of function overall in our local church. The church is a hospital and not a showcase for perfection, so there should always be works in progress.  The key is to progress in dysfunction and help others to do the same.

The Color of Pee

I never met my Grandpa Heinz.  He died before I was born.  I have come to understand what he was like through stories told to me by my Father.  In the 1930’s, Grandpa Heinz impressed upon my Dad the importance of judging a man by his character and not his appearance, station in life, color, culture, or creed.  It is striking how much ahead of the times he was, both then and now.  I would have loved to have met him to discover more about this amazing coal miner from Illinois.

At a very young age, my Dad had the opportunity to live out the values he was taught while working for a Ford dealership. One day a black gentleman in overalls came into the dealership looking for a new car.  The snickering senior sales associates, no doubt judging his ability to purchase a vehicle by his skin color and appearance, decided to pass on this individual asking my Dad the rookie to assist him instead. 

Dad with the same respect and interest he would give anyone, showed him any car on the Ford lot and showroom.  Not satisfied with what he saw, Dad suggested he look at the Lincoln lot as well.  The brand new Lincoln in the showroom caught his eye and he requested a test drive.  The gentleman loved the car and decided to buy the vehicle.  Heading back to the office to prepare the necessary paperwork, Dad asked him how he would like to pay for the vehicle.  At that point the man pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills, and said, “cash.”  The senior sales associates sat there stunned, not realizing it was their racist and classist attitudes that cost them a very significant sale, and something much costlier than that, a part of their soul.   

The origin of racism goes back to the rebellion of Satan in heaven.  The root of racism is actually the spirit of division that has resulted in enslavement, oppression, and ethnic cleansing.  People divide over skin color, culture, religion, geography, income, education, employment, and even church denomination.  A man who would bristle at the notion he was racist has little problem feeling superior because of where he goes to church.  A woman who would never think of using a racial slur, arrogantly walks the earth because of her birth place. All over the nation, and excused in the name of cultural preference, the most segregated hour of the week continues to be the church hour.

Haters come in all hues, but they are easier to spot when they reprehensively act out in violence.  It’s much harder to discern the latent spirit of division in the heart that would like to dominate us all.  Jesus said we cannot claim to love God while hating our brother.  Long before the enslavement of our African brothers and sisters, the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians by the Turks, the genocide of the Jews at the hands of Hitler’s monsters, the history of oppression and civil rights violations in our nation, or the inconceivable behavior of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, people entertained thoughts and attitudes that when unchecked grew into persecution, discrimination, and violence.  It’s fine to post a meme of solidarity over the issue on Facebook, but what really matters is showing respect, born of transformed hearts and minds, to everyone in our daily lives.

Kevin Costner played NASA Space Task Group director Al Harrison in the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures, a story that highlights the role of African American women in the success of the U.S space program.  When Harrison learns his human computer, Katherine Johnson played by Taraji Henson, had been running a half-mile several times a day to the colored restroom, he tore down the signs differentiating restrooms and declared, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.”  Like racism, the only time when we don’t pee the same color is when we are sick. 

The Truth About Grace

From time to time in the body of Christ, teaching about a core biblical doctrine seems to swing to extremes and needs to be restored to the scriptural boundaries for that concept.  For example, it’s common today to hear grace, the unmerited favor of God, described as some kind of license to sin, when in reality, it is the power not to sin (Titus 2:11), and the provision of mercy when one does sin (1 John 1:9).  A growing number of believers have also been bamboozled into believing that the sacrifice of Jesus is not enough.  Advocates of this syncretism between Christianity and Judaism teach believers they must keep the law as well as accept Jesus. 

The Scripture, however, is plain: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).  Jesus described the obligation or duty of the believer as believing “in the one he sent” (John 6:29).  The Apostle Paul described the Judaizers as practitioners of witchcraft for confusing the people with an emphasis on the law over the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice (Galatians 3:1).  In other words, as we focus on Jesus we are walking in grace.  Pope Francis recently said, “Some believe they can have a personal, immediate, and direct relationship with Jesus Christ without the communion and mediation of the Church” describing this as wrong, absurd, and dangerous.  I understand he is challenging believers to maintain or restore their relationship with the Church, but neither the Church, nor any man can take the place of the true mediator between God and man, Jesus the Christ.  We need a personal, immediate, and direct relationship with Jesus as well as a connection to the local church that springs from our relationship with Jesus.

We also walk in grace by focusing on love.  Jesus reduced the 613 old testament laws (civic, ceremonial, rabbinic, and moral) to the command to love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40).  He taught that all of the law and prophets hang or depend on the love commandment.  This means when we truly love God and others we are actually living consistent with the very heart of God.  Choose to love the haters when they treat you wrong or say ugly things about you.  Jesus, with lips anointed with grace (Psalm 45:2), loved no matter what they said or did to him.

Finally, we walk in grace by focusing on the Spirit.  We need the Holy Spirit because grace sets a much higher standard than the law.  The law said we should not murder.  Jesus said a person with anger seething in the heart is just as guilty.  The law said we should not commit adultery.  Jesus said a person who looks at a woman to lust after her in his heart is just as guilty.  Grace means that through the new birth we have the presence of the Holy Spirit operating in us 24 hours a day to help us and guide us.  The law tells us the what to do or not to do, the gospel tells us the why, but the Holy Spirit tells us the how and empowers us to do so.  For example, the law forbids murder, Jesus exposes anger as the root of murder, and the Holy Spirit tells us in real time how to specifically apply Jesus’ admonition to do good to those who mistreat us.

No, grace is not a license to sin or merely God’s merciful response to us when we do sin.  Grace is not lacking and in need of support by a return to the bondage of the law.  Grace is not sloppy living because we are no longer under the law.  Grace is a much higher standard than the law only realized by focusing on Jesus, focusing on love, and focusing on the daily leadership of the Holy Spirit who guides us into a lifestyle far surpassing life under the dictates of the law.   

Contagious by Association

People influence one another for good or bad simply by being around each other.  Every person we come in contact with is both making and receiving a unique positive or negative impartation.  As we connect with people we are bestowing and conferring on others what is operating in our lives in abundance, and they are bestowing and conferring upon us what is operating in their lives in abundance.

Moses, for example, was told to lay his hands on Joshua so that an impartation of wisdom, authority, and honor could be made into his life.  Similarly, Elisha received a double portion of the anointing when Elijah graced him with his cloak.  Paul indicated that his special grace of divine protection and deliverance was available to his partners in ministry who prayed for him and supported his ministry endeavors.  In other words, we catch what people have, not what they simply say or want us to catch.  We don’t catch the mumps from someone who has the measles.

We all have something to impart, and we all have something that can be imparted into our lives from others.  They key is to be careful who we connect with, associate with, and align with because we all will imbibe or absorb, assimilate, and take in the spirit of our connections and associations, good or bad.  The Bible says, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), and “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  We must be mindful of who we are giving the privilege of speaking into and influencing our lives.

Some people impart love, mercy, graciousness, positivity, and gratitude into our lives.  Others infect us with cynicism, dishonor, negativity, and compromise.  The Scripture plainly teaches we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).  Learn to guard your heart from being influenced by people who have little or no good fruit in their lives.  Are they faithful to the local church?  Do they faithfully participate in ministry?  Do they give faithfully?  Do they share their faith and invite people to church?  Do they actively walk in love, practice mercy, and control their tongue?  If not, be careful connecting with them because you will start to manifest what they have been manifesting.  You may just need to quarantine yourself from people like that unless and until they start showing signs of life and positive impartation.

The key is to make sure we are imparting life to others while maintaining diligence over what we are exposed to ourselves.  The reality is that we are all extremely contagious and we infect others with our spirit, our spirituality, our attitude, our thinking, and our behavior.  Let’s make sure our associations result in positive impartation for ourselves and others with the result that we get stronger as believers, grow in maturity, and become more effective as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Soup for the Soul Golf Scramble

We are blessed to have so many great nonprofit community-minded organizations in our town.  Soup for the Soul is one of those organizations addressing the practical needs of our community.  I wanted to take this week’s column to encourage your support for this ministry, and specifically an event designed to raise awareness and funds for this worthy outreach whose mission is to serve the hungry of our community by sharing the love of God through giving food to the body, kindness to the soul, and hope for the future

Hope Harbor Church, in partnership with Soup for the Soul, Miller Memorial Golf Course, Parker Ford, Sirloin Stockade, The Murray Bank, Ryan Walker State Farm, Printing Services, Ottway Signs, Imes Funeral Home & Crematory, Los Portales, Pagliai’s, Cheri Theatres, Little Tractor & Equipment Company, Hucks Food & Fuel, Purchase Area Builders, Blalock-Coleman & York Funeral Home, Murray Home & Auto, and Saputo, is coordinating and sponsoring the Soup for the Soul mixed golf scramble at Miller Memorial Golf Course June 17 from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.  The event features an 18-hole scramble, steak and potato dinner, free range balls, complimentary water and soda, a chance to win a brand new Kioti tractor with a hole-in-one on the eighteenth hole, awards for the top three teams, door prizes for higher scoring teams, and the satisfaction of helping feed the hungry in our community.

The scramble is open to men and women 16 years of age and older.  Individual fees are $75 and team fees are $300. Participants can register for this special event by going to www.hhc.life or by calling (270) 753-6695.  There are also a few business hole sponsorships remaining.  To sponsor the event as a company, business, or organization please email info@hhc.life for sponsorship details.  Thanks to all our partners, sponsors, and participants.  We look forward to seeing you at Miller Memorial Saturday, June 17, 2017.

Dump the Trash

Taking out the trash when we lived in the city was simply a matter of rolling the receptacle 40 feet to the curb.  Now as a county resident with a house 400 feet from the road, the trash goes in the back of the SUV, and I drive it to the container.   

On a recent and short trip to Nashville, my wife discovered, as we were taking the bags out of the car, that I had forgotten to stop and dump the trash.  After we finished laughing about carrying that huge bag of trash with us, I asked the hotel manager for permission to use their dumpster.  She graciously agreed, biting her lip to keep from laughing.

What’s not so funny is all the garbage we accumulate in our hearts throughout our lives.  Trash in the car is kind of gross, and if forgotten would certainly begin to smell, but trash in the human heart is smelly, but also destructive and deadly.  I remember the story of the little boy who put limburger cheese on the mustache of his napping grandpa.  He awoke, sniffed the foul odor and declared, “This room stinks.”  He then went to kitchen and exclaimed, “The kitchen stinks too.” Barreling outside to get some relief from the stench, the old man growled, “The whole world stinks.” 

In reality, the source of the smell wasn’t the room, or the kitchen, or the world.  The source of the smell was literally right under his nose.  It’s the same way with our hearts.  If we’re not careful, we’ll walk around in life with a lousy attitude thinking life stinks, playing the blame game, and taking no responsibility for where we are in life.  The real source of the foul odor, however, is the trash we are carrying in the trunk of our hearts. 

Some people carry around the trash of wounds and offenses.  They just refuse to forgive and release others from real or perceived hurts.  Others have become jaded by the garbage bullying and criticism they received from people, often by people that should be encouraging and supportive.  Still other people are can’t get past the the rubbish of failures and regrets in life forgetting that every day is a new opportunity in the Lord.  Weighed down by the slop of sins and various strongholds, some people have lost the sweet aroma of Christ.

Let me encourage you to stop riding around in life with a heart full of garbage.  The longer you keep it, the more your attitude is going to stink.  Do a daily trash dump by forgiving others, by understanding the only opinion that matters in life is God’s opinion, by realizing failure is not final, and by confessing and repenting of your sin when you blow it.  God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) so be sure to extend that mercy to others and to yourself every day.  Life’s just better without trash in the trunk.

Leaving Lo Debar

lamb-in-the-grass-567099Mephibosheth was the crippled son of David’s covenant friend Jonathan and the grandson of Saul, the disgraced King of Israel.  Following the demise of the house of Saul due to his own rebellion and disobedience, David, a shepherd at heart, sought for a descendent of Jonathan so he could show him covenant kindness on behalf of Jonathan.  Covenant kindness is an intense and burning desire to show someone kindness with overwhelming force and power because of a sacred and irrevocable promise.  The covenant minded man does not rest until he finds a way to express that kindness.

David was told there was a descendent named Mephibosheth living in a place called Lo Debar. Lo Debar was a place literally without a pasture, barren, fruitless, and destitute.  King David ordered that a broken and isolated Mephibosheth be brought back to his house, that the wealth and land of Saul be restored to him, and that he would always eat at the King’s table.  In a single day this lonely, fearful, and forsaken soul went from living in utter desolation in Lo Debar to enjoying the favor of the King and the social, spiritual, and financial restoration that only he could provide.  The name Mephibosheth means “exterminator of shame.”  It’s interesting that God would take this remaining obscure member of the house of Saul and use him to remove the shame from Saul’s family. Just think, you could be the person God uses to remove the shame from your family.

It’s truly amazing just how fast our lives can turn around when we are in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It’s ironic that David, a shepherd by trade, would bring Mephibosheth into his fold and provide him with a rich, lush, and fruitful pasture to live out the rest of his days. Jesus is our good shepherd who promises that through him we can go in and out and find pasture and enjoy an overflowing abundant life (John 10:9-11).  No matter who you are, where you’re from, what your family is like, or what you’ve done, the good shepherd will scoop you up as well and bring you to his pasture where he promises restoration, guidance, protection, provision, favor, and ultimately eternal life (Psalm 23).

So how do we go from Lo Debar to the wonderful pasture God has for us?  First we have to accept the shepherd, the only son of God Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  The benefits of restoration belong to the children of God.  Membership in the body of Christ does have its privileges.  Second, we need to get back in the fold (a local Bible believing and teaching church) because restoration takes place in the fold.  Too many Christians have bought in to the lie that it’s not necessary to be faithful to a local body.  They suggest they can live out their faith on their own.  The truth is, however, Scripture commands connection to and involvement in the local church so we can grow, experience restoration, and be there to help others as well (Hebrews 10:24-5).  Finally, we need to listen to and apply what the shepherd has to say to us through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word through the under shepherds the Lord raises up to lead, guide, tend, and feed us.  Our barren lives will begin to flourish when through obedience we release the anointing on the Word to bring to pass what was promised. 

The Consequences of Standing on the Wrong Platform

democratic-vs-republican-party-in-america-republican-democrat-xlc8wc-clipartJesus told the story of two houses built upon two entirely different foundations, one on sand and the other on rock. When the storm came, the house built on sand collapsed, but the house built on the solid foundation survived.  What was the reason for the differing outcomes?  Was it the type of house?  Was it the severity of the storm?  Was one builder just fortunate?  No, the outcome was entirely based on the integrity of the foundation.  During the 2016 election, a choice will be made to once again either build upon the sand or a solid foundation.  That foundation is the official platform for each of the major political parties.

Like a building foundation, the political platform, a party’s statement of official values and positions, will affect how well our nation weathers future storms and challenges. Political candidates will come and go, but the ideas, values, and agendas remain for generations.  Too many Christians have bought into the lie that the presidential election of 2016 is about two personalities.  The truth is the election is about two different views of the world and two different directions for the United States.  Both candidates are deeply flawed but we must look beyond the personality and potential time in office and discern and project what policy and cultural legacy they will leave behind for the next 50 years.  The two major party candidates represent two very different platforms, and the values, views, and policies reflected in those platforms will impact our country long after the candidates are gone.  

The consequences of standing on the wrong platform will be severe and lasting and why I believe this truly is the most critical election of my lifetime.  We will have Supreme Court justices who bend the constitution to suit political ideology and persuasion. We will have the unrestricted slaughter of the unborn, including late term elective abortion such as partial birth abortion.  We will have an all out assault on our right of religious expression, teaching, autonomy, and practice.  We will watch our right to bear arms watered down and severely restricted.  We will see rampant wickedness and abomination further normalized in our nation.  We will watch the greatest healthcare system in the world devolve into a single payer system where medicare and social security are raided and destroyed, where healthcare premiums skyrocket, and where quality is compromised.  We will lose our national autonomy to the march of globalism putting world interests above the interests of our people.  Socialistic policies will continue to drain our national wealth rather than increasing it.  The national debt will balloon to nearly 30 trillion dollars.  Corruption and collusion in the government between the Justice Department, the FBI, the State Department, the White House, and the Clinton campaign will never be brought to accountability.  The economic stagnation experienced under Obama (the only president with no quarter with GDP at 3 percent in U.S. history) will continue because of poor tax policy and over regulation.  Our foreign and military policy will continue to lack common sense, vision, cohesion, and execution trying to control monsters like ISIS instead of releasing our full war capabilities to annihilate them. We will continue to follow immigration policies that violate our current laws, disregard rules of fairness, and ignore our security.  Energy policies will continue to destroy American jobs while failing to tap our own  resources toward energy independence. Inner cities like Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, and Milwaukee, completely neglected by Obama, will continue to crumble under the weight of crime, unemployment, degradation, and failing schools.  

As believers we have the responsibility to evaluate the platforms of the political parties through the eyes of Scripture.  For the purposes of comparing the most critical components of the platforms, consider where the Republicans (R) stand, where the Democrats (D) stand , and where the Kingdom of God (K) stands on the issues:

The Sanctity of human life:  (R) Life begins at conception and should be protected.  (D) Abortion should be on demand, without restriction and funded with tax money.  (K) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Marriage:  (R) Marriage is between one man and one woman.  (D) The definition of marriage should include anyone a person loves.  (K) “God made a woman and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22).

Religious liberty:  (R) Religious speech and practice is constitutionally protected.  (D) Religious speech and practice is subservient to protected lifestyles.  (K) “Preach the truth in love” (Ephesians 1:5).

God in government:  (R) Rights given by God trump human or government given rights. (D) God has no legitimate role in government or place in the platform.  (K) “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Israel:  (R) The security of Israel is supported unconditionally and it’s capitol is Jerusalem.  (D) There should be a two-state system with no claim of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol.  (K)  “I will bless those that bless thee, and curse those who curse thee” (Genesis 12:3).

America’s security:  (R) ISIS is an existential threat to our security and way of life and must be destroyed.  (D) The greatest threat to our national security is climate change. (K) “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

America’s place in the world:  (R) The interests of the United States should be placed above the world.  (D) The interests of the United States are subservient to those of the world.  (K) “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon the earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth” (Daniel 7:23).

Like many of you, I find different aspects of each candidate disappointing and distasteful. But I have made the quality decision to look beyond the personality and the limited time each would be in office and consider the long-term implications of their policies and agenda on our nation, our children, and our children’s children.  Instead of the candidate, I am voting for the platform and the future impact of that platform on the country I love.  I am voting for the platform that best aligns with the Kingdom of God. Christian, if you believe that abortion, redefining marriage, restriction of religious liberty, the exclusion of God from government and public life, the manipulation and persecution of Israel, lip service to threats to our national security, and advancing globalism at the expense of our national interests lines up with the Kingdom of God, then please do vote for the Democrat. If, however, you reject the death and darkness of the Democratic platform choosing instead life and light, then you should join me in supporting the Republican nominee for president.  I encourage you to assess which platform is better for building a great nation, sand or rock?

 

No Más!

unknownPanamanian professional boxer Roberto Duran is considered to be one of the greatest fighters in history earning championship belts in four different weight classes.  The boxing world called him respectfully “Hands of Stone” because of his punching power.  Ironically, he is best known for losing his punch and quitting right in the middle of his championship fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, exclaiming, “no más” or no more.  Instead of going out a champion, the way he lived most of his life, Duran ended his boxing career and hung up his gloves perceived by the boxing world as a quitter.

The pressure is on believers all over the world to do the same thing.  The enemy knows that we are more than conquerors through Jesus, that we are always led in triumph in Christ, and that we have the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.  He cannot defeat us so he focuses instead on trying to provoke us into quitting because he knows that he cannot win without our willful surrender.  He could never defeat you, affect your right standing with God, or ever get God not to love you, but he can and does do everything he can to get you to quit on your right believing and right living.  So, all over the body of Christ too many Christians and Christian leaders are hanging up their gloves and quitting their spouses, cutting off friends, leaving their churches, vacating their ministries, and bankrupting their destinies.  Why?  Because they became weary in doing good instead of holding on to the promise that they would reap in due season if they did not quit (Galatians 6:9).  They started to focus on the limited negative at the expense of all the positive.

Every assignment, every attack, every confrontation, every disappointment, every setback, every loss, every inspired criticism, every agenda, and every perceived slight is designed to get you to quit, because quitting gets you off the path of God, and that was the devil’s goal all along.  Quitting indicates a believer has become demonized and is under the influence of the enemy and captive to do his will.  Regardless of whether we do it in the thralls of discouragement, the depths of depression, a fit of anger or offense, or with an arrogant smile on our face, quitting in violation of God’s word and will is a clear indicator that the enemy has pushed our buttons long enough that our troubled minds and roller coaster emotions are now driving our decisions rather than the voice of the Holy Spirit.

In these challenging times, the Lord would have us keep punching, to never give in, and to never give up.  That’s why he commanded (not just encouraged) Joshua to not be discouraged (Joshua 1).  Discouragement is a loss of spiritual courage, and the loss of that courage always precedes quitting.  I know as a believer and Christian leader that there are times you just want to hang it up, but the Lord needs you in your place, your family needs you to be steady, the Church needs you to be stable, and the world desperately needs you to model the hope you profess.

When you feel like quitting (1) on purpose put off that decision to quit, (2) take the time to flood your heart with the word of God and prayer, (3) get around people who are uplifting, challenging, and encouraging, (4) refuse to make decisions based on negative feelings or thoughts, (5) and remember God NEVER forgets a seed sown.  No matter how things look, you WILL reap in due season IF you do not quit!

Spiritual Kryptonite

imagesSuperman is an iconic and enduring image of strength in our Western culture and around the world.  We know about Metropolis, Clark Kent, the phone booth, Lois Lane, and Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luther.  We also know there is nothing that could take Superman down, except for one glowing green gem called kryptonite from his home planet of Krypton.  In the presence of kryptonite, the man of steel became mortal, weak, confused, and subject to attack and ultimate defeat. 

Believers and Christian leaders too have a kryptonite from our home planet that works the same, draining us of life, joy, peace, and victory.  Our kryptonite, however, is more of the carbon based variety than some precious element.  The kryptonite our arch enemy uses to defeat us is people.  You see, animals don’t offend us, the oceans, forests, mountain ranges, and skies don’t offend us.  People offend us. 

Sooner or later we all have our own encounters with kryptonite.  Sooner or later we all have our stories of spending years investing in people only to have them turn on us, bending over backwards to make sure a family in need is taken care of only to get mad at you for some unspoken reason, experiencing disappointment in some bold endeavor, trusting a good friend only to find out the friend is one of your biggest critics, making great sacrifices with little to no appreciation, watching church members get in conflict with one another and take it out on the entire church, experiencing a crushing loss in life or ministry, or navigating the sting of a Judas kiss from a coworker or staff member. How we respond to the these kryptonite encounters determines whether we will reach our destiny or fold under the hurt, betrayal, and cynicism.  

I know what that’s like after nearly 30 years of ministry service.  Ministry does not exempt a person from kryptonite.  On the contrary, ministry just gives the minister more exposure to kryptonite – more opportunities to get offended.  One pastor I served slammed his hand in anger against his canoe during and outing breaking his hand and then blaming me for the injury.  Another church leader invited us to serve as his associate pastor, promised that we would soon transition into the lead role at the church, and then weeks later informed the people, after we had moved across the country, that he would have to let us go if the money did not start coming in.  My home church voted me down as their pastor, twice, after a spurious search process that included drawing names out of hat (no, I’m not joking), putting my name back into the hat, realizing the other man wasn’t going to come, and finally submitting my ministry to the church for a vote.  Rejected and dejected, we walked back into the church to face the people with a warning from the loving Holy Spirit: “Be very careful what you say next, for what you say will impact your destiny and their future.”  It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond to it that matters in life and ministry.

In each situation, and countless other encounters with kryptonite through the years, I had to make a decision whether to let it poison me or move forward trusting God.  Our failure to perceive what the enemy is actually trying to do with the kryptonite of people is his greatest weapon.  Paul admonished Timothy to stay out of strife with people because strife is the doorway to becoming captive to the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24).  Imagine claiming Christ and yet living your life as a tool for Satan.  If we go through things without letting that kryptonite get inside of us and affect us, the devil cannot have his way with us.

Psalm 55 provides special insight for identifying kryptonite and overcoming its power in your life.  The Psalmist cried out to the Lord for help saying, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.”  When we are distraught we are deeply agitated, upset, unable to think or behave normally, and extremely distracted.  In reality, however, the Psalmist was distraught and close to imploding from the kryptonite because he was thinking about all the things people were saying about him, all the things people were thinking about him, and all the things people were doing to him.  There’s nothing we can do about what people say, think, or do, but we have the power to choose not to think about it. “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22).  The key to defeating the kryptonite is to not even touch what THEY are saying, thinking, or doing with your thoughts.

I heard a preacher once tell the story of a jet airliner beginning to make its initial decent.  As it flew below 10,000 feet, the electronic and communication systems began to go haywire. After aborting and pulling back up to 20,000 feet the systems became normal.  After flying back down and pulling up several times with the same results, the co-pilot went below to find out what was happening.  He discovered there were rats chewing on the power conduits.  At the higher altitude the rats couldn’t function, but at lower altitudes the rats would come to and begin chewing on the cords disrupting the systems of the aircraft. 

