What Happened to Peter?

The Scripture says in Mark 3:16, “And Simon he surnamed Peter” (KJV). This seemingly insignificant text reveals the plan of the Lord to transform Peter from a Simon (a reed or piece of grass blown here and there) to a Peter (a rock of maturity and stability). When you look at Peter’s life, including his bragging that he would never forsake the Lord and his eventual denial of the Lord with cursing, it doesn’t seem that he was much of a rock. But all that changed 50 days later when Peter preached and 3000 souls were saved in one day. In addition to his preaching ministry and the healing of the beggar at the temple gate, Peter stood up to the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they demanded the Apostles stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter’s reply was simple: we ought to obey God rather than man.

So what happened? What caused this amazing transformation? First, the resurrection happened. All that Jesus taught and all that he claimed to be was validated on resurrection morning. There’s nothing more faith building than to understand and believe that because He lives, we live also.

Second, grace and mercy happened. Jesus personally reached out to restore Peter making sure the angel of the Lord told his disciples that they and Peter should gather and prepare to see the Lord. We also know that Jesus’ repeated questioning of Peter (do you love me more than these) was the Lord’s way of showing grace and mercy, and recommissioning Peter to the ministry of the gospel. 

Finally, the Holy Ghost happened. Peter’s boldness reflects the result of the resurrection, grace and mercy, and the personal encounter he and others had with the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended back to the Father. The prophet Samuel told the reluctant King to be, Saul, that the Spirit of the Lord would come on him in power and he would be changed into a different person (1 Samuel 10:6). That’s what happens when someone encounters the love and power of God through the Holy Spirit Jesus sent to be our teacher and helper.

Let me encourage you today to focus not on all the things wrong in your life or all the mistakes you’ve made along the way. Like Peter, the Lord longs to transform our lives and take us from instability to stability, from doubting to faith, from failure to victory through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the same power available through his grace and mercy, and the same power available through the Holy Spirit.

God and Cancel Culture

I’ve always been amazed at God’s ability to take broken and less than perfect vessels and use them for His glory. Take Peter, as an example. When called to follow (Mark 3:16), Jesus changed his name from Simon (meaning a reed or a piece of grass that is easily blown one way or the other) to Peter (a rock not easily swayed or moved). This foreshadowed both Peter’s struggle with his humanity and the divine purpose God had for his life as a foundational apostle. The Scripture tells us that Peter was a boaster, a cutter, a cusser, a denier, and a liar. The Bible also tells us what happened after the resurrection of Christ, Peter’s restoration by Jesus, and the empowerment of the Church with the Holy Spirit. Peter preached the gospel and 3000 people were saved.

Let me encourage you that God is not interested in cancelling you as you see so often in the world and even the Church today over the uncovering of your humanity. Some people will cancel us at the first glimpse of our imperfections. God sees it all and loves us anyway because He looks at us through the reality of the shed blood of Christ. He sees the Peter in us rather than the Simon. I heard a pastor recently say that to define people solely by their failure reveals a lack of God’s love in our hearts.  The good news is that God doesn’t do that – He doesn’t do cancel culture. Like Peter, He forgives and restores us when we repent and allow Him to move in our lives. 

Such An Insult

The writer of Hebrews issued a 13-chapter warning to the Church not to fall away in the midst of immense pressure, hardship, and persecution. Instead, and despite the difficulty, the writer in chapter 10 challenged the Christian with five “let us” statements that represent our reasonable response to the living way Jesus provided through his blood. Because of what Jesus did, we should (a) draw near to God, (b) hold unswerving to our hope, (c) spur one another on to love and good works, (d) continue meeting together, and (e) encourage one another all the more as we see the day of his return approaching (Hebrews 10:19-25).

The staggering next verse states, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (v. 26).  In fact, the Scripture says that to do so is to insult the Spirit of grace. The Word teaches that the Spirit of God can be grieved, quenched, resisted, and even blasphemed. Hebrews 10 tells us He can also be insulted which means to scorn, outrage, or show contempt for the Holy Spirit. The Message rendering is quite blunt and graphic: “…what do you think will happen if you turn on God’s Son, spit on the sacrifice that made you whole, and insult this most gracious Spirit?” (v. 29). The question is, what sin is the writer talking about that insults the Spirit of grace? The rule of context tells us that the sin is drawing back on Christ demonstrated by the failure to keep the “let us” statements just mentioned in the chapter, including the mandate to continue gathering.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a serious toll on our nation in terms of lives lost, businesses destroyed, schools in confusion, and churches weakened or shuttered. It’s not a stretch to believe that the virus is an instrument of the evil one to undermine our economy, weaken our nation, destroy lives, and marginalize the Church. Christians, however, should be honest  and admit that the exhortation of Hebrews does not contain a footnote or asterisk whereby we can set aside the “let us” statements during a crisis. The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews literally took their lives into their own hands by associating with Jesus or going to or from a meeting. Plainly stated, to refuse to gather together is a direct violation of this command and it is such an insult to the Holy Spirit to do so. Despite this truth, researchers are predicting that up to 25 percent of previous church attenders are not attending now and will not return to church as a result of COVID-19.

Some Christians are insulting the Spirt of grace because church leaders have decided not to meet. Some Christians are insulting the Spirit of grace because of what a public health official has said. Some Christians are insulting the Spirit of grace because of what a politician has said. Some Christians are insulting the Spirit of grace because of fear. Some Christians are insulting the Spirit of grace under the guise of Christian charity claiming that to not meet shows love and compassion for their neighbor when in reality, real love is obeying the commands of Christ (John 14:15). The problem is that none of these voices represent the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Word of God that states do not stop coming to church. What’s amazing is the same Christian who will not come to church for COVID-19 has no problem stepping out to go to work, a home supply store, grocery store, restaurant, or to get their kids to school. Apparently, COVID-19 is extremely smart and particularly antagonistic to those who attend church.

Obviously, if you have been infected, are quarantined, are otherwise ill or vulnerable, you should avoid such a group gathering. On the other hand, if you’ve just become lazy opting to watch church online, gotten out of the habit of coming to church, or you are listening to an unbiblical voice telling you to stay away, you need to stop insulting the Spirit of grace, repent, and return to your local church. If your local church is not following the clear commands of Scripture, you need to find a church that will. Make the quality decision today based on what Jesus has done for you to honor God’s Word even in this tough and challenging season. The Scripture says God will honor those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30).

The Customers From Hell

Our casual dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the area was recently disrupted by the belligerence and ceaseless complaining coming from the table behind us. I was suddenly a really, really big fan of social distancing and had some creative ideas for the use of my face mask.

The problem was that the lady’s grilled fish arrived blackened and a little over-cooked. They declined the server’s repeated offer to make it right and continued griping after she turned to help another table. When she returned to check on them, they demanded to speak to the person in charge. Learning no one was available and in her earshot, they sneered, “I can’t believe no one is in charge. The lunatics are running the asylum.”

Over and over again they bellyached, alternating between taking shots at the food and service until the young lady was bawling behind her mask. I wanted to verbally thrash them myself. I probably would have if I hadn’t been wearing my Tribe of Judah – Jesus is Lord shirt. We did our best to appreciate our server, encourage her, and bless her despite the hostility coming from these people. Kelli told her she was doing a great job, tipped her well, told her God wanted her to know that He loved her, and hugged her as she cried in her arms.

The cancel culture thriving in our land today refuses apologies and promises to make things right are never enough. The mystery is that so many that live in glass houses are the first ones to pick up the rocks just like this family that looked like they could have stepped right out of the movie, Deliverance. I kept waiting for the banjo to start playing. Their child was a holy terror and Dad and Grandma’s language would make a rapper blush. Like so many in the world today, they didn’t realize they’re disqualified from removing the speck from the eyes of others because of the logs in their own eyes (Matthew 7:5).

