Monday, October 31, 2011

There are many masks we wear to protect ourselves

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; Galatians 2:20a
When I was a child I loved to dress up.  I would put on grown up clothes and shoes and dance around like I was Cinderella at the ball.  How fun it was to pretend that I was already a grown woman living my own life.  Now I am a grown woman living my own life and I find that at times I am still trying to pretend that I am someone else.

Isn’t that the way we all are to some degree?  All grown up, we are still “dressing up”, wearing masks and acting our parts often masking who we really are.

There are many masks we wear to protect ourselves:
We wear masks with our friends.  We pretend to be problem free, even around our closest friends.  We put on masks with our friends because we are afraid that if they knew how we really are they would not want to be our friend.

We wear masks at church. We argue all the way to Sunday service and paint on a smile on our way in.  We pretend to be more spiritual, more put together, more mature in our faith than we really are.  We fear that if anyone knew the real us, they would think less of us…so we mask our brokenness.  We hide weakness and sin because we fear condemnation.  We don’t ask for prayer because we are embarrassed by family problems or financial or health issues.  Yet, if we could make ourselves a bit more vulnerable, we would see that others are struggling with some of the same things we are.  We cheat ourselves because we don’t allow ourselves to be ministered to by others who care.

We wear masks at home. We pretend things are okay in our marriage when there is distance.  We say nothing is wrong when our feelings are truly hurt.  We don’t necessarily lie to our spouse; we just shade part of the truth.  We don’t feel comfortable being our true self with our spouse because we are afraid of judgment or ridicule.  We feel there is nowhere we are truly free to unmask ourselves and be who we really are; nowhere do we feel truly safe.

Masks are all over our lives:
  • We mask the debt we have amassed to pay for a lifestyle we can’t afford. 
  • We mask our insecurities.
  • We mask our sin and weakness.
  • We mask our family problems because we are embarrassed.
The sad thing about wearing masks is that we cannot move closer to who God created us to be with our masks on.  Masks always make shallow what God has intended to be deep; friendships, marriages, families and churches. Everything in our lives gets cheated when we choose to be fake.

It takes courage to live with no masks; to be vulnerable, broken, to ask for help, to be real.  How would your friendships be different?  How would your marriage be different?  How would your relationship with God be different?

Be courageous.  Remove the masks today and allow yourself to be accepted.  You may well discover the mercy, compassion, and understanding of others we all desperately need.

Scripture to Claim:
Grace (favor and spiritual blessing) be to you and [heart] peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Spirit of “Harambee!”

Romans 15:1-14
Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The first Christians took this so much to heart that the pagans said of them, “Behold, how they love one another.” Such unity is precious and testifies of the love of God in us. But it is not easy. Since unity by definition involves more than one person, it can’t be answered in your life alone. This is a prayer that can only be answered corporately, as the whole church comes together to worship God.

Satan’s joy, if he cannot devise a scheme to keep men from following Christ, is to create ways to divide sincere men to keep them from serving Christ.

There is only one side to be on in a church and that is God’s side.

I. The Problem...Disunity  Romans 14:2-3,5a
Unity is hard work. It demands an ongoing commitment from every believer.

      Dangers of Disunity
            1. Disunity creates a lack of trust.
            2. Disunity creates criticism in the place of understanding
            3. Disunity creates strife and division in place of love and unity.
            4. Disunity creates a loss of ministry.

II. The Need Described  Romans 15:1-3

Patience and a servant spirit are keys to unity.
"Please be patient.  God is not finished with me yet." 
When someone says, “that’s just the way I am", they are usually defending a place of weakness rather than a mere personality trait.

Receiving an individual is foundational to ministry to them.
A servant is more in tune with the needs of those they serve than their own needs.

III. The Power Designated  Romans 15:4-6

The source of unity is God.
We must have a spirit of “Harambee!” - Let’s all pull together!
Unity of spirit may not mean unity of thought.

IV. The Action Designed  Romans 15:7

Unity means nothing unless we are willing to accept other believers.
People playing roles do not portray the reality of the Christian experience.

