Saturday, December 22, 2012

Know Why You Celebrate

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4, NASB95)
Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying: "Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?" It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations -and the darkness not comprehending it. It's about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he's talking about. -- N. T. Wright, "What Is This Word?" (12-21-06)
Ever since I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite time of year. Not Christmas day so much as the whole of the season. Beginning shortly after Thanksgiving and running through the New Year, there seems to be something in the air, some vague notion of goodwill, happiness, a spirit of love and enjoyment of family and friends that isn't present the rest of the year. Yes, it could be my imagination, but I don't think so.

For quite a long time now, I have also had other thoughts during this time of year. Perhaps these are the result of my own personal growth, a bit deeper understanding of some things, and better insight into the whole of God's purpose in sending Jesus into the world. Whatever the reason, I have developed a counterbalance to the blithe celebration of the seasons, and it's a bit troubling.

N.T. Wright struck it dead on. It's this very point that sometimes flies over the heads of people who miss a great truth. In a season filled with happy times, parties, gift-giving, family meals, decorations, Santa Claus, parades, and a thousand glittering and twinkling things to strike awe in the eyes of any child, Christmas is all about a far more serious subject.

Without trying to spoil the celebrations going on, I am compelled to ask, "Do you really understand what this is all about?" It's not about Santa and a sleigh full of toys hauled across the globe to visit happy little children. It's not about family reunions, or lovers' gifts, or the trip to Grandma's house. It's not about tinsel, or trees, nor even feeding the hungry a turkey dinner. All those, and more, are fine and most wonderfully enjoyable, but they're not what Christmas is about. You have to stop for a minute and listen to the larger testimony of God's word.

You are lost in your sins, without hope, and destined for eternal punishment. There's not a thing you can do about it. But God can. He sends His own Son into this world to bring a light to our darkness. He comes bringing the sacrifice for sin, and it's Himself. Jesus willingly dies on the cross and you and I are washed clean, forgiven, and granted eternal life. We can celebrate, but we really need to know why. It's better than a big box under the tree or sparkling diamonds. God has delivered a gift nobody could buy and none deserve. Know why you celebrate the season.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What's At The Top Of Your List?

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you — Philippians 1:3 (NASB95)

Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. – Henry Ward Beecher

We’re about to celebrate one of best holidays. Thanksgiving will happen this week. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn't like Thanksgiving. Even if it’s just the food and football, this is one nice holiday.

Folks will travel to visit family and friends. Some people will cook for days. They will put on a spread that would feed three times more people than will gather around the table. There will be special recipes. At our house, we’ll have my mother’s cranberry salad, just as an example. It works sort of like a garnish for the turkey and dressing. Then again, it’s a special side like the veggies. You could eat it for dessert. Mid afternoon, it works just fine as a snack. I don’t know why we don’t eat this stuff all year long because it is flat good.

Add to all that turkey (smoked, roasted, grilled, fried, stuffed - just to name a few), the ham, and the brisket. I know, I’m making you hungry. See, I told you everybody likes this holiday, even if just for the food.

The sad part of Thanksgiving is that it gets short-changed. Right between Halloween and Christmas is not a good location. The stores tend to overlook it. You can’t find good Thanksgiving celebration decorations. That’s because we go right from ghosts and goblins to Santa Claus. Too bad we don’t slow down just a bit so we can take in Thanksgiving in a way that promotes real gratitude.

I always like to encourage people to be thankful on Thanksgiving. I don’t mean in some theoretical way. I mean be thankful in a specific, practical way. Take the time to be thankful. If you have to make a list, then get out the pencil and paper. It wouldn't hurt to make a few phone calls just to tell people you’re grateful for them. If you do that, it might surprise a few folks, but believe me, they won’t forget it. Neither will you.

Of course, somebody will always say, “We should be thankful every day!” Of course we should. But there’s nothing wrong with making a special effort, on a special day, to be especially thankful for God’s blessings. If you can’t do that one day, I suspect you won’t do it on other days either. Let’s start. What’s at the top of your list?

Are You Beautiful?

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. — Proverbs 31:30 (NASB95)

Over a five-year period, photographer Zed Nelson visited seventeen countries as he documented the global craze for beauty. In his book, Love Me, Nelson writes, "Beauty is a $160 billion-a-year global industry. Body improvement has become a new religion."– Joseph Stromberg, "The Distressing Worldwide Boom in Cosmetic Surgery," Smithsonian magazine, October 2012

Let’s face it. There is something to be said for beauty. Few of us are attracted to “ugly” nearly like we’re attracted to “beautiful.” It’s understandable that people want to modify their physical imperfections, even if it’s just temporary. Many are going for a more permanent solution. Plastic surgeons cater to an ever-growing number of people who want to be snipped, tucked, lifted, or modified in some way that will enhance the natural limitations of the body they’ve got.

