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#Control#ShownMercy

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

I have come to the conclusion that much of the Christian life is one of control. Who controls whom? For example, I was speaking to someone this past week and we were talking about legalism. I made a statement I firmly believe in: many pastors/teachers/leaders use legalism as a way to control their people. I know when I was very legalistic in my outlook and preaching it was my way of controlling people. I wouldn’t have called it that. I would have called it “loving words from your pastor.” But in reality, I and others like me, used a legalistic approach to keep people “under my thumb.” Grace changed that for me. But it still happens. How many pastors do you know who tell their people “You better” or “If you don’t” or “If you do” in order to keep their flock in the sheepfold and not wander out at night?  So we make dress, church attendance, hair styles, tattoos, etc a way to judge a person’s “Christian” witness.

But consider this if you will: We are not meant to control our Christianity; Christianity is meant to control us. (I read that recently but can’t remember, where so I’m sorry for the failure to give credit).  So many in our culture might say they embrace Jesus but they want to conform Jesus and His teachings to their lifestyle. I think it should be the other way around: Jesus should inform us on how to conduct our lives and how to treat others. His teachings ought to transform us rather than trying to bend the teachings to fit us.  We are, after all, told to “present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is your reasonable service of worship.” Then we are told “not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That sounds a whole like surrender to me, of giving up control to someone else.

There is only one Person who should control our lives. Not us. Not a pastor. Not a leader. Not a teacher. Not a (fill in the blank). Only Jesus.  ONLY. JESUS.

#Mercy#VitalAttribute

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Name an attribute of God and I seriously doubt mercy will be first one out of someone’s mouth. Omniscient. Omnipresent. Omnipotent. Loving. Majestic. We might eventually come out with mercy but I’m willing to wager (and I’m not a betting man) that mercy will not be first.

Reading the headlines or listening to them can be a downward spiral into despair. A few weeks we had the TV on the local news station (Indy) and story after story seemed to be negative. Jo finally said, “It seems like all they talk about is the bad. I get so tired of it.” She is not alone.

Top that off with the natural disasters which plague our planet. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Forest fires. Droughts. Persecution. Terrorist bombings. It is like a first class ticket to the land of despair.

So people ask, “Where is God in all of this?”  “Why didn’t He stop this before it happened?” Been there? I have.  But those accusations are calling into question God’s mercy. Doesn’t He care? The answer is Yes He does. Mercy tells us He does.

My sermon Sunday is from 2 Corinthians 4:1 where it talks about mercy. I’ll also bring into the discussion the passage found in I Timothy 1:12-16.  I’ll talk more in my next post about mercy. In the meantime, consider this thought:

We are not meant to control our Christianity; Christianity is meant to control us.

Your prayers would be appreciated for Sunday morning. It is going to be a long weekend with a busy day off (did I say day off?), a really busy Saturday, and preparing for the sermon. Thanks for praying.

#Challenge#SeeingGodInvolved

Friday, December 27th, 2019

Hard to believe isn’t it that this Sunday will be the last Sunday of 2019? As they always say, “Where did the time go?” My theme for 2019 was Unsinkable. Over the year I looked at different Psalms which anchored our faith. I took a look at the sayings of Jesus on the cross.  I spent several weeks in Romans 8- IMHO one of, if not the, greatest chapter in the Bible. We spent the summer looking at various OT heroes-Daniel; S-M-A; Deborah- and then a multi-week study on Joseph. I rounded out the year by looking at the 7 churches in Revelation; being a servant; and finally, of not missing Christmas.

We now stand at the brink of a new year with no clue what it brings. I’m sorta glad of that. Depending on what it is to be like (and only God knows that) could determine where I felt like getting up or staying in bed.  I kid.  The theme for 2020 is TRUTH and I’ll unveil that graphic next week.

Every year at this time pastors across the land will be preaching on the past and the future. I am willing to wager (although I am not a betting man) more that one pastor will say something like this: “You have no clue what 2020 will bring, but one thing I can guarantee-whatever it brings you will not be able to navigate it alone.”

My sermon this Sunday is titled “I Challenge You!” My challenge for me and for my folks (and you by proxy) is that we allow God to be actively involved in our lives-past, present and future.  I’m using Exodus 33 for my text this Sunday and will be approaching it from two plains: God At a Distant (33:1-6) and God In The Present (33:7-23).  Lots of rich OT history to show God’s distance as a result of sin/choices and God’s presence in the present using the Tabernacle as the backdrop.