V. The Confidence Declared - Romans 15:14

Where the Spirit of Christ is, the power of Christ is.
Here is the end of it all. When the church is united, God is glorified and the world is amazed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Art of Appreciation

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

When tiny shellfish die, they don't go to heaven.  Neither do they go to hell.  They just drift to the bottom of the sea.  The shell lies on the bottom of the sea with billions of other shells.  As time passes the little shells are pressed together by the weight of others above.  Finally the individuals lose their identity, and they become limestone.  If the limestone is pure and if it is subjected to tremendous pressure - it becomes marble - hard and white. 

Because of its whiteness, hardness, and fine quality, marble is much in demand for buildings and statues.  Buildings and statues are often beautiful.  Thus, some of the most beautiful things in the world have been made of marble.  Some of the most beautiful statues and monuments were to be found on the Acropolis of Athens.  Such buildings as the Erechtheum, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Athena Nike were built of this fine material.  

But some men did not appreciate beauty and quality.  During medieval and Turkish times, many marbles and marble works were crushed, ground up, and made into lime!  All the work of the little shellfish, all the work of time and pressure, all the work of architects and sculptors turned back into lime! Some people just do not appreciate things the way they should.

There are a lot of other valuable things in life we fail to appreciate properly.  The guidance and sacrifice of parents, the love of a friend, a loving spouse, the security of a good home and other intangibles are often taken for granted. Sadly, we sometimes are the ones who crush the marbles into lime or trample pearls under our feet.

“When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren’t grabbed by the collar
or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted
the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
-Cynthia Ozick

It’s not just the things of men that are disrespected and abused instead of honored and cared for.  Neither do some men appreciate the things of God.  Like spoiled children we are prone to trample God’s grace or take for granted His tender mercies.  God’s forgiveness cost Him a great deal in the death of His Son, yet He was willing to pay the price to restore a relationship with us.  Yet, we are negligent in finding the time to listen to counsel from His Word or speak to Him in prayer.

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” -Aldous Huxley

So much of life blessing is that which is bestowed upon us.  We did not merit them, pay for them or earn them.  If we did, we did not grant the strength, energy or time to attain them.  God did.  A critical element to how we view ourselves, life and others is bound up in this one question; Do you take things for granted or take them with gratitude?

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

Our MOST GRACIOUS Heavenly Father,
Grant to us the proper attitude toward all that is ours.  May we recognize and appreciate the things which make our lives strong and complete.  Help us to see the great hand that guides us and pours out the blessings we enjoy.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Choose the Right Keys

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
 Matthew 16:18-19

Maybe you have heard the old saying, "A key in the hand is worth a dozen in your other suit."  There is also, "Mind your p's and keys."  Or perhaps your favorite is, "People who live in glass houses should lock their doors."  These old familiar proverbs serve to remind you of the importance of locks and keys.  Some people want keys to get into things.  Other people, like those incarcerated, would like to have keys to get out.

People give us keys about who they are in many ways.  By their twang or drawl you can often tell what part of the country a person is from.  You can tell about their personality by the expression on their face or their pace as they walk.  We learn a lot about their interests by the books they read, and their character by the friends they keep.  Age may be revealed by the amount of wrinkles on a face, and importance by the number of keys one carries.

Keys may be deceiving though as to their importance.  A small brass key may open a tool box or it may open a treasure chest.  A shiny silver key may open the gate of a castle, or the door of a broom closet.  But if it is a key, chances are that it is important in some way to someone.

God holds several important keys.  They are unusually important because they can unlock the most desired treasures in the universe.  He has the key to the Hall of Happiness, the Porch of Peace and to the Safe of Salvation.  He has the bright and shining key to the Room of Resurrection.  If you know the great key keeper, he will give you these keys.

There are false duplicates to some of these keys that fail to open the doors.  Some carry keys to material possessions, power, fame or money and think they will open the same doors as God’s keys.  They use their keys in vain.  While they may open lots of doors in their searching, in the end they are still standing outside the rooms which hold the treasure.  Amazingly, many spend their lives searching the closets and storerooms of this world only to find frustration and hopelessness.