The story of the prodigal son reveals the contrast between the heart of the Father and the cancel culture. The son in the pigpen wasn’t the only prodigal in the story. Unlike the Father who looked for the return of his son, ran to him, and moved quickly to restore him, the brother, unable to see his own fallen condition, was actually upset that his father did not cancel him. That’s the difference. The Father is in the restoration business, not the cancellation business.

The Apostle Paul tells us “to clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). With all the craziness and challenges facing our communities and nation right now, we sure could use more compassion and less harshness – more restoration and less cancellation. Let’s choose not to be the customer from hell, the student from hell, the employee from hell, or the church attender from hell. Let’s do good, and when we see it, overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Let’s all make the quality decision to join the Father in the family business!

One Final Lesson from a Seven Pound Toy Poodle

Through the years I’ve written blogs about the lessons I’ve learned from interacting with the most precious toy poodle God may have ever put on this earth. She was a birthday gift for my wife Kelli in 2005 and her name was Princess (although I’ve bestowed a plethora of nicknames on her along the way, such as Pee Poo, Pretty Girl, Jelly Belly, Fluffy Butt, Iso Purty, Mocha Poo, and Coca Poo). Time and disease took her away from us last night. The pain of the loss is only eclipsed by the immeasurable joy she brought to everyone and the many hilarious lessons she taught us along the way (yes, you can even learn from a dog if you have a teachable spirit).

She taught us to be ourselves because she certainly was one of a kind (and with a name like Princess she was quick to remind us of that fact), to treat everyone like you haven’t seen them in years (even if it’s only been a few minutes), to watch what we put in our mouths (literally and spiritually) because shiny things like tinsel don’t always stay where you put them, to remember that if you go around in circles long enough, you will probably get dizzy and hit a wall (if you want to change your destiny, change your course), or to tirelessly seek after what you want such as a bit of coke in a trash can, a piece of already chewed bubble gum, or a third set of treats as if we wouldn’t remember (or the Lord while he may be found).

As I dug a hole in our back yard to prepare to bury her (one of the most excruciatingly difficult things I’ve ever had to do and something only a pet lover would understand), I had the most unchristian and unlike Pee Poo thought. I could think of many people who should be put in that hole instead of her (of course, and I’m sorry here for the transparency, they are such butts they would never fit in the hole). I’ve been on this earth long enough to see the best and worst in people (Christian or not) and it’s hard, even as a spiritual leader, to not become more jaded by the bad behavior than inspired by the good. But that’s why we’ve been given God’s grace and mercy. We apply it to ourselves but are just as motivated to give it to others.

Perhaps Pee Poo’s final (and best) lesson came as she was lying on her special St. Louis Cardinals Fred Bird bed (for dogs) gasping for breath and looking incessantly for those who loved her. Plainly stated, she lived and loved without ceasing to the end. One thing that’s great about dogs is that, as the Apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 13, they keep no record of wrongs. They function with a certain time and hurt amnesia. They seem to understand that people are people and they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and that we can’t control how people treat us, but we have total power over our response. There’s no creature under heaven that better embodies the virtues of loyalty and faithfulness even when those same virtues are not reciprocated.

It’s impossible to walk through the rooms of our house and not see her everywhere. I can still see her eating in the laundry room, rubbing her back on the downstairs carpet, barking at me to place more treats on the fireplace mantel, running around the pool table at full speed, jumping on my chest to say good night, sitting dutifully beside Kelli after multiple back surgeries, follower her all over the house, or lying next to her desk as her mentor and study buddy (of course she was there ultimately for the treats Kelli kept in her desk drawer). In addition to the many doggie beds placed throughout the house, our home is filled with baskets of toys and dozens of doggie sweaters (three of them of course are St. Louis Cardinals doggie jerseys). No, it won’t be hard to remember her and honor the blessing she was to all of us, but I think the best way to appreciate her is to somehow develop and maintain that hurt amnesia and learn to love without ceasing to the end, just like the world’s greatest Poo.

The Hypocrisy of Christianity Today

I am writing this as an open letter to Christianity Today in response to your op ed that Trump should be removed from office. First, you do not speak to me or for me as an evangelical, and the presumption that you do is both arrogant and shortsighted. Your attempt to influence evangelical voters is blatant and misguided. Second, after stating the clandestine motives of the opposing party and their failure to allow Trump to actually present any kind of case, you pontificate, “the facts in this instance are unambiguous.” These two statements are completely contradictory and unworthy of printing in your esteemed magazine.

Do you really think Scripture supports the removal of a duly elected official without the ability to face his accuser and call his own witnesses? Do you really think Scripture is silent when it comes to the requirement that every word should be established by two or three witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:1) instead of the REO Speedwagon “heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from a another” hearsay justice? Perhaps you have forgotten that a witness (Matthew 18) is a person with first-hand knowledge of the situation and not someone who was told about it. The House of Representatives is packed with lawyers and yet not one in the charging party can remember his or her first-year law school teaching on the rules of evidence regarding hearsay. This type of kangaroo court would not survive five minutes in a small claims court anywhere in the nation and yet you suggest this banana republic justice be applied to the President of the United States? I thought your name was Christianity Today. Perhaps it should be renamed to Christianity Yesterday.

Although you did speak out regarding Clinton who irrefutably perjured himself on camera denying justice to a private citizen by deception, did you call for the removal of President Obama when he stood before the American people over 40 times on camera to proclaim Americans could keep their healthcare providers and policies if they liked them? Did you call for his removal over the Benghazi cover up claiming that the violence was the result of a private video? Did you say anything when the rogue Iranian regime was given billions in cash by edict? Did you make a moral statement about a compromised Secretary of State Clinton running for high office after mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice by destroying devices containing those documents? Did you publicly vilify her many Christian followers and leaders who support her just because of the “D” beside her name? Have you publicly condemned Joe Biden for admitting and bragging on camera he held up aid for a political favor as a sitting Vice-President? No, you judge the President for asking for an investigation of the one who actually violated the law but ignore the one who broke the law to go after the one bringing attention to it. Notice how selective, hypocritical, and partisan you are with your moral outrage.

It is you who compromises your witness by violating the most basic and foundational Scriptures demanding justice in such matters (Proverbs 11:1), daring to condescend to millions of Christians with the discernment to see beyond the rhetoric and hidden agenda, and duplicitously applying your moral standard. You have lost your credibility by endorsing a course of action that is ungodly, inconsistent with Scripture, and a horrible precedent for our nation by advocating that policy differences justify the solemn undertaking of impeachment and removal of office. By your standard, every living President should have been impeached and removed from office, and yet you only rise to speak to this one. It’s clear you have bought in to the talking points of an effort that is dishonorable, inconsistent with jurisprudence anywhere in our land, and that is a distraction from the real issues we have in our nation. In doing so you have corrupted your purpose and exposed your bias.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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!

Cheer for the Team


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.

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.

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.

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 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!

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?


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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Where’s Waldo?

Pearl Harbor Day is a day to remember the vicious attack on our country at the naval base in Hawaii December 7, 1941. Our Pacific fleet was destroyed or severely crippled by the surprise attack of the enemy and is arguably the most bloody attack by a foreign power on our soil (with the exception of 911) in our history. We pause today to reflect on the events and to give thanks for the stunned, but quick-thinking servicemen and women who responded immediately and courageously to treat the wounded and rescue those in the water or trapped by the ruins.

When I think about our all volunteer military, I can’t help but notice they are ready in a flash to engage the enemies of the United States wherever they may be. Our forces are quickly deployable and so well-trained and equipped that they are mission ready when the call comes from the President for action. There are times when soldiers go AWOL from their positions of responsibility, but historically the overwhelming majority are always present, on time, and ready to move into position.

Aboard a warship in the United States Navy, the call to “general quarters” is a call for every sailor to prepare for battle. Off-duty, on-duty, and sleeping crew members report to their battle stations and prepare for attack and defensive operations. Each individual has been trained to quickly suit up and get into position. In fact the fate of the vessel and the very lives of the crew depend upon their fluid, professional, unified, and efficient action.