A little different sermon for me but one I pray makes a point about God’s desire for us to know His presence in our lives. I’d appreciate your prayers as I close out the year. I’ve also been fighting a cough that wracks my vocal chords and makes them raw. The doctor says all signs are clear. So prayers for my throat and an end to the cough would be more than welcome.

#ChristmasChallenge#Post23

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

I read the following quote:

The birth of Christ brought God to us;

The cross of Christ  brings us to God.

Growing up you really only think of Christmas-besides the whole Santa Claus and gift thing-as the occasion to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We like the story of the baby in the manger. It fits our “meek and mild” picture of Jesus. It fits our Away in a Manger and Silent Night theme.

But as C.S.Lewis says in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which I just finished reading again), “There is deeper magic here.” What is seen on the surface is just that: the surface. There is so much more to see and learn. There is so much more at work than just the birth; there is also the vision of the cross. Without doubt Jesus came with the specter of the cross in His sights. Phil.2 even tells us that. Jesus reminded His disciples over and over that the Son of Man must suffer and die.  The cross of Christ is always there. It is through the cross, and the cross only, that we find our way to God. It is only through the blood of Jesus that salvation is found.

But it is through the birth of Jesus as a baby, as God made flesh, that it all begins.  The quote again:

The birth of Christ brought God to us;

The cross of Christ brings us to God.

“Father, thank you for that truth. May this Christmas season take on extra meaning because it is more than a baby in a manger. It is also that baby on a cross giving Himself up for us.”

Please check out my fellow #ChristmasChallenge bloggers:

Diane at Hadarah.

Ed at Word!

#ChristmasChallenge#Post22

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

What do these have in common? Tickle Me Elmo. Cabbage Patch Kids. Pound Puppies. Buzz Lightyear. Beanie Babies. Transformers. Wii.

In common? They are all part of the Christmas toy fads down through the years. (And there are more I could add. Google it). Just like the movie starring Arnold Schwarzennegger, Jingle All the Way, people get caught up in a craze and often go crazy trying to keep up with the latest.

The good thing about fads? They don’t last. Hooray!! Thankfully. Who could ever forget mood rings? Moon rocks? Furbies? Are you kidding me? But it’s true.

Fads don’t last. Aren’t you glad that the gift of Jesus as a baby is not just a fad? Somewhere I’m sure some one, some company, has tried or will try to capitalize on it, but the birth of Jesus in  a manger is not a fad. Despite His humble birth which many don’t understand, the event brings on a life-change that is hard to match. And it makes Christmas so much more meaningful as well. It truly is good news for all people. Not just some of the time. All the time.  It never gets old. Never wears out.

“Father, thank you that the story of Jesus is not a passing fad. It doesn’t go the way of all the toys. It is so much more. It is a gift for all time.”

Check out Diane’s #ChristmasChallenge post here.

#ChristmasChallenge#Post20

Friday, December 20th, 2019

Have you ever noticed how our view of something is determined by our perspective? What I mean by that is this example. Supposed you are driving a car toward an intersection. It is a 4-way stop and you know that because you have been here so many times. The corn is high and as you slow down you do not see the truck coming to your right. It is going way too fast and has no way of stopping in time. You stop then proceed and find yourself T-boned by the truck. Meanwhile, someone is in a helicopter above and sees the whole thing developing. The intersection. Your stop. The runaway truck. Their perspective gives them a totally different view of the developing disaster.

When Jesus was born the world was not the way God wanted it to be. Nor intended it to be.  The world Jesus entered was one of darkness and ugliness and sin. God knew what was needed. His perspective said, “My Son will come. Live. Die. Raise. All to save you.”

The interesting but sad thing is we think we know better.  Our view is skewed.  The Christmas season should remind us we are messed up and needed a Savior.

We are not the way we ought to be or the way God intended. But God is at work to transform us into becoming the way He wants us to be. The Christmas story is so much more than a baby in a manger. It is God’s way of reaching out to us to save us from ourselves and our sin.

“Father, thank you for having a different perspective than us. And because of that perspective we have been ‘reached out to’ in order for us to be transformed. Please do your work in me.”

Make sure you check out my other #ChristmasChallenge bloggers. Diane at Hadarah and Ed at WORD!

#ItBegins#EssentialTruth#Don’tMissIt!