There is only one who holds the keys of life and death.  John told us of Him in his revelation: ..."Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Revelation 1:17-18  You see, one of God's keys is worth all the keys of men.  You cannot buy this key or earn it; it is only received as a gift to those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

So, as you start opening doors in your life looking for the things that last, try the Key to the Kingdom.  It’s the only one works.

Guide us to the right places and through the right doors to the joy and peace that You have promised.  Take the wring keys from our hands to protect us from wasting our lives on the wrong things and in the wrong places.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Cocky Rooster

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' John 3:1-7
The cocky rooster rubbed his eyes and stretched his wings. He grumbled a bit as he swung his legs over the edge of the nest.  While drinking his morning coffee, he scolded his wife for not having his comb pressed and ready to wear.  With a glance at the clock, he straightened his feathers and pranced out of the house and across the yard to the fence.  He was well aware of the handsome figure he cut as he walked with his chest held high.  "What a heavy responsibility is mine," he thought, "having to crow so the sun can rise." 

His best friends wouldn't tell him.  Perhaps his best friends did not know.  But it was not his crowing that made the sun rise, but the sunrise that caused him to crow.  If he only knew, he wouldn't have so much to crow about.  There were times when he wondered about his power, but it seemed from his perspective that it was working.  Besides, all the others around him had such respect for his crowing he couldn’t stop. 

Jesus met some who were exactly like that rooster.  They were called Pharisees and thought that upright and respectable living brought a right relationship with the Lord.  It was hard for them to take when Jesus pointed out that a right relationship was the cause and not the result of good morals.  They wanted a religion they could measure in themselves and others.  They had great pride in their form of religion as they paraded it before others.

There are still many of these people around today.  They do not carry the label of being a Pharisee for the very term today is a negative characteristic.  But they parade their religious service and righteousness as badges of distinction for all to see.  They find great pride in their righteousness and compare badges with others.  Cock-a-doodle-do! 

"You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Matthew 23:26-27

A wise and good man came to see Jesus one night.  But he was not wise enough, nor would he ever be good enough to deserve the salvation of which Jesus spoke.  Jesus knew He was talking to a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee.  He was one who was trusting in his ability to perform the secondary aspects of religion for righteousness.  It was the same old story of the sun and the rooster.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again."  In other words, “You need a new heart, not better morals.”  We don't know, but we trust that the good and wise man understood.  We hope that he learned that his crowing would not make the sun rise.

O Righteous and Holy God,
Help us to understand what you meant when you said you desired a broken and contrite heart over all of our other sacrifices.  Thank you for the blood of your Son which covers our sin!  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Day at the Zoo

There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. Then God said, "Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens." God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.  Genesis 1:19-25

Friday was the day for a special outing with the grandchildren to the Ft. Worth Zoo.  Providing annual passes to the zoo is one of the best investments any grandparent can make.  Along with having an opportunity to be with the children in a somewhat controlled environment, the wonder you see in their eyes as they look at the animals is priceless.

While negotiating the crowds and keeping track of the kids, there was some time for a little animal gazing of my own.  As I looked at the array of animals on display, my mind recalled the passage above from Genesis.  The spectacular plumage of the fowls, the intricate markings of the deer, the assortment of furs, hoofs and feathers; all were amazing!

But what really captured my attention on this trip was something common but unique for all of the creatures...their eyes.  Each one of God’s creation has eyes suited to its purpose.  Some are small and intricate with bright colors surrounding them.  Others are soft and dark allowing them to blend in with surroundings for protection.  Some have large lids that close and cover their eyes while others have no lids at all.  On some, the eyes are scarcely noticeable; while on others they are very pronounced and prominent.  An owl was brought onto a stage and I saw the great size of the eyes that see at night capturing whatever light is available to see.  And God made them all!

My heart became involved with my eyes as I realized the uniqueness of God’s creation.  While some would look upon the mountain ranges and ask, “How can you look at this and not believe there is a God who created it?”  I saw the hand of the creator in the beasts of the fields.  It was amazing!