There are popular TV shows about little children who are entered into “beauty contests” where they are dressed and painted to achieve results that are anything but “normal.”

In the South, there are many small towns that still have “beauty reviews,” or pageants meant to give budding beauties the opportunity to have everybody applaud the fresh face of youth.

Of course, this also means that many, many more people without the financial means to pay for surgery, or even to participate in the pageants, must sit at home and develop the sad idea that they’re somehow not “worth” as much because their looks can’t compete.

I’m not going to bother getting into a discussion about the merits or demerits of all this emphasis on physical beauty, or the potential damage it does to so many people. You can sort that out however you please. I will suggest, that while the Bible acknowledges beauty, and even uses the concept of beauty to describe wonderfully marvelous things, the Bible also cautions us that there is another kind of beauty that often goes unnoticed and undeveloped.

It’s what some call “inner beauty.” No, it’s not nearly as visually appealing, at least most of the time, and it can certainly be overwhelmed and clouded by all the emphasis on outward or physical beauty. Still, inner beauty is more important in the long run for one simple reason. Physical beauty always fades. Inner beauty never does. One beauty grows weak, the other grows stronger. One is temporary, the other really is permanent. Are you beautiful? How?

Monday, October 08, 2012

One Thing

41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:41–42 (NASB95)

Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It's more like the smelling salts. —Timothy Keller

I’ve experienced smelling salts only once. When I was a young boy, I was ill with a very bad cold. Feeling faint one evening, my mother managed to find a bottle of smelling salts and she thought it would do me good to take a whiff. One was enough, but it did clear my head and help me focus.

Perhaps that’s what many people are missing today, the ability to focus. They’re not awake enough. I don’t mean they’re actually sleeping, but they might as well be. They’re dozing through life unaware of the most important things possible.

That’s what made Martha’s sister, Mary, such a good example for us. Mary was focused. While Martha busied herself with mundane tasks of the household, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and opened her mind and heart to him. It made all the difference in the world.

If you could focus on just one thing, and that thing was the most important, the most enduring, and the most life-altering thing in the world, do you think you could manage it? If the God of the universe would, for just a moment, reveal himself in human form, would you pay attention? Would you sit at his feet and listen, drinking in words from the one whose word brought the whole creation to exist? Would you try to understand, to really understand exactly what this divine messenger would say? That’s the opportunity you get with Jesus.

If I could tell you one thing to focus on, it would be Jesus Christ. The man. He came into the world man and God. He spoke truth as none ever spoke it. He lived without the flaws that plague us so deeply. He died, not because he deserved it, but so you could live. He rose from the dead to say to us that death is not the final power. God is. And God saves.

If I could point you to one thing that has the potential to fill your life, to satisfy your deepest longings, to lift you above all despair, and reveal God’s eternal purpose for you, I would point to Jesus Christ. Savior. Lord. High Priest. Choose Mary’s good part.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Love: More Verb, Less Noun

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)

Henry James was saying good-by once to his young nephew, Billy, or Willie as he called him. "Willie, there are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind." -- (adapted) Frederick Buechner, "What Are We Going to Be?," Preaching Today, Tape 56.

No doubt, you have heard it many times, but it needs to be repeated often. The kind of love most needed in the world is not the warm, fuzzy, emotional high nearly as much as it is the practical, how-we-treat-each-other behavior. Do not misunderstand statements like this as a put-down on emotional love. That would be a great misunderstanding indeed. But, we need to recognize that warm emotions, as wonderful as they are, can never do what loving behavior does.

I suspect we hesitate to believe this is true. After all, we live in an age in which emotionalism is sometimes touted as the greatest and grandest of things. As long as we all feel good, then things must be right. Yet, the world continues to suffer from bad behavior, often by the very people who are spouting the latest love-language, and pleading for emotional connection.

You need to know that despite verbal claims of love, nothing compares to loving behavior and action. But, watch how many people will fall for the words flowing from a "lover's" mouth only to be crushed by that "lover's" behavior -- and that's just one example. Even sadder is to see those same crushed people fall for the same thing over and over again, seemingly unable to comprehend the root of the problem.

I wonder how many churches have talked love, preached love, studied about love and yet failed to love people? Do you think this might have been part of the problem with the priest and the Levite who passed by the poor man beaten and left to die by the robbers? Is it possible that the Samaritan who stopped, tended to his wounds, transported him to safety and even paid for further care might have understood more about love? Why, because he was a "touchy-feely" kind of guy or because he knew what the man needed and gave it to him? Do we love the lost or do we just love to condemn the lost?

Guess what. Jesus didn't come to condemn. He came to save. And, he did that because he loved them. Don't think that's right? Go read the third chapter of John's gospel then tell me what you think. Do you love your family? Your spouse? Your neighbors? Folks in your church? Do you?

