Climb Little Bear

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

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

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

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

Excuses, Excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning From Billy Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Faithful Church

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Heavenly Tweets

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

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

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

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.

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.”