In stark contrast to our amazing military, the modern American Church has no understanding of what it means to take up battle stations and engage the enemy. In fact, Christians by the thousands (regardless of denomination, organization, label, or tag) are simply AWOL from their God-called positions in the body of Christ. Some do not know what they should be doing. Some have not been trained to do their job. Many more have been graced with the knowledge of their call, equipping for that call, but they have not responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to general quarters. The indifference to committed, faithful, and fruitful service in the Church handicaps efforts to reach the lost and directly results in lives lost for eternity, not just the physical life taken on a natural battlefield. To be plain, people are in danger of going to hell because many Christians are not at their battle stations to engage the enemy and rescue the perishing.

The situation reminds me of the old “Where’s Waldo?” books and posters where you try to pick him out of very colorful and busy illustrations. In the sea of dozens and dozens of people doing a variety of strange, unique, or amusing things in a certain location, the job of the reader was to identify Waldo with his striped shirt, bobble hat, and glasses, and distinguish him from the “red herrings” placed there by the artist to throw the reader off.

The question can be asked of believers in the United States today – in the sea of people are we easily distinguishable or do we just blend in with a compromised world view, standards, priorities, and ethics? In the sea of people do we stand out because we are actively engaged in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ or do we resemble the background or objects in the illustrations, immobile, inanimate, and lifeless? We can and should ask ourselves, where’s Waldo? – where’s the serious, committed, faithful, rooted, grounded, fruit-bearing, always there Christian?

I want to challenge you to heed the call to “general quarters” and man your battle stations for we are truly at war in this world spiritually. This is not a time for us to be absent, unengaged, listless, lifeless, indifferent, or apathetic. We need to have such conviction of presence that the whole world knows we are here, that we are on the job, that we are at our stations. We do not need our commander and chief asking the angels, “where’s Waldo?”

How can you tell if you are more Waldo than spiritual commando? Waldos, unlike the commandos, are those in the body of Christ hiding from church services, prayer meetings and personal devotions, Bible study, giving and tithing, service, and evangelism and outreach. Commandos act while the Waldos sit in the pew or comfortable padded church chair watching the commandos do everything. Waldo’s have more important things to do like shopping, eating, traveling, watching sports, or just everyday life. Some Waldos search high and low for an excuse to be absent, uninvolved, and detached. Waldo’s, instead of letting children be a strong motive to get to church, use them as an excuse to be absent. Waldos, after engaging the church to believe with them for employment, once employed use that same job as an excuse for not worshipping with the family of God. Waldos are famous for their disappearing act from local churches – all local churches. Despite exiting from even pagan places of employment with the requisite notice for consideration, believers today will simply disappear from their church family with no word or reason. Waldos somewhere developed a warped sense of individualistic centrality believing that the focus of the church should be about serving them rather than being challenged, trained, and encouraged to serve others. Finally, Waldos tend to make commitments but then find every reason in the book why they cannot be faithful to those commitments. From missions pledges to ministry service, the church often has to scramble to take up the slack Waldo creates by being away from his battle station.

It’s time to stop being a Waldo and start being a commando for the cause of Christ. How blessed we are that Jesus was not “missing in action” that day so long ago. Thank God our Christian forefathers were not AWOL when it came time to stand up for religious freedom. The heart of a nation and millions of souls are on the line and we must respond. It’s time to come out of the background, trade in your striped shirt for the armor of God, and man your battle station. Instead of the church wondering where you are – where’s Waldo?, I hope you will say today, “Here am I, send me.”

The Bad Report

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

As long as we live on this earth there are times we’re just going to receive a bad report. Jesus made it plain to his disciples that no one was immune from trouble. But just as certain as trouble would find the believer, the delivering and overcoming power in Jesus Christ would be made available so that we can have trouble without trouble having us. Regardless of whether it’s a family crisis, challenging problem, life-threatening disease, or a lost job, we can decide how we are going to respond. Ultimately, the goal of the enemy through the bad report is to try to maneuver us from our place of faith. The arrival of trouble should be like a flashing yellow light warning us of the devil’s intentions and motivating us to reflect before we react to the bad report.

The onset of a bad report does not make us the freak or the black sheep of the body of Christ. True, sometimes bad reports come because we are unwise. As Forest Gump always said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Most of the time trouble is just the consequence of simply being alive and totally normal. Trouble is common to everyone and its presence in our lives does not make us terrible people. We should also realize that trouble comes because we threaten the enemy with our lives or because we have made the quality decision to live for God in an increasingly post-Christian culture. Remember the words of Paul to his spiritual son Timothy: “Yea, and all those that will live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

The question is not whether bad reports are going to come – they will. The question is how will we choose to respond to them. You see, if we want to be distressed we should look within. Becoming introspective during a challenging time will produce no lasting results and will only increase our anxiety. I learned in college years ago that if I was feeling down or upset to go out and find someone who needs ministry and bless their life. By taking the focus off of ourselves we often alleviate the distress. If we want to be defeated we should look back. Pining over the past with regrets and “what ifs” will cause our certain defeat in the present. If we want to be distracted we should look around. This world offers a new distraction, it seems, every new day. There’s plenty to distract us already with the trouble. We don’t need to go looking around for more to distract us from the things of God. If we want to be dismayed we should look ahead. While there is certainly a place in our lives for looking forward in vision, we have to make sure we are not so focused on the future that we slip into anxiety or worry about what will or will not happen or become dismayed because the future is sometimes slower to manifest than we would like. Finally, if we want to be delivered – to truly be set free – we should look up. Freedom comes in fixing our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and on His Word. When we spend time in the Word of God we are spending time looking to Jesus.

The story of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5 gives us a great example of what to do when the bad report comes our way. First, ignore completely the negative report. Jesus arrived on the scene to a negative word and a great commotion of grief, doubt, and unbelief. He was not moved by the report and if we want to see victory in our lives we can’t be moved by the negative reports in life either. Second, arrest the fear trying to rise up in your heart. It’s natural to feel the fear building in us but we have to make a conscious decision to stop the fear and do what Jesus said – just believe. Third, we need to continue to believe in the one who is with us. Yes, there’s bad news but Jesus is still with us reminding us that he never leaves us nor forsakes us. Fourth, separate yourself from all doubt and unbelief. Jesus would not allow the unbelieving crowd and apparently some wavering disciples to enter into where the child was. Jesus, together with Jairus and a few others, separated themselves from that unbelieving atmosphere. Finally, look for the word of the Lord in the situation. In the midst of the fear, grief, despair, and doubt – in the midst of all the commotion it is sometimes hard to listen for the words of life ready to fall from the lips of Jesus. Nevertheless, we must listen beyond the noise for the words of power and dominion that Jesus has for our situation. One word from God can change our lives forever. The word spoken that day raised Jairus’ daughter from death. The word spoken to us today can bring life and encouragement to our hearts as well.



The Spirit of Confusion

I don’t think I can remember a time when the enemy has moved more powerfully to bring confusion in the minds of believers. Believers today are confused about their relationship with God. They are confused about their place in the body of Christ. They are confused about their world view. They are confused about their priorities. They are even confused about their sexuality. I see believers accepting compromise, lies, and contradictory lifestyles almost with the same reckless abandon as people in the world who claim no revelation of the Word or relationship with God. Since God is not the author of confusion, we can know for certain that the presence of confusion in our lives is evidence of the enemy’s operation against our minds.

It’s as if the enemy has literally lured a large segment of the Church to sleep through spiritual lightness and a strong bent towards personal fulfillment and happiness. Our greatest fulfillment as believers comes as we discern and act on God’s Word and will for our lives. The pursuit of our personal passions, interests, and goals at the expense of the Kingdom of God always results in a feigned fulfillment, hollow because it lacks the substance of the peace that can only come from doing things God’s way.