Before you answer, how do you treat these people? This is the key to understanding love and to knowing whether or not you practice love. Nobody is against warm, positive emotions. But, love needs to be more of a verb and less of a noun.

Your Friend Jesus

19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”. . . . — Matthew 11:19 (NASB95)

Where human frailty once served as a reason for me to withdraw from the church, with its unruly and divergent congregants, this is now what compels me back to spiritual community. I had overlooked one essential factor—that I am as finite and flawed as everyone else. —Carmen Renee Berry

One of the most striking statements about Jesus is that he was a friend of sinners. That is an amazing idea. Jesus was God in the flesh. His own life was flawless, no sin at all. He lived a pure, righteous life. He wasn’t like you, or me, in that scripture teaches that he was sinless.

Now, he relates to us because he was tempted in all the same ways we are tempted, so he understands the potential and power that sin can exert. But neither you, nor I, can claim to be sinless. We have failed. In fact, we fail all the time. Don’t let some Christians fool you into thinking they are above the same faults as anyone else. We sin. Present, past, or future, we sin.

Now, much of the time, we seem pretty understanding about all this sin. People are very “forgiving,” when others make a mess out of life. That is, until those people sin against us. Then, forgiving becomes very hard, sometimes impossible. It’s not unusual for people to remember a sin that hurt them personally years after it happened - sometimes a lifetime! It’s different when somebody sins against you, or me.

That’s what makes Jesus such a unique person. You see, since Jesus is God’s son, all our sins are sins against him, personally. He could take it pretty hard. He could take our sins exactly like we take the sins of others committed against us. Instead, Jesus comes over and puts his arm around us and treats us like we’re friends.
Don’t misunderstand. Don’t get the idea that Jesus likes our sins, or thinks they are unimportant. That isn’t true. Our sins just kill him! Well. They did. You don’t think our sins hurt him? Being nailed to a cross and dying there hurt badly. The worst hurt may not have been physical at all, it may have been bearing our sins on that cross.

If I could tell you one thing that might change your life, it would be that Jesus is your friend. Despite your sins. Because of your sins. He loves you so much. Remember that.

"Come Meet Jesus"

40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). — John 1:40–41 (NASB95)

One of my favorite people in the Bible is a guy named Andrew. The reason I like him so much is that I think it’s easier to follow Andrew than lots of other people. I mean, there are many Bible characters who are larger than life. Abraham would be tough to top. How about Samson with all his long-haired strength? Anybody want to try to be like David? Or Solomon? How about Peter, or Paul, or John? Sure we can come close to each one, but to be like any of them would be a stretch for most of us.

Then there’s Andrew. We don’t know a lot about Andrew, but what we do know says that pretty much anybody could be like him. He seems quiet, unassuming, and mostly a behind-the-scene kind of guy. Though an apostle of Jesus, he didn’t write any books of the New Testament, we don’t find him going on mission trips, and we don’t see him taking the lead. Now he could have done all of that, but he’s not presented that way in the Bible. But there is something about him that is outstanding.

In John’s gospel, it’s Andrew who quickly saw Jesus and understood who He was. In modern terms, Andrews might be called an “early adopter” because he was among the first to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Not everybody can so quickly come to that conclusion, but it’s a great example to leave for us.
Then, Andrew found his brother, Peter, and declared, “We have found the Messiah.” It was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus.

Later in John’s gospel, it’s Andrew who noticed that there was a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. He wasn’t sure what could be done with them, but it turns out to have been the basis for one of Jesus’ best known miracles, feeding the 5,000.

Again in John’s gospel, some Greeks came and wanted to see Jesus. They first came to Philip, who talked it over with Andrew. The two of them then went to Jesus.

It seems that Andrew often brought people to Jesus. Different times, and different reasons motivated him to do so, but it’s a compelling testimony about the man. And it’s why I think more of us today could learn from, and follow, Andrew’s example. You see, anybody can bring somebody to Jesus. You don’t have to have all the answers, nor do you have to be some outstanding leader. You don’t have to know how it’s all going to turn out. You just need the confidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and invite others to come meet Him. I’m so thankful for Andrew, and all the other “Andrews” who don’t need to be some top dog. You see, they know the “top dog,” and say, “Come see.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"We" Or "Me"?

23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. — 1 Corinthians 10:23–24 (NASB95)

According to new research, over the past 50 years Americans have increasingly emphasized "me" over "we"—or individualism over community. That's based on a heavy-duty analysis of words and phrases that have appeared in American books published in the past 50 years. Researchers used Google Books to scan 750,000 books, comparing the frequency of "me" words and phrases (such as "all about me," "I am the greatest," "I love me," "my needs," etc.) with "we" words (such as "community goals," "we are one," "work as a team," "common good," etc.). Researchers concluded that the results showed an increasing focus on the solitary self. Psychologist Jean Twenge added, "These trends reflect a sea change in American culture toward more individualism." –

Some believe we’re a society bordering on narcissism. Maybe. What we can say is that we’re losing a sense of community. Individualism is today’s trump card. If it’s not of interest to “me”, if it’s not good for “me”, if it’s not what “I” like, then the chances that “I” or “we” will support it or participate in it are slim.