I was interrupted, however, by the demands of my grandchildren.  “Vandaddy! Can we ride the train?  Will you carry me?  Why (fill in the blank)?”  It was then I looked at their eyes and realized God’s lesson for the day.  They were each as unique and beautiful as any of God’s creation.  In their eyes I could see a whole world opening up before them.  God had made them with a purpose in mind just as He had all of His creation.  Yes, it was good.

God has made you in the same way.  Your uniqueness is a part of His plan for your life.  There is a beauty in every individual displayed through the intricate markings from the hand of the Creator.  Red, brown, yellow, black and white, we are all equally precious in His sight.  Celebrate your uniqueness today and the uniqueness of others!

Our Father and Creator,
Help us to celebrate the uniqueness of our lives and the purpose for which we were made.  May we also celebrate and respect others regardless of their race, color or difference from us recognizing they were made by the same hands that formed us.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday Reflections - A Day of Shared Belief and Mission

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:1-6

Sunday morning we focused on the 8 Essential Core Truths that we profess together as Baptist believers.   Following the times of worship, our church hosted the Parker Baptist Association Annual Meeting.  These gatherings both set us apart and drew us closer together.

Our core beliefs set us apart from others who do not believe as we believe while, at the same time, we are united with those who believe as we believe.  Many in our church are not aware of our connection with Parker Baptist Association and yet this is a vital union for the work of the ministry in Parker County.  And, what is that union based on?   What we believe together.

Some have not made the connection that how we believe is important to fellowship.  Paul constantly warned the early churches not to be swayed away from the truth by those who would come in professing a faith in Christ but leading them astray with false doctrine.  Many who cry for more unity and cooperation among “Christian” churches fail to understand that while we may profess the same Christ, there are great differences in our beliefs about the church, its mission and discipleship.  This is like saying, “All Americans believe in freedom and democracy.  Why don’t we just get rid of Republican, Democrat and Independent?  We can all get along.”  To throw us all together for any period of time would invite chaos. 

While many of the things that divide our churches and denominations are more political and missional than they are doctrinal, there are other things that are much deeper than how we function; they are about differences in the way we see God, Christ and salvation.  It would be easy for me to begin a listing of all of the ways we are different but, rather than speak of what separates us, I would rather focus on what unites us.  

The more we understand what we believe, the deeper our fellowship with those who are of “like faith and practice.”  The 8 Essential Core Truths we reviewed Sunday morning form a foundation for the development of trust, fellowship and ministry as we bond at a spiritual level.  As we unite around these core truths, we establish a bond unlike others in our lives...we are one.  Whether we gather with churches in our association or gather as a church body, we unite in our beliefs and our joint mission each trusting the other not to promote improper doctrine or practice. 

Today, be thankful for all who stand with you in defense of the gospel and in the work of Christ.  We are one.  Together we will stand for the truth revealed by God through the written Word and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Scripture to Claim:
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; Colossians 1:3-4

Sunday, October 23, 2011

8 Essential Core Truths of NSBC Bible Study

2 Corinthians 13:8
Over the past two years our Bible Study Leaders have discussed the following core truths that they feel are fundamental to our beliefs.  These have been adopted as central to anyone’s invitation to lead in Bible Study.  This is important to the Baptist faith and our belief in the independence of each body of believers.  Today, we join together in affirming these core truths.
The fact that these are not called “principles” or “beliefs” removes them from the realm of debate among men.  
They are called “essential” because they convey beliefs that are crucial to every person’s spiritual foundation and growth. 
They are called “truths” because they are perfect and flawless, having never been proven wrong throughout all time. Truth is not debatable.
These items stand alone as well as together as God-given revelations of His eternal truth revealed in Holy Scripture and proven in history and personal experience.   

Truth 1: God Is Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Truth 2: The Bible is God's Word - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Truth 3: People are God's Treasure - Genesis 1:26
Truth 4: Jesus is God and Savior - Hebrews 1:3 
Truth 5: The Holy Spirit is God, Giver of Spiritual Gifts and Empowerer - Acts 1:8
Truth 6: Salvation is by Grace and Through Faith Alone -
Ephesians 2:8-9
Truth 7: The Church is God's Plan - Acts 2:42-44
Truth 8: The Future is in God's Hands - Hebrews 9:27-28 

Friday, October 21, 2011

It Wasn’t Me…

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20
A month or so ago my five-year-old daughter Sydney began playing the cutest game with her mother and me.  We were all sitting in the movie theater waiting for the show to start when Sydney leaned over and poked me in the side with her finger, and then looked away toward her mother.  I looked at her and asked if she needed something.  Syd grinned coyly and replied, “It wasn’t me!”