To be confused is to be perplexed or bewildered. It is to make unclear or indistinct or to fail to distinguish between. The more confused believers become the more indistinct from the world they become. If we maintain the same values and priorities of the world we will find it impossible to (1) distinguish ourselves from the world, and (2) influence the world for Christ. Malachi 3:18 declares, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” It’s high time we awoke from the confusion least we find ourselves on the wrong side of that distinction as individuals, families, churches, and even as a nation.

Today I want to share a few thoughts about how to come out of that confusion and back in to a place of peace and victory…

First, spend some time specifically in the presence of God and ask the Holy Spirit to expose any area of confusion or compromise in your life. Be ready. Prayers like that are always answered and often the answer goes way beyond what we are prepared to hear. Repent of any wrong motive, agenda, priority, behavior, or thinking. Trust the Lord to put you on a path of personal revival and restoration.

Second, find that Bible, dust it off, open it up, read it, think about what it says, and then make up your mind to do whatever it says. The simple truth is that the more time we spend in the Word the less confusion manifests in our lives. Confusion increases in the mind of believers who systematically fail to put the Word of God in their eyes, ears, and hearts. Confusion is evidence that the believer has been neglecting the Word in their lives.

Third, evaluate who you have been hanging around in your life. One man of God recently stated that we are the sum total of the five people we hang around the most. Think about that. If you are running with people who reject the standards and values of the Word of God it’s just a matter of time before you begin to do the same. Iron sharpens iron and bad company corrupts good character. This means if we hang around spiritual dumb dumbs (or dumb downs) we will begin to think, act, and talk just like them rather than living as the overcoming, powerful, and victorious believers God wants us to be.

Fourth, it’s a little known secret that the healthy and faithful participation in a local body of believers is a powerful antidote to confusion. As you gather together with other believers in praise, worship, prayer, and Bible study, a faulty world view, wrong priorities, and fleshly pursuits begin to melt away. For many, the first step into confusion is to step away from the local church. The reality is that faithful church goers are far less likely to be bamboozled by the enemy than those that habitually absent themselves from the house of God (and no, you are not the exception and if you think you are then you are already confused).

Finally, if you want to avoid confusion, open yourself up to the direct accountability of another strong believer. Give him or her permission to tell you like it is (including the right to kick you in the pants occasionally as needed). There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors and we all need to grant someone the right to get right up in our face and tell us boldly if we are going down the wrong path in life. One of the reasons there are so many confused believers today is that so few of us allow others to get close enough to challenge our thinking with the Word of God.

Remember the admonition of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” We need to understand that it’s easier to defeat and devour someone if they are first drugged, stunned, or debilitated first. The enemy uses confusion as a means of stunning the believer so that he can move in for the kill. It’s time for believers everywhere to recognize any confusion in their lives and act quickly to wake up and shake it off before the enemy builds in them a stronghold of unscriptural thinking and ungodly living.

Silence the Hag

During a recent prayer meeting, one of our staff members told of a dream she had where this old, hideous, hag of a woman repeatedly appeared to harass, accuse, put down, discourage and nag her. I asked her, “do you know who the hag is?.” She replied, “yes, it’s me.” In the dream, the image of the hag revealed its true nature as the individual who had formed a habit of negative thinking and speaking. She had become her own worst enemy and the Lord was trying to encourage her to replace that negativity with the Word of God.

A brief review of the Word of God reveals a God that does the impossible. The Bible boldly declares that nothing is too hard for the Lord. As Christians we are told that all things are possible to those that believe. The Lord has no limits and the force that breaks through all barriers and limits is the force of faith. We, not God, are guilty of erecting fences around our lives and creating boundaries, containment, and limitations. We limit God in our lives with our negative thinking and our negative Words. We must remember that our lives will always go in the direction of our most dominant meditation and confession.

For many of us, it’s well past time to silence and remove this negative and destructive influence from our lives and make the switch becoming possibility thinkers and Word talkers. It’s tough when it seems like everything is against us to stay positive and resist the urge to just “tell it like it is.” But we must remember that Jesus never told us to talk about the mountain – he commanded us to speak to the mountain. Talking about the mountain makes God look smaller and the problem bigger. Talking about the promise and Word makes God look bigger and the problem look insignificant.

So, how can we learn to “silence the hag?” For some of us, the first step is to reduce the number of words we speak daily because we have a habit of negativity and that is not going to disappear over night. I like what one leader in our church said regarding a fast she believed God was calling her to begin – fasting negative words and thoughts. Can you imagine the impact of literally making a quality decision to fast and refuse to think negative thoughts or speak negative words? The impact on our lives would be almost immediate. If we don’t think we can fast negative thoughts and words, we might need to invest in a roll of duct tape.

The second step is to realize that we cannot fight a thought with another thought. We will always lose that battle and prolong our frustration and defeat. No, we defeat a thought by opening up our mouths and speaking the Word. As human beings made in His image, the Lord wired us in such a way that the mouth is the seat of our authority. When we speak Bible words when we are under pressure mentally, the mind will pause to see what the mouth is saying. Over time as we apply this principle, we will begin to see our thoughts as well as our Words change for the better. People might just start to enjoy having us around more often.

The final step is to absolutely fill our hearts with the Word of God. Matthew 12:34 reminds us that our mouths speak as a consequence of the overflowing of the heart and we determine what we put into our hearts by what we take in our eyes and ears, and by what we say. What goes into the heart through the eyes, ears, and mouth ultimately spills out in the form of words that indicate what we truly believe. Change the content of our hearts and we will change the content, nature, and quality of our words.

Let me encourage you today to realize that it is your responsibility to police your own thought life and compare what you are thinking to the Word of God. When you see your heart and mouth going down the wrong road, immediately jerk the slack out of your life by choosing to think the thoughts of God and speak the Word of God. It won’t be long before you forever silence that hag in your own life.

Heavenly Perspective

Life often seems ridiculously complex and many times beyond our understanding. We get so busy with our lives down here on the ground and become consumed with the tyranny of the urgent, the grind of the day’s business, the treadmill of extracurricular activities, and even the ongoing responsibilities of ministry, we forget the big picture of a big God who reigns over the universe. From down here life can seem random and out of control.

But from above the calm of the Heavenly Father calls to remind us all that in the end, the Word of God still stands, the sun is still shining, and the clouds that pass overhead today will continue to do so long after this life is through. It kind of throws in sharp contrast the importance we place on the problems we face in our everyday lives on earth. As we take a glimpse upward we are immediately struck with the awesomeness of our God and the eternal plans He has for the world and for us individually. We are stressing over matters that are little more to Him than a brief fog on a cool fall day quickly burned away and never to be remembered again.

Let me encourage you take the time to just stop and look up on a partly cloudy day and take in His majesty, glory, and creativity. A short glance upward can bring a heavenly perspective that makes your journey here an adventure and a joy rather than a drudgery. Listen to the voice of God’s creation and remind yourself of who you are in Christ and where you are headed – that you are part of something huge, magnificent, and endless.

Psalm 19:1-2, NIV – “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”

Watch What You Put In Your Mouth

The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club recently celebrated the contribution of one of its greatest ball players, Luiz Gonzales (better known as “Gonzo”), by retiring his number August 7th. Gonzo literally stole the World Series’ ring right off the Yankee’s fingers when he hit a dinky single against Mariano Rivera to drive home the winning run in game seven of the 2001 World Series (the franchise’s only championship). Gonzales, a fan favorite for his performance on the field and his community involvement off the field, is the only player to have had his number retired by the relatively young Arizona club.

The rest of the joyous evening was played out four hours away in Show Low, Arizona where my Dad was watching the jersey retirement ceremony on television while eating some chicken noodle soup and oyster crackers. Wanting to take in every moment of this historic D-Backs event, Dad was glued to the television until his hearing aid stopped working. He took the device out of his ear and placed it on the television tray and continued to eat his dinner while watching the festivities until he accidentally scooped the hearing aid up with some oyster crackers and, “crunch.” Just like that he had bitten his $1500 hearing aid into pieces.