As believers, God has called us to a SUPER life, but if we choose to live at the lower altitudes of hurt, offense, and bitterness, we will be short-circuited and defeated every time.  We need to habitually live at the higher altitudes where the kryptonite infested rats can’t affect us.  Our spiritual altitude is set by our time in prayer, time in the Word, and practically by what we choose to think about.  “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).  Our lives tend to go in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. Whenever you are given an opportunity to get offended with people just tell yourself it’s kryptonite, and then choose to go up even higher where the rats can’t play in your head.

Trump, Clinton, and The Cyrus Effect

clinton_trump_splitLike many God-fearing believers around the country, I have struggled to make sense out of this election cycle. After suffering the radical progressive policies of the past 8 years, I long for someone to take the helm of this great nation who has the spiritual and leadership credentials to bring restoration, healing, security, and prosperity back to our country (you know, someone with the moral and spiritual depth and maturity of a Billy Graham mixed with the economic, policy, and communication prowess of a Ronald Reagan).  After a long and contentious primary season that feels like Alice in Wonderland, we seem to be left with Tweedledee on the right and Tweedledum on the left.

I realize there are some Christians and Christian leaders who will exhort us all to just preach Jesus and stay out of the political arena altogether, but that position is out of sync with our nation’s history and inconsistent with God’s demonstrated concern for the nations as indicated in the prophecies to the nations in Isaiah. No, God is very much concerned with the governance of nations and He uses the nations throughout time as instruments of his purpose and plan.  I believe He still has a great plan for our country. The truth is we have a Scriptural, moral, and civic responsibility to participate and not in a LBJ IRS amendment “churches keep your mouths shut kind of way.”  We as Christians are citizens of the United States and we did not forfeit our citizenship or constitutional rights when we joined a church or accepted the call into the ministry.  We simply cannot stick our heads in the sand while our national fabric is unraveling, our country is being drained morally and financially, our future is being held hostage, and our people are being slaughtered around the world with no clear champion to defend them.

Between 597 B.C. and 581 B.C. the Jewish people were exiled to be held captives in Babylon where they cried out to Almighty God for their deliverance: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).  If you were to gather the rulers and elders of Israel together in that captive place and asked them what their deliverer from captivity would look like, I’m sure they would be thinking of a Moses or a David like historical and biblical figure to execute that deliverance. Shockingly, Isaiah prophesied that Israel’s help would come from a total pagan ruler, Cyrus, and worse yet, God would have the audacity to use messianic terms to describe him: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him…so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:1-5). Cyrus came to power 170 years after the prophecy, captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and two years later decreed Israel’s return to their homeland, the rebuilding of the temple, and that the treasury of Cyrus would pay the bill (2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1).

I mentioned to my sister back in January of 2016 that I believed something is going on in this nation that transcends normal politics, political parties, and political alliances.  By the millions, born again Christians have been crying out to God on behalf of our nation for years, a country being held captive philosophically and spiritually. God’s dealings with man throughout history reveal one important lesson that may have some application to our nation’s current election cycle – we have the right and liberty to cry out for deliverance, but just like the Jewish leaders in Babylon, that does not mean we get to choose through whom that deliverance will come.  Too many Christians are looking for a president that would qualify for a deacon, Sunday school teacher (Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher), or pastor in their church forgetting that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  

I believe we are experiencing our own Cyrus moment in the United States this year.  My candidate of choice in the primary did not survive the process (and considering his behavior at the RNC I’m glad) so it looks like I have a choice between Tweedledee (Trump) and Tweedledum (Clinton).  Despite the misgivings and ambivalence I may have toward both candidates, the question is simply who is most likely to be an agent of that deliverance?  Who appears to have the favor of God?  To me, Tweedledum has demonstrated failed leadership as a Senator and Secretary of State, she holds policies and values that are completely contradictory to mine, and she does not possess a clear moral compass as indicated by the never-ending ethical issues.  Tweedledee, a recently born again believer, is a brash, blunt, bold, and successful businessman who lacks the polish and couth (but also lacking the veneer) of a seasoned politician, but says things that resonate with many disillusioned and alienated Americans.  

I have concluded during this election cycle given the enormous stakes, including the fact that the next president will most likely appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices, to put away my grocery list of likes and dislikes and attempt to discern God’s big picture agenda and his Cyrus for this moment in U.S. history.  At the risk, well, of alienating everyone, and although as distasteful to some Americans and Christians as Cyrus was no doubt to the Jews who benefited from his political, military, economic, and human rights policies, I believe the mantle of Cyrus is on Tweedledee during this turbulent and unprecedented election season as an agent of change, not based on his spiritual or political credentials, but based simply on God’s sense of humor, penchant for irony, the prayers of his people, and directional sovereignty. Of course, time will shortly tell.

 

 

Stupid Devil Mind Tricks

jedi-mind-trickAll Star Wars fans are familiar with the Jedi mind trick used to target those of weak mind in the galaxy.  Obi-Wan Kenobi used the trick on the storm troopers who were looking for C-3PO and R2-D2.  All he had to do was wave his hand and say, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Instantly the trooper responds, “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.” 

The sad thing is I run in to a lot of people in the Christian universe who are just as susceptible to stupid mind tricks. Instead of a Jedi waving his hand around, the devil makes simple and repeated suggestions and believers, failing to reflect on the source and content of what they heard, buy in to and act on those suggestions to their destruction. This confusion is a device of the enemy to introduce deception through multiple or contradictory voices that distort God’s voice or drown it out.  What’s amazing is how open God’s people are today to the distortion of the enemy – even people who have been trained to know better.

Like the Jedi mind trick, all Satan has to do is suggest something and too many Christians will follow him like the pied piper.  Very quickly, those believers assimilate the thought and suggestion as if it were their own or coming from God.  The devil must sit back and laugh at how gullible God’s people are at his stupid mind trick.  I can almost hear the drone-like automatic responses of Christians to the devil’s suggestions:

“Nobody cares about you…Nobody cares about me…”

“You want to kill yourself…I want to kill myself…”

“You need to dump your spouse…I need to dump my spouse…”

“God just wants you to be happy…Yes, God just wants me to be happy…”

“You don’t have any friends at church…I don’t have any friends at church…”

“You want to quit your ministry…I want to quit my ministry…”

“You should leave your church…I should leave my church…”

“You should be offended by that…I should be offended by that…”

Gehazi, the protege of Elisha and prophet in training, accepted the thought of the evil one that he knew better than his master, and Naaman should have to pay for the supernatural healing he received from God.  Instead of rejecting the contradictory word, Gehazi was moved by the stupid devil mind trick, received clothes and money from the recently healed leper, was exposed by the prophet Elisha, and was consequently stricken by leprosy. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the servant of Elijah, stood to walk in an anointing even more powerful than Elisha or Elijah, but lost everything because he acted on a stupid devil mind trick.

The cost for believers is just as high today.  Acting on the stupid devil trick causes separation – separation from our faith community and family, separation from our destiny, separation from vital relationships, separation from our blessing, separation from our anointing, separation from our covering of protection and wisdom, and separation from our inheritance (spiritual and natural).  The simple suggestion of the enemy is responsible for countless believers failing to walk in and experience God’s best. Sadder still, the devil convinces believers they are perfectly justified and right to act on the stupid devil mind trick.  Imagine carrying out the agenda of the enemy convinced it’s Gods will (John 16:2).  God’s people are truly destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).  Gehazi’s story reminds us the stupid trick works on seasoned leaders as well as babies in the faith.

The good news is the confusion of the enemy caused by stupid devil mind tricks can be overcome. First, you can defeat the deception by laying a foundation for clarity in your life by saturating your mind daily with the Word of God.  The best way to tell a counterfeit thought is to be immersed in the truth of the thoughts of God (Romans 12:1-2).  We can’t identify the will of God (what is true) until we offer up our bodies as living sacrifices and transform our thinking by the the Word of God.

Second, test or challenge everything you think you hear following the admonition of Paul to hold on to only that which is true (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  It’s comical how many people mindlessly repeat or repost things they found on Facebook or other social media.  Just because we saw it or heard it does not make it true.  We need to be especially sensitive to the suggestions of the enemy.

Third, close the door to confusion by ridding your life of envy and strife, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16, KJV).  We are predisposed to the deception of the enemy when we are envious of others or have entered in to strife.  These things always produce confusion and help to explain how good Christian people can become destructive forces in their families, churches, and places of work.

Fourth, become Spirit led instead of emotion driven (Romans 8:14).  Too often, when we hear something, including the lie from the stupid devil mind trick, we have an emotional reaction before we evaluate the thought biblically.  Emotion ruled living intoxicates the believer, and much like the drunk driver, impairs the believer’s judgement and responses.  We need to make decisions from a position of spiritual peace instead of emotional intoxication.  

Finally, submit what you think you heard to spiritual leadership early in the process for there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 15:22). Godly leaders are anointed to sniff out the stupid devil mind trick and deception but the believer must submit the situation to leaders early and quickly instead of coming to them just to inform them of what they have already decided.  

The time is short and the stakes are very high.  Don’t be like the weak minded stormtrooper easily duped by the Jedi, but become strong in mind able to identity and reject the stupid devil mind tricks that come against your mind.  We simply can’t afford to lose any more Gehazis to the dark side.

 

Divorcing Your Church

87604643A traveling preacher was waiting to be picked up by a local church pastor to speak at his church that evening.  Relaxing by an outside courtyard at the hotel, the preacher engaged a grandmother with two young children in a cordial conversation.  The woman noticed the man’s Bible and asked if he was a believer.  He explained he was a believer and that he was scheduled to speak at such and such church that night.  The woman replied, “I used to go to that church.”  “In fact,” she continued, “my grandchild here was healed of autism at that church.”  Stunned by the disconnect between the fact of the child’s healing of what is considered incurable by many professionals, and the statement that she used to go to that church, the preacher simply replied, “praise the Lord.”  He struggled to wrap his mind around the woman’s decision to leave a church where such faith was preached and such a powerful miracle took place simply because she was now moving in some “new” revelation.

What the preacher observed that night has in fact become an epidemic across the country where people leave their faith family despite the fact that the faith family was the source, in the Lord Jesus Christ, of the life and breakthroughs in their lives.  A couple is headed to the divorce court with no hope of reconciliation.  The Lord uses the church to restore the relationship but the couple then leave the church.  A man attempts suicide, fails, and shows up in church where he gets saved and delivered, and then leaves the church.  A young man is told he has an incurable disease but God exposes the infirmity and removes it through a word of knowledge. But then the individual lets hurt and disappointment drive him from the body God used to restore him.  A man receives a prophetic word over his life about money all around him, and after prospering in a manner consistent with the Word, departs the church leaving pledges, vows, and commitments unfulfilled.  A dejected and demoralized woman comes in to church and finds acceptance, love, and belonging only to walk away because of some minor misunderstanding or offense.  The stories are endless but they all share a common narrative of people receiving life and restoration from the church and then divorcing their churches to serve some offense, yield to a divisive or deceptive spirit, or to pursue some spurious teaching, doctrine, or practice.

According to Psalm 68:6, the Lord sets his people in families so that the benefits of redemption can be explained, explored, and enjoyed.  The word “set” means to remain or to abide.  Our destiny in this life, our ability to bear fruit, and the influence we are to have on the lives of others are all tied to remaining in God’s set place for us.  It’s easy to leave a church when it is viewed as an entity or organization, but when believers have the biblical revelation that the local church is a family, and a family the Lord has set them in, it is much more difficult for the deceiver to displace them.  Like natural families, there may be sound reasons for separation such as abuse, but in most cases people are abandoning their faith families due to a dysfunctional view of and judgment of the their faith family.  Sadly, these individuals then act like the family doesn’t even exist and was never a significant factor in their spiritual lives and well-being.  Once this type of behavior is started, unfortunately and tragically, it is often repeated over and over again sowing confusion in the affected churches, insecurity in church leaders, and contempt for the Church in the hearts of kids exposed to this behavior by perpetually disgruntled parents.

Like with any family, there are issues, challenges, disagreements, and problems, but also like most families, there are untold and innumerable benefits to being a part of a faith family.  Perhaps as American Christians we should intentionally focus on the positive aspects of family rather than focusing on what is not right or imperfect.  It’s possible for the devil to inspire us to amplify the negative, forsake our faith family, and compromise the good things God had planned to do in us and through us in association with that faith family.  Choose instead to honor the set place God has for you, to appreciate the life you have received from that faith family, and to focus on the positive when faced with issues, legitimate and imagined, in the local church.  Perhaps it’s time to remember the value of blooming where we are planted or dancing with the one that brought us.  If you have developed the habit of divorcing your church or have completely separated yourself from church altogether, consider the grace and mercy God has given to you and the fact that he did not divorce you for your imperfections.  Ask yourself a simple question: Did I and do I treat my faith family like God treats me?  Selah.

 

Oh the Humanity

gracePerhaps the greatest paradox in Christianity is the realization that the Lord sovereignly chose to use imperfect people to preach a perfect gospel and lead people to a saving knowledge of the one true perfect God.  Besides the one flawless example of Jesus, every man and woman charged with speaking or acting on behalf of God throughout history has been flawed.  Abraham was a chronic liar.  David couldn’t keep his zipper up.  Moses needed anger management.  Jeremiah could use some Prozac.  An arrogant Peter sounded a lot like Donald Trump.   Paul was quick to write people off at times.  Despite the flaws and failures, the Lord did amazing things through them and so many others because the anointing is God on flesh doing what flesh can’t do.

Though a preacher of righteousness and recipient of the revelation to build a vessel to rescue God’s creation and his own family before the flood, Noah was found in a compromising position after partaking of wine from the grapes he grew after the great flood waters receded.  The behavior of his sons upon the discovery of their naked and drunk father reflects two contrasting attitudes found readily in the Church today.

In Genesis 9, Ham discovered his father’s nakedness and couldn’t wait to tell his brothers.  When Ham’s brothers, Shem and Japheth were told they placed a blanket between them and walked backwards into the tent to cover their father’s shame making sure they did not so much as turn their head in the direction of Noah.  Notice the different reaction when the humanity of the preacher was discovered and observed.  Ham saw Noah’s humanity and broadcasted that humanity to others.  Shem and Japheth saw the same humanity and chose instead to cover the humanity because “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

So that I am not misunderstood here, Christians and particularly Christian leaders must have accountability in their lives.  But there is a difference between accountability to specific brothers and sisters who, in keeping with Paul’s command, restore the fallen and flawed with gentleness (Galatians 6:1) and others who observe the humanity and work to expose or broadcast the error with no heart for the restoration of the fallen.  Why is it we all want cover for ourselves and exposure for others?

There seems to be an unwritten rule some cynical believers follow that says if they witness the humanity of a Christian leader they do not have to respond in mercy, respect, or discretion, and they no longer have to receive from that leader. That “Ham” spirit, as in the days of Noah who was personally responsible for saving representatives of all of God’s created life on earth, forgets and diminishes the contribution that leader has had in his or her life and the lives of others choosing to focus instead on the imperfection of the leader.

Of course when Noah found out from Shem and Japheth what Ham had done (and understand emphatically here that just like Shem and Japheth, a godly believer does not hold confidences against the leader, but good or bad, keeps the leader informed) he was of course disappointed and prophesied a very different future for Ham in comparison to his brothers.  A simple reading of this story in Genesis reveals a powerful truth that all Christians can and should learn from.  The Hams in the body of Christ witness leadership humanity, broadcast that humanity to others, and end up cursed or empowered to fail.  In contrast, the Shems and Japheths in the Church are not blind to leadership imperfections, but in observing the humanity, choose to cover it with a garment of love and mercy and end up receiving the blessing or the empowerment to succeed.

If we spend any time around Christians and Christian leaders, we will observe imperfections, flaws, and their humanity (and they will observe our humanity).  Make a quality decision to be a blessed Shem or Japheth in the Church who sees, covers, and works to restore the humanity of others rather than a cursed Ham who sees, exposes, and cares little about restoration.  Remember that without love and mercy for others when they fail, we become more susceptible to temptation and failure ourselves (Galatians 6:1).  Without grace for others, we set ourselves up to reap the same when our humanity is observed (and sooner or later our humanity too will come out).

How to Be Miserable

ScroogeA friend of mine passed along an interesting list of ways to be miserable in life.  The original note written on old fax paper has all but faded, but the truths mentioned are timeless and life-changing for anyone wanting a fresh start and outlook in life.  Take a moment to read and think about these twenty ways to be miserable in life.  If they challenge you and you want to make a change…make a change.

How to be miserable in life…

      • Use “I” as often as possible.
      • Always be sensitive to slights.
      • Be jealous and envious.
      • Think only about yourself.
      • Talk only about yourself.
      • Trust no one.
      • Never forget a criticism.
      • Always expect to be appreciated.
      • Be suspicious.
      • Listen greedily to what others say about you.
      • Always look for faults in others.
      • Do as little as possible for others.
      • Shirk your duties if you can.
      • Never forget a service you may have rendered.
      • Sulk if people aren’t grateful for favors.
      • Insist on consideration and respect. 
      • Demand agreement with your own views on everything.
      • Always look for a good time.
      • Love yourself first.
      • Be selfish at all times.

This formula is guaranteed to work…

Clergy Lives Matter

IMG_5665Clergy abuse in the Church is well-established and reported, including controlling behavior, manipulative leadership, financial impropriety, and even sexual abuse. But just like other professions (few doctors are drug addicts, few peace officers are racists, and few lawyers are on the take), the overwhelming majority of pastors regardless of faith tradition are dedicated, sincere, honorable, and faithful servants of God tending to the flock God has assigned to their care.

What has not been sufficiently addressed and written about is the systematic abuse of spiritual leaders by some members of the congregations they serve.  The ignorance of the phenomenon where it is unknown, and the blatant disregard for the behavior where it is tolerated are taking an enormous toll on the Church in the United States.  Every four weeks 1500 ordained ministers leave the ministry.  The simple plan of the enemy is to decimate local churches of all denominations and polities by abusing, demoralizing, crippling, and displacing the local shepherds. What is simply amazing is that the devil’s primary tool in this offensive is not secular humanism in society, or persecution from the world, but internal abusive behavior by congregants.  The weapon of choice is the mouth rather than a gun.  The projectiles are words instead of rounds.  The death is an emotional one rather than a physical one.  

The vast majority of church members support, uplift, and encourage their shepherds in their ministry assignments as spiritual leaders.  Unfortunately, too many shepherd abusers are allowed to function in the shadows of the otherwise functional church sapping the leader of energy, vision, hope, joy, and passion.  Perhaps by shining the light on a few of the devices (or types of the personalities or spirits) the enemy uses and employs to abuse spiritual leaders, congregations can become more sensitive to the problem, begin to identify and mark the behavior, and then hold the behavior accountable when it is discerned.

First, the Jezebel in the congregation works to introduce idolatry by seducing the spiritual leader (and not just sexually) so that the leader is manipulated and controlled by the individual.  The Jezebel usually has a hidden or competing vision or agenda for the house.  If seduction, manipulation, and control fail, the individual will often attempt to destroy the leader through false accusations or by creating dissensions in the body.  If the leader yields to the Jezebel, their ministry is compromised.  If they refuse to yield, they incur the intrigue and wrath of Jezebel who wants the head (or the authority) of the leader.  Just like with Elijah, the Jezebel is tireless in the pursuit of it.  

Second, the Absalom, which means ironically “father of peace,” seeks to steal the hearts of the follower away from the God ordained leader.  As in the day of David, often the Absalom is usually close to the minister or someone the spiritual leader has given a platform for ministry.  Taking advantage of the platform, the Absalom stands at the social gates of the local church sowing seeds that suggest the leader does not care about the people or have time for the people.  The Absalom intentionally becomes the unofficial complaint desk for the congregation, and has no ethical problem counseling church members without the knowledge or support of the pastor, abusing the visibility, access, and trust given to them by the leader.  The result is the separation of the hearts of people from their spiritual covering and the compromise of their spiritual destiny.  The Absalom selfishly fails to consider the true welfare of the people, concerned only with the advancement of an illegitimate kingdom.

Third, the most common abuser, the Demas, receives a significant investment in time, ministry, and personal development from the spiritual leader.  Often, the Demas has experienced major breakthroughs, including salvation and even deliverance and restoration from life-controlling problems, life-destroying tendencies, and life-wrecking experiences.  Just like with Paul, Demas just one day disappears from the scene.  The biblical Demas left because of his love for the world (carnality).  Church folks leave churches today for a variety of reasons, some valid and some ridiculous. Nonetheless, the thing that marks every Demas is that he or she deserts, forsakes, and abandons the ministry, and does so without even a word to the pastor, despite the substantial ministry, love, and benefit the individual received through their ministry.  Most church members wouldn’t even think of leaving a job without giving a two-week notice.  But the Demas just vanishes with no word or explanation (except to other people), and no consideration for the damage that is done to the local church and the local church minister.  Surely the local church shepherd deserves at least as much consideration as a church member would give to Burger King.

Ministers are fully aware of the high calling they receive, the charge to speak the truth in love, the challenges of serving God’s people, the warfare that accompanies the responsibility of watching over their souls, and the need for proper self-care.  The problem is the abuse of clergy over time has a cumulative and debilitating effect, the results of which may not manifest for years or decades.  While it is the responsibility of the minister to remain faithful to the flock and maintain a strong and vital spiritual life to sustain them internally during the marathon course of their ministry, it is also the responsibility of the flock to value clergy lives by upholding them in prayer, supporting them with faithfulness, strengthening them with words of encouragement, and confronting and holding accountable the abusive personalities like the Jezebel, the Absalom, the Demas, and others as they manifest.  These simple efforts can dramatically increase the tenure of local pastors and increase the health of the churches they serve.

The Selfishness of Skipping Church

Old Church 1The overwhelming consumerist mentality in our nation has spilled over and saturated the thinking of Christians throughout the Church in the United States.  More and more believers in America approach the concept of finding and remaining in a church the same way they would handle buying a car, shopping for the latest technological advancement, or choosing a movie to watch.  An institution whose founder came not to be served, but to serve, has been tainted by a ceaseless drum beat of “what can you do for me?”  The worship environment, the style of music, the dress code, the church programming, and the overall focus of the church, is no longer about the Lord and His agenda, but about the personal preferences of individual church shoppers.

The crisis of commitment and ownership in the American Church is reflected in the 2015 Pew Research Study that showed a serious decline in Americans self-identifying as Christians.  The problem is demonstrated any given month as families who used to attend church weekly and even several times a week now attend services one to two times a month (and I’m not referring to the shut-in, the sick, or those who must work). It is impossible to build anything of consequence in any sector of society with such inconsistency.  Imagine if a construction crew showed up to a building site only once or twice a month.  Think of what would happen if physicians and nurses manned the hospitals and ERs only a couple of times a month.  Consider the problems in education if our teachers worked only two days a month.  And yet, the welfare and future of our great nation hangs in the balance as rabid hedonists, religious fanatics, and ignorant young socialists and progressives march on fully committed to their causes.  We cannot build godly, committed, and society-changing future generations with a selfish hit and miss approach to church.

The key to the restoration of our culture and society is not the economy, our healthcare system, or even education, but the tone and temperature of our nation spiritually.  How can cold, lifeless, church skipping Christians possibly be the catalyst for fanning the flames of spiritual renewal and fire in the United States?  This coldness and lifelessness is reflected in the attitude of the Christian who says I don’t need to attend church all that much because I can get my spiritual food online or through broadcast media.  The attitude is reflected in the individual who says I don’t need to go to church because I can commune with God in nature on my own.  It’s reflected in the family that emphasizes every other kind of activity and pursuit other than spiritual education in the name of putting the family first.  It’s reflected by the one who points to their hurts, their disappointments, or their needs as an excuse to be absent from church.  It’s reflected in church workers who only show up to church when they are scheduled to serve, teach, or lead.  It’s reflected by parents who teach their children, by ungraciously and habitually leaving church after church, that the Church and its people are fatally flawed and not worthy of real commitment.  It’s reflected in the people who pursue amusement, recreation, and entertainment to the detriment of their spirituality and places of worship.

So, what’s the issue here?  The primary issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of why we gather as Christians.  True, we gather to worship God, learn the principles of God’s Word, and fellowship with one another.  But if you read the words of the writer of Hebrews, our priority is gathering so that we can encourage and help one another to progress spiritually in an increasingly secular, pessimistic, and antagonistic culture:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Luke tells us Jesus, the one we say we are following, left an example of faithful attendance explaining, “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16).  Think about that.  Jesus, the Son of God, had a habit of going to the house of God.  How much more do His followers need to develop that habit?

The culprits in the current spiritual malaise and indifference in our country are the selfish Christians who fail to consider how they can help, assist, and encourage someone else by coming faithfully to church instead of focusing on and serving their own wants, preferences, needs, and schedules.  That single mindset of coming to church not for what you can receive, but for what you can provide is the key to a true spiritual renewal in our land. When you are not in church the gifts and abilities in you are not made available to others.  That’s why skipping church is selfish and the complete opposite of the example of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, and the commands of Jesus.  If you are a consistent, constant, and faithful church goer, don’t let anything stop you from continuing in your dedication.  If you have become distant, cold, lifeless, and selfish in absenting yourself and your family from the Church, repent and return to a faithful lifestyle and relationship with your local church.  As the writer of Hebrews challenged us, we should become more diligent and dedicated to one another as we see the end coming, not more selfish.