Momentarily confused, I looked back at the slide show running on the movie screen.  After a few moments, I get poked by a little girl finger again.  “May I help you?” I asked Sydney.  She replied: “It wasn’t me!” and she began to giggle.  Then she started the same routine with her mother.  Poke poke.  “Yes?”  “It wasn’t me!”  Uh huh…  Truly, it was very cute and I only wish I had captured it on video.

But that’s enough about me…What do YOU think about me?
My friend Todd McCartney has a favorite saying that he will toss in after a lengthy bout of talking about whatever has been going on in his life, he’ll say: “But that’s enough about me…What do YOU think about me?”  It cracks me up every time.  I think I find it funny because all too often, we (myself included) allow life to become way too much about ourselves.  MY concerns.  MY worries.  MY needs.  MY opinions.  MY desires…and if we think about it, Jesus didn’t live that way.  Jesus life was all about OTHERS! And in proper living as a follower of Christ, I must live first for Christ Jesus, and through him – for others.  

It Isn’t Me…
In 1900, hymn writer Francis E. Bolton wrote the following words:
Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted; Not I, but Christ, be seen be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action, Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.
Not I, but Christ, to gently soothe in sorrow, Not I, but Christ, to wipe the falling tear;
Not I, but Christ, to lift the weary burden, Not I, but Christ, to hush away all fear.
Christ, only Christ! no idle words e’er falling, Christ, only Christ; no needless bustling sound;
Christ, only Christ; no self important bearing; Christ, only Christ; no trace of “I” be found.
Not I, but Christ, my every need supplying, Not I, but Christ, my strength and health to be;
Not I, but Christ, for body, soul, and spirit, Christ, only Christ, here and eternally.

This Robe of Flesh…
I won’t spend too much time beating myself up for the tendency to put myself first.  It is the nature of the robe of flesh that I wear.  We are born seeking for self first.  However, knowing that this is not the life Jesus would have me live, I will engage in that life long battle to crucify the flesh so that the spirit and example of Christ can live in me.  The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote the words of Galatians 2:20 above.  He wrote to encourage his reader to effectively die to self and live as if he had handed his body, his life, and his will over Jesus. …or as Francis Bolton wrote above… “Not I, but Christ.”

Prayer: “Lord Jesus, So often I make my life all about me.  Conflicts abound within and without because I perceive that somehow I’m not getting what I deserve.  Dear Savior, grant me the grace and power to live in such a way that my life is what YOU deserve.  Amen.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What's Your Perspective?

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known… 1 Corinthians 13:12
Perspective is everything.  But exactly what is perspective?  There are many definitions for the word perspective in the dictionary.   One definition defines perspective as: The state of one's ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship: i.e. “You have to live here a few years to see local conditions in perspective.”   That is exactly what perspective is, our IDEA of something based on how we see it.  

THE YIPOUNOU PEOPLE MAKE STONE FACES. But the faces look grotesque. The nose is too big and long; the mouth-too small. What is the point making such figures? Lay the stone face on a table. Look at it from table-top level. From that point-of-view it looks almost human. It is amazingly lifelike. You see, the Yipounou people make them to be looked at in that manner. You have to have the right perspective in order to appreciate them. 

One man puts out a pair of warning signs. Another hangs a red flag on the signs. Two others prepare the equipment. In a few minutes all four are busy painting a "stop" sign at the intersection. It is one of those stretched-out signs painted directly on the concrete. A child asks, "Why are the letters so skinny? I can hardly read them." The foreman explains that the letters were painted for the benefit of the approaching motorist-to him they appear well-proportioned. 