You’d think this would not be true about the church, but sadly, this same mindset has taken over even among Christians. Schedule events for the church? It only works as long as it fits into “my” schedule. Enlist volunteers for much needed service to the church? OK, as long as it’s what “I” would enjoy doing. Promote fellowship among church members? Sure, as long as “I” like the people to start with.

Even church assemblies and other events suffer. Preachers, elders, educators, and others have long wondered why it’s so hard to get people to turn out consistently and regularly for church events. Everybody knows that attendance on Sunday morning is one thing, and attendance on Sunday night is another. It’s been that way for ages. Is it that Sunday night just doesn’t provide what people need? That’s a possibility, but in most places, the quality of the assembly is the same as on Sunday morning. These are just examples. The question has always been, “Why do people participate or do not participate?”

The answer to that question is key. Listen to the answers carefully. I’m afraid you’ll find that it involves more “I” and “me” than you might think. The church, however, is a “we” thing. Until we get that down, it will continue to suffer.

Caring For Others

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. — Philippians 2:3–4 (NASB95)

Yvette Vickers, a former [model] and B-movie star, best known for her role in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, would have been 83 in August 2011, but nobody knows exactly how old she was when she died. According to the Los Angeles coroner's report, she lay dead for the better part of a year before a neighbor and fellow actress, a woman named Susan Savage, noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox, reached through a broken window to unlock the door, and pushed her way through the piles of junk mail and mounds of clothing that barricaded the house. Upstairs, she found Vickers's body, mummified, near a heater that was still running. Her computer was on too, its glow permeating the empty space. – Steven Marche, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" The Atlantic (May 2012)

Yvette Vickers isn’t the only person, surrounded by neighbors, and yet died without anyone knowing about it. Actually, something similar happened to me. We lived in an Atlanta, Georgia suburb and were next door neighbors to a couple who were very difficult to get to know. They were seldom seen, and when they were, they seldom even spoke. The husband was ill, and occasionally a hearse would come and load him up to take him somewhere for treatments of some kind. Once, after having not seen either of them for a while, another neighbor told me, “I think the man over there died.” It seems there was a time when the hearse took him away and never brought him back. Nobody in the neighborhood knew about it until after a few months. Needless to say, it was a little shocking.

That kind of thing will make you think. Maybe I should have been more proactive as a neighbor, maybe I should have gone over to check on him, maybe I should have offered to help. Maybe, maybe, maybe. So whenever I read blurbs like the one about Yvette Vickers, I think I understand how it happens. Sad, but it happens. The truth is I can’t take care of everybody. It does little good to go on a guilt trip. What’s better is to take a more active role among the people we already know. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t stretch beyond that, but if we all could just care for the people we know, it would do a world of good.

I’m pretty good at looking out for my own personal interests. I need to do better at looking out for yours. And you? Hey! I’m over here!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Dog In The Manger

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. — Titus 3:3 (NASB95)

"Envy is resenting God's goodness to others and ignoring God's goodness to me."–Rick Warren

There is a short little fable titled, “The Dog In The Manger.” It goes something like this: There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either.” That one sentence paints a picture that you can immediately see and understand.

Envy works in much the same way. Something good happens to someone we know. Our response, rather than being excited for them, or congratulating them, or just being happy that the person can enjoy their blessing, we instead harbor a strange emotion. It can begin as a quick jab of jealousy. It can fester into a wound that hurts us and makes us wonder why that other person was blessed when we’re not. It can grow into wall of dislike and hatred of the other person, not because of something they did to us, but because they have something we want. We resent them and their blessing.

How do you suppose you come across to other people when you feel this way about them? It can’t help but dampen your attitude, and it might cause you to behave in ways intended to punish them or hurt them. Envy is a destructive attitude and emotion, causing great harm to everyone involved, especially to one’s self.