Hamburger Meat

wifeI don’t often post the material of other writers or bloggers but this particular lady nails a concept I’ve counseled many couples about through the years…I think this applies to both men and women… – Pastor Art

Woman Realizes That She’s Been Accidentally Abusing Her Husband This Whole Time… Wow.

My “Aha Moment” happened because of a package of hamburger meat. I asked my husband to stop by the store to pick up a few things for dinner, and when he got home, he plopped the bag on the counter. I started pulling things out of the bag, and realized he’d gotten the 70/30 hamburger meat – which means it’s 70% lean and 30% fat.

I asked, “What’s this?”

“Hamburger meat,” he replied, slightly confused.

“You didn’t get the right kind,” I said.

“I didn’t?” He replied with his brow furrowed. ” Was there some other brand you wanted or something?”

“No. You’re missing the point, ” I said. “You got the 70/30. I always get at least the 80/20.”

He laughed. “Oh. That’s all? I thought I’d really messed up or something.”

That’s how it started. I launched into him. I berated him for not being smarter. Why would he not get the more healthy option? Did he even read the labels? Why can’t I trust him? Do I need to spell out every little thing for him in minute detail so he gets it right? Also, and the thing I was probably most offended by, why wasn’t he more observant? How could he not have noticed over the years what I always get? Does he not pay attention to anything I do?

As he sat there, bearing the brunt of my righteous indignation and muttering responses like, “I never noticed,” “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” and “I’ll get it right next time,” I saw his face gradually take on an expression that I’d seen on him a lot in recent years. It was a combination of resignation and demoralization. He looked eerily like our son does when he gets chastised. That’s when it hit me. “Why am I doing this? I’m not his mom.”

I suddenly felt terrible. And embarrassed for myself. He was right. It really wasn’t anything to get bent out of shape over. And there I was doing just that. Over a silly package of hamburger meat that he dutifully picked up from the grocery store just like I asked. If I had specific requirements, I should have been clearer. I didn’t know how to gracefully extract myself from the conversation without coming across like I have some kind of split personality, so I just mumbled something like, “Yeah. I guess we’ll make do with this. I’m going to start dinner.”

He seemed relieved it was over and he left the kitchen.

And then I sat there and thought long and hard about what I’d just done. And what I’d been doing to him for years, probably. The “hamburger meat moment,” as I’ve come to call it, certainly wasn’t the first time I scolded him for not doing something the way I thought it should be done. He was always putting something away in the wrong place. Or leaving something out. Or neglecting to do something altogether. And I was always right there to point it out to him.

Why do I do that? How does it benefit me to constantly belittle my husband? The man that I’ve taken as my partner in life. The father of my children. The guy I want to have by my side as I grow old. Why do I do what women are so often accused of, and try to change the way he does every little thing? Do I feel like I’m accomplishing something? Clearly not if I feel I have to keep doing it. Why do I think it’s reasonable to expect him to remember everything I want and do it just that way? The instances in which he does something differently, does it mean he’s wrong? When did “my way” become “the only way?” When did it become okay to constantly correct him and lecture him and point out every little thing I didn’t like as if he were making some kind of mistake?

And how does it benefit him? Does it make him think, “Wow! I’m sure glad she was there to set me straight?” I highly doubt it. He probably feels like I’m harping on him for no reason whatsoever. And it I’m pretty sure it makes him think his best approach in regards to me is to either stop doing things around the house, or avoid me altogether.

Two cases in point. #1. I recently found a shard of glass on the kitchen floor. I asked him what happened. He said he broke a glass the night before. When I asked why he didn’t tell me, he said, “I just cleaned it up and threw it away because I didn’t want you to have a conniption fit over it.” #2. I was taking out the trash and found a pair of blue tube socks in the bin outside. I asked him what happened and why he’d thrown them away. He said, “They accidentally got in the wash with my jeans. Every time I put in laundry, you feel the need to remind me not to mix colors and whites. I didn’t want you to see them and reinforce your obvious belief that I don’t know how to wash clothes after 35 years.”

So it got to the point where he felt it was a better idea — or just plain easier — to cover things up than admit he made a human error. What kind of environment have I created where he feels he’s not allowed to make mistakes?

And let’s look at these “offenses”: A broken glass. A pair of blue tube socks. Both common mistakes that anyone could have made. But he was right. Regarding the glass, I not only pointed out his clumsiness for breaking it, but also due to the shard I found, his sad attempt at cleaning it up. As for the socks, even though he’d clearly stated it was an accident, I gave him a verbal lesson about making sure he pays more attention when he’s sorting clothes. Whenever any issues like this arise, he’ll sit there and take it for a little bit, but always responds in the end with something like, “I guess it just doesn’t matter that much to me.”

I know now that what he means is, “this thing that has you so upset is a small detail, or a matter of opinion, or a preference, and I don’t see why you’re making it such a big deal.” But from my end I came to interpret it over time that he didn’t care about my happiness or trying to do things the way I think they should be done. I came to view it like “this guy just doesn’t get it.” I am clearly the brains of this operation.

I started thinking about what I’d observed with my friends’ relationships, and things my girlfriends would complain about regarding their husbands, and I realized that I wasn’t alone. Somehow, too many women have fallen into the belief that Wife Always Knows Best. There’s even a phrase to reinforce it: “Happy wife, happy life.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for his opinions, does it?

It’s an easy stereotype to buy into. Look at the media. Movies, TV, advertisements – they’re all filled with images of hapless husbands and clever wives. He can’t cook. He can’t take care of the kids. If you send him out to get three things, he’ll come back with two — and they’ll both be wrong. We see it again and again.

What this constant nagging and harping does is send a message to our husbands that says “we don’t respect you. We don’t think you’re smart enough to do things right. We expect you to mess up. And when you do, you’ll be called out on it swiftly and without reservation.” Given this kind of negative reinforcement over time, he feels like nothing he can do is right (in your eyes). If he’s confident with himself and who he is, he’ll come to resent you. If he’s at all unsure about himself, he’ll start to believe you, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither one is a desirable, beneficial outcome to you, him or the marriage.

Did my husband do the same to me? Just as I’m sure there are untold numbers of women who don’t ever do this kind of thing to their husbands, I’m sure there are men who do it to their wives too. But I don’t think of it as a typical male characteristic. As I sat and thought about it, I realized my husband didn’t display the same behavior toward me. I even thought about some of the times I really did make mistakes. The time I backed into the gate and scratched the car? He never said a word about it. The time I was making dinner, got distracted by a call from my mom, and burned it to cinders? He just said, “We can just order a pizza.” The time I tried to put the new patio furniture together and left his good tools out in the rain? “Accidents happen,” was his only response.

I shuddered to think what I would have said had the shoe been on the other foot and he’d made those mistakes.

So is he just a better person than me? Why doesn’t he bite my head off when I don’t do things the way he likes? I’d be a fool to think it doesn’t happen. And yet I don’t remember him ever calling me out on it. It doesn’t seem he’s as intent as changing the way I do things. But why?

Maybe I should take what’s he always said at face value. The fact that these little things “really don’t matter that much to him” is not a sign that he’s lazy, or that he’s incapable of learning, or that he just doesn’t give a d#%! about what I want. Maybe to him, the small details are not that important in his mind — and justifiably so. They’re not the kinds of things to start fights over. They’re not the kinds of things he needs to change about me. It certainly doesn’t make him dumb or inept. He’s just not as concerned with some of the minutia as I am. And it’s why he doesn’t freak out when he’s on the other side of the fence.

The bottom line in all this is that I chose this man as my partner. He’s not my servant. He’s not my employee. He’s not my child. I didn’t think he was stupid when I married him – otherwise I wouldn’t have. He doesn’t need to be reprimanded by me because I don’t like the way he does some things.

When I got to that point mentally, it then made me start thinking about all the good things about him. He’s intelligent. He’s a good person. He’s devoted. He’s awesome with the kids. And he does always help around the house. (Just not always to my liking!) Even more, not only does he refrain from giving me grief when I make mistakes or do things differently than him, he’s always been very agreeable to my way of doing things. And for the most part, if he notices I prefer to do something a certain way, he tries to remember it in the future. Instead of focusing on those wonderful things, I just harped on the negative. And again, I know I’m not alone in this.

If we keep attempting to make our husbands feel small, or foolish, or inept because they occasionally mess up (and I use that term to also mean “do things differently than us”), then eventually they’re going to stop trying to do things. Or worse yet, they’ll actually come to believe those labels are true.

In my case it’s my husband of 12+ years I’m talking about. The same man who thanklessly changed my car tire in the rain. The guy who taught our kids to ride bikes. The person who stayed with me at the hospital all night when my mom was sick. The man who has always worked hard to make a decent living and support his family.

He knows how to change the oil in the car. He can re-install my computer’s operating system. He lifts things for me that are too heavy and opens stuck jar lids. He shovels the sidewalk. He can put up a ceiling fan. He fixes the toilet when it won’t stop running. I can’t (or don’t) do any of those things. And yet I give him grief about a dish out of place. He’s a good man who does a lot for me, and doesn’t deserve to be harassed over little things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Since my revelation, I try to catch myself when I start to nag. I’m not always 100% consistent, but I know I’ve gotten a lot better. And I’ve seen that one little change make a big improvement in our relationship. Things seem more relaxed. We seem to be getting along better. It think we’re both starting to see each other more as trusted partners, not adversarial opponents at odds with each other in our day-to-day existence. I’ve even come to accept that sometimes his way of doing things may be better!

It takes two to make a partnership. No one is always right and no one is always wrong. And you’re not always going to see eye-to-eye on every little thing. It doesn’t make you smarter, or superior, or more right to point out every little thing he does that’s not to your liking. Ladies, remember, it’s just hamburger meat.

Oxygen for the Soul

oxygen-barA few years ago, my wife and I decided to head south to Florida for a few days of rest in the sun.  After dealing with some particularly difficult ministry issues (which is minister code for dealing with difficult people), a very long drive, and haggling over our reservations, I decided to hang out by a beach resort watering hole for a Coke (yes, a Coke, not a rum and coke).  As I sat there waiting for the drink, the bartender, apparently discerning my ragged demeanor, looked at me and said, “Are you doing alright?”  Like most people, and without candor, I replied, “Fine, I’m just fine.” I appreciated his inquiry, but I was dumbfounded.  I remember thinking to myself, “You had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles and sit at an oceanside bar and grill just to get someone to ask you how you are doing.”  Of all the people in the world, a total stranger (a bartender) had to ask me how I was doing.

Far from turning the episode into a pity party, I was, rather, challenged by the thought of the thousands and thousands of people we come across in our lives each year that are never asked that question as well.  How could something so simple matter so much? People all around us are going through difficult situations, challenges, setbacks, and disappointments.  George M. Adams famously said, “Encouragement is oxygen for the soul.”  This amazing truth explains, like oxygen, people need positive input from others because it is a vital (life-giving and life-sustaining) need.  The well-timed, sincere, and compassionate inquiry into the lives of others can have a powerful and positive impact on them during the darker seasons of life.  “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time” (Proverbs 15:23, NLT).

Perhaps we are all just too busy to stop and consider how others around us are doing. Perhaps we just assume that the people around us are doing just fine.  As the bartender had the presence of mind to ask, let me challenge you to be mindful of others and look for ways to send some oxygen their way.  Become a walking oxygen bar dispensing life-giving encouragement everywhere you go.  You never know who you will encourage and inspire by your kindness.

 

The Polaroid

PolaroidI remember when everyone seemed to own the old Polaroid instant cameras that allowed you to take a picture, extract the film, and then watch as the picture gradually developed in front of your eyes.  Over the years my family collected hundreds of these instant photos of holiday celebrations and family milestone events (you know those embarrassing pictures where your mom dressed you in onesies).  Eventually, despite the convenience and real-time photography, the photos would fade, losing both their sharpness and color.  All the pictures looked naturally worn and dated over time, no longer representing accurately the people or subjects photographed.

The human heart was designed by God to serve as the canvas for an image or picture on the inside of us that would ultimately guide and direct our lives.  Our lives head in the direction of the most dominant image in our hearts.  Our consistent and dominant inputs in life determine what develops on the inside of us, good or bad, positive or negative. The Holy Spirit, using the paint of the Word of God, fashions an image in our hearts of what we can be in God, what we can have, and what we can do.  The key to the full development of that inner image is to stay consistent in inputting the Word of God.  Like the Polaroid picture, the image will fade over time, no matter how vivid it was originally, if we stop putting the Word of God in our hearts.

Another word for the dominant image in the heart of a human being is a thing called hope.  Hope is actually an inner image of an eager expectation.  The concept is simple. When the inner image is so well-developed that we become eager with faith and anticipation for the thing we see to come to pass, the expectation begins to produce and manifest that very image in our lives.  The problem is many people, due to life’s challenges and hardships, have had the Bible image of a great future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11) literally squashed in their hearts.  Too many believers are walking around with an inner image fading like the old Polaroid photos.  

The key to turning the fading image around is to once again begin to apply the Word to your heart daily so that your inner image is restored to its former vibrant and crisp condition.  The clearer the image the more likely the manifestation of what is seen. Begin again putting the Word of God into your heart in abundance by spending quality time every day reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing the Scriptures.  Before long, the old image of defeat and discouragement will be replaced by an image of victory and success.

The Itch Addiction

Unknown-1Transitions are a fact of life.  In our highly mobile society, it’s not uncommon for people to change jobs, houses, associations, schools, churches, and geographical locations. While the Lord does lead his people into seasons of life change from time to time, I’ve noticed that some people seem to be literally addicted to change, making sweeping, compulsive, and often irrational life-changing decisions over and over again.  I call that pressure to change things or to shake things up repeatedly the itch and I’ve realized after many years of spiritual leadership that the itch is actually a form of addiction and life-controlling problem, rather than merely flightiness or flakiness.

Rooted in a failure to develop biblical contentment, the individual with the itch addiction lives with a constant nagging sense that the thing they need the most and the thing they seemingly must have to function is right around the corner. So on a dime, and without thought of consequences or openness to sound counsel, they veer off to scratch the itch. Rationalizing each move, they literally pull themselves and often their families all over the map trying to soothe the itch.  Wisdom is proven right by her actions (Matthew 11:19), and too often, the decision is proven to be yet another mistake.  Why?  The change was itch mandated rather than Holy Spirit directed.

The problem with the itch is that it prevents individuals from ever developing a root system, and since there is no root there can be no real fruit.  Just about the time the Lord gets us into position to begin to lay a foundation for great growth, the enemy comes along and inflames the itch.  Itch addicts, consequently, postpone their development, compromise their destiny, and squander valuable time and resources with each knee jerk decision.  

The itch is complicated by well-meaning but undiscerning individuals who actually praise or encourage this behavior under the guise of wanting to be supportive.  We should no more encourage someone with the itch to swerve than we would an alcoholic to get a bottle and get drunk.  The veer is the itch addict’s drug of choice and they need gentle instruction, the renewing of the mind, deliverance, and accountability, rather than enablement.  When we truly care about the addict, we help them face reality instead of empowering them to remain addicted.

If you are given to the habit of repeatedly veering and swerving from one place to another, don’t look to justify the behavior, garner support from others for the addiction, or attack the messenger (as so many substance addicts do).  Acknowledge, confess, and repent over the fundamental lack of contentment in your life, and for letting the itch run your life.  Tell the itch it can no longer be the Lord over your life.  Learn to stay still and wait on the Lord.  Changes will come into all of our lives, but we need the Holy Spirit, not the itch, prompting those changes.

Lifeguard on Duty

imagesI’ll never forget the one and only time I rescued someone from drowning.  While attending the YMCA National Swimming Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, our swim club spent some time at the beach body surfing in some unusually large waves.  A series of thunderstorms had rolled through the area making the waves and undertow treacherous even for experienced competitive swimmers.  Out about one hundred yards, I spotted an elderly woman in distress going under the surf repeatedly. I simply grabbed her, reassured her, and told her I would take her in.  Despite the fact we were both pushed under the waves several times on the way back to shore, the woman simply trusted that I would bring her in safely.  Back on the beach, the head lifeguard thanked me and offered me, as a fourteen-year old, a job on the spot.  I said I’m not certified.  He said, “I’ll certify you.”  I told him I didn’t think my parents in Illinois would go for me moving to Ft. Lauderdale and we left it at that.

The Red Cross is responsible for Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor (WSI) training throughout the United States.  The students are instructed in water safety, stroke mechanics, and survival and rescue techniques.  During my mom’s WSI training physical exam, she was expected to perform a mock rescue of a swimmer in distress.  A fellow WSI trainee named Curt was her pretend victim.  The victim is told to act frightened and initially uncooperative as the trainee seeks to calm the victim and then bring him safely to the pool’s edge.  Minutes into the “rescue,” Curt continued to be uncooperative and combative.  Mom gently exhorted Curt to relax and trust her.  He decided to make things difficult for her by continuing to thrash about in the water making a rescue nearly impossible and her failure inevitable.  WSI students are taught to release and even submerge the victim to prevent two tragedies from occurring in the water.  Mom, having run out of patience with Curt, simply took her hand, reached under his arm pit, and pulled as much armpit hair as she could grasp.  Instantly Curt was calm and compliant for the rest of the rescue.  I remember other students actually cheering for her.

I often see the same tendencies in people when it comes to God’s desire to rescue them from sin and destruction.  There’s just something about us that wants to make things difficult for Him or to try to help Him out (save ourselves).  But we are incapable of saving ourselves, and whenever we try, we end up making things even worse.  No, the Lord will not pull your armpit hair out to get you to cooperate, but He will not make you accept his help, deliverance, and restoration if you do not want it.  Let me encourage you today to listen to the calming voice of the Holy Spirit, relax, and let the Lord bring you back to safety.  He is truly our lifeguard.  Trust Him.  He’s on duty, and He will not fail to rescue you when you call out to Him.

Heavenly Tweets

Mark RandallAs most of you know, my mentor and close personal friend Mark Randall went home to be with the Lord after a long battle with congestive heart failure (CHF).  While preparing for his memorial service, I began to write some tweets complete with hash-tags I imagined and know he we would say based on our 31 year friendship.  I sat in my office with tears in my eyes laughing as I wrote.  “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV).  I thought if the tweets made me smile and laugh, they might be a blessing to others.  I decided to include them in the memorial service as well as share them with you today.  May we all be as present, focused, and dedicated as Mark in his relationship with Jesus and his ministry…

To close today, I wanted to share a series of heavenly tweets I have received from mark since he went home to be with Jesus. Apparently, his tech savvy has grown and I want to share the tele-tweets with you today…

  • By now you know I’m gone – #I made it   #pain-free   #halleLUjah
  • Perfect sight – #no more lost reading glasses
  • Guess what – no need for money in heaven – #no more lost checkbook
  • Jesus is more amazing than I could ever imagine – #my king    #speechless
  • Heaven is so beautiful – #Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground
  • Just saw Mom Dad and Jay – #family reunion    #so happy
  • Worshipped the Lord with Jerry and Tim – #my voice is aMAZing
  • Just corrected Apostle Stephen on some theology – #I’m always right
  • Just saw my reflection in the golden streets – #can you say “hot”
  • Ran into the thief on the cross – tried to get him saved again – #old habits die hard
  • Going to a banquet – #cheese    #mountains and mountains of cheese   #I feel like I’m in heaven    #cheese sandwiches
  • Tell my kids I love them – #the greatest group in the world    #world changers    #the purpose of my life
  • Tracy is the best sister ever – #amazing    #gone through so much    #strong and godly
  • Listen to Pastor Art – #greatest pastor in the world    #don’t make me come down there
  • Students don’t forget morning prayer – #7:14   #I will come find you
  • This service had better not last more than an hour – #didn’t you learn anything?
  • Heaven is real – it’s all real – #don’t miss it    #don’t miss it for anything    #help get everybody you can here.

Father Knows Best

Samson 1The story of Samson has all the elements of a major Hollywood blockbuster.  First you have the handsome, supernaturally strong, and unbeatable Samson who, also, unfortunately, has a penchant for the ladies (and the ladies of the night).  Then there’s Delilah who steals Samson’s heart and will eventually cause his downfall and destruction.  During each encounter Delilah seeks to learn the secret to Samson’s strength and success so she can betray him to his enemies, the Philistines.  After toying with her repeatedly (we all know toying with sin never works out well), he finally discloses that his hair is the key to his power.  You know the rest of the story.  Delilah cuts off his locks, Samson loses his strength, he is apprehended by the Philistines, tortured, and then in one final act of supernatural power, pulls down the columns and roof of the meeting hall on himself and the unsuspecting Philistine detractors.

But the secret to the downfall of Samson began long before his betrayal.  Samson’s demise began when he chose to ignore his parent’s sage counsel to not get involved with Philistine women like Delilah, but rather seek out a woman among those of like precious faith and values.  Judges 14:3 says, “His father and mother replied, isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people?  Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”  Samson, pleading his love for the Philistine beauty (all reason is thrown to the wind once the soul tie is formed), rejected his parent’s admonition, eventually took the Philistine woman Delilah as his own, and in ignoring his father, Samson crafted his own destruction.  

In reading the story in the Bible you will notice that the voice of his parents became silent.  Believers following in Samson’s footsteps should not take the eventual silence of the father or mother on this matter as an endorsement of what they are doing.  The silence is motivated in a desire to not alienate the child over the relationship he has chosen to enter against his father’s wishes.  The silence, is actually an indictment of the lack of honor shown to the father on such a critical matter.  The true reason for Samson’s downfall was that he failed to honor his father in such an important life decision.  Think of how different the story would have read if Samson had listened to his parents.  Think of all the divine appointments he missed and the destiny he failed to fulfill all over one simple decision.  I encourage you to keep you heart open to the guidance of your natural and spiritual parents.  Their wise counsel in due season could save you from a world of hurt and disappointment later on in life.

Still Another Lesson From a Seven Pound Toy Poodle

IMG_3575One of the most challenging and hard to understand attributes of human beings is the inconsistent manner in which they relate to others. With some people, you just have no idea how they’re going to treat you from day to day. Catch them on a good day and they’re all smiles and genuinely glad to see you. See that same person a few days later or in a different context and you’re left wondering what you did (or if you smell). One day they go out of the way to talk to you, and another day they are ducking down the frozen food aisle at Wal-Mart hoping you didn’t see them. It’s hard to relate to people and build relationships with individuals who change like the shifting sands from moment to moment. It’s difficult to get along with people when you never know which version of the person you’re going to run into today.

In contrast, I’ve noticed the routines, patterns, and consistency of a certain fluffy poodle named Princess. Her day begins early in the morning by crawling slowly to the head of our bed to give me her morning greeting (for the record she’s also cleaner than a lot if people I know). She lays there, front paws and head on my chest and hind quarters standing on the bed, refusing to move until she’s satisfied I properly acknowledged her existence. She ends every evening with that same habitual puppy hug. PeePoo also warmly greets you every time you reenter her presence regardless of whether you’ve been gone five minites or five hours. This canine time amnesia makes it impossible for her to harbor a grudge or nurse bitterness. She literally treats her family the same, hour by hour and day by day.

How much better all our relationships would be if we could develop a little time and hurt amnesia like Princess. How different our lives would be if we could understand (as PeePoo seems to) that people are people and they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We can’t control how people treat us, but we have total power over our response. How much more joy and peace we would have if we just decided to treat one another consistently and systematically the same way in any context at any time. Unfortunately, most people are clock watchers and wound protectors, and these tendencies are at the root of our interpersonal confusion and inconsistency. Our relational dysfunction is clearly evidenced by our inconsistent treatment of others.

The Lord who changes not is our standard and example. God is love and He treats us the same day after day no matter what we do or how we treat Him or others. I want to encourage you to focus every day on treating people consistently the same Christ-like loving way. Nothing indicates growth and maturity in our lives like consistently and habitually displaying God’s love and mercy, even when others do not treat us this way.

Real Faith for Real Trouble

prison-barsMost Christians have a basic understanding of faith that includes the principle of justification by faith, and that by the grace of God.  A smaller number have learned that faith is a lifestyle and the prescribed way of living for the believer: “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).  It’s possible for a believer in the course of receiving teaching about the lifestyle of faith to come to the erroneous conclusion that if they simply had enough faith, no trouble would ever visit their life.  Unfortunately, the Scripture teaches just the opposite.  Jesus said boldly, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Mark chapter four states emphatically trouble comes because of the Word.  A balanced and accurate rendering of biblical faith must include the understanding that (1) faith attracts trouble into our lives, (2) faith sustains us in that trouble, (3) and faith delivers us from that trouble.  No, you are not a freak or an inferior Christian because you are going through a tough time.

The Bible is filled with stories of faithful servants who experienced trouble not due to a lack of faith, but because they were individuals of great faith demonstrating that faith through consecration to God and faithfulness.  Abel’s faith led to his demise at the hands of his own brother.  Daniel’s faith landed him in the lion’s den.  The three Hebrew boys were tossed into the fiery furnace because of their faith.  Joseph’s faith landed him in the pit.  David’s faith and the success it brought got him into trouble with the spear thrower known as King Saul.  While it’s true that our own behavior has often been the source of our trouble, it is also true that we can get into trouble for simply being faithful to God.

Paul and Silas were thrown into the inner core of prison and chained like violent criminals for bringing deliverance to a fortune-teller and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 16).  Imagine how you would respond if you were apprehended and jailed for doing nothing more than sharing your faith in Jesus Christ (foreign to American Christians but a very present realty around the world).  The amazing reaction and behavior of Paul and Silas in this story illustrate the proper way to handle the trouble that comes from being a person of faith.  When you find yourself in trouble because of your stand of faith, draw from their godly example.