That was arguably the most expensive cracker in the history of mankind. After my Mom stopped laughing at him she mused that maybe even God was feeling sorry for him over the whole eating your auditory device thing. I told her no – this is so funny that even the Lord was laughing about it. (It’s almost as funny as the time my Mom, under medication for some health issues, took the dog out to go potty only to realize that she took the leash without the dog, or the time she sprayed scrubbing bubbles on her hair instead of hairspray). I might have understood if the hearing aid device was your typical flesh color, but this one was blue! Now that’s baseball fan devotion!

The humorous story reminds us how important it is to watch what we put in our mouths naturally and spiritually. We are what we eat and it’s what we put before our eyes and allow into our ears that shapes the condition of our lives spiritually. If we are walking around in fear and doubt, it’s because we have been feeding on those things that produce doubt and fear. If we are walking around in faith and victory, it’s because we have been feasting on the Word and presence of God.

Make up your mind today to think about what you are watching, reading, listening to, and hanging around. Remember iron sharpens iron and bad company corrupts good character…and hearing aids have no nutritional value and cost too much to eat…

The Spirit of Cursing

Many people today in the body of Christ have come to the realization through revelation of the Word of God that the Lord cares about every area of our lives. Consistent with John’s desire that we prosper and be in health even as our soul prospers (3 John 2), faith has begun to rise up in the hearts of believers to take the limits off of God and what He can do in our lives. Truly He desires to empower his people spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, and financially. The key, according to John, is that we first prosper spiritually.

The message of the abundant life in Christ is exciting and hope building, but as in every benefit that God desires to give to His people, there are conditions that must be honored. The prosperous soul requires that we yield to the Lord body, soul, and spirit. It also requires that rogue parts of our lives come under His dominion and Lordship. One of the most significant limiting factors in the life of the believer is the failure to submit the mouth over to the Lord.

It’s so easy to curse or just let words fly from our mouths without realizing that we are called to be a blessing. To curse means to say something bad about. To bless means to say something good about. The Psalmist noted the habitual destructive misuse of the mouth is actually an indication that the individual is walking in a “spirit of cursing” declaring that “He loved to pronounce a curse – may it come on him; he found not pleasure in blessing – may it be far from him. He wore cursing like a garment” (Psalm 109:17-18). The spirit of cursing, rather than the spirit of faith, joy, and love, begins to be the dominate spirit or deportment about this individual. The problem of course is the one predisposed to cursing others finds that the same curse seeps into his or her own life – “it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.” We truly do reap what we sow and if we don’t want to reap the curse in any manifestation we must careful to use our tongues to bless others rather than curse them. If we curse we will be cursed. If we bless we will be blessed.

The enemy’s goal is that our hearts become wounded as a result of being cursed. The psalmist said, “my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22). There are many ways to curse someone (not cuss at them) such as negativity, criticism, lies, slander, deception, or gossip, but the purpose is the same – to worm its way into the consciousness and the heart of the believer to compromise their spiritual health.  If you find yourself on the receiving end of evil communication, don’t allow that to get into your spirit. Take seriously the counsel of the Psalmist when you are under attack and focus immediately on two spiritual disciplines to counter and prevent the curse from taking root in your heart. First, take the situation immediately to the Lord in prayer: “In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer” (Psalm 109:4). In prayer the Holy Spirit will work to keep your heart tender and forgiving. Second, return immediately to the Word of God so that you can maintain an inner image of what the Word says about you rather than one produced by the destructive communication. Psalm 119:69 declares, “Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep you precepts with all my heart.” You can’t help what people do or say but you can determine your own reaction and that reaction should include a speedy return to the Word of God.

The good news is that no one can curse you when God has blessed you unless you allow that to enter into your heart. Get into the habit of casting destructive words down to the ground and commanding them to die and bear no fruit in your life. Take authority of words meant for your hurt, wounding, and destruction. Meditate on the powerful words of promise and hope from Psalm 109:28 that remind us all that the blessing of Abraham has been restored to us and cannot be compromised just because of a negative, critical, or biting comment: “They may curse, but you will bless…”

Mouse in the House

The Word teaches that the Lord has an expected future and hope for all of His people. It is common for some believers to hold onto a religious mindset when it comes to the plans of God for his children thinking that such a destiny is only for a few select believers. But without a doubt the Lord has prepared a path for all of us. Ephesians 2:10 (AMP) states, “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those things which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].” All believers have a specific plan and path for their lives and on that path we find our call, our vocation, our marriage partners, our blessing. God has already strategically placed everything we need to accomplish His will on that path and if we just keep going we will run right into His power, supply, and goodness.

Of course if we choose not to take God’s path we can never live the “good life” that the Lord has planned for us. He will never force us to take the path prepared for us in advance. Even if we take that path there are weights, hindrances, and things that can slow us down from walking in God’s best and fulfilling our destiny. The Bible says, “… let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, AMP). It’s clear that weights as well as sins will keep us from our destiny. We know that sin is anything that contradicts God’s standard revealed in His Word for our lives. Most of us know if we are tolerating some sin or compromise in our lives. We need to understand that the sin we tolerate will overtake us and ultimately compromise God’s best for our lives. Weights are not necessarily sins but they are behaviors, attitudes, and practices that are non-profitable. They are slowing us down, keeping us back, and in fact can cause us to slip behind or even take a wrong turn. Weights, just like sins. have the ability to stop us from reaching our full potential in God.

Many individuals in the Bible compromised their future because they refused to make the needed course corrections or adjustments. Adam and Eve gave up paradise for a piece of fruit. Cain gave up the life of his brother and his own wellbeing and peace over an offering. Ham lost the blessing of his father because he could not keep his mouth shut. Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of soup. Saul gave up his Kingdom over a few choice sheep. Samson gave up his future for sex. Gehazi gave up the prophetic anointing for some clothes and money. Judas traded his eternity for a few pieces of silver. Nothing was so great and valuable that it was worth the loss of God’s best in the lives of these individuals.

I taught a class in our Bible college not too long ago helping students to put together practical Bible messages. One student in her message told the humorous story of a mouse in her house. Her words perfectly illustrate the tension between what we need to do and our reluctance to do it:

“On two separate occasions I made a half hearted attempt to kill a mouse in my house. I was hoping he would just go away. I had to remind myself that they are destructive, filthy rodents that multiply quickly and carry diseases. I couldn’t continue to ignore it. The mouse appeared again another day wounded from my previous blow. We first prayed for God to heal it then debated whether to throw it in the fire or the field. Weeks later the Lord spoke to me about this incident. He said we make half hearted attempts to rid ourselves of things that are displeasing to Him. He said sin, like a rodent, is filthy and destructive and if left unchecked, multiplies and carries diseases such as apathy, and hardness of heart.” – Colin Royal

Take an inventory of your life today. Are you tolerating sinful or hindering words, thoughts, or practices in your life? If so, you have become your own worst enemy. The Lord desires to use and promote every believer but we are not promotable when we are clanging and hobbling slowly down the path of God trying to carry all sorts of baggage. It will be very difficult for us to arrive at our destination with all that extra weight. What are you willing to give up God’s best and destiny for in your life? What is more important to you than God’s blessing, favor, and perfect will? I encourage you to cut off every sin and every weight, get on your path, and complete your course. In the end, it will not be the devil, the Church, the pastor, the teacher, our parents, our spouses, our kids, our employers, religion, or the world that will keep us from tapping into God’s best for our lives – it will be our refusal to cut off the things that are hindering us. There’s absolutely nothing in your life that you are holding on to right now that’s worth losing the blessing in your life. So find the mouse and get it out of your house.

God’s Thoughts on Sex – Part Two

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…” (1 Corinthians 6:9, NIV). “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4, NIV).