Envy is often found in biblical lists of sins. It’s often presented as paired with some other sins. In Titus 3:3, for example, it’s paired with malice, which is defined as a desire to “inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another.” It’s not enough that envy causes us to resent other people and their blessings, it moves us to hurt them. Interestingly, when Paul wrote to Titus, he set in contrast the negatives of verse 3, with the results of our salvation in Jesus Christ. The implication is that we’re not just saved from the sin of envy in that our guilt is removed, but that the effect of the gospel of Jesus is that envy itself is minimized or eliminated. We need to think more about the stated effects of the gospel on our natural-man tendencies. Christians may have once practiced these things, but when Jesus saves you, those sinful practices must be put away.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pressed Into Service

21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. — Mark 15:21 (NASB95)

I have come to believe that there are no random encounters. God is always at work, leading us to times and places where we might meet him. – Bryan Wilkerson

I have often wondered about Simon of Cyrene. He doesn’t get much attention, but what a fantastic role he played. This is the man who was forced to help Jesus carry the cross to the hill where the crucifixion took place. That’s really all we know about him. Or is it?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all name the man from Cyrene who was “pressed into service” as a cross-bearer. But Mark tells us more. He informs us that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. There is much speculation that perhaps these two sons are both named by Paul in some of his writings. It’s certainly possible, but there really isn’t any firm information identifying them as the same men. That isn’t necessary to make a very important point. Whomever Alexander and Rufus were, they were evidently men known by the readers of Mark’s gospel. He simply refers to them in a way that assumes his readers would know them. What that very likely means is that at least Alexander and Rufus were Christians, followers of Jesus.

It doesn’t take much imagination to connect some dots. Their father, Simon of Cyrene, having been forced to carry Jesus’ cross to the execution site, was very likely also a witness to the crucifixion. We don’t know if he’d been anywhere near Jesus before that, but the implication from the fact that his sons were both known by the early church suggests that Simon may well have become a believer, and subsequently his two sons believed in Jesus.

What a grand legacy that is. A man is forced to carry a condemned man’s cross. He witnesses that man’s death, and at some point comes to believe that the executed man is the Messiah. He becomes a follower. His two sons after him become believers. Then by the time Mark writes his gospel account, the sons are both well known to the church. Was it just a chance encounter that day? Had Simon not been there, it’s likely somebody else would have been pressed into service, but the fact is he was there. That encounter led to a legacy of faith in his family. Don’t miss your opportunities to be pressed into service. You might deprive your children of something that will change their eternity.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Losing Game

17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.   —  Acts 3:17 (NASB95)
Can anybody dispute the diagnosis that the main problem in the world is ignorance? Not ignorance about how to conquer the force of gravity—we have that knowledge, and we have done it. Not ignorance about how to invent gadgets. You press buttons, and everything is done for you. You sit down and enjoy yourself looking at the television while the washing is done and the cooking is done. Oh yes, we have all that knowledge. But that is not the knowledge I am talking about. I am referring to the knowledge of how to live; the knowledge of what humanity is and what it is meant to be; the knowledge of how to resist temptation; the knowledge of how to walk a straight path and to be clean and pure and wholesome; the knowledge of how to die without fear; the knowledge of what lies beyond—this is the knowledge we need. The problems of living and of life today are exactly as they have always been, in spite of all this vast knowledge that we have accumulated. All the knowledge that we have, and of which we are so proud, does not help us with the fundamental problems of the individual and of society—for society is nothing, after all, but a collection of individuals. And the state of the world today proves that the main trouble is still individual ignorance. . . . – Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity.
Lloyd-Jones is correct.  People think they’re pretty smart.  Nobody wants to think they are “ignorant.”  But this is exactly Jesus’ understanding of people.  One time, Jesus grieved over his people and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  On the cross, he looked out at angry, murderous crowds and asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing.  Ignorant.  It’s not a very nice or positive evaluation.

When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he wrote about people who suppress the truth (1:18).  Whenever truth is suppressed, the only possible result is ignorance.  Think about that in wider circles than just religion or spiritual matters.  Truth is fundamental to life.  Anything else results in a warped, messed up parody of life that maims and destroys.

Jesus said that the truth will set you free.  Truth does that, not ignorance.  And don’t fool yourself.  Truth doesn’t always fall into your lap.  You may have to work hard to obtain it.  But it’s worth everything.  Your life depends on truth.  Your eternal life depends on truth.  Don’t settle for ignorance.  It’s a losing game.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Grateful Or Grumpy?

6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him — Colossians 2:6 (NASB95)
      Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They're also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.
      Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits in children and adolescents. [Studies also show that] kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families, and schools than those who don't.
– Melinda Beck, "Thank You. No, Thank You," The Wall Street Journal (11-23-10)
Sometimes, I just love the studies that scientific and academic types produce. Some of them are funny. Some ridiculous. Now and then, one just makes perfect sense. The study referenced in the article from The Wall Street Journal falls into that category.

Doesn’t it just make good sense? Doesn’t it fit with your observations of people? It does mine. It’s clear to me that grateful people are happy people. The folks who can’t seem to manage even the slightest bit of gratitude are the most unhappy. They gripe and grumble, fuss and complain, and are almost impossible to satisfy. They go through life experiencing a lot of self-produced pain because nothing is right (at least to them).