First, make sure you maintain a good attitude in the midst of the situation.  It’s amazing we don’t see Paul and Silas whining, griping, or complaining over their situation.  In America today, Christians get put out if their latte is not made to their liking or if someone snatches their parking place at Wal-Mart.  The attitude is the best indicator of the present health of our faith and spiritual life.  I love the story of the little boy who visited his grandpa one afternoon.  As Grandpa fell asleep on the couch and the little boy thought it would be funny to smear Limburger cheese all over grandpa’s mustache. Later, when grandpa awoke, he couldn’t help but smell the cheese under his nose. Thinking the front room was the source of the smell, he headed into the kitchen to find the smell just as strong there.  Looking for relief from the stench, grandpa headed outside, took a whiff, and exclaimed, “the whole world stinks.”  Ironically, the smell was not coming from the front room, the kitchen, or the world, but from grandpa himself.  Our attitude is just like that – the source of a smelly attitude is never someone else.

Second, make sure you keep your song.  At midnight from deep within the prison walls, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing hymns.  It’s noteworthy that the other prisoners were listening to them because people around us are watching and listening as well to see how we will handle the adversity brought on by our faith.  The powerful praise and worship was followed by a prison shaking earthquake that caused all the prison doors to open.  We have to remember that the doors open after the praise and not before.  Don’t wait for the circumstances to change before you break out into song and praise.  Praise God in the midst of the trouble and watch His deliverance begin to flow.  It’ also noteworthy to mention that the deliverance of others (like the other prisoners) depends on our lifestyle of praise.

Third, regardless of the trouble and the setbacks you are facing, make sure you stay focused on your mission in the midst of the trouble.  Too often believers are oblivious to the needs around them because they are so dialed in to their own trouble.  Paul and Silas, despite their treatment, had the presence of mind to focus on the souls of the jailer and other prisoners.  Instead of killing himself in response to what looked like a jail break, the jailer found Jesus through the ministry of two men sensitive to the Holy Spirit despite the hardship they were experiencing.  How many ministry opportunities pass us by because we are consumed with our trouble, our challenges, and our hardships?  Let’s not teach the enemy he can shut down our ministry simply by stirring up a little trouble in our lives.  Choose to look for chance to bless others right there in the midst of your mess.

Skunked

Peppy 1The Warner Brothers animated skunk Peppy Le Pew was one of my favorite cartoon characters as a kid.  You couldn’t help but laugh at the irony and feel a little sorry for the object of Peppy’s affection, a black and white female feline.  For obvious reasons, the cat wasn’t thrilled about getting too cozy with the skunk.  Oddly enough, I notice a lot of Christians who would never have a skunk for a pet have no problem living their lives with a skunky attitude.  Skunk or skunky attitude, the result is the same – people just don’t want to be around you…and who can blame them?

Peppy Le Pew with his unmistakable stench visited Hope Harbor today.  The origin of the aroma, powerful enough to knock you down upon entering the church office suite, was probably outside, but we could not rule out the possibility that the critter was somewhere in the building.  After a little investigation, a staff member (kudos to Rodney, aka “Skunk Man” – after all we are in Kentucky) discovered a dead skunk right next to one of our air conditioning units (the unit feeding the office complex).  The unit repeatedly sucked up and dispersed the skunk smell throughout the office every time it kicked on. 

Our attitude is a lot like the skunk odor.  First, like the skunk, individuals with a bad attitude rarely notice they are the source of the smell.  Second, people with bad attitudes fail to understand how easily it is to fill the air around them with negativity and pessimism.  Like the skunk, it’s amazing how much pollution can come from one person with a lousy attitude.  Third, once in the air, the foul smell is difficult to eliminate.  It’s always much wiser to prevent the skunk from spraying than to deal with the stink once it comes out.

We should monitor our lives daily for the condition of our attitudes.  Do you stink?  Are you the source of the smell?  Are you bombing others with your pungent attitude?  Are you stinking things up at work, in your home, or in your church?  The Apostle Paul said, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14, NIV). We can’t perpetuate the fragrance of Christ wherever we go if we are suppressing His essence with the foul odor of a bad attitude.  

Let me encourage you to “deskunk” your attitude on a daily basis.  First, skunk experts say bathing in tomato juice will neutralize the skunk smell.  As Christians, we know the key to removing any stench and stain is the blood of Jesus.  The moment you smell something coming from your heart that doesn’t belong there like bitterness, resentment, or sarcasm, be quick to repent and apply the blood to your life.  Like the skunk smell, there is not enough perfume to cover up the smell of a sinful attitude.  Second, dip your heart daily in God’s presence.  In the fullness of God’s presence is joy, not belligerence (Psalm 16:11).  The believer who fails to seek God often manifests that prayerlessness through a lousy attitude.  Third, wash your mind daily in the Word of God.  Saturating your thinking to line up with God’s Word is central to maintaining a godly and positive attitude and outlook on life.  Watch and see how much more attractive you’ll be when you smell like Jesus instead of Peppy!

Casting Call

 

It-s-A-Wonderful-Life-its-a-wonderful-life-9644956-1920-1080

I am excited to announce the Broadway musical, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” will be presented this December 5-7, 2014 at 7 pm nightly at Hope Harbor Church.  Come be a part of our presentation of one the most transformational family friendly stories in the history of motion pictures and the stage.  All interested potential cast members, crew members, technology team members, set designers and builders, and house volunteers are encouraged to contact Hope Harbor Church at 270-753-6695 or info@hopeharborchurch.com.  Casting auditions are open to the community and will be held beginning September 21st.  Make plans to spend part of your Christmas season reaching out to others with the good news of God’s life-changing love.  

Yet Another Lesson From A Six Pound (Seven Pound) Toy Poodle

IMG_0111When appreciated, loved, and properly cared for, dogs pretty much live a charmed life.  Doggie agenda for the day: wake up, stretch legs, go potty, drink a little water, run around the room, eat, sleep, chew toy, go potty, sleep some more, give kisses, cheer for the Cardinals, repeat, etc. Through the years I’ve learned a lot from the tough life of our six pound (um, more like seven pounds these days) blonde toy poodle, and I’ve shared those lessons within this blog (search “lessons from a six pound toy poodle”).

Recently my wife and I were talking about the calm and total trust our small poodle exhibits in her daily routine.  Princess (her AKC registered name, but I have bestowed a litany of other names upon her such as PeePoo, Purty Girl, Isopurty, Jelly Belly, BeeBoo, Fluffy Butt, you get the idea), for example, never has a thought about whether the food bowl will be filled, if she will have water to drink, if someone will be getting up to take her out (that would be me), or if she will get any attention (you have probably already discerned, PeePoo gets little attention around our house).  Her faith and trust level is particularly strong when it comes to scoring dog treats.  Like clockwork, sometime in the middle of the evening Princess will stake a place in the floor in front of me and wait with piercing eyes of longing for her daily fix of mini milk bones. She will wait patiently for a few moments before breaking into a pouty whine to remind me she’s there.  The whine then morphs into a series of short barks to get my attention as she longs to hear those two amazing and powerful words, “doggy treats?” It works every time (and it will work on every single person in the house before the night is over).

Imagine how charmed our lives would be if we would learn to trust the Lord the way Princess trusts and expects us to take care of her.  She simply has no worries about her future in the Heinz household.  She does not sheepishly cower in shame or nonverbally apologize for boldly expecting her needs to be met.  There is no fretting about the future and no pining over the messes (and there have a been a few) of the past.  Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in EVERYTHING by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If the Lord is watching the sparrow and taking care of the Poo, you can have complete confidence and peace that He will take care of you. 

Cheer for the Team

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My son Tim and I love watching the St. Louis Cardinals play ball at Busch Stadium. Recently we had tickets to see the Cards stomp the Dodgers in a beautiful display of pitching and hitting. The most interesting aspect of the game, however, was what took place in the section of seats next to us. A sea of cardinal fans in red surrounded a lone Dodger fan decked out in a white jersey. Each time the Dodger left fielder Matt Kemp jogged out to his position, the Dodger fan unleashed a litany of verbal abuses against him. A true professional, Kemp just ignored the fan and focused on the game. After a few innings, the entire section of Cardinal fans began to cheer for Kemp as he made his way out to left field. That’s right. The Dodger fan berated him mercilessly while the home team fans cheered and clapped for him. The Cardinal fans, in addition to demonstrating why they are the best, most gracious fans in all of baseball (no bias here), completely silenced the belligerent and obnoxious Dodger fan.

As Christians, it seems we too have a habit of yelling at our own players instead of cheering for them. Even though we all worship in different ways and associate with different Christian groups, we are all blood washed believers in Jesus. The most important initial or insignia on our jersey is not the letter of our denomination or group, but the letter “J.” I wonder what would happen if we rose each day with the mindset of cheering one another on rather than trying to correct and criticize each other. Imagine if we focused on the amazing truths that unite us instead of the minor doctrinal differences that separate us (and have nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy). Too many believers, believing themselves to be the umpires, mistake unity of doctrine for the unity of faith. Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Let’s drown out that voice of derision and division by intentionally encouraging one another daily in the Lord. Just think how speechless the devil will be when we, as members of the same team, start cheering for each other regardless of where we attend church.

 

Fig Leaf Theology

Fig LeafIf you think about it for long you will realize how much Adam and Eve had it made in the garden of Eden.  God made two perfect people and placed them in a perfect environment where the climate was controlled, where every need and delight was readily available, and where no war, famine, sickness, or tragedy ever manifested.  In addition to God’s provision, He clothed Adam and Eve with the very cloak of heaven – the glory of God.  To see Adam and Eve in the garden was to behold two blazing balls of light and glory obscuring their human form to the eye until…until Eve was deceived and Adam disobeyed and the glory departed, their eyes were opened, they saw they were naked, and they fashioned fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  Remarkably, Adam and Eve traded the glory of God for a couple of fig leaves.

In sin, fear, and shame they hid their nakedness from God behind the bushes.  But thanks to God’s revealed plan to have Jesus die for the sins of the whole world (Genesis 3:15) the animal skins temporarily replacing the fig leaves would one day be permanently retired for the atoning power of the blood of Jesus that would obliterate their sin (and ours) and not just cover it.  What was lost in the garden through sin was to be recovered and made available to anyone that would accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Unfortunately, many believers today, though technically saved through the blood of Jesus, continue to think and act as if they were still wearing fig leaves and hiding in the bushes from God and all He offers to His people.  The Lord wants us to trade those fig leaves back in for the glory of God and do what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:18 – “with unveiled faces…reflect the Lord’s glory…being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  To walk in the glory of God going from degree of glory to degree of glory, we have to trade that tired old fig leaf thinking and theology for glory of God thinking.

The devil’s goal is to deceive us into thinking that we have to live with a mentality of hiding and shame, mediocrity, low expectations, guilt, failure, sin consciousness, curse, bondage, sickness, lack, and fear.  The Spirit of God would have us embrace God’s thoughts of transparency and openness, excellence, high expectations, transformation, peace, success, righteousness, blessing, freedom, healing, victory, and confidence.  Too many believers see themselves today like the spies did when spying out the land of Canaan – they saw themselves as grasshoppers.  You might say that the spies saw themselves as fig leaf wearers.  Many believers see themselves the same way.  We know from Scripture, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).  If we can’t change our thinking, no matter what Jesus has done, we cannot enjoy God’s best.

The Lord invites us all to trade that old fig leaf back in and walk in the glory of God that is restored in Jesus Christ.  How? First, we must end our attempts to cover up or hide and get real with God about our lives knowing that, “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but he who renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Second, we must renew our minds to the realities of God’s glory and grace available to us now as believers.  We will never think kingdom of God thoughts until we get consistently and habitually into His Word. Third, we must walk in God’s presence.  God’s presence is the key to expanding the glory of God and all that glory offers.  As the glory of God was reflected in Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence, so we can experience a greater measure of God’s glory in our own lives but without the fading of that glory Moses experienced as a man living without the amazing benefits of the new birth in Christ.  Don’t wait another day. Come out of the bushes, get into the Word, and get into God’s presence and when you do you will find that the fig leaf is truly gone forever.

It’s the Sin Stupid

Phil Robertson I remember the presidential campaign of 1992 and how the Clinton election team pushed itself to remember their fundamental and playful campaign message, “it’s the economy stupid.” When other issues would rise to divert Clinton from that message, staffers would forcefully remind the campaign staff that the election would hinge on the existing economic malaise at the time and the hope a fix through Clinton’s policies.

At the risk of beating a dead horse (or dead duck show in this case), I can’t help draw a comparison to the current situation with Phil Robertson recently pushed off the A&E hit reality television show Duck Dynasty.  Now I don’t really care about ducks, duck calls, beards or A&E for that matter.  What I do care about is the boldness of this man to take the platform the Lord gave him to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and clearly communicate the teachings of the Word of God.  Time after time I’ve witnessed God promote believers to a national platform only to see them compromise once they reached that pinnacle.  Phil and his family should be commended not criticized for their stand and for honoring the Lord for the gift of their platform.

The liberal media and activists groups want Americans to believe that Robertson’s language in a GQ interview was crude, vile, inappropriate, insensitive, and even hate speech.  What believers need to remember at a time like this is whenever a believer quotes the Bible on morality and sexuality it is not hate speech but the Word of God. What if GQ had interviewed the Apostle Paul?  Enough said.  The real issue here is that the powerful demonic spirit behind human sexual perversion goes ballistic (especially when it ends up printed in black and white) whenever it is called out and exposed for what it is – SIN.  Just like the irrational response of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day when the men threatened to rape angelic beings (Genesis 19:5) or Herod’s violent treatment of John the Baptist for calling out his sexual immorality (Matthew 14:3-4), that spirit bristles today whenever the behavior is correctly labeled as sin.  One can attempt to quote and address these Scriptures with a gentle spirit, loving heart, a twinkle in the eye, and a smile on the face but the reaction of equating homosexuality with sin with always be met with the same ferocious response.

Notice Robertson paraphrased Scripture about drunkenness but no one called him a drunkaphobe.  He addressed idolatry but was not labeled an idolatorphobe. He mentioned the greedy but no one called him a greedyphobe.  He called out swindlers but no one said he was a swindlerphobe.  He spoke of slanderers but no one cared to call him a slandererphobe.  But when he mentions what the Bible says about homosexuality he is called a hater and a homophobe. In other words, it’s fine to label other areas of immorality as sin but one must simply not equate homosexuality with sin.  Make no mistake about it.  The modern persecution leveled at Robertson and others who dare to speak up is about identifying rightly sexual behavior that is sin. “It’s the sin stupid” and we would be wise to remember that everyone who will live a godly life in Christ Jesus and care enough to share that godliness will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  

We should also remember that no one need remain in the clutches of sin – any kind of sin – for God has provided the remedy for all manner of sin, the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. The catch is that our personal redemption hinges on confessing our sin (saying the same thing God says about it) and not redefining or dismissing our sin.  It is unscriptural and naive to believe that we, as the modern church, can lead people to Jesus without addressing the sin issue.  After all, Jesus’ first message to the world was, ‘Repent (change your mind and corresponding behavior), for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 4:17).  Repentance gives us access to the supernatural power that will set us free from the sins that we confess.  Consequently, there is no substitute for the place of repentance in our redemption, salvation, and deliverance.

Lost in the Fog

Foggy Path 1More and more believers, it seems to me, appear to be lost in life. By “lost” I don’t mean that they are unsaved or backslidden. I mean they seem to have lost their sense of direction caught off guard by some storm or fog that quickly rolled into their lives and disoriented them. By lost I mean they feel they have lost their way or their purpose. They are perplexed and bewildered feeling like they are in a maze, uncertain how to get out and back on the right path. Believers lost in a fog without vision are in danger of compromising their destination, bankrupting their faith, and leading other Christians astray.

I remember going to the dime store with my mom as a five year-old kid back in Illinois. It’s amazing how big everything looked through the eyes of a child. The store, though small, was large enough for me to quickly lose track of my mom as she turned the corner with shopping cart in front of her to check out some special in the store. I remember momentarily being gripped in a fog of fear as I lost site of her only to glance above the shelf line to see her blond hair bobbing down the aisle. That 1960’s hairdo became a beacon of hope to help a little boy to get back where he belonged.

There are many reasons why believers get lost in the fog of life. Some believers run with the wrong crowd and follow that crowd off the path. Some believers allow a root of bitterness to spring up in their hearts and that root will defile many, according to Scripture, but it starts by deceiving and sidetracking the ones who harbor it in their hearts. Some believers simply take a wrong turn in life. They are not bad people but it only takes one bad turn in life to get off track. Some believers succumb to the intensified level of spiritual warfare in the world today and the central mission of that war is to distract and cut off believers from their destiny. Some believers get isolated from God and stop seeking Him and in doing so also lose the direction that His presence automatically provides. Still other believers falter because of burn out or because of major setbacks, failures, or disappointments. Regardless of the reason, the Lord wants you to know that no matter how thick the fog, no matter how far you have strayed, He is ready to turn the light on and help you find your way back.

Proverbs 4:18-19 tells us that the path of the righteous, unlike the path of the wicked, gets brighter and brighter. This means that God’s best and the norm for the believer is to walk a path that is clear and obvious. When we are in a fog, that path gets dimmer and dimmer. The good news is there are some practical things you can do to navigate through the fog and get back on God’s best path for your life. First, turn on the light. In other words open that Bible up again and begin to draw from the wisdom and apply its light to your path (Psalm 119:105). Second, back track to what you were doing when you got lost in the fog. There is usually a critical signal you missed or some juncture where you stepped off the path and into the fog. No matter how painful, have the courage to admit that you missed it because God gives grace to the humble (2 Peter 5:5). There’s nothing sadder than to see a fog bound believer more interested in protecting their image of infallibility than getting their life back on track. Third, reach out for a “seeing eye” Christian. It does you no good to seek counsel from another Christian that is also lost in the fog. Seek advice from a believer that is walking in the light and can tell you what you need to do to get out of the fog. Fourth, Pull away with God by yourself for a time of serious reflection, prayer, and study. Remember the Lord loves to answer prayers for wisdom and guidance (James 1). Fifth, listen for the voice of the true shepherd and tune out other competing voices. The Bible (John 10:27) declares that God’s sheep know his voice. Psalm 119:176 says, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant.” Like the Psalmist, invite the shepherd to venture into the fog of your life and rescue you. Finally, to keep from making the fog worse, postpone decisions that affect other people until you know you are back on the right path. Too often, believers in desperation make matters worse by trying in the flesh to make something happen. Too often, those believers end up pulling family and friends into the fog with them rather than walking out into the sunshine of God’s grace together.

Tebowtunity

20130611-125148.jpgI’ve never understood people with great talent or ability just kind of cruising through life with no desire to fully develop and reach their potental. Throughout my life I have witnessed countless gifted students, athletes, and believers opt for mediocrity simply because they lacked the deisre and discipline to be coached to greatness.

Jim was in my high school graduating class. His highest priority was not in learning (unless it was to learn who had the best smoke). So a young man who scored a 34 on his ACT graduated with one of the worst GPA’s.

Danny was the most talented swimmer I had trained with on my swim team. His technique was both perfect and beautiful. But he lacked the desire and focus to become a champion. On one occcasion at a meet in Belleville, IL, Danny was playing pool while the gun went off for his swimmng race. I will never forget Danny running upstairs to the pool and jumping in a half a lap back from the field. He still managed to overtake everyone to win the race.

George (not his name) was an anointed and gifted servant of God called and equipped by God to perfom one of the most important roles in the body of Christ – serving as a true armour bearer for God’s generals. One internationally known minister once told me that in all his travels no one had ever taken better care of him than George. But he made some bad choices and lost his desire to be mentored to greatness.

Contrast these stories with my friend and competitor Tom from my age group swimming days. Bob Steele, the head men’s swim coach at SIU Carbondale at the time, used to tell us there were three factors in succeeding as a swimmer: raw talent, hard work, and a good attitude. He said that you needed at least two to succeed but three would be unstoppable. Tom always had talent and a great attitude but early on he showed no interest in working hard. But one day a coach and mentor came across his path and encouraged him to train with the Parkway Swim Club in St Louis and at the University of Iowa swim camp in the summer. Combined with his new work ethic and the world class coaching, Tom became an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record Holder.

I see Tim Tebow’s situation (and that of so many Christians) in the same light. Tim proved his ability, hard work, and attitude leading his college team to national championships. Despite his success there and gritty backup play as quarterback for the Denver Broncos leading them to a playoff victory over Pittsburg, Tebow was traded to an inept Jets team that failed to appreciate, use, or develop this godly and talented young man.

As corny as it sounds, I actually prayed for Tebow to be picked up by some NFL team that has both the insight to see the potential and the skill to develop it. Yesterday the New England Patriots announced intentions to sign Tebow. Most people forget that the Patriot’s celebrated QB Tom Brady couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a throw in the beginning of his career. But Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick remembers and yet took a talented Brady and developed him into one of the all time greats. Sportswriter Tyler Raburn said of Belichick, “He took Brady from the sixth-round prospect he was and made him into the superstar he is today.” Something tells me that Belichick, with an eye to the future, is ready (and unlike the Broncos and Jets) and able to do that again with the young Tebow.

Like Tebow, I believe as Christians we all have great potential but we must have two indispensable factors working in our lives. First, we must desire to be developed and mentored. Most believers live and die never accomplishing much, not because they lack ability – they simply lack the heart. Second, we must submit ourselves not simply to a coach but to a coach that has the experience and ability to wisely mentor, instruct, push, correct, and develop us.

Don’t settle for being like a Jim, Danny, or George. Like Tom and like Tim, see and seize (don’t squander) your “Tebowtunity” when it comes your way. I fully expect Tim Tebow to flourish with the Patriots. Like Tebow, with the desire and proper developmental coaching, I expect you too will flourish and become a champion for Jesus.

 

Hijacking Jesus

passionhome“From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17, NIV).

It’s quite interesting to hear marginal Christians, the secular media, politicians, and liberal theologians describe Jesus’ essential message as one of tolerance without any expectation of change or conformance to his Father’s moral code and standards. In fact, the primary, essential, and original message of Jesus has almost been drowned out completely and hijacked (to divert from the original message, destination, or purpose) by a chorus of voices demanding that the Church of Jesus Christ cease its stand for righteousness. Jesus certainly came to this earth to die for the sins of mankind because of love, but Jesus’ first message was not tolerance or love. His first message to the world was, “repent” which means to change your mind with a corresponding change of behavior. People today want the love and favor of God but they do not want the message and mandate of repentance that goes with the broader message of the gospel. Jesus has been hijacked so that people can live how they want to live, justify that lifestyle, and decry any divine accountability for living that way.

Take, for example, the woman caught in adultery (John 8). Jesus knew this woman was being used to try to trap him into saying or doing something that the Pharisees could use as a basis to accuse him. Jesus’ response is amazing but it also reveals the connection between his love, compassion, and the need to embrace his requirement of repentance. He challenged her accusers to go ahead and throw the stones and let the one without sin begin the execution. Of course, one by one they withdrew starting with the oldest among them. Jesus then issued the powerful statement together with a caveat: “Then neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:31). Notice he did not say, “I don’t condemn you and feel free to sin even more.” This is the missing element. Yes, there is grace, love, and mercy for the sinner – for all of us, but there is also the command to “sin no more” not to sin all the more. In one powerful moment Jesus gave this woman God’s compassion, God’s correction, and God’s power to make the necessary changes, for the Lord never gives us a command without giving us the power to keep that command.

In this current environment where what is wrong is called right and what is right is called wrong (Isaiah 5:20 – “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”), the Church needs to stand up boldly and declare that we do preach the love and mercy of God but we must also follow Jesus’ example and preach repentance as well, which means to stop the offending behavior (stop the behavior that is offending God’s heart and His Word). To preach mercy and love without repentance is to hijack both the message and mission of Jesus Christ and to totally misrepresent the truth (the misrepresentation of the truth is also known as a lie). In the end it is not loving or compassionate to let people believe a lie to their own destruction. The handwriting is on the wall and the moral trajectory has become clear – our society more and more is rejecting the clear teachings of Scripture and choosing a philosophy where everyone does “what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Yes, it would be less controversial and we could save ourselves from further name calling and vilification if we just say the “ship has sailed” on opposing the moral slide of this nation, but the consequences of this would be to hijack Jesus ourselves, dishonor His sacrifice, and then render ourselves completely irrelevant in the process.

The Accumulation Effect

20130325-192332.jpgLike many in my generation, I grew up watching the animated antics of the likes of Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye. I particularly enjoyed that predictable moment when Popeye, just before pulling out the famous strength-inducing spinach, would exclaim, “I’ve had all I can stand, and I can’t stands no more!”

Most of us can relate to that level of frustration when it seems things have reached a tipping point and the next person adding their two cents is likely to feel the force of Popeye’s might. In reality we simply don’t get to that place overnight. Peace-stealing frustration, instead, is the result of issues, mistakes, problems, slights, misunderstandings, and pressures that accumulate over time without processing them spiritually in a timely manner.

Think about it this way. Do contractors build a roof on a house in Colorado the same way one would be built in Florida? Obviously the force of snow on the roof in Colorado demands a design and structure capable of handling severe winter weather not experienced in a warm climate. Like that hypothetical roof, our lives spiritually require reinforcement before the snows of life begin to fall and accumulate on the roof of our hearts. Like the overburdened roof, our hearts collect wounds, hurts, disappointments, and stresses over time that demand that  (1) we strengthen ourselves from the inside, and (2) we regularly clear our hearts of those things that harden or cause our hearts to grow cold.