Our culture has been on a downward slope of moral and sexual compromise for over forty years. The removal of the Bible and prayer from public schools together with the sexual revolution has resulted in a potent combination of influences that have forever changed the moral landscape of our nation. The over sexualization of our culture has led to the wholesale acceptance of several types of sexual compromise. From the former President of the United States, to U.S. Senators, Congressmen, businessmen, school teachers, and ministry leaders, the new sexual morality of anything goes has produced destruction in countless lives. Because of the rampant devastation I will be intentionally plain in my blogs about God’s Thoughts on Sex because Christians should be getting their moral training from the Word of God and the Church and not from the world. It seems Christians will gladly welcome every vile thing from the world but bristle when Christian leaders speak boldly and plainly about the topic.

There are many forms of sexual compromise and deviance (which suggests obviously that there is a standard defining what is deviant – and there is – the Word of God) but I want to briefly discuss four that have permeated our society. First, pornography, the sexual stimulation through media, print, and the imagination, has become a multi-billion dollar industry and is at the root of the destruction of lives and marriages (in and out of the Church) all over the nation. Job said he had made a covenant with his eye not to look at a girl in lust (Job 31:1). Jesus equated illicit sexual fantasy with the actual physical action of adultery. Pornography perverts healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors, victimizing those involved in its production, and enslaves and ultimately destroys those snared by its allure.

Second, promiscuity, sexual stimulation before marriage, has to be clearly defined because young people especially think that if there is no actual penetration than they have not been promiscuous. The reality is that any sexual stimulation before marriage is promiscuous behavior including intercourse, oral sex, humping, fondling, and petting (See 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; 10:8; Ephesians 4:19; 1 Peter 4:3). Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there is little to no shame associated with promiscuity and virtually no accountability. On the contrary, the virgin or morally pure man or woman is made to look like a freak in today’s media for holding to the “ridiculous and unrealistic” notion that abstinence can really work.

As most cultures throughout time and around the world, adultery, the sexual stimulation by or with someone in a marriage covenant, is still viewed by many as out of bounds even though the majority of men and women in America, it is said, either have or will commit adultery in their lifetime. We need to revisit the Scriptural admonition once again that warns us that to engage in this behavior is violent in its destruction to marriages and homes and results in a shame that will never be wiped away (Proverbs 5:1-5, 11-18; 6:27-33; 7:21-27). Because sex is a covenant act that confirms the sacred oath between two married heterosexuals, adultery is the highest and most egregious form of betrayal in a marriage relationship. A man once told me who had over twenty affairs on his wife that his problem was an inordinately high testosterone level. The issue with adultery is not blood testosterone levels but character level born out of a conviction that human sexuality is sacred and covenantal, not animalistic.

Finally, homosexuality, the sexual stimulation with someone of the same sex, is clearly denounced in Scripture and no amount of creative Bible interpretation can change that truth. From the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:4-9), to the clear list of unapproved sexual behaviors in Leviticus 18, to the warning in Romans 1:26-27, homosexuality is a perversion of God’s standard for human sexuality which is good, heterosexual, marital, purposeful, holistic, temporary, and covenantal. It is important to remember that Jesus never set aside the moral and sexual code in his teachings. In fact, he tightened the screws when he said that sexual sin starts in the mind and the heart rather than in the body.

The sexual libertarians and allies have produced a fairly sophisticated strategy and process (with evil spiritual inspiration for sure) for influencing the culture to accept sexual sin and perversion in response to the voice of biblical morality. The first step is rationalization – that is the ones practicing the sin begin to make excuses and demand tolerance for their life choices. The second step is desensitization where the culture plays down, jokes about, and portrays the sin in a favorable light in media, etc. The third step is indoctrination or the deliberate attempt to win the hearts and minds of the next generation through misinformation. This is being accomplished today through the courts, the schools, and through liberal theologians who are altering biblical interpretation to fit the cultural demand for indoctrination. The final step is vilification or the systematic attempt to marginalize the standard (the Bible) and those that proclaim the standard (Bible believers) calling good evil and evil good. It’s usually at this point that the world, the activists, and the liberal church begin to chime in with protests labeling the believer with traditional moral and sexual values as narrow minded, bigoted, out of touch with reality, ignorant of their creative Bible redaction, judgmental or homophobic. But the ire of the spirit of this world does not and cannot change the integrity and authority of the Word of God that makes plain the true and holy nature of human sexuality.

In my third installment of God’s Thoughts on Sex I will be outlining a simple strategy for building a firewall to protect yourself and your family from the sexual onslaught in this nation. For now, make up your mind that you will take a stand for traditional moral values and that no amount of vilification by this world will force you to back down. We need the body of Christ to raise its voice like never before. We should not allow the world to fill the vacuum of knowledge for our children and people, but we should be intentionally and bluntly speaking the truth in love and boldly teaching God’s thoughts on human sexuality.

God’s Thoughts on Sex – Part One

Isaiah 55 makes plain the tendency of people to adopt and maintain thoughts on every subject that are contradictory to God’s thoughts. Our job is to allow the Lord to identify those erroneous thoughts by His Spirit and the Word of God and then cast them down or reject them (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Scripture teaches us that we are what we think so if we think wrong thoughts we will live wrong lives. Ungodly thoughts or thoughts that contradict God’s thoughts in any key area of life will certainly limit us and hold us back, and in some cases, utterly destroy us.

One of those areas is clearly the area of human sexuality. The minds of believers, just like the world, have been polluted by the over sexualization of our culture. The thoughts of the enemy and the world have invaded the Church so that one can scarcely differentiate the attitudes of the world on sex from the attitudes of those that claim to be born again Christians. For example, 65% of Americans excuse sex outside of marriage, 33% believe premarital sex among teens is acceptable, and only 49% think homosexuality is wrong. In the Church, a whopping 28% think pornography is alright and 35%, that’s over 1 out every 3 Christians, think sex outside of marriage is acceptable. You have to wonder what kind of “born again” they got and what kind of Bible they are reading (if they are reading one at all).

Ephesians 5:1 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” The life of the believer must not contain even a smidgen of sexual compromise but be the bulwark against the encroaching tide of sexual lawlessness in the land. So much is riding on our ability to turn the tide around. Every major culture in the history of the world has lost its power and position due ultimately to sexual immorality. The prevalence, acceptance, and defense of sexual immorality is evidence of the decline and influence of that culture like our Western society today. Literally every aspect of our culture has become sexualized and if history is true, that does not bode well for the West. The Church must stand up and be wiling to take the heat for choosing to believe and espouse a traditional and biblical sexual morality.

The biblical morality on human sexuality is plain and forthright: First, human sexuality is good so make sure you have a healthy attitude about sex (Genesis 2:5). Second, human sexuality is heterosexual so understand that sex is exclusively between men and women (Ephesians 5:31). Third, human sexuality is marital so get married if you want to have sex (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible boldly stays that the marriage bed is undefiled but sexual immorality will be judged. Fourth, human sexuality is purposeful. Like everything else God created, sex was created with purpose as well so understand sex is for (1) companionship, (2) procreation, and (2) pleasure with no apology because God made it so (Malachi 2:15). Fifth, human sexuality is holistic so realize that sex binds and links human beings physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (1 Corinthians 6:16-17). Sixth, human sexuality is temporary – that’s right, I didn’t stutter. Jesus taught that in heaven we are neither married nor given in marriage but we are like angels (but not angels), that is we are asexual in our glorified bodies so don’t throw away your eternal life for just sex (Matthew 22:29-30). And seventh, human sexuality is covenantal so know that sex is something that seals the covenant of marriage. Married sex is the only sex endorsed by God. Sex is a covenant act that reminds the married person of the covenant and strengthens the covenant (Malachi 2:14-17).

Obviously by taking a stand in support of traditional values regarding human sexuality we open ourselves up to the scorn, ridicule, and persecution of a world that chooses to ignore and marginalize God’s thoughts on sexuality. But choosing God’s agenda has never been popular with a world at odds with God’s standards down through history. Perhaps we have been caught napping expecting that our nation would return to the days of Ozzie and Harriet if we just closed our eyes and wished it to happen. Those days have passed and our job now is to stand up and speak up because if the enemy manages to silence the Church and the pulpit he has effectively shut down the last line of defense to this nation plunging into a sea of total moral degradation.