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

And so it begins…

The race to Christmas. Much of the way we celebrate Christmas finds its roots in our younger years. We carry traditions with us. Some we ditch; some we keep observing.

Growing up nothing we ever put out except the lights. No tree. No gifts. No nothing. But when we woke up Christmas morning the whole house, especially the living room had been transformed. We don’t do that today. Our tree goes up Thanksgiving Day or the day after and stays until the day or two after Christmas.Gifts are placed under the tree as they are wrapped.

Growing up we were taught not to use our Christmas gifts (except for games) until after the real tree was taken down. We don’t that one either.

We NEVER opened a gift until Christmas morning. We don’t do that one either, however, I did get Jo’s family to compromise. One gift on Christmas Eve; the rest Christmas morning.

One fact is a constant though: the meaning of Christmas has never changed. The teaching of that meaning has never changed. The impact of that meaning has never changed either.

Just as there is a backstory to each of our histories of Christmas, there is a backstory to the story of Christmas as well. Christmas didn’t start at the manger; it started years before we can conceive. Before the OT.  This story was formed before recorded time and if we were somehow able to put it on the silver screen there would be no CGI or animation able to convey it.

I have given my series for this month the title of “Don’t Miss It!!” Each sermon (4) will be one aspect of Christmas which is so important we dare not miss it.  It would be a tragedy if we did. This Sunday my sermon will be taken from John 1:1-14 and my aim is to show the essential truth of Christmas.  A.W.Tozer once said:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

When you think about Christmas what is the first thing that comes to your mind? My desire is to lay the groundwork for a meaningful Christmas by presenting the essential truth of Christmas. May you know that as well. I would appreciate your prayers.

#Atheism#Confrontation#BadRep

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

In one of my posts last week I reviewed two books dealing with abuse. You can read that here. Bookending those two books were two books of similar vein on a subject, but approaching it from different perspectives.  I had this first book and then read the two on abuse, but I needed to get away from that subject for a bit so I read the book which is my second review.  I’m now reading a totally different book because I like variety as well as needing a more biblical study.  So here are my reviews of the two books.

My first is Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion

Rebecca was not raised in “Christian” America, but in the UK. Her Christianity was not handed to her on a silver-plated American Christianity platter (my words not hers). But trust me when I say she is nobody’s lackey.  This woman is smart and knows her stuff. Her book is subtitled 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion and she delivers the goods. I wondered if I would be overwhelmed by the sheer “brain power” she brings to the table. I am happy to say Rebecca has done an excellent job of making it so that even we who are not deep thinkers can understand her writing. This book is so good I have given one copy to my small group leader, one to a searching college student, and have another copy for someone I love. Here are just a few of the questions she asks and answers (masterfully I believe) :

  • How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?
  • Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?
  • How Can You Take the Bible Literally?
  • Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
  • Isn’t Christianity Homophobic? {Note: Rebecca admits to her former struggle with SSA so she writes from an “insider’s” viewpoint.}
  • How Can a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?

That’s just half the questions. This is one of my nominees for “Book of the Year” (as if I have any say).  I love Rebecca’s writing style and her attention to the answers. Never harsh but always engaging. I do believe you will benefit from this book.

I followed Rebecca’s book with another that intrigued me: Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp (MJ). 

Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God

Her book is subtitled “A Former Atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” The book is aptly titled. MJ came from a non-religious home and chose atheism, but eventually came to know Jesus as her Savior. (You can read the book’s introduction for her story).  How she stayed with Jesus and the church is a miracle in itself (in my book anyway). The day she came to church with her husband to declare her choice to follow Christ, the pastor’s wife did not welcome her or congratulate her but to tell her she needed to wear a different dress-one that showed less cleavage. She doesn’t say whether it did or not, but I would have probably turned around and walked out. Eventually, she and her husband found themselves involved in ministry full-time (he was a worship leader). Meanwhile, she is struggling with Christians who are giving God and the church a bad name. One heart-breaking example (and one which made my blood boil) came when she brought a friend who was an atheist-seeker to church and he was literally blown off and embarrassed by the self-righteous teacher and the pastor of the church (who publicly humiliated him) because he dared ask a question which challenged their way of thinking. From her own awkwardness of defending her belief in the resurrection with a co-worker (she is a music teacher in a public school); to learning about Islam (a great discussion and info on Islam is included) from her dear friend, the late Nabeel Qureshi; to her confidence in apologetics, she never loses sight of her purpose: how annoying and “turn-off-ish” many Christians can be. I’d have to say it is a good thing she had a pretty solid faith and a good husband who helped her stay grounded. 