Remember the principle of the accumulation effect. The roof does not collapse and our hearts do not implode from the first dusting of snow or life challenges. The structure is compromised from the accumulation of weight over time. Implosion is a gradual process. Let me encourage you to inspect your heart daily and remove every weight, burden, or sin through the receiving and giving of forgiveness.

Tomb Dwellers

imagesThere is no question that our culture today is fascinated – no obsessed with death and the symbols of death. Interest and viewership in death-based themed movies and television programs are at an all time high. Shows about witches, vampires, werewolves, and zombies fill the airwaves and theaters all over the nation. This death culture, unbeknownst to most who expose themselves to it, brings with it all kinds of demonic activity and strongholds. You cannot abide in the darkness without being assaulted by those that lurk there. It is striking that millions upon millions would rather hang around the tombs of the dead rather than enjoying the abundant life Jesus offers and promises in his word.

The Bible speaks of a demon possessed man Jesus encountered and then set free from his bondage. Notice the similarities between this man and so many in our culture today. First, he literally lived in the tombs among the dead. When you hang around death, death is going to manifest in your life. Second, he was known for violent fits and then at the same time had periods where he seemed to have it all together. What people today may write off as an explosive temper or life-controlling moodiness is often a manifestation of demonic activity in a person’s life. Third, like some in our society today, he was known to cut himself and mutilate his own flesh. The influence of death all around him egged him on (and the enemy does with so many young people today) towards self-destructive behavior. Fourth, even though he was able to snap chains holding him fast, he still walked around with the cuffs and leggings of a person in bondage. Jesus came to break every chain off of our lives but all you have to do is listen carefully and you will hear the sound of clanking iron all around in you world. Finally, this man moved more and more towards isolation. When you see people withdrawing from family and friends and avoiding human interaction and fellowship, you can know that the enemy is at work in their life trying to isolate them with that death spirit and influence.

Let me encourage you to identify the influences of the death culture in your life so that you can stop dwelling around the tombs and start living the abundant life Jesus desires you to live. First, identify the death communications in your life such as words and thoughts that are negative, destructive, and self-defeating. Your life will go in the direction of your most dominant thoughts and words and if your most dominant thoughts and words are saturated with death, negative and destructive things will manifest in your life. It’s amazing how many of our colloquial phrases are filled with death references. Life and death are literally in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Second, remove all death seductions from your life such as hidden or secret desires, behaviors, practices, or habits that are impure and unholy. The best thing you can do is to expose those in your life and judge them as inappropriate for the believer. You cannot indulge in such conduct without being seduced (gradually drawn away from godly behavior and devotion) by that death influence. Third, be aware of any death attractions in your life such as media, television, movies, books, music that glorify death, spiritism, fear, or the paranormal. You may view this as harmless entertainment but in reality these attractions are an open door for oppression and destruction in your life. Instead of allowing death inputs into your eyes and ears, choose to look and listen to those things that are of life and bring life. Finally, decide to withdraw from any death associations. These are people who are dead spiritually and tend to pull you down (even if you had the noble goal of bringing them up). While you should reach out to the lost, you cannot have close, intimate  friendships with people who are lukewarm or dead spiritually (and for sure should not marry such a person). Don’t assume because someone says they are a Christian or because they go to church that they are sufficiently alive spiritually to have great access in your life (as Corrie ten Boom often said, “just because there’s a mouse in the cookie jar doesn’t mean they are a cookie”).

Just like the demoniac in the Scriptures, the Lord delights in setting his people free from every bondage and every chain. If you have allowed death communications, death seductions, death attractions, or death associations in your life, repent now and ask the Lord for his deliverance, protection, and preservation. You do not have to be possessed to be demonized or oppressed by the enemy. You may have opened the door to oppression by “hanging around the tombs” but you do not have to stay there. Get up and get back into God’s Word and presence. Jesus came that you might have life and that life is found in His Word and in His Spirit.

The Spirit of Infirmity

crippled woman healed pic“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise  herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called  her  to  Him  and said to her,  ‘Woman, you are loosed from your  infirmity.’ And He laid  His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had  healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and  not on the Sabbath day.’ The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead  it  away to water it? So ought not this woman,  being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’ And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were  done by Him” (Luke 13:10-17, NKJV).

I love to read about the power, wisdom, and compassion of Jesus Christ when it comes up against religious tradition. In this simple story about a woman with a chronic back problem, Jesus forever takes the lid off to reveal who exactly is behind sickness and disease – Satan through the agency of a spirit of infirmity (demonic activity that produces chronic weakness, debilitation, or sickness mentally, emotionally, or physically). For many years, the enemy was able to lay the blame at God’s feet with even some of God’s servants and ministers beating the drum and bearing witness to a wrong conclusion about the nature and origin of sickness. But Jesus makes it plain: “…whom Satan has bound.” Acts 10:38 echoes this vital truth by revealing that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power and went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. The simple truth is that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life, to the full, until it overflows (John 10:10).

It’s laughable to think that the synagogue ruler would challenge the people to come on the normal six days of work to be healed instead of the Sabbath. It’s amusing (and sad) because all this time people ought to have received healing ministry during the rest of the week through the synagogue system (healing has always been the will of God and “the Lord that heals us” has always made provision for healing throughout both the Old and New Testaments). The truth is, however, that people started to get healed when Jesus came preaching the message of the blessing and restoration and then backed it up with supernatural power. This is precisely why the Scripture says that the Word of God is made void (robbed of its power) by the traditions of men (Matthew 15:6). This is a classic example of a religious leader twisting Scripture to serve his own agenda and protect his own insecurities. It is unthinkable that his position and prominence was more important than the spiritual welfare and restoration of the people he was charged to lead.

But Jesus takes the issue even further. He chides the rulers because hypocritically they would untie or unbind their animals to make sure they had life-sustaining water on the Sabbath but through their religious tradition impeded human beings – covenant children of God like Abraham who have healing as a benefit of that covenant – from partaking of God’s living water. That same spirit that we see now that demands the whales be saved while espousing the right to terminate unborn children has been in the world since the fall of man. Men, made in God’s image, are made inferior to animals and lands that were made by God for man both to enjoy and to steward.

A vital weapon the enemy uses to keep God’s people bound is ignorance – a lack of knowledge of the heart, nature, will, and power of God. Hosea 4:6 indicates that God’s people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. No more. Jesus has blown the devil’s cover (and religion’s cover). Be encouraged that healing is part of the covenant blessing we share by faith (Galatians 3:13-14) and that, according to Jesus, covenant men and women of God OUGHT to be free from their bonds. Rejoice in the knowledge that there is no chain, no bondage, and no affliction that can stand up to the anointing released through faith in the name of Jesus. For whom the Son sets free is truly, free indeed – as free as Jesus is free (John 8:36).

It Wasn’t Me

RocketmanIt’s interesting to me to listen these days to the leader of the free world explain that no matter what happens in Washington, someone else is always to blame. The President inherited a terrible situation economically and was elected both times by blaming his predecessor. The problem now is the President’s policies of massive spending, debt accumulation, class warfare, challenging corporate job creators like Boeing, and the sequester (which he fails to remember was HIS idea in the first place) are at the root of our national economic lethargy.

The President has proven to be a formidable politician and extremely gifted communicator, but a very poor leader. Why? Because at some point every leader has to look at himself or herself in the mirror and look at the people he or she leads and simply admit what everybody else already knows: “I blew it. This is my fault. I take responsibility.” This tendency in all of us to insist on our appearance of perfection rather than taking responsibility for the situation indicates anemic, narcissistic, and inauthentic leadership. What ever happened to the Harry Truman’s of the world who boldly declare, “The buck stops here.”

But to be honest, the passing of the buck rather than accepting responsibility for our actions and decisions in life has become  sort of a cultural norm in our society. If we are lacking anything in life or experience a setback or failure, it simply has to be someone else’s fault. But if we want the grace of God to flow in our lives, truly flow in our lives, we must humble ourselves, admit our mistakes, and accept God’s grace and forgiveness which includes pardon for the sin but also the power to recover from the mistake and then succeed in the future. The Scripture says that God opposes the proud and this need to be right all the time is a manifestation of pride. The good news is that God also says he gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

In Disney’s 1997 movie, Rocketman, clumsy NASA software engineer Fred Randall makes the dubious journey from computer expert to replacement astronaut for the Mars mission (of course he was the one who injured the original astronaut). Throughout the movie we see Fred cause one calamity after another while all the while declaring incredulously, “It wasn’t me.” The low-budget movie is humorous but teaches all of us, President or not, what it sounds like and looks like to others when we habitually refuse to take any responsibility for our lives. I’ve posted a montage from the movie below (CVLI License No.:  503767611). Enjoy (click the following link). It wasn’t me

The Tower of Babel, Version 2.0

Tower of BabelSociety generally teaches us today that our ultimate success and direction in life is not so much about our decisions, our choices, or our actions, but the impact and influence of the societal collective. This is the essence of a culture focused on dethroning God and replacing divine authority with human consciousness, intelligence, and ingenuity. We’ve seen this before many times in world history including the infamous building and subsequent destruction of the tower of Babel where man basically snubbed his nose at a holy God declaring, “we don’t need you – we can get along nicely all by ourselves.” Thus is the essence and arrogance of socialism – a man-centered attempt to direct his affairs, chart his own course, and solve his own challenges. The problem with this reasoning is that the more man strives to fix the problems his own darkened understanding has created, the worse things become. The secular and humanistic leadership in the United States is taking up where the Babylonians left off by trying to resurrect a philosophy that will only result in the falling of whatever is built upon it.

Never before in my lifetime have we faced a more ominous threat to our nation than we do right now. Our nation today inaugurates the poster child of America’s incarnation of socialism, President Obama, for a second term. Without the drama and the pomp of the first inauguration where we rightly celebrated the election of the first black President in our nation’s history, today’s ceremony seems to be tempered by a weak endorsement of a leader whose slogan the past four years seemed to be, “it wasn’t me” (but at least he “doesn’t wear magic underwear” and can “sing a mean Al Green”). Our mandate as believers from Scripture is clear. We are to pray for our leaders and for those in authority so “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Let us pray fervently for the President and his administration, but let us look beyond the gleaming White House and Capitol Building to the face of God for the deliverance and restoration of our nation. For if the deconstruction of the Judeo-Christian ethic and influence in this nation continues, there will be no philosophy of man that can deliver this nation. History shows without exception that the nation that divorces itself from God and embarks on a course of so-called enlightened social theory and governance is destroyed. The hope of America is an awake church, a praying church, and expectant church that will press in and look for the very hand of God to manifest in our nation bringing the greatest awakening this nation has ever seen.

Resistance Is Not Futile

Borg 1If you’ve been exposed at all to the television or movie versions of the Star Trek productions you have become very familiar with the strange world of the part human, part machine colony of the Borg. Their ultimate goal is in assimilating others to be exactly just like them. The famous declaration of the Borg when challenged is to say, “resistance is futile.” This is exactly how the enemy works against the believer. He knows that if we resist him, he has to flee (James 4:7). Actually resistance is not futile – it’s the key to overcoming the devil every time.

The ultimate goal of the devil, then, is to get us into a position of non-resistance to his influence, his negativity, and his accusations. We all know that the greater one lives inside of us but if we, in the heat of battle, begin to stop resisting, we will be defeated every time. Because we are born of God, we have through faith everything we need to overcome this world because the victory that overcomes this world is our faith (1 John 5:4-5). But the key is to stand in this revelation and truth against the influence of the enemy and the circumstances in our lives that are running contrary to the Word of God. Even though we ARE overcomers, we can be overcome if we falter when it comes to resisting those things that Jesus died to redeem us from.

There are many things that subtly but effectively steer the believer towards non-resistance such as spiritual laziness (the lack of discipline to continue in prayer, worship, and Bible study), weariness (the effect of long protracted battles where one literally gets tired of fighting), and emptiness (we give everything we have in service scraping the bottom of the barrel instead of keeping the barrel full and giving out from the top). The more lazy, weary, or empty we become the less likely we are to stand and resist the enemy. The more non-resistant we become to the activity and agenda of the enemy, the more defeated we become. We have been redeemed from the curse according to Galatians 3:14, but the curse will still prevail and advance in our lives in an atmosphere of non-resistance. 

The reason for this is we are defeated by whatever we yield to in life (give up to, surrender to, relinquish to). According to James 4:7 we are to resist (withstand, strive against, oppose) the devil and his thoughts, but unfortunately, many believers forget about the first part of that verse that commands us first to submit to God. We cannot effectively resist the devil while we are actively resisting God. Make sure you eliminate every single area of non-compliance with God and His Word in your life if you want to see the devil flee. The other critical factor, according to 1 Peter 5:9, is the quality and level of our faith. We are told to resist him (the devil) steadfast in the faith. The quality and level of our faith determines our capacity and readiness to resist and continue resisting. The key to raising both the quality and the level of our faith is always more time in the Word because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word (Romans 10:17).

I love the story of Jehoshaphat in the Bible when he was facing an insurmountable alliance and attack of enemy forces in 2 Chronicles 20. His example shows us how to resist the enemy while under pressure. First, he immediately went to the Lord in prayer. Unfortunately, many believers today try everything else under the sun and only after every single other option has been exhausted without results, they turn to the Lord in prayer. It reminds me of what Winston Churchill said of Americans in light of World War II. He said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” Christians are a lot like that today, but prayer should be our FIRST resort not our last resort. Second, he gave his ear to the prophetic word of God. In this case, the Lord raised up a prophet in their midst to declare that the battle was the Lord’s and that they were to stand and in standing (resisting) they would see the victory. We may not all have a specific prophetic word in our situation, but we have something more sure and certain, the Word of God (2 Peter 1:19). Like the people in Jehoshaphat’s day, we need to believe the Word and in doing so we will be victorious. Finally, he released his people to sing and praise God in the midst of the battle. In fact, the singers and praisers were placed at the head of the army without weapons. In the natural this does not seem like a very good strategy for winning a war. In fact, it sounds like a recipe to lose any element of surprise and to precipitate a massacre. But the weapons we fight with are not carnal – they are mighty (2 Corinthians 10:4). Praise, in fact, is a supernatural weapon of our warfare that literally silences the foe and the avenger (Psalm 8:1-2). This actually brought confusion to the enemy’s camp and their ultimate defeat.

The enemy may try to tell you that it is futile to resist him, but according to the Word we know that if we will submit to God and stay strong in faith we will abide in a position of resistance to the enemy and in doing so he will have to flee. If you are feeling lazy, weary, or empty, get busy right now building up your resistance capacity by spending time in God’s Word and presence. Like Jehoshaphat, you too can believe God’s Word, stand, and watch the defeat of the enemy in your life.

A Party in Your Heart

Joy PicOne doesn’t have to be on this earth very long to discover that most people live a life based almost entirely on their emotions. The supreme goal in life is happiness and each decision, small and large, is based primarily on the idea that personal happiness is the optimal objective, the greatest pursuit, and the ultimate accomplishment in life. Our rights as citizens in this nation include the tenet of “the pursuit of happiness,” but for the true born again believer in Jesus Christ and citizen of the Kingdom of God, is this still an inferior and earthly goal? The answer, from the biblical, perspective is yes. The revelation of the Word of God teaches us that happiness is no substitute for the joy of the Lord.

Unlike happiness, joy is not an emotion but a force of the born again spirit. The joy of the Lord, said to be the source of our strength as believers (Nehemiah 8:10), is actually a deeply seated sense of calm delight that springs forth from the realization that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ and that we are in right standing with God by faith and that through grace. In other words, joy, unlike happiness is tied to an eternal spiritual truth and a spiritual reality that can only be understood by those that have experienced it. Happiness, on the other hand, is directly tied to our circumstances in life at any given moment or snapshot in time. If things are going well with our marriage, family, kids, work, finances, and health, then we will be happy (in theory). The problem, however, is that when things go south, so does our sense of well-being and happiness. Additionally, there are countless people who seemingly have it all together – great wife or husband, kids, meaningful career or other pursuit, a sound financial situation, and yet they are miserable. Why? Because the only thing that can give us true joy and peace – things that transcend mere happiness and that last despite changing circumstances – is a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’ve often defined joy as a non-stop party in your heart with Jesus as the life of the party. In other words, there is nothing external to our heats and lives that we need to experience a fulfilling, significant, and joy-filled life. The devil, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, is working overtime in the minds of people (including God’s people) to convince them that there is something outside of Jesus in our hearts that will bring us fulfillment and joy in life. This lie has led to countless believers veering off the path of God for their lives. This horrible deception has been responsible for the destruction of countless marriages because one or both individuals in the marriage bought the lie that the key to genuine happiness would be found outside of the spiritual soundness of their own hearts. Unfortunately, too many do not realize they’ve been duped until they have left God’s best path for their lives and settled for mediocrity or until that marriage is destroyed and the new relationship has left them feeling hollow.

There are basically two big reasons people in the body of Christ lose their joy. First, a loss of joy for the Christian is directly tied to a diminishing of their personal relationship with God. Rather than seeing a loss of joy as a sign we should withdraw from the Lord, His Church, and His plan for our lives, we should see this for what it truly is – we are lukewarm or cold with the Lord and when the fire returns the joy will come with it. See your joy level as an indication of the health of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Second, no matter who we are or what we do in the body of Christ, from preacher to greeter at the church, if we begin to turn our eyes from the Word of God and focus on the problems and circumstances, we will be defeated and lose our joy. When the adversity or setback strikes, we must discipline ourselves to keep the Word going into our eyes, going into our ears, and coming out of mouths in consistent confession. When the circumstances in our lives turn sour, we must choose to think on the Word of God rather than the problems we are facing because our lives will go in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.

When I think about the shepherds in the Christmas narrative who received the glad tidings of joy from the angels, I find in their reaction an example of how to maintain our joy as believers. First, joy comes in hearing the good news. They received the good news and it brought joy to them as it does to all who truly hear and lay hold of it. The principle could not be any clearer. We cannot maintain joy unless we continue to hear the Word of God. We need to continue to listen to the Word, read the Word, and speak the Word. Second, joy comes in experiencing the good news. It’s not enough just to hear and hear and hear the Word of God. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. The gospel, including all of its redemptive benefit, is something to be experienced. The Word we hear is to be made manifest in our lives. We are not just to hear about salvation – we are to experience it. We are not just to hear about the power of God – we are to experience it. Third, joy comes in spreading the good news. Many Christians today that are hearing the Word and experiencing the Word still seem to walk in less joy than they should. Why? It’s because we are failing to keep the third and perhaps the greatest aspect of the example of the shepherds – they heard, experienced, and then SPREAD the good news to others. Believers who are constantly receiving but never sharing what they have received from the Lord will typically lose their joy. Many are surprised to discover that if they will hear the good news, experienced the good news, AND spread the good news, their joy level will remain constant. 

So, how is the party in your heart these days? If you feel like the party has died out don’t look to some radical life change that will cause you to veer off your path, a new relationship, or a material purchase to fill the void. Realize that your joy level is tied to the health of your walk with Jesus and your focus in life. Before you make a catastrophic decision in the pointless pursuit of happiness, stop and first consider where you stand with the Lord and also turn your eyes away from your circumstances and back onto the Word of God. You will find your joy level rising and discover that the pursuit of happiness is no substitute for the authentic joy of the Lord.

A New Thing

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands” (Isaiah 43:18-19, MES).

The greatest enemy of our future is our past. Many believers in the body of Christ have experienced a year they would love to just to forget. A big part of that is making the decision to perceive, believe, and expect that God has something great for us down the road – that He has a powerful and exciting “new thing” for us and our families. The ability to push past the current challenging season in life and embrace that new thing is a fundamental indicator of spiritual growth and health. In fact, the perception of a new thing in our lives can be the difference between falling deeper into a hole of disillusionment and rising up from the ground to experience new levels in God and corresponding victories. I have discerned through the years of ministry that human beings are extremely resilient in mind and body, but far too often, people experience soul fractures in their emotions that seem to take much longer than a typical bone fracture to heal. God’s new thing for your life is His way of helping to speed up the healing process in your soul.

The Scripture in Isaiah 43:18-19 admonishes the believer to let go of the past and stop dwelling on what has been and instead focus on the new. We all have memories of frustration or failure, but the Lord wants to help us make new memories. This prophetic word says to each of us that our best days are ahead of us, that there are great adventures for us right around the corner, that we have amazing breakthroughs ahead, that our turn around is imminent, and that He longs to place a compelling dream and bright horizon in our hearts once again. Now we have a choice. We can choose to live in the pain and disappointment of the past or we can let go of the former things and run full throttle into the future He has ordained for each one of us. No believer should ever believe the lie of the devil that God only has a powerful and significant future and hope for certain special people.

We all can effectively leave behind the old and press in for the new but we need to be aware of what I call the “enemies of the new” or tendencies in our lives that limit us and prevent us from walking in all that the Lord has for us. Hosea 4:6 declares, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” I like how Jerry Savelle interprets this powerful Scripture: “My people fail to experience God’s best.” If we want to truly experience God’s best we must (1) reject satisfaction with the status quo and mediocrity, (2) guard our hearts for even a hint of bitterness and hurt, (3) break the habit of pessimism and negativity, (4) reject unscriptural thinking, (5) overcome fear and intimidation, and (6) avoid unhealthy associations and influences. Being a serious Christian in this antagonistic world is hard enough without allowing destructive nominal Christian influences into our lives to discourage us or hold us back. Sometimes you just need to find some new friends to hang out with.

In my post today I want to leave you with some principles for embracing the new in your life:

First, look at the new and take your eyes off the old because your life will move in the direction of your focus (your eyes are the window of your soul).

Second, listen to the new and discipline yourself to be selective in what you hear because faith comes by hearing (but so does doubt and fear).

Third, think on the new rather than on all the old troubles, problems, and failures (our lives tend to follow our most dominant thoughts).

Fourth, speak about the new instead of talking the failures and frustrations of the past (our tongues are the steering wheel of our lives).

Fifth, act on the new because if you want to go somewhere you have never gone you have to do things you have never done (faith without works is dead).

The Ministry of Voting

Voting is one of the greatest rights and privileges we have as citizens of the United States. Many, due to detachment or apathy, see no need to register to vote or make the relatively small effort to trek to the polling place during election season. As believers, we need to understand that voting is not just a right or privilege, it is a sacred responsibility and duty. Too much blood of our fighting men and women has been shed for the rights we enjoy in this land. Our people have been too blessed by God not to honor the unique place we have in the world as Americans by taking the time to seek God’s face and cast our vote in local, state, and nationwide contests.

In reality, for believers, voting is part of our ministry which means we are to let God’s love, will, and purpose flow through us in the context of voting. Ministry is service rendered in the name of the Lord and the Lordship of Jesus and our responsibility to minister is not suspended on election day. Our mandate as believers is to see voting as part of our ministry and we are therefore to minister our vote as unto the Lord following His direction and leadership.

This means grandpa’s political party is not the deciding factor in your vote. This means that the personal likeability of the candidate is not the deciding factor in your vote. This means that long standing alliances. affiliations, and affinities are not the deciding factors in your vote. As a child of God with access and understanding to the principles of the Word of God, we have a responsibility to minister our vote in a manner consistent with the values and standards of our God as revealed in that Word.

As we approach election day, it is important to remember that we are primarily and ultimately citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God with a higher standard and different agenda than the world around us. We are, by the nature of our profession of faith, bound to allow the values of the Scripture to guide us in everything we do, including who we vote for at any level of government. As the Lord’s ambassador, your vote is even more important than, for example, the declaration of the will of the U.S. government at a vote of the UN security council. We all understand that the ambassador to the UN does not make up his or her mind how to vote, but they carry with them the will and directives of the administration that appointed and sent them to the UN in the first place.

As God’s representatives ministering our vote on His behalf we should keep in mind (1) the sanctity of human life, (2) the sanctity of human marriage as between one man and one woman, and (3) the integrity of Israel as a sovereign state. Any public servant that will not protect the unborn, will not openly support God’s standard for human marriage and sexuality, or will not boldly declare and back up with action our national support for Israel does not deserve the vote of a child of the Kingdom of God. Christians are allowed obviously to care about and express their opinions on the more carnal elements of an election cycle like how this affects us financially or how green our jobs are, but we must be careful to honor God’s heart and values when representing Him to the world through the election process and the casting of our vote.

The Spirit of Familiarity

The encounter of Jesus with the people of his hometown in Mark 6:1-6 represents one of the most amazing (and tragic) stories in the New Testament. Imagine having this powerful and prolific preacher and teacher of God’s Word right in your city. One would think the sheer force of the revelation proceeding from his lips and the countless testimonies of what Jesus had done in neighboring villages would prompt awe, respect, honor, and expectation. Instead of the reverence due the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus was treated with familiarity and contempt.

The sad part of the story is that, because of their lack of faith evidenced by their offense, the Bible says that Jesus could not do many miracles there. The glory spout did not suddenly dry up. Jesus did not cease to be the Son of God. The mandate and mission to bring salvation and soundness to all had not changed. So what happened? In contemptuously rejecting Jesus and writing him off as just the carpenter’s son or simply one member of a large family that has lived nearby for years, they lost the ability to tap into and receive the anointing that was available to those who chose to honor Jesus and the powerful anointing that clearly rested upon him.