Follow along in future blogs as I discuss areas of sexual compromise in the United States, the process of how our culture was influenced to embrace and accept sexual sin, and how to build a firewall to protect yourself and your family from sexual compromise. It is time for the body of Christ to push back on this societal plague with the truth of God’s Word.

The Red Mark

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13, NIV).

A preacher was checking out of a hotel room not too long ago and he was curious about the red mark on the forehead of the man at the front desk. Perhaps as a Christian with no knowledge of Hindu customs you’ve wondered the same thing. The man at the front desk was polite and very willing to explain to the inquisitive Christian what the mark represented and why he wore it. When I heard the story I couldn’t help but see some transferable concepts for Christians (even though we clearly have nothing in common with the pluralistic religious tradition of Hinduism).

The mark, known as the tilak, is a unique feature associated with Hinduism, and is said to invoke a feeling of sacredness by the wearer and by those that come into contact with the devotee. The exact nature of the mark identifies the god worshipped by the wearer. With a prayer for piety and righteous deeds, the tilak is applied between the eyebrows (considered to be the third eye) the place most Hindus believe is the entry and exit point of the soul. So, given the incompatibility of New Testament Christianity and Hinduism, what can we possibly learn from this man’s explanation of the red mark?

First, the red mark is applied in honor of the Hindu god the man served. The purpose of the mark is to identify and promote his god and remind him of his commitment throughout the day as he perhaps catches his reflection in a mirror. You and I have also been marked, not with the customary sandalwood paste, ashes, clay, or other substances used to apply the tilak, but with the blood of Jesus Christ. We would do well to remember that we are marked people and redeemed with the highest price possible. How much more should we boldly display the banner of Christ’s love and mercy and be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

Second, the man washed thoroughly before he applied the mark because he could not honor his god unless he was first clean. As Christians we tend to be very attached to our religious markings as well like crosses, big black Bibles, and bumper stickers professing our faith, but if we are not living clean in a dirty world what’s the point? Let’s remember to walk sober and clean before the Lord daily and be quick to repent when we blow it. Our symbols will mean a whole lot more to us (and to the world) if we live lives consistent with our “marks.” As James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

Third, the man with the red mark on his forehead could be challenged boldly by a person of the same faith if the man was doing something wrong or inconsistent with his stated beliefs or values. That red dot is permission to hold the wearer accountable. The importance of this principle cannot be overstated. Like other religious systems, Christianity is lived out in community and community requires accountability. As believers in Jesus Christ we must give other believers and leaders the right and permission to challenge and correct us when we begin to stray from the commands of God. Often, individuals that claim they want to be mentored get really upset when someone actually takes them up on their offer. If we desire to grow and become effective, fruitful servants of Jesus Christ, we must receive and respond to godly correction for “he who heeds correction shows prudence” (Proverbs 15:5).

Remember you are marked by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Live your life openly, boldly, and honorably for the Lord and remember who and what you are as you go throughout your day. Ask the Lord to give you a very tender heart and conscience so that you will stay clean body, soul, and spirit. Finally, invite someone into your life to say, when necessary, the tough and hard things you need to hear. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Stack the Bench

Albert Pujols

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…” (Luke 12:35, NIV).

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the St. Louis Cardinals opening home game with Tim and Kelli (she’s the greatest baseball fan in the world…wink, wink). It is often said when it comes to baseball openers that nobody does it like the Cardinals, a team with more World Series Championships (ten) than any other team in the National League and second only to the Yankees overall. The festive atmosphere featured the return of hall of fame ball players and championship team members from past Cardinal rosters including the legendary Stan Musial, the coaching staff, current team members, and the game starting lineup all entering the stadium standing in a fleet of pickup trucks (no chariots available I guess). The standing room only crowd enjoyed the baseball food fair, opening day giveaways, prancing majestic Clydesdales, a demonstration by a trained American Bald Eagle, and a fly over by two A-10 aircraft during the National Anthem. The family friendly atmosphere drew thousands of kids to the park with their parents. Two twin boys sitting in front of us held up a sign that read, “We’re Ten today – Go Cards!” They did their best to catch the attention of television cameras (they might have for all I know). It was a one of a kind day for a one of a kind baseball organization.

But the real draw to the park is of course the team and the game. The Cardinals have already taken a commanding lead in the National League Central Division and were poised to stomp (and did stomp) the last place Houston Astros (the only team in baseball without a win yet this year). The Cardinal pitching staff including Cy Young contenders Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright is strong. The batting lineup features six regular players any of which can ruin a pitchers day and wipe away any lead the opposing team might have at the time. One swing of the bat by arguably the greatest player of all time (and a great role model) Albert Pujols and the Cards will score usually several runs (like his three run shot during the game). Opposing teams will sometimes opt to pitch around Pujols or walk him intentionally. The problem with that decision is that the pitcher now has to face Matt Holliday, one of the greatest hitters in the game. If that were not enough of a threat, you can usually count on catcher Yadier Molina to hit and at times knock one over the fence. Scrappy young Cardinal outfielder Colby Rasmus will find a way to get on base and score some runs (not to mention make some amazing plays in centerfield). Leadoff man and second baseman Skip Schumaker (converted from the outfield) can rip a double or triple when you most need him to do so. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is always a threat when he picks up the bat. If the team stays healthy (especially the pitching staff), the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals are going to be the team to beat.

What’s interesting to me from a spiritual standpoint (I hear you saying to yourself, “you mean you can actually draw something spiritual from baseball?” – yes I can) is the depth of the Cardinal bench. If a hitter is having a bad day someone else will come in and take up the slack. Where most teams may only have a clutch hitter or two in the lineup, the Cards have a half-dozen guys that can crank out a game turning or game winning hit. The church needs to deepen the bench when it comes to our ministry service for the Lord. Everyone needs to be in shape, trained, dressed for service, and prepared to step in and make the play or hit the ball. Too often, the entire weight of the ministry is upon a few staff members, lay leaders, or committed volunteers. The deeper the ministry service bench is, the more likely we will score some runs for the Kingdom.

In retrospect, if the Cards lose a game or even throw away the season it’s no big deal really (did I really just say that?), but if the church fails to produce eternal souls are on the line. The ability of the believer to walk in victory is on the line. The fulfillment of our destiny and purpose as believers is on the line. Pleasing our Lord and Savior who certainly put on the jersey, showed up to the game, and knocked it out of the park for our benefit is on the line. Let’s all get in shape, dress for the game, be ready, stay anointed, and snap to it when he calls our number for service. It’s time for everyone in the body of Christ to get in the game.

The Shame Game – Part 2

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, NIV). “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38, NIV).

In my previous post dealing with The Shame Game I began to discuss the skill of the enemy to use shame as a weapon against the believer. Generally he uses this weapon in two areas: (1) in shaming the believer for past mistakes and sins; and (2) in shaming the believer for daring to believe that they can be, do, and have what the Bible says they can be, do, and have. Today, I want to talk about the shaming of the believer off the Word and the promises of God.

We have all been exposed to the politically correct (PC) movement in this nation that threatens free expression and free speech. As believers, we are confronted with something that has been around much longer than the PC movement – the religiously correct (RC) movement which dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Our job as believers is to reject the PC and the RC movements and embrace the value of being biblically correct (BC).

Have you noticed that if a person happens to be on the wrong side of the PC standard or flavor of the month, organizations, schools, universities, workplaces, and the media will all chime in concert to try to shame the individual for being on the wrong side of what they view to be politically correct. The same thing is happening to Word believers all over the nation because they dare to stand on the Word and stand in contrast to the religiously correct position on a variety of doctrines and beliefs. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the RC position, denominations, publishers, broadcasters, self-appointed theological watchdogs, bloggers, and yes, once again, the media will all chime in with their shame and disapproval. “You mean to tell me (with wrinkled nose) you believe it’s God’s will to bless your life spiritually and materially? For shame…” Yes, I do. It’s God’s will to bless us so that we can be a blessing (Genesis 12:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11). The real shame is letting the enemy lie about God and rob the body of Christ blind of power and substance!