Watch the negative, fault-finding, critical, verbal abusers. Gratitude is seldom one of their strong points. Some people seem to enjoy sitting around taking pot-shots at others. They can tell everybody else what they ought to do, how they ought to do it, and can list a quick hundred reasons whatever they’re looking at isn’t good, won’t work, or could be better. They almost never have solutions, improvements, or positive contributions. Largely, it’s because they aren’t grateful for much. Look around. Really. Take a look. You have so much for which to be grateful. You’ve got people and things, maybe a pet, money in the bank (even if it’s a little), sunshine and stars. Best of all, you’ve got a Savior who loves you and died for you, who will save you from your sins and give you eternal life. What about it? Thankful yet?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My House And Your House

46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. — Acts 2:46–47 (NASB95)
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. – Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life (Nelson, 2010), p. 55
I’m not opposed to church buildings. Let me say that up front. I think there is an advantage in having a place where the whole church can meet together, where we can invite people from the community to various events, where we have facilities to use for all kinds of things that bring us together, whether it is to educate, to celebrate, or just have some fun.

I also think that it’s a shame that we don’t understand the power of our houses. The modern church is fairly good at putting on big events (I’m speaking in relative terms here because the total number of people may not be huge). We’re not so good at the small, intimate events. We need to learn how to do those, too.

The early church met in homes by necessity. The church building hadn’t been invented. They did have the temple where large crowds gathered, but individual houses played a huge role. This is where church life thrived.

Small group ministry has been around for a long time. Many churches have discovered how to use small groups of about ten or so people to grow strong and healthy. There is something about sitting around someone’s living room or den, sharing a cup of coffee or soft drink, and talking about spiritual things.

Fellowship deepens. We learn what makes each other tick, and what people need. We naturally get to share with others as God has blessed us with individual gifts. Being part of the body of Christ becomes real, not just theory. We learn how to help each other, pray for each other, and how to follow Jesus together. When is the last time you opened up your house and hosted a group of Christians to share your common faith together? Maybe it’s time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wanting To Believe

 1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God. . . .” —   Psalm 14:1 (NASB95)

Thomas Nagel, an atheist who authored a popular introduction to philosophy titled What Does It All Mean? wrote: "I want atheism to be true … It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."  –  Jim Spiegel, "Unreasonable Doubt," Christianity Today (2-10-11)

I will not for a moment ascribe to every unbeliever the sentiments of Thomas Nagel.  That would be both unfair, and simply erroneous.  But I do think that there is something in his statement that resonates deeply with both believers and unbelievers.  It has everything to do with what we want to be true.

I’m not saying that truth depends on what we want.  Truth is truth regardless what we might want.  If God exists, He exists outside our desire either way.  Wanting it to be so, one way or the other, doesn’t make it so.  But believing that something is true has a lot to do with whether we want it to be true or not.

There are many passages in the Bible that tell us that we should, even must, believe in God or believe in Jesus.  There is a lot of evidence presented to persuade us that there are things about God and His Son that we should believe.  But believing is always a choice.  I don’t think we talk enough about this aspect of faith.  To believe in Jesus is a choice we make, a conscious decision to accept as true what the Bible teaches about God’s Son.

A strong component of such a decision relates to our wanting the evidence to be true.  There are some who have been so persuaded, so compelled by the evidence that they would say they believed even when they didn’t want to do so.  I would not dare conclude such people are dishonest.  I do think that they might not realize that what compelling evidence does is not simply force us into a spot where we can’t choose any other option, but it creates in us the desire for the very things about which we have been convinced.

I want there to be God.  I want Jesus, the Son of God, to have lived, died and risen again.  I want the sacrifice for sin to be real, for salvation to be real, for eternal life to be true.  And so I believe.  I make no excuses.  I want these things.  I believe them.  That’s my choice.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.   —  Titus 2:11–15 (NASB95)
     Above the entryway to [Auschwitz] were the words, Arbeit macht frei. The same thing stood above the camp at Dachau. It means, "work makes free"—work will liberate you and give you freedom.
     It was a lie—a false hope. The Nazis made the people believe hard work would equal liberation, but the promised "liberation" was horrifying suffering and even death.
     Arbeit macht frei. One reason that phrase haunts me is because it is the spiritual lie of this age. It is a satanic lie. It's a religious lie. It is a false hope—an impossible dream for many people in the world. They believe their good works will be great enough to outweigh their bad works, allowing them to stand before God in eternity and say, "You owe me the right to enter into your heaven” . . .
     It is the hope of every false religion—arbeit macht frei.
     But it's the love of God that liberates. It's the blood of Jesus Christ that liberates. He died in my place, and I am free.  –  From Johnny V. Miller's sermon, "The Great Rescue," (4-14-07)
We really need to get this down.  Saved people are redeemed people.  To be redeemed means we have a redeemer, and that redeemer is Jesus Christ.  We don’t save ourselves or anybody else.  It’s frustrating to keep battling this idea, even within the church (the body of saved, redeemed people).  Tell people they aren’t saved by their good works, but by the blood of Jesus and some of them look at you with this blank stare as if they can’t quite grasp what you’re saying.