Familiarity means to know someone well enough and in such a way so as to lose a sense of admiration, respect, and awe. The result is, like Jesus, the ministry gift is dishonored and treated as nothing remarkable. Some people have prior knowledge of a person called into ministry and just can’t seem to get past that knowledge to accept them as a vessel of God. A friend of mine was called to pastor the church where he was raised. The first Sunday a senior saint just had to remind him that she used to change his diapers every week in the church nursery. It is that kind of proximity and shared experience that prevents the immature believer from respecting and receiving from that minister.  Others, in getting to know someone over a period of years, catch a glimpse of the humanity of the minister and begin to withdraw their hearts in contempt. It is important for God’s people to remember that the Lord chose to call imperfect people to preach the perfect gospel about a perfect Savior. In both cases, proximity breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds contempt, contempt breeds offense, and offense shuts down the flow of that life-giving, life-changing anointing of the Holy Spirit. If this was true with Jesus, it is true today with those that God calls to serve the Church of Jesus Christ.

We cannot have a person’s anointing, revelation, and gifting if we reject and dismiss their calling. This is one of the main reasons for the drought of miracles in our land today. As in the days of Jesus’ ministry on the earth, people get familiar, contemptible, and offended with God’s servants and the flow of the supernatural is compromised. No matter how great the gift or anointing, it is neutralized by the spirit of familiarity.

The greater tragedy in this story would have been for Jesus to somehow begin to question his call, his mandate, and his anointing based on the response and rejection of those in his hometown. Obviously, Jesus was secure enough to know that with or without popular support, he was sent by the Heavenly Father to take away the sins of the world and no human response would compromise that. Unfortunately, the ministry gifts in the body of Christ (pastors, teachers, prophets, apostles, and evangelists) are not always as developed in their security as Jesus and the familiarity with which they are sometimes treated by people tempts them to doubt and even abandon their call and anointing.

Let me encourage you if you are called to an equipping ministry in the Church to focus entirely upon the reality and integrity of the call of God on your life and not the support, respect, or appreciation of people. Remember your message and ministry is anointed whether someone wants a copy of it on CD or not. It is hard and hurtful to be treated with familiarity but understand that this is a form of persecution that the enemy inspires to sidetrack and demoralize men and women of God. Practice telling yourself every day that you are anointed to preach, anointed to teach, anointed to lead, and anointed to guide – no matter how you are received.

Let me exhort you if you are under the care of a God-called church leader to guard your heart for familiarity toward your leadership. The familiar spirit when unchecked in the heart of the believer will precipitate disloyalty, discontent, crossed boundaries, foul attitudes, and things that should never be said. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have outgrown your leader for this is the quintessential mark of the familiar spirit (“I’m just not being fed”). Actually, what’s happened is you have grown familiar and offended with that leader and now it is very hard for you to receive from him or her. Invariably, when believers develop a familiar spirit they begin to withdraw from the very people God has raised up to help them discern their purpose, reach their full potential, and discover their divine destiny. Instead of allowing contempt to enter your heart, choose to honor, respect, and receive from those called to serve you and watch the anointing for revelation and miracles flow.

The Year of the Comeback

The Scripture says that the enemy comes to steal, to kill, and destroy the abundant life that God has for every one of His children. (John 10:9-10). We have all been impacted at one time or another by the enemy’s devices and schemes aimed at compromising our life and destiny in God. If the devil cannot keep us from the new birth, he will do everything he can to stop us from making a significant contribution to the agenda of the Kingdom of God in the earth. In keeping with the enemy’s stated goals, many believers have found themselves wandering through this past year in a maze and fog of confusion, uncertainly, and defeat. This is exactly where the enemy would like to keep God’s precious ones throughout the new year but the Lord has news for the enemy – 2012 is the year of the comeback! This is the year when what has been stolen, killed, or destroyed will come back into our lives – better than ever before.

This is the year when God’s people discover what it means to return to their former rank, place, and position in Christ through the triumph and recovery that comes through the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, we need to get excited like never before because the Lord has plans to fulfill Jeremiah 29:11 right in front of our eyes. The bottom line is that things will begin to come back to us in force this year. People will come back from defeat. People will come back from ill-health. People will come back to their senses like the Prodigal. People will come back from financial ruin and hurt. People will come back into our lives. Dreams will come back into our hearts. Ministries will come back better and stronger from spiritual attack. Passion will come back to the hearts of God’s people. People will come back from bondage. People will be quick to come back to the devil with sharp and powerful words from their mouths. People will come back into position in the body Christ and do the things they are assigned and called to do. Finally, people will come back to the primary mandate from God for their lives. That is, they will finally come to terms with the last prominent command left undone in their lives and then fulfill it.

It is important to remember as we head into the new year that this is not about our resolutions, but the resolution of our God to cause comebacks in all of our lives. We can expect three important areas of help from the Lord to make the comeback a reality. First, there is a special call from the Lord for the come back that we need to have ears to perceive, treasure in our hearts, and then expect. Second, there is a special grace from the Lord for the comeback in our lives. This literally means that the Lord is going to make available his power and favor to bring the comeback in our lives to pass. Finally, there is a special incentive from the Lord for the comeback. The Lord will make plain what He will be doing in our lives, providing the power to do it, and giving us a very good reason, the blessing, to press in to see the comeback become a reality in our lives.

You might be saying to yourself that you are too far gone for a comeback – too far down in the pit – too long on the mat down for the count to experience a comeback. The truth, however, is that if you are down and out there is only one direction you can go and that is up! The Holy Spirit is saying in this time that the comebacks will be so outstanding that they will catch the attention of the unbelievers who will want to know if God would do that kind of thing for them. All of us, the comeback kids of 2012, will be there to assure them that if they turn to the Lord He will make a comeback kid out of them too. Make up your mind to experience the power of God’s extreme restoration this year and press in to see a comeback in every area of your life that may have been marginalized or compromised in years gone by. This is your year as a believer to rise above the pain and disappointment of the past and get on with the divine destiny God has for your life. This is a year like no other in your life – the year of the comeback!

Sir Albert Pujols

Something told me Albert Pujols would not be returning to St. Louis when the dust finally settled in the free agent bidding war that would surely follow the 2011 baseball postseason. Sure, I really got tired of hearing the sportscasters say over and over again, “this may be the last time we see Albert in a Cardinal jersey.” But in my heart I knew, despite the amazing wildcard comeback, division championship, league championship, and World Series bid, when this season and postseason were over, Pujols would be leaving. That’s why I feel especially blessed to have been able to attend game seven of the World Series with my son Tim to see St.Louis win it all and watch Pujols play his final game for St. Louis.

Now we know that Pujols will be playing with the Angels having managed to land the elusive ten-year contract with a no trade clause (he stood to make millions no matter where he landed). Angel fans are pinching themselves and Card fans are in shock. At a time like this the throngs of Cardinal nation will begin to vilify the front office for their failure to sign Pujols or lash out at Sir Albert for abandoning baseball heaven for the City of Angels. But there is something more fundamental at play here than just contracts, money, and sports politics – a man’s sense of God’s path and plan for his life.

In my lifetime I cannot remember hearing about a top shelf athlete in any sport actually spending a sleepless night seeking God’s will for the next season of his life. By 7:30 a.m. the morning of his decision Pujols was quoted as saying that the Angels were tugging on his heart and that he believed God was leading him to make the move to Anaheim. The Bible says that “the steps of a righteous man are ordered of the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). The Scripture speaks of the path as something that gets brighter and brighter for the righteous and darker and darker for the wicked (Proverbs 4:18). These eternal principles apply even to ballplayers even if the fans don’t like where that path is leading.

The pundits will say it was all about the money. The sour fans will bellyache about being betrayed by his decision. But as for me, a lifelong Cards fan and spiritual leader, I am encouraged by yet another example of Sir Albert’s firm conviction to glorify God with his life. Sure the sportswriters will moan about how he is not the greatest at fan interaction and they tire about hearing of his commitment to charities that support mentally and physically challenged children, but he has proven time and time again that he lives by a consistent set of Christian values that everyone should honor and appreciate. May more Christians be so bold as to remember they are on this earth to do God’s will and honor Him wherever His path in life takes us.

In the end, it does matter where we do what we do. Albert seems to get this very critical Kingdom principle even though many Cards fans and many believers do not. So whenever I get the chance to see Sir Albert play on television on the rare occasion live in an American League ballpark, I’ll be cheering for the man of God more than for the Angel in the infield. He is more of a hero to me today than any time I had the privilege of seeing him wear the Cardinal red. Well played Sir Albert.

The Charlie Browniest

In the Charles Schultz classic 1965 animated CBS Christmas special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown, being his usual pessimistic self can’t seem to find the spirit of the season. Linus very astutely points out to him, “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” Like Charlie Brown, many people walk around despondent and hopeless during what is supposed to be a season of hope and restoration for all. For too many people, Christmas has become a time of stress, pressure, painful reflection, and depression. In fact, the depression and suicide rates climb sharply during the Christmas season. Leave it to the devil to drive people to hopeless self-destructive behavior when the rest of the world is celebrating the coming of the Lord and the uncovering of the good news!

People were not created to live without Bible hope. Bible hope, unlike the wishful thinking the world tries to pass for hope, is literally a spiritual force which means Bible hope causes amazing things to happen in our lives. Bible hope is a blueprint for our faith. It is our horizon for life that gives us a clear picture for the future. It is an inner mage of an eager expectation whereby we live life with our necks outstretched looking and longing for the breakthrough rather than for the other shoe to drop. Bible hope is said to be the anchor for our souls or the force that anchors the mind, will, and emotions on the truth of God’s Word so that we are steady and stable no matter what storm is brewing around us. Without Bible hope we are easily tossed to and fro based on the circumstances we find ourselves in at the time. In other words, true hope as the Bible describes is an indispensable gift and necessity in the life of every believer.

Proverbs 13:12 says that, “hope deferred makes the heart-sick.” This means that when our hopes in life are delayed or destroyed, the heart or the spirit or core of the man is made sick or afflicted. This “spirit of Charlie Brown” or hopelessness is at the root of so many of the negative consequences in the lives of people (even believers) like depression, suicide, apathy, lack of ambition, lack of self-respect, and even addiction. It is a terrible thing to watch a dream delayed or fade away, but the condition of heart sickness and hopelessness need not be permanent or terminal.

Our hopelessness may be related to a single issue or about life in general but we can get the hope back and get the Charlie Brown out of our lives by applying some powerful Bible principles. First, stop putting your hope in the wrong things like the government, the economy, relationships, employers, etc. or you will be chronically disappointed. Psalm 42:5 encourages us to put our hope in God. Second, wait daily on the Lord. In keeping with Isaiah 40:31, as we wait upon the Lord our hope and strength is renewed and restored. In fact, we cannot absence ourselves from the presence of God and expect to live a hope-filled life. Third, always stay in love with all people because strife, bitterness, and unforgiveness have a way of draining the hope right out of our hearts. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love always hopes. Fourth, keep your focus squarely on Jesus because he is the very source of our hope (Ephesians 2:12-13). Fifth, call to mind God’s faithfulness in your life. Think about all the times He has come through and trust him because the mercies of God are limitless and new every morning (Lamentations 3:18-22). Finally, build your hope on the Word of God. The written Word of God is an inexhaustible source of hope for the believer. If we are feasting on the Word regularly, our hope level will stay strong. There is no question that our expectation rises and falls in life based on the time we have been investing in reading, studying, memorizing, and applying the Word of God to our lives.

Decide today that you are not going to walk around this Christmas season like Charlie Brown. Make up your mind that when people see you coming they are going to be excited to see you because you exude life, hope, and the joy of a person that has a burning inner image of expectation in your life. Charlie Brown takes people down but the hope-filled believer lifts others up. It’s time for Charlie Brown to move out of our hearts and welcome the hope of God back in.

Don’t Pull the Pin, Part 3

My spirit was deeply stirred when I first heard the vision given by a Hope Harbor Church staff member regarding the grenades of deception, distraction, and dis-ease the enemy has been hurling at Christians hoping that they will pick them up, pull the pin, and set off a chain reaction of devastation in their lives. As a pastor I see many believers today pulling the pin rather than ignoring the efforts of the enemy to steal the abundant and victorious life God has for them. The blog series, Don’t Pull the Pin, is designed to help you understand the nature of the grenades and how to overcome the temptation to act on those devices or schemes. 

In today’s blog I want to discuss the grenade of distraction. Unlike deception which is designed to outright deceive the believer into wrong decisions and behavior, the grenade of distraction is designed to steal and disrupt our focus, concentration, diligence, and follow through so that we are fruitless, frustrated, and defeated believers. Distraction literally means to divide the mind or the attention, to block concentration through amusement, entertainment, or diversion. We have all seen the carnage caused these days by drivers on the road distracted by loud music, passengers, eating or drinking, or texting. Our lives face disruption or destruction as well when we are distracted from a holy concentration on the priorities of God. Too often, our breakthroughs are delayed not by God’s will, but because we did not stay focused or single-minded long enough to get the job done.

We are all subject to loss when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the enemy. We lose opportunities when we are not focused. We lose revelations when we are not focused. We miss vital signals from the Lord when we are distracted. Many believers have made enormous mistakes just because they could not pick up the still small voice warning them about the direction they were headed or the choices they were making. We miss deadlines and fail to complete vital tasks when we are not focused. We compromise our very destiny when we are not focused. The amazing plans God has for our lives will never materialize if we can’t stay focused long enough to pursue those plans. We lose a measure of effectiveness when we are not focused. We all know how hard it is to do something with excellence while being interrupted repeatedly. We miss divine appointments for our lives when we are not focused. The Lord has ordained a series of divine appointments along our path that are designed to make a huge impact and difference in our lives but too often we are distracted or apathetic and miss out on a life-changing encounter. Finally, we fail to complete our objectives when war are not focused. Life becomes a series of half-hearted efforts and half-completed projects. We could become great but we never seem to be able to finish anything.

If you desire to overcome the grenade of distraction and stay focused and productive in your Christian life there are some things you must do. First, make Jesus the clear focus of your life. This one quality decision made daily will keep the rest of your life vision clear and in balance. Second, focus on the unseen realm. For the believer, the seen realm is not the ultimate authority in life. You may see and hear things in the natural realm that demand your attention but you do not have to give in to them. Third focus on God’s instruction. Keeping God’s Word in our eyes, ears, and hearts will help keep us focused on what really matters. Fourth, focus on right thinking. When we think right our vision is right. Blurry spiritual vision is often the result of fuzzy and unscriptural thinking. Finally, focus on heavenly things rather than temporal or carnal things. Carnal Christians tend to be undisciplined and unfocused in their lives and their efforts are constantly sidetracked by the appetites and screaming of the flesh to be catered to or fed.

The next time the enemy tosses the grenade of distraction your way, have the wisdom to stay focused on the things of God instead. We all have too much to do in the Kingdom of God to be distracted even momentarily from our high call and destiny. When you see that grenade flying through the air just turn your attention to the voice of the Word of God and the Spirit of God and make up your mind that you are not going to be distracted from God’s best for your life.  

Don’t Pull the Pin, Part 2

In an earlier post I mentioned the short but powerful vision one of our HHC staff members had one morning on the way to a prayer meeting. The individual saw the enemy tossing grenades at believers and then standing back to watch how those believers would react. Would they ignore the attack and ignore the grenade or would their attention be arrested and would they pull the pin? The key to understanding the vision is to realize that the enemy would not be able to cause destruction or devastation without the help or cooperation of the believer. Veterans who have handled actual live grenades know that the pins do not come out without some deliberate force. There simply would be no explosion without believers exerting some effort to pull the pins on the grenades.

Three of the most common grenades are deception (loss of truth), distraction (loss of focus), and dis-ease (loss of peace). The enemy is very proficient at creating tailor-made or custom-made assignments or grenades designed to entice us to react inappropriately and cause our own demise. One of the wisest pastors I’ve ever known used to say repeatedly, “It’s not what happens in life that does all the damage. It’s how we react that does all the damage.” It is vital during this hour of intense spiritual warfare and encroaching darkness that we discern the devil’s efforts and make up our minds that we are not going to pull the pin on his grenade no matter what. If we go ahead and pull the pin on the devil’s devices or schemes we will certainly take ourselves out of God’s plan and off our path, we will lead others astray and destroy others with the impact, and we will model wrong behavior under pressure.

In today’s blog I want to discuss the grenade of deception. The enemy is skilled in the art of seduction or the gradual moving of a believer from right conduct, right believing, and right devotion. Coupled with the process of seduction, the enemy, the father of lies, unleashes an array of lying spirits to distort our perception and attempt to entice us to believe a lie. This grenade is particularly effective even among the most seasoned of believers. The enemy’s goal with the deception is to convince believers of some untruth in an all out effort to redirect their lives. The distortion of the truth is just a tool for his greater goal of diverting us from God’s best. Deception, time and time again, is the devil’s choice weapon to accomplish his agenda of stealing, killing, and destroying.

The following “recipe for deception” will help you guard and protect your mind and heart from the schemes of the enemy. The first ingredient is to induce weariness in the heart and life of the believer. If we would learn to wait on the Lord for restoration instead of scurrying around trying to fix everything ourselves we could head of deception immediately. Next, the enemy adds a dash of pressure such as strife, responsibility, or financial challenges. Instead of casting our cares upon the Lord we try to bear up under the pressure as if that was some kind of believer’s badge of courage. The enemy will then add to the pressure a few setbacks, disappointments, or failures and we begin to think about throwing in the towel. At this point we are becoming more susceptible to deception. Next the enemy will fold in a few interpersonal issues and our thinking and behavior becomes more and more reactionary, a quality the enemy depends upon to get us to pull the pin. Finally, he inserts a lie or two and in many cases, the believer will buy the lie, and react in a destructive manner.

During this spiritually volatile time we need to be aware of how the enemy predisposes and prepares us to accept the lie as truth and then induces us to react in such a way that we bring devastation and destruction into our own lives. Remember to wait upon the Lord, roll the cares of life over on the Lord, realize that failing does not make you a failure, walk in love with people at all times, and measure everything you hear against the Word of God. Remember that without your cooperation – unless you pull the pin, the grenade of deception will not explode and damage your life and the lives of those around you.

Don’t Pull the Pin

Recently a staff member at Hope Harbor Church had a short vision from the Lord regarding the warfare currently being waged against believers in the body of Christ. The picture she saw was of the enemy throwing grenades in the direction of Christians and then just sitting back to see what the believer would do. In other words, there was no explosion and would not be until and unless the believer pulled the pin. 

The key to this vision is the realization that the enemy cannot take out the believer without his or her cooperation. A military veteran recently asked me if I had ever held a military issue hand grenade or tried to pull out the pin (I had not). His point was that it is not easy to pull the pin and arm the grenade. He said the movie image of a he-man pulling the pin out with his teeth is fictitious. In reality it takes deliberate force to remove the pin (for obvious) reasons. The enemy needs us to pull the pin on the grenade that is at our feet. The damage then comes not because the grenade was lobbed our way but because we picked up the grenade and then pulled the pin.

The grenades being thrown at the believer include the deception of the enemy, distraction, and what I call dis-ease or a reduction in the peace or wholeness of God in our lives. The idea of the enemy is to get us to pull the pin by acting on the deception, distraction, or dis-ease. It is when we act on these that the real damage is done.

It is important to understand that the enemy has schemes, devices, tricks, and intrigues (Ephesians 6:10-12) uniquely and specifically designed to take us down as individual believers. These tailor-made or custom-made attacks are only effective if we react inappropriately to them. He may know how to pull our chains but he cannot force us to pull the pins on those custom attacks or grenades currently be thrown at us.

In coming posts I will be discussing each of the three grenades (deception, distraction, and dis-ease) in detail to explain to you how they work, what they are designed to do in your life, and how to defeat them every time. For now, remember that the enemy must have your cooperation and effort if the pin is ever to be pulled. Just don’t give him the satisfaction.

Bloody-Knuckle Christianity

When the Cardinals won the world series on Friday night, I was so charged during Allen Craig’s game-winning catch that I leaped into the air with my hands outstretched and proceeded to cut my knuckles open on the popcorn ceiling above me. Today I was reflecting upon my wound, and I realized that there was a lesson to be learned from my own mistake.

Modern Christianity is often paralleled to a sporting event, but here it’s even easier to draw a conclusion from these events: Professional sports are groups of men performing to a specific rule set for the enjoyment of their spectators. How different is this from God? He’s performing every day to a specific rule set: His rule set that He outlines in his own rulebook, no less! The difference is the question of whether we are observing his performance.

I was a bit convicted this morning looking at my own hands and realizing that I’m guilty of having difficulty getting this excited about God. I asked myself: “What does it take for our collective Christianity to get so excited about God that we’re willing to ‘bloody our knuckles’ in celebration of our faith?” I don’t necessarily know the specific answer, but I believe that regardless we need to get back to a state of bloody-knuckle Christianity. If we can cheer so excitedly for professional sports teams and musicians, why not God?

In the past, and even in the present, men bloodied their knuckles on the field of battle to protect their, and our, faiths. Why are we, as spectators, so hesitant to get our own hands dirty? Wounds are a history and carry stories with them, but how many Christians have bothered to sit back and not scratch their pristine finish? Isn’t it more interesting for those who are observing YOU to hear about what caused your bloody knuckles?

However, in this reflection I believe that as modern Christians we all can do a better job. We need to turn down the outside distractions and watch the one true actor and performer in our lives, and become excited enough that we create a visible record of our excitement to tell to others. Anecdotes are one of the most powerful ways of communicating with others, so why do we sit back and prevent being a part of more interesting anecdotes?

CONTRIBUTED BY JONATHAN BARRETT 

Serious Christians

It should be no surprise to any believer who desires to go beyond the religious, superficial, or ornamental variety of Christianity that there will be a significant push back from the enemy. Paul warned Timothy (3:10-17) that everyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus would be persecuted (opposed, hindered, maligned, attacked). It’s common sense. As long as we are spectators sitting in the stands of some football game, we are never going to be subject to the bumps and bruises of those on the field actually playing the game. It’s the same way in the life of the serious believer. When we come off the bench of apathy, lethargy, indifference, and sloth and actually engage Christianity the way God intended it to be lived out, we become a greater threat to the enemy and with every step we advance, Satan is there ready to turn up the heat to steal our hope, dream, vision, blessing, development, and destiny.

Hebrews 10:35-39 exhorts us to hold on to our faith because it will be richly rewarded if we do not faint, quit, or give up. The pressure of the enemy in the life of a serious Christian is designed to push us off the Word and away from the promises. But we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) and we can push back by first submitting to God and then resisting the devil (James 4:7). If we do, we are assured that the enemy will flee. We should not, however, ignorantly believe that he will never return to try his old tricks on us again. If you think you are being picked on by the enemy (and he does use people to do it), you are not paranoid or imagining things. The enemy is coming after you to shut you down.

The bottom line is that as we progress from nominal Christian to authentic, reproducing Christian, the enemy is going to respond with his choice weapons of temptation, discouragement, offense, and deception to slow, hinder, or altogether halt our progress. Through the years, I’ve identified seven specific developmental levels where we can expect the enemy to move against us to thwart our process and stifle our influence:

Level One: Born Again – when we move from religion to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we can’t expect the devil to stand up and applaud. As long as we are in religion induced darkness we are not a threat to him. But when we get born again we come alive and we begin to discern truth and evil and now have the spiritual tools to walk in the truth and reject the evil.

Level Two: Believing Believer – some Christians get born again and then never progress to the point where they embrace the integrity of the Word of God and dare to believe the promises and principles in the Bible. A believing believer is capable of producing great results, fruit, and breakthroughs. The more we embrace the Word (Mark 4), the greater the persecution from the enemy.

Level Three: Active Participant – when we come out of the stands and into the game we can expect the enemy to come after us to attempt to push us right back out of the game. His goal of his devices here is very plain – to make you think twice about serving or leading in the body of Christ in any substantive way.

Level Four: Person of the Spirit – there is nothing more dangerous to Satan than a born again and Spirit-filled believer. We all receive the Holy Spirit at salvation but there is an additional endowment or empowerment that is available to all Christians (Acts 2) that gives us power to live this life and power to share the good news with others. Spiritual warfare goes to an entirely new level in the life of the Spirit-baptized Christian.

Level Five: Soul Winner – with each level of progress we become more dangerous to the goals and agenda of the enemy. The Christian who is not content just to sit in church waiting for their death and heavenly reward, but actively seeks to depopulate hell and populate heaven with precious souls is the arch-enemy of the devil. He literally hates soulwinners with a passion. Don’t expect a spiritual reprieve from the enemy if you’ve made up your mind to obey Jesus and reach the unreached and tell the untold.

Level Six: Budding Leader – there are many in the body of Christ that seem to literally take off in their own discipleship and development. They have truly become disciples (self-discipline learners of the Lord Jesus Christ) and budding leaders. The enemy becomes very creative in his effort to take down budding leaders before they can reach their full potential.

Level Seven: Developer of Others – the devil will do everything he can to stop a believer from getting to the place where he or she is effectively discipling and developing others to reach their potential in the Kingdom of God. The most dangerous Christian is the one who takes a person from being lost to discovering and inserting his or her gifts in the body of Christ. The level seven believers are reproducing themselves and showing those they develop how to do the same.