Because of the shame game, many believers are folding their faith tent and going back into the company of the powerless (a form of godliness but denying the power of God) because they need to be accepted more than they desire to hold to the integrity of the Word. It’s not religiously correct to believe in supernatural healing, the casting out of devils, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit like tongues, and biblical prosperity for world evangelization (in fact just say the Word, “prosperity,” and some will go into a religious conniption fit and flurry of convulsive proof texting and vilifying of those they feel are in error).

The result is that, through the shame, the hungry believer that desires to be biblically correct and tap into every command, correction, exhortation, and promise of the Word of God can be manipulated into conforming to the pressure of the religiously correct and let go of the awesome promises of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Religion (one definition is “return to bondage”) comes by hearing and hearing the religiously correct doctrines of men which the Scriptures declare, make the Word of none effect (Matthew 15:6).

We are told in Mark 8:38 that we must not be ashamed of Jesus or his words because our future and destiny rides on honoring him and his word. It is vital to remember that Jesus and his Word are one. You cannot be ashamed of the amazing promises of God because some “expert” has said that has passed away or God doesn’t do that anymore without being also ashamed of Jesus. Paul left us a very powerful principle in Romans 1:16. He boldly declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it literally is the power of God unto salvation (soundness in every area of life) to those that believe. The power resident in the Word (it has the power to bring itself to pass) is not released unless the individual believes and acts on that Word. It is clear from this Scripture that the portion of our redemption we’re ashamed of (because of the opinions of people) is the portion of our soundness we will never walk in or enjoy.

Let me encourage you to adopt the powerful attitude of Peter when Jesus asked the disciples if they too were going to leave him after he preached the room clearing sermon about his blood and body. Peter simply replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Let the exhortation of Paul embolden you to stand on the Word and refuse to be shamed off of it no matter how much pressure comes your way: “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Romans 3:3-4, NIV).

The Shame Game – Part 1

“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, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV). “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:5, NIV). “Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs” (Isaiah 61:7, NIV).

Shame is one of the most powerful and influential emotions in the life of the believer. Shame is a painful feeling from consciousness of something we have done that is dishonorable, improper, or disgraceful. When we violate God’s law we should feel guilty and ashamed up until the point that we confess that sin and repent of it (although many today in the Church, like the world, seem to have no sense of shame whatsoever regarding their behavior and life choices).

The enemy is a master with the weapon of shame in the believer’s life. He works hard to accuse us over our past sins and mistakes to keep us focused on the failures of the past rather than the potential of the future. He also works hard (especially in our time) to try to shame (with the help of the religiously correct police) the believer for having the audacity to believe that they can be, do, and have what the Bible says they can be, do, and have. Both applications of shame by the enemy are powerful and both need to be excised from our lives. Today I want to talk about the enemy’s attempt to continue to shame us over our past sins and mistakes.

When we continue to feel ashamed, guilty, and condemned long after we have confessed and repented of the sin it is a sign that the enemy is playing the shame game with us. During those times we need to remind ourselves about the powerful gift of righteousness given to us at the new birth. Righteousness is the God-given ability to stand in the presence of a holy God without a sense of condemnation, inferiority, guilt, or SHAME. Righteousness and shame will always be in conflict with other. When you sense that shame trying to come on you again, reject it and remind yourself by speaking it out loud, “I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.”

Shame is extremely detrimental to the believer. Consider the following consequences of a “shame” consciousness:

  • Shame undermines our confidence in God and His Word (shame is not faith)
  • Shame shuts down our confession of faith and our boldness (we become intimidated)
  • Shame tries to control the agenda in our lives through (manipulative and overbearing)
  • Shame robs us or our joy, peace, and enthusiasm in life (dominates our thinking)
  • Shame makes it very difficult for us to receive from God (we feel condemned and unworthy)
  • Shame hinders us from stepping out into our destiny (we feel disqualified)

I want to encourage you to resist and reject the enemy’s attempt to play the shame game with you. When those old familiar condemning thoughts come your way, remind yourself that shame is under the curse and Jesus went to the cross to redeem you from every aspect of the curse including shame. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your face will reflect the glory of God and not shame. Claim the promise of Isaiah 61:7 and trade that shame for your inheritance and the double portion.

You’re Fired!

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ ” (John 2:5, NIV). “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).

Living the victorious, significant, overcoming, and blessed life in God is not that hard to understand or attain. We hinder ourselves and complicate matters, though, when we fail to allow Jesus to be the Lord of our lives. Most of us know how to say “Lord” (just like the illustration of Jesus in Luke 6:46), but actually, intentionally, and consistently letting him be the Lord of our lives is a different thing altogether. When you think about it, we made terrible Lords over our lives before Jesus and we don’t do any better after we accept him. If Jesus is not Lord then he’s really not our savior, and if he’s not our savior then we can’t lay claim to the blessing.

The bottom line is that we want to have a savior (aka, fire insurance), but we aren’t too big on having someone calling the shots in our lives. “Jesus is Lord” means that he is the CEO, the director, and the master and our job is to listen to the directives and carry them out quickly, willingly, and graciously. Isaiah 1:19 says, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land” (NIV). This powerful nugget of truth teaches us that if we want to walk in the fullness of the blessing we must be obedient (obviously) but we must also be willing in our hearts (that is we obey with willing hearts before God rather than begrudgingly. Begrudging obedience is compliance and compliance does not reflect a willing heart.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, clearly understood the authority of Jesus and passed on her revelation to the servants who tended to the wedding at Cana. She told them to do whatever Jesus says. This, in a nutshell, is some of the greatest counsel you will ever hear concerning the Christian faith. If we get this lesson down, we will truly make a mark in this world that cannot be erased. What a contrast that is from Martha’s attitude who took ignorance of Lordship to an entirely new level when she actually commanded the Lord to tell her sister to help her! It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to figure out that Martha had inverted the Lordship factor. Jesus is the one that should be commanding us and not the other way around.

We live in a critical time. We have much to accomplish for the Kingdom of God and precious little time to do it. I believe we will see a dramatic increase in commands from the Lord to our hearts to correct thinking, behavior, attitudes, and even direction in life. I want to exhort you to be quick and accurate in your obedience and that you obey from a heart that is gracious and willing. It’s time to look in the mirror and fire yourself as the Lord over your life and truly make Jesus the Lord (not in a religious, knee-jerk manner, but in a manner consistent with a quality decision of dedication – a decision from which there is no further discussion and from which there is no retreat). Listen carefully and you’ll hear his voice telling you to witness to a certain person, or to forgive someone, or to serve in a certain ministry, or to give a certain amount of money, or to even go apologize to someone you have hurt or offended. Do whatever he tells you.

Descrooging Your Life

I love the Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol, because of its redemptive message. So many people are carrying hurts and disappointments in life that literally turn them into a Scrooge in their own right. Through the talented pen of Dickens, Scrooge is guided through Christmases past, present, and future, to help him come to terms with his fears, rejection, and sense of abandonment and discover a transformation, a sudden new found hope, and a kindness of spirit.

Through the use of modern technology and state-of-the-art animation, Disney has produced a life-giving masterpiece from Dickens’ story. I want to invite everyone to attend our brand new Christmas sermon series based on the movie, Descrooging Your Life, this December 6th, 13th, and 20th. Join us as we discover how to learn from the past, live in the present, and look to the future and find our own transformation through the truth of God’s Word. If God can do it for Ebenezer Scrooge he can do it for you too!

The new sermon series will be shared at all four Hope Harbor Church locations. Visit http://www.hopeharborchurch.com for church locations, directions, and service times. I’m really looking forward to sharing this powerful sermon series with you and God bless us every one.