MJ’s book was different from Rebecca’s in that it took on issues facing the church within, whereas Rebecca’s focused more on questions from without. MJ’s book read easily also. And she gave some great answers along the way in a very clear style.

I would highly recommend both of these books be part of your reading list. If you know of someone who is struggling with their faith or have questions about hypocrisy within the church, have them read these.

#ClearEyes#20/20#Brightness

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

“The eyes have it.” Oops that is supposed to be the “I’s” have it. 

Unless, of course, you are talking about cataract surgery which totally transforms one’s sight world. This past Monday I had my left eye’s cataract removed. I knew I was in for a real treat given that I had had my right eye corrected the week before. My world brightened some. But I can honestly say I was not prepared for the “revelation” that came from yesterday’s surgery. Talk about bright!  I told someone this morning (Tuesday) it was like walking into a room filled with new LED bulbs. Everything is so bright I wonder how in the world I was able to see before. I was…it was just cloudy. The doctor told me this morning that in a few days my brain will dial in the sights and it won’t seem so bright.  Truthfully, I’m not sure I want that!  🙂  I like seeing things brightly. Maybe it comes from seeing things a little “shady” and cloudy for the past oh-so- many-months that I relish the light. Can you tell I’m excited about my surgery and newfound “bright sight”? 

The applications to our spiritual lives are easy to see.  An early worship song that was sung a lot had the lyrics: “Open the eyes of my heart Lord/ Open the eyes of my heart/ I want to see you/I want to see you.”  Seeing him physically is not going to happen here on this earth so the song is not speaking of that type of sight. But asking Him to open the eyes of our heart to His Word and His Truth will bring clarity to our lives where before there was cloudiness and murkiness. 

We also can see another application. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child. I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”  (I Cor.13:11) Going from cloudy sight to bright and clear sight means I can give my old glasses to the Lion’s Club to give them away to someone who needs them. I can see things through a different perspective. Someone told me the colors would be brighter; the lights would be brighter; and I would need sun glasses. I confirm all three of those.  Growing in Christ means putting away the old stuff and see things through new eyes.

I sure can see how the man blind from birth must have felt when he first saw “men as trees walking” and then began to see everything with clarity. I thank God for my eyes. But I thank Him even more for the gift of sight for Him. May He and His Word and His will get clearer as each day goes by.

Any thoughts?   Oh, by the way: how is your (spiritual) vision these days?

#WrongRoad#Weakness

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

This morning (Sunday) I preached on the letter to the church at Thyatira and I approached it from the aspect of tolerance. I’ll state it right off the bat: no matter what our culture says and even what other “churches” tell us, tolerance is never mentioned in Scripture.  Another word some may be more familiar with is Compromise.  I’d like to take this blog space and talk about that a bit.

In the letter to the church at Thyatira Jesus commends them for their works, love, faith, service, patient endurance and that their latter works exceeded the first (I think that means they were maturing and growing and not stagnant). BUT the church was an immoral cesspool (v.20). That “train” was led by a woman He names Jezebel. I seriously doubt that is her real name. I mean…what parent in their right mind would name their daughter Jezebel, or even Delilah? Be that as it may, my research seems to indicate two possibilities she was teaching:

  1. Gnosticism.  Gnosticism taught that the physical universe was evil and the spiritual was good. This led to what is called Dualism. Today is it is seen in those who teach Jesus was not fully human and fully divine.  A popular brand of this is Jesus was human until His baptism when He became divine and then somewhere before His crucifixion He became human again. One of the most prominent teachers of this heresy is the false “apostle” Bill Johnson and those associated with Bethel Church and the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) movement.
  2. Antinomianism. It is a combination of two words: Anti which means “No” and nomian which means “Law.” Hence, No Law. This teaches you can do whatever you want as long as you invoke God’s grace when you are done. This is taught by….just about everyone. I believe God’s forgiveness is complete and His grace covers any sin, but I also believe He wants us to be holy, not acting however we want then constantly seeking God’s grace for forgiveness.

Tolerance is a slippery slope we want to avoid. We will be called all sorts of names.  We will be looked on as a three-headed monster. But God’s truth stands and we are much better taking “heat” from our culture than taking “heat” from God.

Those are some of my thoughts. What do you think?