“But we have to do something. . . .”  That’s often the response, in one form or another.  Yes, we must respond in faith.  But nothing in your faith earns, deserves, or accomplishes salvation.  If you’re a sinner, you need a redeemer.  That’s Jesus.  Get that one right.  There is nothing more important.  Don’t fumble that one.  Jesus saves and redeems.  Hallelujah!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Heart Models

. . . I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. — 2 Corinthians 7:3 (NASB95)
Jane Leavy recounts comments from (Mickey) Mantle's last press conference on July 11, 1995. Mantle had been an alcoholic.
"God gave me a great body and an ability to play baseball," he said. "God gave me everything, and I just … pffft!" What would be remembered most was the anguished plea to children: "I'd like to say to the kids out there, if you're looking for a role model, this is a role model. Don't be like me."
A reporter asked Mantle if he had signed a donor card. "Everything I've got is worn out," he said. "Although I've heard people say they'd like to have my heart … it's never been used."
Jane Leavy, The Last Boy(HarperCollins, 2010), p. 374

Our church has been hit hard this week by two deaths. One, a young man in the prime of life, died in a diving accident. The other, an old man long in years and life, finally gave in to the ravages of aging. The first, nobody was ready for. It was a total shock to learn that Larry had died. The second, everybody was ready for, especially Russ, himself.

You would not necessarily think the two had all that much in common. I think you would be wrong. Allow me one huge commonality. Heart!

Both were men of heart. Both loved people. Both loved the Lord. Both wore their hearts on their sleeves. Both were tender-hearted when it came to people. Larry was always doing something for someone. Russ was a long-sought-after spiritual counselor. Both loved to laugh. Both had unique ways of relating to people. Both loved life. Larry showed that in the sheer zest for life and living. Russ was constantly pointing out something he observed like it was the first time ever seeing it. Both will be greatly missed by a lot of people, and it’s because both men had lots of heart.

Mickey Mantle told kids, “Don’t be like me.” Speaking about his heart, he said, “. . . it’s never been used.” If you’d like a role model for “heart,” let me suggest two for you. A young man named Larry, and an old man named Russ. If you know them, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t know them, come talk to me. I’ll put you in touch with a boat-load of people who will tell you about them. They will tell you about men with hearts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Loving People Fervently

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart   —  1 Peter 1:22 (NASB95)

The main evidence that we are growing in Christ is not exhilarating prayer experiences, but steadily increasing, humble love for other people.  –  Frederica Mathewes-Green, First Fruits of Prayer (Paraclete Press, 2006), p. Xv

How about we all participate in a mass confession?  Loving the brethren isn’t something we really want to do.  After all, some of the brethren aren’t all that lovable.  Some of them are kooks and cranks, and not a few border on being nut cases.

Then there are the mean-spirited brethren, the nosey-and-in-your-business brethren, the forever-complaining brethren, the negative, critical, fussy, never-satisfied brethren.  Throw in a few holier-than-thou and better-than-thou brethren, and pretty much anybody can see why loving the brethren can be a problem.

If everyone was as easy-going as, say, I am then it would be a much easier task.  In fact, I think that’s the main problem.  Too many people aren’t like me, and that’s what makes them hard for me to love.  Have I just betrayed myself and possibly you, too?

I think Jesus had amazing insight into the human heart when he said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”   I think he knew that most of us love ourselves.  The problem is that we don’t always love the other guy.  But if we could love the other guy, we would need to love him as we love ourselves.

Peter doesn’t help much.  He not only expects us to love our brethren, he evidently expected that we would love with some zip to it.  He said, “. . . fervently love one another from the heart.”  Fervently!  You can’t do something fervently and look bored, or tired, or like you wished you were somewhere else, doing something else.  The very idea of “fervently” just shouts energy and sincerity.  To be honest, if somebody was going to love me, I think I’d like for them to do so fervently.

Ever wonder what would happen to a church where everybody loved everybody fervently?  I’m not sure that will ever happen, but I think it would be terrific.  Wonder how we could get that going?  There must be a way.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Is Following Jesus Worth?