So, as Peter warned, you should not be surprised concerning the fiery trial you are facing (1 Peter 4:12-19). You are not crazy. Someone really does hate you and wants to stop you from releasing the greatness that is in you through Jesus, the Word, and the Spirit of God. As we study the serious Christian in upcoming blogs, my prayer is that you come to understand how each of the devils’ schemes (temptation, discouragement, offense, and deception) operate and that you learn to consistently repel them. It’s not always easy, but becoming what God has dreamed for you to become is worth all the attacks and difficulties you will encounter on your journey.

The Yeah-But Disease

Today’s posting was written by Sue Barrett, Administrative Assistant for Operations at Hope Harbor Church.

Among women in our country, our world, there is a very common disease today.  No, it’s not newer than HIV.  I’d venture to say it is older and even more common than the common cold.  As I listen to women, I’ve found that it’s more prevalent, persistent and unsightly than dandruff – more noticeable to the naked eye than the smallest imperfection.  Once you’ve acquired it, it’s nearly impossible to eradicate.  No amount of cosmetology, new hairstyles, new wardrobes, new shoes or plastic surgery can diminish its effects. The unsightly handiwork will sooner or later become quite evident to all.

It can be acquired in only a moment but without treatment the effects can be crippling, even life threatening. It is like a virus that injects its DNA into healthy cells; then replicates itself very quickly through out our system until it has complete control.   Many of us are carriers and don’t even realize that we transmit it to the thousands of people we come in contact with every year. Those most at risk are our children, our husbands and our friends. Why haven’t we heard more about this?  What are the symptoms?  How do you know if you’re at risk?

  1. Are you often unhappy? 
  2. Do the joys of others annoy you?
  3. Do you feel unappreciated, un- or under loved?
  4. Are you easily overwhelmed or disappointed?
  5. Are you often irritable?
  6. Are you less likely to join in group activities than you once were?
  7. Are you often afraid?
  8. Do you often combat overwhelming feelings of guilt or remorse?
  9. Do you often suffer remorse over lost opportunities?
  10. Sometimes, would you love to just give up since you can’t start the whole thing over?

If you answered yes to 6 or more of the above:

Your case requires immediate intervention to prevent further complications or even death.

If you answered yes to 3-5 of the above questions:

The treatment often provides immediate relief although symptoms can require up to several years before the disease is in complete remission.

If you answered yes to 1-2 of the above questions:

The treatment may result in immediate remission although symptoms may  reappear or worsen if treatment is discontinued.

If you answered no to all of the above questions:

Congratulations! You do not have the disease but you will remain at risk throughout your lifetime.

Many people are diagnosed well into the 4th stage with depression, anxiety and panic disorder.  However, I believe we can intervene sooner when this syndrome is still in its reversible early stage. What is this affliction? Some refer to it as dysfunctional disclaimer disorder aka nagging, nay saying, nitpicking, necrosis of the nervous system aka persistent, pernicious, pessimistic paralysis of the parietal lobe which can lead to a lame limbic system aka sitting down (disobeying) when you should be standing for (obeying) God yet I prefer to name it in simple, layman’s terms – The Yeah-But Disease (no pun intended).

The Yeah-But Disease is characterized by exhibiting a negative attitude towards almost any possible positive option encountered by short-circuiting its unsuspecting host in mid-pursuit of his/her dreams, goals or plans.  Whatever positive thought passes through the mind is immediately besieged by either a platoon of several or just one very pernicious “Yeah-But” anti-thought.

I first became aware of this disease when contemplating my feelings as I was seeking God’s face regarding several options in my life.  My options were two:

1)  Listen to God, verify it with His Word and obey his voice or

2)  Submit to the Yeah-But Disease, listen to all the reasons why it would be more comfortable and sensible to disobey, and then – disobey.

Upon careful analysis, I discovered that I had been in close proximity to a friend of more than 20 years whom I had listened to while she rationalized away about every possible move God has ever placed upon her life.  Time and time again, she had come to me for counsel which I was happy to give.  Then, after I had bestowed upon her the sum total of all my earthly wisdom she invariably dismissed my sagacity with one little phrase – Yeah-But.  Yeah-But was the reason she never finished college, never had any children, never worked, never accrued any Social Security or retirement, rarely took any trips, rarely had a close circle of friends and rarely pursued anything passionately.  Disobedience appeared so much safer and more reliable.  After all, she would never in good conscience do anything to hurt herself.

It was only a matter of time before I acquired the disease. Yeah-But assured me that doing anything out of obedience and passionate love for God could possibly lead to ruinous risk and when it did, who would be there to offer comfort?  Certainly not Yeah-But!  The only thing he would promise was that he would offer me a hearty helping of accusation and guilt before his court of one.

Then one day, some Word I had stored in my heart broke through the bars of Yeah-But and brought to me great freedom once again.  Freedom to dream, freedom to risk, and freedom to depend on God for the consequences of my actions committed in obedience to Him and to His Word.  I discovered hope in Jesus could be my greatest ally.

God gives us hope in His Word in the verses which state “I will lift my eyes unto the mountains; from whence shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.  (Psalm 121:1-3)

Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established. (2 Chr. 20:20)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Be Blessed!

Let Us Pray

I was recently studying Paul’s admonitions and requests to the churches at Colossae, Thessalonica, and Philippi to pray for him. From the deplorable condition of being chained like a criminal for preaching Christ, he pleaded for prayer from the church body for deliverance, boldness, and clarity of message. What an example to any man or woman of God called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Despite Paul’s cultural and educational pedigree, he knew that the ultimate key to his success was the anointing of the Holy Spirit made more prevalent in his life and ministry through the prayer of the saints of God. Like Paul, without this partnership prayer for spiritual leadership, we are all limited in our understanding, impact, and fruit. Think of it this way, if Paul, with all of his accomplishments, training, and giftings felt the need for prayer, how much more do we that minister in today’s generation need that prayer?

I want to encourage you to pray for your pastors and spiritual leaders.  I’ve listed some very powerful results that the saints can expect in the lives of their spiritual leaders when the churches consistently and passionately pray for them. A wise man once said that every failure in the believer’s life is a prayer failure…a failure to pray.

1.  Prayer empowers your pastor to live right. The enemy is doing everything he can to take down God-called men and women of God. Your faithful intercession for their personal lives will strengthen them with the resolve and wisdom to say “no” to ungodliness in every battle and temptation. 

2.  Prayer empowers your pastor to love right. Spiritual leaders are not exempt from the tendency to get hurt, put out, or offended. They are not much good to anyone if they allow a root of bitterness to grow in their hearts or if they lose their compassion for the flock of God. By praying that your leaders will maintain sensitivity of heart you will help ensure that they will, despite the many opportunities, reject offense and choose to walk in love no matter what they  go through. 

3.  Prayer empowers your pastor to listen right. It’s never been more critical for spiritual leadership to develop and maintain a hearing ear when it comes to the urgings, promptings, and direction of the Holy Spirit. There is so much spiritual chatter out there and this will only increase as the Day of the Lord draws near. With all this noise and distraction it is very important that you pray for your spiritual leaders to be ultra sensitive to the voice and guidance of the Holy Spirit. They cannot teach right if they cannot hear right.

4.  Prayer empowers your pastor to learn right. People today have an increasing interest and fascination with the supernatural and hidden or secret knowledge that will help them succeed in life. The problem is people are turning to influences that are actually thinly veiled doctrines of devils instead of seeking the Kingdom of God, the God of the Kingdom, and the revelation knowledge of that Kingdom. The primary responsibility of the spiritual leader is to receive revelation from the Word of God and share it with the people of God for their growth and development. Leaders cannot teach what they themselves have not learned.

5.  Prayer empowers your pastor to lead right. Spiritual leaders are required to make hundreds of decisions every week that affect the churches and organizations they serve. When spiritual leaders miss it, they take others down the wrong path with them. It is paramount that the body of Christ pray for their leaders to make biblical, wise, ethical, and strategic decisions. Like all believers, leaders will also make mistakes, but the number of mistakes can be drastically reduced if the people of God would pray for their spiritual leaders and confess the mind of Christ over them.

Let us pray…

You’re Not Alone

I can’t even imagine the pressure the young prophet Jeremiah faced as he stood before the Lord to receive a holy mandate and call to deliver a message the people of God would not want to hear. The Lord told him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8, NIV). Jeremiah must have felt alone and isolated as he contemplated the Word of the Lord and the consequences if the people of God would not repent or if they retaliated against him for the message.

Perhaps you have embarked on a journey that seems intimidating, or you are standing on a promise in God’s Word and it seems like nothing is happening. Be encouraged by the words spoken by the Lord to Jeremiah when he felt alone, isolated, or doubtful: “…for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled” (Jeremiah 1:12, NIV). It is easy to forget that serving the Lord is an operation of grace and faith and that we do not do what we do by ourselves. We truly are not alone. The Lord is involved in our standing, our serving, and our believing and ultimately it is His Word and integrity on the line and so He is engaged in our lives to bring that Word to pass.

Consider today several ways that the Lord watches over His Word to bring it to pass in our lives:

1.  The Lord monitors the overall progress of the Word in our lives in general – so we should know that we are not out there all by ourselves – He is with us every step of the way.

2.  The Lord establishes a set time for manifestation – so we can be at rest knowing that the Word will ultimately manifest in our lives in due season.

3. The Lord rebukes the enemy protecting and preserving us while we remain faithful and wait on Him – so we can know and trust that the Lord is our rescuer as well.

4.  The Lord moves behind the scenes to put things together for the fulfillment of His Word – so we don’t have to see anything happening to know that God is on the job.

5. The Lord guides and directs us in the direction of the fulfillment of the Word of God – so we can be certain we will arrive at our destination in the end.

6. The Lord brings conviction to our hearts when our thoughts, words, or actions run contrary to what He has declared in His Word – so we can know that our imperfection will not stop His plan.

7. The Lord exposes us to ministry, messages, and revelation to undergird and strengthen our faith and confidence while we wait for the manifestation – so we can expect a word just in time to keep us strong in expectation when we begin to waver.

No matter what is going on right now in your life or what you are facing, remember that as with Jeremiah, the Lord is watching to see that the plans and purposes of the Lord for your life are accomplished. Resist the temptation to believe that you are out there on your own and it’s entirely up to you to make things happen. More often than not we make things worse when we fail to discern the presence and influence of God in our daily lives. Truly, you’re not alone.

Call Me Mr. Holey Pants

Before heading over to church for a special water baptism and celebration last Sunday night, as is often the case, Tim and I got into a quick wrestling match (I almost always win). In the process of one of his famous “rush your Dad like a bull from Pamplona” take down moves, I tore a sizable hole in my britches.

Of course, I did not discover the tear until after I had already stood prominently in the front row of the church worshipping the Lord and flashing those behind me with the blinding light of my tidy whities. As I headed to the platform to share some Scriptures about our new life in Christ, I was met by a few gracious souls all waiting in succession to explain why I felt a draft during the service. One church member volunteered to bring in his extra pair of shorts for me to wear for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, I was able to wrap my outer shirt around my waist and cover up.

Besides the obvious embarrassment and the sense that this was a harvest for picking on Kelli’s onion ball during the morning service, I couldn’t help but appreciate the obvious spiritual lesson from my ripped pants. From time to time we all need a brother or sister to come along side of us and challenge us when there is something wrong in our attitudes, behavior, or lives. Too often, however, even though the fellow believer is genuinely and humbly just trying to help us out in our faith journey, we turn on them and label them judgmental or harsh.

I know I was thankful when a few men took the time to cover my, um, you know what I mean. The next time the Lord uses a believer to draw attention to that area of life where you are exposed, keep a good attitude and be thankful because they are looking out for you. As the Lord moved to provide a covering for Adam and Eve and as Noah’s two honorable sons moved to cover their father, be thankful that your Christian friends are trying in love to cover over a multitude of sins, not condemn you.

The Onion Ball

My wife Kelli and I were reminiscing with a friend the other day about our first weeks as a married couple living in a small one bedroom apartment in Springfield, Missouri while I attended graduate school. Kelli decided to surprise me one evening with a special dinner featuring a homemade meatloaf. 

She found a good meatloaf recipe on the side of a Quaker Oats container and set out with her ground beef, egg, onions, peppers, etc. to prepare a feast fit for newlyweds grossing $3000 the first year of their marriage. Apparently, everything was going fine until at some point her eyes shifted from the meatloaf recipe. When she glanced back at the container, she began to follow the recipe for oatmeal cookies instead. 

At the time she thought it was strange that the meatloaf recipe would call for nearly a cup of sugar but then again it was their recipe. Realizing what she had done later, Kelli attempted to compensate for what would be the sweetest meatloaf in history by chopping up an entire onion and adding it to the recipe. She tossed the meatloaf in the oven and served the meal as soon as I arrived home.

I couldn’t help but to burst into laughter when I cut into my portion of the meatloaf and onions sprang out literally from everywhere. I thanked her for what I called the “onion ball.” She was not nearly as amused but had to laugh at the most unusual tasting meatloaf in history – a mixture of funnel cake, hamburger, and blooming onion from Outback Steakhouse.

Like just about everything else in life, I see a great lesson here spiritually. The Lord has left us all a recipe for the abundant life in Jesus (John 10:10). If we follow his ways and keep our eyes on Him and His word, things will go well with us (3 John 2). It is amazing in our daily lives how much damage can be done by inclining our ears in the wrong direction or fixing our eyes on the wrong things. Let me encourage you to habitually incline your ears to God’s word and keep that same word before your eyes constantly (Proverbs 4:20). As you do this faithfully you will be adding the right ingredients for a victorious, overcoming, and successful life (rather than turning your life into something resembling an onion ball).

Only the Best

Recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin released 24,000 pages of email from her days as the governor of Alaska. Buried in the mountain of paper was one very special message signed by “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.” Gov. Palin had drafted the email from what she believed was God’s perspective for her family regarding the unique circumstances of welcoming a new son with Down’s Syndrome into the world. I can’t praise God enough for the courage of this family and their bold affirmation and stand for life. Be encouraged no matter what you face in this life because the Father’s love is also with you always and He only has the best in mind for you!

Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2008 14:17:11
To:gov.sarah@yahoo.com
Cc:gov.palin@yahoo.com
Subject: Baby

To the Sisters, Brother, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Friends of Trig Paxson Van Palin (or whatever you end up naming him!) :

I am blessing you with this surprise baby because I only want the best for you. I’ve heard your prayers that this baby will be happy and healthy, and I’ve answered them because I only want the best for you!

I heard your heart when you hinted that another boy would fit best in the Palin family, to round it out and complete that starting five line-up. Though another girl would be so nice, you didn’t think you could ask for what you REALLY wanted, but I knew, so I gave you a boy because I only want the best for you!

Then, I put the idea in your hearts that his name should be “Trig”, because it’s so fitting, with two Norse meanings: “True” and “Brave Victory”. You also have a Bristol Bay relative with that name, so I knew it would be best for you!

Then, I let Trig’s mom have an exceptionally comfortable pregnancy so she could enjoy every minute of it, and I even seemed to rush it along so she could wait until near the end to surprise you with the news – that way Piper wouldn’t have so long to wait and count down so many days – just like Christmastime when you have to wait, impatiently, for that special day to finally open your gift? (Or the way the Palins look forward to birthday celebrations that go on for three, four days… you all really like cake.) I know you, I knew you’d be better off with just a short time to wait!

Then, finally, I let Trig’s mom and dad find out before he was born that this little boy will truly be a GIFT. They were told in early tests that Trig may provide more challenges, and more joy, than what they ever may have imagined or ever asked for. At first the news seemed unreal and sad and confusing. But I gave Trig’s mom and dad lots of time to think about it because they needed lots of time to understand that everything will be OK, in fact, everything will be great, because I only want the best for you!

I’ve given Trig’s mom and dad peace and joy as they wait to meet their new son. I gave them a happy anticipation because they asked me for that. I’ll give all of you the same happy anticipation and strength to deal with Trig’s challenges, but I won’t impose on you…

I just need to know you want to receive my offer to be with all of you and help you everyday to make Trig’s life a great one.

This new person in your life can help everyone put things in perspective and bind us together and get everyone focused on what really matters.

The baby will expand your world and let you see and feel things you haven’t experienced yet. He’ll show you what “true, brave victory” really means as those who love him will think less about self and focus less on what the world tells you is “normal” or “perfect”. You will grow and be blessed with greater understanding that will be born along with Trig.

Trig will be his dad’s little buddy and he’ll wear Carhartts while he learns to tinker in the garage. He’ll love to be read to, he’ll want to play goalie, and he’ll steal his mom’s heart just like Track, Bristol, Willow and Piper did. And Trig will be the cuddly, innocent, mischievous, dependent little brother that his siblings have been waiting for…in fact Trig will – in some diagnostic ways – always be a mischievous, dependent little brother, because I created him a bit different than a lot of babies born into this world today.

Every child is created special, with awesome purpose and amazing potential. Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed up world you live in down there on earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome. Doctors call it “Down’s Syndrome”, and Downs kids have challenges, but can bring you much delight and more love than you can ever imagine! Just wait and see, let me prove this, because I only want the best for you!

Some of the rest of the world may not want him, but take comfort in that because the world will not compete for him. Take care of him and he will always be yours!

Trig’s mom and dad don’t want people to focus on the baby’s extra chromosome. They’re human, so they haven’t known how to explain this to people who are so caring and are interested in this new little Alaskan. Sarah and Todd want people to share in the joy of this gift I’m giving to the Palin family, and the greater Alaska family. Many people won’t understand… and I understand that. Some will think Trig should not be allowed to be born because they fear a Downs child won’t be considered “perfect” in your world. (But tell me, what do you earthlings consider “perfect” or even “normal” anyway? Have you peeked down any grocery store isle, or school hallway, or into your office lunchroom lately? Or considered the odd celebrities you celebrate as “perfect” on t.v.? Have you noticed I make ’em all shapes and sizes? Believe me, there is no “perfect”!)

Many people will express sympathy, but you don’t want or need that, because Trig will be a joy. You will have to trust me on this.

I know it will take time to grasp this and come to accept that I only want the best for you, and I only give my best. Remember though: “My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts… for as the heavens are higher than the earth, my ways are higher than yours!”

I wrote that all down for you in the Good Book! Look it up! You claim that you believe me – now it’s time to live out that belief!

Please look to me as this new challenge and chapter of life unfolds in front of you. I promise to equip you. I won’t give you anything you can’t handle. I am answering your prayers. Trig can’t wait to meet you. I’m giving you ONLY THE BEST!

Love,
Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father

The Compass of Desire

Like millions of people around the world, I am an avid fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. In fact, I may be the only preacher I know who did a sermon series based on the original movie entitled, “Keep to the Code,” featuring our own local Pirate (John Barrett) for illustrative purposes. How’s that for devotion and fandom? Based loosely on the Disney ride by the same name, the motion pictures track the journey of Captain Jack Sparrow as he voyages across the sea in various intrigues guided not by a compass that actually works, but by a compass that points in the direction of what he desires the most. 

Most people today function without a moral compass, or for our purposes, an absolute or core set of values that governs a person’s lifestyle, character, and direction. Not unlike Jack Sparrow, many live their lives totally guided by what they desire the most without respect to the rightness of the behavior or how their choices impact the lives of other people. Like the mythical prop compass in the movies, our lives will go in the direction of our most dominant desires, regardless of whether those desires are moral or Scriptural. Consciously or unconsciously, we begin to align our efforts, time, and resources in the direction of our deepest desires. One wrong desire can send us reeling from God’s ordained path for our lives. Many believers have been caught in the storms of compromise and carnality because they have set a life course with faulty desires. Many have abandoned their divine destiny to pursue what is good at the expense of God’s best for their lives, driven off course by strong, but wrong desires. Proverbs 11:6 says, “The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.” Because desire ultimately determines direction, the believer must make certain that his or her desires are God directed and Bible based.

James 4:1 declares, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (NIV). It is clear from James that ungodly desires lead us astray and produce strife rather than peace. Despite all the pressure to conform to the desires and priorities of the world around us (Romans 12:1-3), we have a strong Scriptural principle to makes sure that the desires that determine our ultimate course in life are consistent with God’s will and word. It’s alright that we have a compass of desire that dictates our choices in life as long as those desires are rooted in the revelation of God’s truth.

One of the most powerful verses in the Bible pertaining to the principle and impact of desire is found in Psalm 37:4. The Scripture says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” To delight in the Lord means that we find in Him our greatest degree of gratification, satisfaction, and pleasure. Practically speaking, we demonstrate this by seeking the Lord in prayer, worship, service, and the Word of God. I have always seen a dual application in this small but powerful verse. First, when we make the Lord our greatest delight he will see to it that our desires are fulfilled. Second, and more importantly, when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He literally imparts or deposits the desires that we should be pursuing in our lives. This powerful truth gives us confidence that the Lord will place in our hearts the proper desire, that this desire will guide us accurately throughout life, and that the Lord Himself will see to it that the desire is ultimately fulfilled.

Let me encourage you to seek the Lord will all of your heart. Make up your mind to be like the Psalmist who said, “I desire to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). Interestingly, the second part of the verse gives us the key to discerning and following God’s will in our lives: “…your law is within my heart.” As you make the Lord the greatest source of pleasure in your life, godly, proper, and accurate desires will begin to bubble up within your spirit. You should boldly and confidently go after those desires trusting that you are in the will of God and that He will see to it that those godly desires are fulfilled.

Pond Scum

Say the words, “pond scum,” and most people can immediately conjure up an image of a country pond somewhere in rural America overtaken with a greenish layer of free-floating algae. The algae forms and dominates the pond because the pond is stagnate, void of any movement or flow of water. Consequently it becomes stale and even foul in odor.

Not unlike the country pond, believers, too can become stagnant if they stop growing and developing personally and spiritually. Their stagnation is marked by sluggishness, apathy, lethargy, lack of motivation, and subtle attitude changes. Where in the past obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments would prompt greater motivation and determination, they now only drive the temptation to give up and quit.

In contrast to the picture of the stagnant pond, we are called to be moving, fluid, flowing in our service and assignment for the Lord. In fact, Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to strip off the sins, weights, encumbrances, and hindrances that stop our forward progress. Notice that we are not just slowed down or made stagnant by sins, but by many legitimate but nonetheless limiting influences, pressures, and responsibilities.

In my blog today, I want to give you some principles for moving out of the pond scum and stagnation and back into the flow of life and ministry:

1.  Crank up your devotional life like never before. Nothing will bring perspective back to your life faster than time in the Word and prayer. The devotional life is the fuel that keeps our spiritual engines running. Without a consistent quiet time we will eventually come to a dead stop.

2.  Focus on a few big goals for the year. Don’t try to accomplish too much or you will entrench the sense of immobility. Bear down on a few items and direct your focus and energy on accomplishing them with excellence.

3. Forgive and release everyone who has ever hurt or offended you. Nothing slows us down like bitterness, unforgiveness, and recrimination. Frankly, nothing “they” said or did to you is worth losing your peace, joy, and spiritual vitality. 

4. Do not permit yourself to think negative thoughts or speak negative words. As believers, we have to learn to police our own thought lives and our words and be quick to judge thoughts and words that are inappropriate or inconsistent with the Word of God.

5. Tell someone you are struggling and feeling stagnant and ask for their support. Often, simply taking the lid off these feelings and exposing them to someone who cares for us can make all the difference in the world.

6. Dig your heals in realizing that stagnation is not the time to make major life-changing decisions. Few believers have learned the value of mountain top decisions, but it is far better to make decisions from a position of spiritual strength rather than weakness. Most decisions made in a time of stagnation end up being bad decisions.

7. Bring balance  back into your life between life, ministry, and recreation. Many believers have a superb work ethic and tend to drive and push themselves to the limit. We have to be wise and understand that there will always be something else to do. If we want to have longevity, we must learn the value of rest, relaxation, having fun, and just plain doing nothing.

8. Cut off busy-ness, unfruitful distractions, and time stealers. We all need to learn how to say “no” at times (and without guilt or condemnation). We can’t do everything and we should not do things that just waste our time, energy, or talents.

9. Develop a growth plan for personal and spiritual development. Growth comes when we plan to grow.  Hang out with people who have the skills, experience, and success you would like to have. Read books in those growth areas and listen to teaching materials or attend live seminars and presentations. If we are not planning to grow then we are actually planning to stagnate.

It’s time to come out of the pond scum and into the portion of the race God has ordained for you. As you apply these principles, you will begin to sense a stirring and churning inside and movement will begin to take place. All you have to do to prevent stagnation in the future is to keep flowing, growing, and going. Believers on the move seldom succumb to the pond scum.

Another General Promoted

Some men of God live their lives with such integrity and passion that they need not be concerned about their legacy or impact. David Wilkerson is certainly one of those faith giants and amazing examples to us all. Author of the life-changing true story The Cross and the Switchblade, pastor, crusade evangelist, founder of Teen Challenge, and prophet of God, Rev. Wilkerson made his journey home to be with Jesus Christ yesterday morning.

The Scripture says that “the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). I think the thing I most appreciate about Wilkerson’s ministry is his commitment and boldness to speak the truth in love regardless of audience or feedback. He, like the prophets and apostles before him, lived his life and executed his ministry with total allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ not caring who might bristle under the weight of his words of force of his anointing. He did not pause to reflect on the modern church growth notion that a man must have some sort of cultural affinity before attempting to reach the gangs of New York with the love of Jesus Christ. I’ll never forget his response to Nicky Cruz when he threatened to cut Wilkerson up into little pieces for daring to share Jesus with him. Wilkerson simply told Cruz that every piece would cry out that Jesus loved him.