You must look at highway signs, native statues, man, and God with the right perspective.  Young people often fail to understand the "don'ts" laid down by their parents or authority.  But education and experience develop a higher degree of moral and logical perspective.  Along the way, they begin to understand the value in the rules and warnings.  This is what we call “wisdom.”  Until we grow to this understanding, the rules are there to protect us.

Isn’t that the way it is with God’s laws?  While they cannot make us right with God they certainly provide the best guide for living.  Paul spoke of the role of the law in Galatians 3.  
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law,
being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ,
so that we may be justified by faith. Galatians 3:23-24

As spiritual children, we did not possess the wisdom necessary to choose the right way.  It was the law which provided our direction until our “perception” of right and wrong was properly formed.  The “tutor” was provided until the child matured.  There are many whose lives have not benefited fully from the salvation they received because of their failure to mature.  To some degree, we all still need the warning signs to guide us.  We are all still growing in wisdom and our proper perception of life, relationships and God.  Paul spoke of this in Ephesians 4.

...until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, Ephesians 4:13-15

Jesus came to fulfill the law not to abolish it.  He is the perfect example of a life controlled by the Spirit and able to discern and obey God’s will.  We, however, still struggle with our own worldly perceptions and values against the Spirit.  Therefore, we can say with David..

O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalms 119:97
Loving God,
Thank you for protecting us by giving us your Word and your ways.  Keep us close to hear your direction and grow us in the wisdom of your Word.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Real Wealth (Part 2)

All of the protesting being done about corporate greed has prompted me to consider the place of wealth or poverty for Christians.  
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. James 1:9-11

… Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the LORD?" or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9

Wealth and poverty both can become long-term trials in the Christian life.  The scripture from Proverbs teaches us to pray that God would not place these trials in our lives, but James teaches us to accept them joyfully and to respond with enduring trust.  
To respond properly to wealth or poverty, we need to maintain a heavenly
perspective as to the temporary nature of our current material state
and of the exceeding glory of our eternal riches in Christ.

James contrasts the poor brother with the rich one, teaching us to think rightly about our material wealth or poverty.  The poor brother is reminded of the riches he possesses in Christ.  The rich brother is reminded that his earthly wealth is a fleeting thing that has no eternal value or existence. 

This exhortation is particularly timely for us who have lived in one of the wealthiest nations and times of human history.  The attack on the WTC and the Pentagon served as a reality check to show us that our material wealth is very transitory.  Our wealth, or even our lives, can be taken from us in a tragic instant of time. We need to be preoccupied with the things that will endure past the grave. 

There is a sense in which a poor brother is often spiritually wealthier than a rich one.  Riches can easily become a snare, as we become complacent and self-confident in our comfortable circumstances.  The impoverished brother may frequently be driven to prayer to seek from God the things he needs for his daily existence.  The wealthy brother, if he prays at all for his daily needs, is often half-hearted or superficial in his prayers — not seeing his desperate and immediate need of God's continued protection and provision.  

The wealthy brother needs to realize just how fleeting and perishable his riches are — that God could take them away in an instant — and thus think of himself as being just as needy and poor as the poor brother.  He "should take pride in his low position", knowing that his time on earth is short, that death strips us of our earthly wealth, and, once dead, he will be no wealthier than the poor man.  

So, who are the rich?  While some may debate this, the answer from scripture is that the rich are those who have more than they need.  That means most of us are considered wealthy not only in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes.  With that wealth comes responsibility. Do you remember Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler?

When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Luke 18:22

God had given him abundant wealth so that he could share it with those in need, but he selfishly kept his abundance for himself.  In so doing, he clung to his own resources instead of trusting God.  He displayed a selfish heart as well.  Is he really any worse than us?  
Scripture to Claim:
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Real Wealth

All of the protesting being done about corporate greed has prompted me to consider the place of wealth or poverty for Christians.  