26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  — Luke 14:26–28 (NASB95)
Asian Access (or A2), a Christian missions agency in South Asia, listed a series of questions that church planters must ask new believers who are considering baptism. . .
 *  Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
 *  Are you willing to lose your job?
 *  Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
 *  Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
 *  Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
 *  Are you willing to go to prison?
 *  Are you willing to die for Jesus?
  South Asian nation struggles to shape itself, Mission Network News (1-17-12)
I have baptized a lot of people over the last 40 years or so.  I’ve used baptisteries, lakes, ponds, bathtubs, cattle tanks, even the Gulf of Mexico.  From each one, I really just wanted to hear that simple confession, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”  It never crossed my mind to ask the questions above, but I can sure understand the need.
In some places in the world, you really need a way to filter out the unbelievers, or provide a way for people to realistically consider what their baptism might mean.  Those questions highlight the cost of following Jesus.
In the U.S., we just don’t see the need.  In fact, we’d probably rather suggest to people that it’s not going to cost much, if anything.  To listen to some, becoming a Christian is just a step toward raking in boat-loads of blessings of one kind or another, including fancy cars and big bank accounts.
In scripture, and evidently some places in today’s world, people actually pause to count the cost.  They know it’s going to cost something - maybe their lives.  I don’t know about you, but this humbles me.  So, what do you think following Jesus is worth?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Six Flags Over Jesus

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   —  Matthew 28:19–20 (NASB95)

The predicament of the American church is that we live in a kind of Magic Kingdom. Like going to Disneyland, you buy your ticket, and once you are inside the gates, everything you experience is controlled. The rides, the food, the shows are all there to entertain and amuse you. All you have to do is be there and observe. . .
As Christians, we too are tempted to see our world that way. We can start thinking that our job is to invite a few fortunate others into the theme park, away from the troubles outside. But our job is not to increase the attendance at Disneyland; it's to tear down the walls and transform the world outside.  –  Richard Stearns, "Shedding Lethargy," Leadership Journal (Winter, 2012)

I’m not going to reveal a name here, but there is a church near us that my wife refers to as “Six Flags Over Jesus.”  She borrowed that phrase from somebody else, and truthfully, there are other churches that deserve it more than the one she applies it to, but there is something to it.  Large facilities, lots of entertainment, tons of people who go because it serves them in some way, etc.  It happens.

That doesn’t mean smaller churches are automatically better, for the truth is that people in small churches often wish for the same kind of things.  But perhaps it’s not so easy in smaller places.

I don’t know how many times we’ve had visitors who were church shopping.  They liked us, thought we were a friendly church, complimented the preaching and teaching, and felt that we were an overall fine church.  But they moved on to a bigger place.  Often they are looking for a church with a “youth ministry,” or something else already in place.  When I suggest that they stay with us and help build one, it bounces right off and refuses to stick. They want something already in place, already built, something they can just join.

Am I complaining?  You bet I am, but not for the reason you may think. “You’re just jealous of the bigger church.”  No, I’m sad for the people unwilling to sacrifice, to build, to dream, to work, to go through the hassle. It’s “serve me,” instead of “where do I serve.”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Giving The Devil His Due

15 You and this woman will hate each other; your descendants and hers will always be enemies. One of hers will strike you on the head, and you will strike him on the heel.”   —  Genesis 3:15 (CEV)

If you don't believe in God and the Devil, I wouldn't say you're crazy, but you're intellectually malnourished.  —U.S. author, Norman Mailer (1923–2007)

The little verse in Genesis, quoted above, serves as something of a springboard for the rest of the Bible.  It condenses the conflict between good and evil, between right and wrong, and provides a shot of encouragement that at some point, there would be an answer to it all.

If you are familiar with the fall of man, you’ll recall that it’s about Adam and Eve and their inability to keep a single, simple command.  “Don’t eat of that tree,” God said.  There were plenty of other trees from which to eat, but the one became the tool of the Devil, an instrument of temptation, and the mechanism by which sin entered into the world.  Make no mistake, we’re led to understand that without the Devil, Adam and Eve would likely have been happy to obey.  When the Devil comes onto the scene, bad things happen.

Read the book of Job.  You’ll meet God’s best man, whom God believed could stand up to the Devil’s test.  The first test was taking away all Job’s blessings.  Four messengers came in succession, bringing all the terrible news. In the second messenger’s report, there is something interesting.  He said that the fire of God fell from heaven and burned up sheep and servants.  It seems to me he implied that God did this terrible thing.  But God didn’t do it.  He surely allowed the Devil to act against Job, but he didn’t do it.  So often, we follow suit with this messenger and fail to give the Devil his due.  We blame God, but not Satan.

In fact, over the years, I’ve heard God blamed for more terrible, horrible, painful things that I’ve ever heard the Devil blamed for.  I just don’t hear a lot of people wondering, “Why did the Devil do this to me?”  You will hear, “Why did God do this to me?”  I have to wonder if we’ve got things backwards.

From the fall of man in the garden, right down to today, it is the Devil who is out to destroy us and keep us away from God.  God is the one out to save us, despite our sinful selves, and redeem us fallen creatures.  Life is complicated enough without mixing into it a faulty sort of theology that shifts the entire focus.  The Devil is your enemy, not God.  It is the Devil who will destroy you, not God.  Give the Devil his due.  You’ll run in the right direction.