Let’s follow the great example of truly one of God’s generals and allow the love of Jesus to make us all bolder than we have ever been before for Jesus Christ.

Eyes Wide Open

At the risk of shocking most of the people that know me, I can’t stand quietly by when the President is attacked for making the best decision of his term – supporting the UN resolution endorsing the no fly zone in Libya and averting a sure massacre of thousands of people (my only problem is the delay of our response). Right now Obama is having a revelation that naive campaign rhetoric about U.S. military involvement is no substitute for the NSA briefings that come across his desk as the actual President.

Current and past Presidents must smile wryly at the bold declarations of candidates knowing full well the solemn realities that will face that person if they manage to win the election. Coming to terms with that reality, Obama has shunned the voices of isolationism and pacificism to do the right thing, for to whom much is given, much is required.

Great nations must embrace the cost and sacrifice of their prosperity, prominence, and power. Most powerful nations throughout history have used that power to control and oppress. Despite the internal and external voices of the America haters, this nation with a true sense of right more often than not, uses that power to help, support, and empower. True imperialists do not defeat their enemies then pay for their reconstructon. Truly oppressive nations do not invest billions in the infrastructure, food production, and security of non allied nations. I am glad to witness Obama embracing that legacy to follow in the footsteps of Presidents of all political parties who have chosen in times past to do what is most consistent with our national conscience and values – even if we don’t know the end from the beginning.

Faith for Miracles

It is quite faith building and encouraging to know and understand that there is no heavenly timer on miracles. There is no day that miracles just ceased in the earth because the miraculous power of God is a reflection of His very nature and heart and not just a tool for proving divinity. There is no “day” of miracles, but there is a God of miracles, and He is very much alive and active in the earth today.

Galatians 3:3-5 teaches us that we receive the Spirit and see miracles among us because of faith. Romans 5:2 says plainly that we access the favor of God through faith. Hebrews 11:6 declares that anyone coming to the Lord must believe that He is (that He exists) and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. Further, it is clear from Mark 6:5 and Matthew 13:58 that the presence of or lack of faith is ultimately the determining factor whether the miraculous power of God is released in our midst or not.

In dealing with the spirit of familiarity, contempt, and offense in his hometown, Jesus did not say that he was lacking supernatural power to get the job done. He did not say that the day of miracles was over or that it simply was not God’s will to do miracles. He did say that the thing stopping up the flow of miraculous power was their lack of faith. Because of this plain Biblical truth, we need to learn to stir up our precious and holy faith if we want to see more of God’s power at work among us. Again, this is not about proposing some formula for miracles, but providing a faith-filled and expectant atmosphere where miracles are more likely to happen. Our job is to charge the air with faith and dispel any doubt, fear, and unbelief from the environment. From the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus for spiritual restoration and physical healing in Mark, I want to share about the kind of faith that receives a miracle.

First, the faith that receives a miracle is a UNIFIED faith. The men who carried the paralytic had to be in one mind and one heart to get the job done. To be unified means to become a single unit. The paralytic together with each of these individuals had to be in agreement about what they were doing and why. Psalm 133 powerfully points out the impact of unity among the people of God. When we are in unity the anointing of God (God on flesh doing what flesh can’t do), fruitfulness, the blessing, and life are the results. So, get into agreement with other believers!

Second, the faith that receives a miracle is a TENACIOUS faith. These men faced many obstacles along the way including the journey to get to the house where Jesus was ministering. When they arrived there was no way to get into the house so, undaunted, the men went up to the roof carrying the paralytic, ripped open the roof and lowered the man into the presence of Jesus. A tenacious faith is a persistent, stubborn and obstinate faith that absolutely refuses to be denied and that no set back or challenge can quench. There will always be obstacles to receiving but we must continue busting through every barrier until we reach destination miracle. So, do not give up no matter what you face!

Finally, the faith that receives a miracle is a VISIBLE faith. James 2:18 indicates that faith should be so real and obvious that it is something shown through corresponding actions. To be visible means that it can be seen, that it is perceptible to the eye, apparent, obvious, and conspicuous. When faith is fully released it is observable. That’s why the Bible says in Mark 2 that Jesus literally saw their faith. This is nothing unique to this story. The Bible is filled with examples where the faith of individuals spilled over into visible action. Blind Bartimaeus, filled with faith, threw is cloak aside, went to Jesus, and his sight was restored (Mark 10:50). The man with the withered hand stretched out his hand and was healed (Luke 6:10). The lepers went to show themselves to the priests and were healed along the way (Luke 17:14). The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was made whole (Mark 5:27-18). So, step out boldly and act on your faith!

Remember that our God is great and He does miracles. Remember also that He responds to the confidence, trust, and faith we place in Him. Make up your mind today to walk in a unified, tenacious, and visible faith and expect the Lord to move in your situation. For our God performs miracles and displays His power among the peoples (Psalm 77:14).

Sacred Assembly

“Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem! Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Gather all the people–the elders, the children, and even the babies…” (Joel 2:15-16, NLT).

There has never been a time in our history when it has been more important for parents to intentionally impart the values of the Christian faith to their children and to do so in overt, deliberate, creative, and consistent ways. It is critical that modern Christian parents do not succumb to the lowest common denominator approach to influencing their kids for Christ by adopting an “it doesn’t take all that” mindset to instilling the values, priorities, and beliefs of genuine New Testament Christianity. In reality, we are in a season where it requires more diligence, dedication, and intentionality than ever before if we want our children to passionately carry the banner of the Christ’s love, power, and standard to the next generation. If we do not step up our efforts we will be in danger of losing our kids to the world and the generations to come to the cause of Christ in general.

Unfortunately, many formerly solid and conscientious Christian parents have turned on the sloth switch when it comes to raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Expecting them to pick up the Christian world view and values by osmosis or something they do not take the time to read the Word to their kids or pray for them or even make sure they are in public worship services (even though many stood somewhere before a church congregation promising the Lord and the body that they would do so). The fallout will come later as their children begin the process of individuation and decide that this “Christianity stuff” is not for them. Many of these parents will act all “shock and awe” that their kids do not want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ or associate with the Church (or worse yet, dive headlong into the world), but what they don’t realize is that the destination was set years before when they failed to emphasize, privately and publicly, the principles of the Christian faith. Rather than being surprised by the choices of their children, parents who fail to take proactive steps now to influence and preserve their children for Christ, should expect their children to withdraw from the Church and the things of God.

We need today what the prophet Joel called for hundreds of years ago – a sacred assembly of the people of God of all ages – from the newborn to the elderly in a consecrated, committed, and consistent gathering to worship God and receive a fresh impartation of truth and values. This cannot be accomplished in an isolated meeting, but it is the consequence and accumulation of spiritual life imparted over the long haul, line upon line and precept upon precept. Instead of using the birth and busy-ness of raising our children as excuses for being absent from the house of God, we should make them the very reason we are present and faithful to bring them to church for public worship and age appropriate spiritual training.

I remember my parents telling me the story of how they went to see our family pastor after having some struggles with my sister who had departed the faith and the church for a season as a young adult. His counsel to them was wise, timely, and very biblical. We all know the Scripture that promises that if we will train up our children in the way they should go, when they are older they will not depart from those values and principles (Proverbs 22:6). Our pastor encouraged my parents with the assurance that since they had been diligent to bring her up in the church and the things of God, she would be back and with a passion to serve God. He was right. She did, and now she is touching countless lives with her life.

The problem is we cannot claim the promise of such a Scripture if we do not honor the condition of the Scripture. We don’t have to know everything or have everything figured out in life and faith, but we do need to do what we know to do as parents such as bringing our children faithfully and habitually to church. Parents, you cannot claim this Scripture for your children if you are violating the very premise of it. I can assure you that in the long run and in comparison to eternity, nothing you are using as an excuse to keep yourself and your children from attending church is worth potentially losing your kids to the world. Make up your mind today that you are going to be deliberate and intentional when it comes to impacting and influencing your kids for Christ. Don’t let another service go by without taking the role of the godly parent and making sure your family is in the house of God.

The God of Miracles

“You are the God who performs miracles, you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14, NIV).

Growing up with a healthy dose of popular theology from television, my concept of miracles was that they just erratically showed up from place to place for the lucky or if individuals could just beg long enough and hard enough, God just might feel sorry for them and come through for them big time in the clutch. True to that interpretation, many today think that miracles just seem to happen for no apparent reason or that they are for the few, special people who are mysteriously awarded some of God’s power and favor in their lives.

But the Word of God reveals a totally different concept and theology of miracles. Our great God who works miracles (Psalm 86:10) is actually internally motivated and predisposed to show up and perform miracles because miracles are manifestations of His goodness and mercy. Miracles, the divine breaking into the earth by God to display His will, Word, covenant, and love on behalf of His people (including the suspension of natural laws and overt authority over all the earth’s forces), are actually the result of a powerful mixture of elements that when present provide an atmosphere conducive for the releasing of supernatural power. Although this should never be misconstrued to imply that there is some formula for obtaining a miracle, these elements do provide an atmosphere or surrounding or pervading mood, environment, influence, spirit, or climate where miracles are much more likely.

The atmosphere that is the breeding ground for miracles is the atmosphere of faith. I can almost hear Smith Wigglesworth, as he was reported to have said in a church meeting, “Stop charging the air with unbelief.” Smith was terribly grieved to hear the avalanche of doubt, fear, and unbelief coming from the preacher’s lips during a sermon. He then took over the meeting, preached faith, charged the air with faith, and seeded a powerful atmosphere spawning a great move of God in that service. The Scripture clearly teaches this principle stating that, “And he (Jesus) did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58, NIV). This is a powerful principle that we must come to terms with if we want to see God’s miraculous power flowing in our day.

It is telling that Jesus did not say that there was no power available for miracles that day. He did not say that doing miracles that day was not his will. He did not lack love or compassion for those that may have needed to receive a miracle that day. He did not confirm the ivory tower theologian who insists that miracles have passed away. No, Jesus made it plain that the reason for the drought of miracles was (and is today) the lack of faith among the people. To put it plainly, there is no “day” of miracles, but a God of miracles and He is very much alive and active in the earth today wherever He finds a prevailing atmosphere of faith within which to manifest His power, glory, and goodness.

One of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture (I know I say that a lot) is Mark 2:1-12 and the story of the house meeting where the four friends carried a paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing and restoration. There are so many powerful truths that can be drawn from this text, but I want to focus on the elements in this story that helped to produce this amazing atmosphere for miracles. I encourage you to meditate on the concepts and endeavor to put them into practice in your life, your family, your work place, and your church.

1.  Miracles break out where Jesus is tangibly present (so let’s praise and worship Him until he shows up).

2.  Miracles break out where the Word is honored (so let’s take the Word at face value and believe it).

3.  Miracles break out where salvation is emphasized (so let’s trumpet the message of forgiveness and grace).

4.  Miracles break out where there is strong opposition (so let’s bind the voice that would hinder miracles).

5.  Miracles break out where the Spirit has liberty (so let’s be extra sensitive to the urgings of the Holy Spirit).

6.  Miracles break out where faith is demonstrated (so let’s activate our faith with corresponding actions).

7.  Miracles break out where expectancy is high (so let’s expect God to show up and show out).


Leaving Podunkville

Podunkville is a mindset of mediocrity indicated by a lack of excellence in life, work, or ministry. Although I am not speaking of a literal town (“podunk” means any small and insignificant inaccessible town or village – and there are towns literally called Podunk like Podunk, Vermont), it is nonetheless where many people – God’s people – live and dwell when it comes to their personal standards and thinking. It’s obviously fine to live in a small town many might deem to be insignificant or hard to reach, but we don’t have to let an attitude of Podunkville live in us.

I’ve always been amazed that some Christians can perform at extremely high levels of competence and excellence in the secular world or in private endeavors, but have the attitude that the Church does not warrant or deserve such diligence. I could not disagree more (in fact it is one of my pet peeves to be sure). The Church and the Lord who purchased her with his blood, deserves the highest levels of performance an individual can give. As Spurgeon used to write at the bottom of his sermons when finishing early Sunday mornings, “Jesus deserves my very best.”

The concept that, “it’s good enough for the Church,” couldn’t be further from the truth and nothing could be more inconsistent with the standard of the “all in” mindset that Jesus demonstrated on the cross over two-thousand years ago. He held nothing back from us and we should hold nothing back from him. In reality, our efforts in the world or private life should be straining to rise to the level of our efforts in the Church (and not the other way around).

Let me encourage you today to pack up your attitude, thought life, and standards and move out of Podunkville forever. Keep in mind that eternal souls are on the line and nothing should motivate us more to do the most excellent job we can for the Lord, His ministry, and His kingdom. Let the Word of God inspire you to give the Lord your very best: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17, NIV). How about it? Like Jesus, let’s also go “all in” for the glory of God in these last days.

Build Me a Sanctuary

“And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).

God wanted his people to build Him a Sanctuary where He could dwell amongst His people.  God wanted to commune with His creation!  In order for God to dwell in His sanctuary the priests had to purify and cleanse the sanctuary.  There can be no sin; no, nothing unclean can live in the same place God lives.

This was a complicated act that had to be fulfilled by the Ancient Jews in order to have the presence of God dwelling amongst them. These rules and laws were impossible for us to continue to fulfill and God knew they would not last the test of time. He had to act in order to save His beloved creation. God knew we would fail in every way so He sent His Son. His word says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Understand this; God sent Himself in His Son. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Why? God knew that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.

We are no longer required to build a Temple made with wooden beams, or marble blocks, animal skins, and silver or gold but with flesh and bone.  We are His Temple!  We have become His abode where He dwells amongst us.  Is that possible?  Yes, it is. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). What then do you say to God when we are told that our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit?

We look back to Exodus 25 and we see what God was doing.  He was preparing for us a way that He could dwell with us as His sanctuary.  This is the command He gave us and it is what lies behind the commandment “build Me a sanctuary.” These words teach us our relationship to God and what He expects of each of us.  What made this commandment so unique was God knew we would become His Temple, His “kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10).

In order for us to abide in him and him in us we must keep His temple, His sanctuaries clean from all sin.  God and sin cannot dwell together.  This is our daily challenge as we take up or own crosses in order to keep our temples clean so the Lord may dwell within His temple which is you.

My Question to you is this…Are you His Holy Temple, His king and His priest?  Or, are you just making it through life from Sunday to Sunday?  His Temple was a place He dwelt all day and all night.  Are you acting like a “king and priest” or are you acting just like the world?  What makes you different than those around you?  Can Christians and non-Christians notice something different about you and how much time you spend with the Lord?  Or, do you just blend into the crowd and become another unknown face?

When you dwell with the Lord He dwells with you.  IF you commune with Him, you become a partner and a friend and you experience His personality and His Nature.   In the end how much do you want to Tabernacle with the Lord in His Sanctuary or in His Temple? “It is written,” he said to them, ‘My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.’ ” (Luke 19:46) What does your house, abode, dwelling, Tabernacle, Sanctuary or Temple look like? Are you making your Temple “a house of Prayer” and a “Holy Mountain” or are you selling your goods in a market of thieves?

Today’s blog entry was written by Wayne Olin, one of our Hope Harbor faithful serving the United States Army in Korea.

The Best of Years

Ministry and prophetic voices all over the land are declaring that 2011 will be both the best and worst of years. Malachi 3:18 explains that there will be a distinction between the righteous and the wicked: “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those that serve God and those who do not.” What’s exciting for those that have ears to hear and eyes to see is that this is not the promise of a distinction or a manifestation to come some day in the sweet by and by, but the promise that the distinction will be clear, evident, and obvious this year. The good news is that this is an individual choice and decision. We determine whether 2011 will be the best of years of the worst of years for ourselves and for our families.

The word “distinction” means that there will be something plain and evident in the lives of faithful believers that will distinguish, separate, mark off as different, or identity them as distinct from those that choose to move away from the things of God in this season. Part of that distinction will manifest as God’s provision, empowerment, and assistance in every aspect of the believer’s life so that literally every thing is made “all right.” In the midst of all the fear, torment, and uncertainly right now, its’ exciting, encouraging, and faith-building to hear the prophetic voice echoing the Word of God that boldly promises, “…I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

The unique aspect about this prophecy for 2011 is that it indicates that the year will be extreme on both the best and worst ends of the continuum. 2011 will be extraordinary and extremely good for those that honor God and just the opposite for those that choose to dishonor Him. This means either an extremely fruitful, successful, and blessed year or an extremely barren, unsuccessful, and cursed year. Biblically, this concept is nothing new. By the Lord’s direction, Moses told the people of God in Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”

I want to encourage you to focus on three powerful principles in 2011 or three ways that you will be choosing to have the best of years. The key is to absolutely INSIST on keeping these principles because the believers that insist on doing so (not might or if I get around to it), but insist on doing so will have the best possible year. Those that INSIST on ignoring these concepts or principles will find that 2011 will be the worst possible year.

First, no matter what you see, hear, or feel, INSIST on staying in faith this year. The key to staying in faith is keeping the Word of God going in your eyes, ears, and heart, and keeping that same Word coming out of your mouth in abundance. Remember that we cannot keep the contents of our hearts from coming out for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). We will all see and hear things this year that will try to pull us off of the Word of God and into distraction, doubt, fear, or unbelief. Make up your mind that you are going to stay focused on the Word of God regardless of what you see and hear going on all around you.

Second, INSIST on keeping the commandment to love no matter how you feel or how you perceive you are being treated. One of the devil’s choice weapons is to get God’s people, mad, upset, and offended with something or someone. The moment we come out of love this year we will disqualify ourselves from the best of years and slip into the worst of years. This means that the devil is going to work extra hard to get you put out, bitter, and offended. Make up your mind to stay in love and to forgive quickly and completely from the heart. I don’t care what has happened. I don’t care what has been said to you or about you. Nothing is worth you losing the blessing this year. Nothing is worth you losing the distinction that is promised to the covenant child of God this year! If you’ve been going down the road of bitterness, hard feelings, and offense, come to your senses now, stop, and turn around while the year is still young.

Finally, no matter what happens, INSIST on keeping and honoring the Word of God in every situation of life. To “honor” means to “give the greatest weight to” in life. It means that there is no voice more influential in your life than the Lord and His Word and this influence is proven by quick and lasting obedience to the principles of the Word of God. If there is a command to keep, a behavior to stop, or a correction to make you do so with bells on. 2011 is especially not the year to be ignorant of the Word, to hesitate when He tells you to act, or to continue obstinately down a direction or path when He has clearly redirected you. This is a year to know the Word and do the Word faithfully and consistently.

Study Center

The Scriptures admonish us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Rightly dividing the Word of God and wisely applying God’s timeless and powerful truths to our lives requires more than a few minutes in church on a Sunday morning. Becoming skilled with the sword of the Word of God requires daily, diligent study.

The study center page on my blog is dedicated to providing you with resources from messages recently shared at all Hope Harbor Church sites throughout the area. The actual outlines with Biblical references are posted for your download free of charge. I encourage you to download the files and make the outlines a resource for your personal devotions and study time. You can also go to the media tab at http://www.hopeharborchurch.com to listen to messages as you follow along with the outlines. Add your own notes and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He directs, corrects, guides, or encourages you in specific areas of your life.

Be looking for the outlines from the entire Dirty Dozen series to be posted this week on the study center page. Blessings to you as you study to show yourself approved.

Refuse to Settle

Some people have the mistaken idea that faith is simply a life of pretend or pretense, but as Jerry Savelle used to say, “Faith does not pretend…faith attacks.” Faith is not tapping your slippers, closing your eyes, and pretending you are not facing a major challenge, setback, or disappointment. Faith does not deny the existence of financial failure, a physical sickness, or a troubled marriage. Faith acknowledges the existence of the issue but then proceeds to attack it with the Word of God and deny that obstinate situation permission to remain. The problem is that the enemy is very good at convincing us to accept limits, boundaries, and fences as unchangeable reality. Everything inside of us as believers should cry out, “don’t fence me in!”

We need to understand that the enemy would love for all of us to live far below God’s best, but I want to encourage you to not settle for less than what God’s Word says you have can have spiritually, relationally, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Matthew 11:12 teaches us that the kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Many assume this refers to an assault by the world or Satan on the kingdom of God. In reality it refers to the aggressive faith-filled stance of the believer to press in to the kingdom of God and everything it offers the believer.

One of the primary reasons Christians fail to live an extraordinary life in God – one that is beyond the usual, extraordinary, noteworthy, remarkable, uncommon, rare, phenomenal, and special – is that they are all too willing to settle. Any voice that compels you to settle for less is of the devil. In today’s blog I want to leave you with some keys that will empower you to resist the devil and and embolden you to refuse to settle for less than God’s best in your life:

First, James 4:7 teaches us what to do with the devil and his suggestions: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” One of the devil’s most effective tricks on the body of Christ is to get us in a position of what I call “non-resistance” to his wiles, schemes, lies, and agenda. If we resist rather than yield, he will have no choice but to flee from us every time.

Second, remember that your past does not equal your future. Let go of past mistakes so that you can reach for what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14). It’s hard to press forward for your future when you eyes are glued on the road behind you.

Third, open your heart and life for others to correct you when necessary because open rebuke is better than secret love. A word from a friend that really cares about us in due season can often mean the difference between success and failure. It takes a bold believer to speak into our lives and it takes a humble but sharp believer to listen to and receive that counsel.

Fourth, whatever you do, stay out of the pity party because when you are in pity you are not in faith. When you step in to pity, you step into a pit – a demonic trap of the enemy to hold you back. If we TRULY believe that God’s blessing is on our lives and operating to empower us to succeed and prosper, we would never fall into the trap of the pity party.

Fifth, find out what God’s Word says about your situation. Memorize it, study it, and confess that Word often. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Revelation of God and His Word, on the other hand, bring us to a place of victory and success.

Sixth, accept the call, like Abraham, to be a blessing to others every day. It’s great to confess that the blessing is on you, but we all need to take the revelation of the blessing to the next level and make up our minds to not just possess the blessing, but to be a blessing – to be the kind of believer that empowers others to prosper and succeed.

Seventh, dream the biggest dream of your life. God’s Word says, “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams” (Ephesians 3:20, MES). The lack of dreams and small dreaming is what ultimately holds the believer back (not the will or the willingness of our Lord). If you can grasp the dream, comprehend the dream, conceive the dream in your heart, you can see that dream come to pass. Dreams by their very nature take us beyond where we have been before – they are natural boundary breakers and fence crashers.

Finally, trust in the favor of God – that the favor of God is on your life in abundance. The favor of God is kind regard, friendly disposition, support, defense, vindication, promotion, justification, benevolence, acts of grace and good will, advantage, partiality, preferential treatment, and convenience afforded for our success. Favor is when people say, “no,” and circumstances say, “no,” but God says, “yes” (Jerry Savelle). Any believer can tap into the favor of God through faith (Romans 5:2). Favor is vital in hard times because it takes the boundaries and limitations off of our lives and enables us to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

Plugged In

My spiritual antenna is always way up because I am always looking to learn, to grow, and to seize upon an illustration from everyday life that will inspire and challenge us as believers. Often, these concepts just explode in my spirit unbeknownst to the individuals that often times casually share their experiences or insight. I am a life-long learner, and I just love it when I can learn something valuable and apply it in my life and also share it with others (end up in a sermon series, lol).

This morning in our staff prayer meeting one our team members shared that her washer just stopped working. The machine would not fill with water and she mused what the issue might be. Going to the Lord about the problem, she asked for wisdom about what to do to fix and resolve the situation rather than just writing the machine off. She felt in her heart that she needed to check the plug on the washer and when she did she found that the plug was partially unplugged.

Now think about that for a moment. The plug was most of the way in the socket, but because it was not fully plugged in, the power needed to run the washer was not able to get to the appliance. It’s pretty easy to assume that the constant vibrations from the machine (not unlike the spiritual turbulence we face daily) began to dislodge the plug from the wall socket. What a clear and powerful picture of our lives too often as Christians. If we are not fully plugged into the things of God it can have the same consequence as being completely unplugged. If we want His power, energy, inspiration, and wisdom flowing into our lives and giving us the enablement to get the job done, we simply must press all the way in and stay plugged in every single day of our lives.

As you celebrate the end of a calendar year and anticipate the hope of a fresh start in 2011, make sure you inspect your spiritual plug to see that it is fully engaged. Perhaps you were a little short on spiritual force and power this past year and you have some scars and disappointments to prove it. This next year does not have to be a repeat of last year. Make the adjustments and once plugged in properly through prayer, Bible study, worship, witnessing, service, don’t let anything sidetrack, distract, or seduce you away from the source of true power.

Christmas Eve 2010

I want to invite you to attend one of the most special and meaningful services of the year at Hope Harbor Church – our Christmas Eve service. The festive worship service will begin at 7:00 p.m. Christmas Eve at all Hope Harbor sites (with the exception of Paducah – click here for directions) and will feature the Christmas hymns and carols you’ve come to know and love, the reading of the Christmas story, a timely and powerful message, communion (all Christian faiths are welcome to participate in the Lord’s Supper with us), and carol singing by candlelight.

It would be our honor and joy to have you and your family join us in Murray, Cadiz, Paris, or Hopkinsville for this hope-building and faith-filled Christmas Eve celebration. Remember during this Christmas season that wise men still seek Him and finding Him (being found by Him) is the greatest joy and treasure in life. I hope to see you here!

You are blessed to be a blessing,

Pastor Art