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. James 1:9-11

We Christians can have some strange ideas about money.  This is not new.  Many centuries ago, Emperor Julian of the Roman Empire confiscated all of the property of the Christians so they could be poor and thus enter into the kingdom of God!  Down through the centuries many have held the mistaken notion that poverty and Christianity go hand in hand.
The earliest Christians were from the poorer classes in society.  At times in Christian history a vow to poverty has been part of a person's commitment to Jesus Christ. There are some who feel that “money is the root of all evil” and condemn the rich.  Others see money as the evidence of the blessing of God and elevate those who are wealthy.  The Bible does say "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." (I Timothy 6:10)  

However, the Bible does not attribute to material poverty a great virtue, nor does it declare one cannot be rich in material possessions and spiritual blessings at the same time.  James addresses this as he discusses the trials of life.  In James' understanding, both prosperity and poverty can present us with difficulties.  Either can lead to spiritual disaster without the God’s wisdom.

The problems of poverty are quite evident.  Without enough money, many needs are not met and many desires are not fulfilled.  When we are not able to buy for ourselves and our children the things we need (or want), it can lead to envy toward those who have more.  If this poverty lasts over a long period of time, it can create bitterness toward those who are able to do what we cannot do.  When this bitterness runs its course, it can produce self-pity.  Self-pity says, "We are poor because the circumstances of life are against us. It is someone else's fault."  This victim position is certainly a slap in the face of God.

The problems of prosperity also need to be recognized.  An abundance of money does not remove our troubles. In many cases, it increases them.  Abundance of wealth tends to give us a false sense of self-security.  Such self-security leads to a dependence on our money that causes us to forget our need for God.  (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)  We are tempted to believe our money will provide for us all the things we need.  

So, both poverty and prosperity can present us with troubles.  However, in most cases the temptations of prosperity are greater.  This is true today as it was in James' day.  Material possessions are transitory.  A person who depends on his riches will be like a colorful flower in the desert.  His life may be spectacular and colorful, but it will also be short-lived and he will discover emptiness (v.11).  Poverty in itself is not bad as long as we have invested our lives in God.  This will bring eternal rewards.

The haves and the have-nots; both have problems.  But Jesus is the great equalizer.  Both have a position in Jesus Christ which makes our material standing irrelevant.  Both have a position in Jesus Christ in which they can find peace, power, purpose, and fulfillment.  The ground is wondrously level at the foot of the cross.  In Jesus Christ all human distinctions are abolished and we are all made one in Him.  The lesson for the day is clear.  Don’t be deceived by the world’s value system.  

Scripture to Claim:
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  1 Samuel 16:7

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sunday Reflections

Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and praise is becoming. Psalms 147:1
What a special Sunday of “good ‘ol Gospel Music!”  There was foot stompin’, hand clappin’ and even a couple of loud “Glory” shouts as our “Gospel Band” led us in singing some old songs of hope, heaven and victory!  And then to return that evening for the incredible gospel concert led by Crimson River...well, let’s just say it was special!

It’s hard to find any more timeless songs than “I’ll Fly Away,” “How Great Thou Art” and “Power in the Blood.”  Watching the various age groups in the congregation, it was evident everyone was energized by the music.  Thanks to Lance Gibson for his assistance and creativity in giving us a “down home” feel to Sunday’s services.

Sunday night was another blessing!  The musicians were really talented but the spirit was incredible!  We are so blessed to have Crimson River based out of our fellowship.  The real blessing is in knowing that these guys (and, was that a girl I saw?) all love the Lord and sing from their spirit!  Rebekah Cook certainly added a special touch to “O The Blood of Jesus.”  Speaking of which...

Have you ever noticed how many gospel songs are about the precious blood of Jesus?  You may not be aware, but it is not “politically correct” to speak of the brutal and merciless crucifixion along with the spilling of Christ’s sacrificial blood.  It seems talk of the blood is offensive and “turns people off.”  But, for a believer, there is no sweeter song that touches our spirit than a song about the life-giving blood of Jesus.  Some tend to forget, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22 

O The Blood of Jesus
O The Blood, Crimson Love

Price of Life’s DemandShameful Sin, Placed on Him
The Hope of Every Man
The last lines of the chorus say:
What a sacrifice that saved my life, 
Yes, the blood it is my victory".

Powerful lines...especially the last...yes, the blood it is my victory.  The words of this song move believers to tears.  His blood spilled for me was crimson love; love that constrained Him to give His life for me!  This love poured out of His body.  He gladly accepts our shame and guilt.  He is our every hope because, in spite of our sin, in spite of our selves, He will bring us salvation.   The last verse of the song says That in my sin Yes, even then, He shed His blood for me.  What sweet, soothing words to a worn out spirit.  

Cancer Awareness Sunday was truly a special time as well.  The compassion and ministry to those in our fellowship who are dealing with cancer either personally or in their family is remarkable.  Our Cancer CARE Group is a marvelous resource for individuals from diagnosis through treatment.  As each group stood, it was overwhelming to see how many are impacted by this disease.  I am so grateful to all of those who take the time to look beyond their own needs to the needs of others!

My prayer for you today...
Father, as these my spiritual family go about this week, I pray that You will be gracious to them.  May their families have times of sweet harmony and may you bless them as they minister wherever you may place them.  May Your love and mercy emanate from their spirits into the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cancer Awareness Service

James 5:14-16

Of all the diseases that endanger and threaten us today there is none more prolific than cancer.  The personal battles individuals are fighting and have fought with cancer are worthy of our notice and support.  These battles do not just impact individuals alone, but families and communities that rise to the fight.  Today we declare our love and support for all who have been impacted.

The need of Acceptance when you have Cancer

Accepting can quench the fire of anger.  Otherwise, we live in frustration and anger.

I. COURAGEWe Honor Those Battling Cancer Today  Joshua 1:9

Synonyms: METTLE, SPIRIT, RESOLUTION, TENACITY mean mental or moral strength to resist danger, or hardship.

A Conquering Spirit

Fighting in the head is anger.  Fighting in the spirit is courage.

Courage is not without fear.

Courage on our part is boldness in the face of fear.

II. FAITHWe Honor Those Who Are Survivors of Cancer  Psalm 56:3

“If God brings you to it, then He will bring you through it.” 

The problem develops when we forget Who brought us there and feel we are the ones in charge. 

III. LOVE – We honor the Caretakers – John 15:12-13

There is nothing as beautiful as the loving, tender care of those who lay down their lives to stay with one who cannot move forward with them.

1 Corinthians 13:7 (Love)...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

IV. HOPE - We Remember Those We Have Lost – Romans 5:3-5

Hope has an innate sense of a coming blessing that is working itself out, slowly and with setbacks, but it is defining itself with purpose.

Hope for the Christian is the red blood on a cross against the blackness of sin and death.

It is only the eye of faith that can see past the open grave.

Our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

Some people hope…others HAVE hope. 

Real hope is not THAT you believe or WHAT you believe; it is in WHOM you believe.

Friday, October 14, 2011

One Tiny Part

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. Romans 6:6-7, 14

A few of you witnessed a rather difficult day in my life a few weeks ago.  My car had broken down and had to be dragged onto the bed of a truck and carried to the repair shop.  I had driven to the church that morning and parked in our front parking lot with no problems.  Later that afternoon, I got in my car and tried to depart only to find that the transmission was locked in ‘Park.’  Nothing I could do could get it shift into reverse…or any other gear for that matter.  I sat there in my broken car and savored the irony…the engine was running fine.  All that horsepower, yet I was completely immobilized.  
A day later, the mechanics at the dealership had my car repaired.  The service manager told me that it was a single nylon part…one tiny piece of plastic had broken and my transmission had been rendered powerless to move me anywhere.  A powerful machine, completely defeated by a hidden fragile part...

For All Have Sinned
Every one of us has frailties.  Our weaknesses to temptation may vary from one person to another, yet we all share a fallen sin nature.  Without the saving sacrifice of Jesus, we would indeed be without hope…without help.  

Walking across that same parking lot this week, I was considering the hidden fragile parts of the follower of Christ.  We tend to see ourselves as strong, and yet we are not.  We are vulnerable to the tendencies of our weakest parts.  What are those? Anger? Jealousy? Greed? Lust? Ambition? Addiction? Other areas? The list gets long quickly doesn’t it?  Were we to yield to sin’s call, our entire world could become affected…and infected. 

Imagine the irony of such an existence: All the power of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God available to us for daily living…and yet if one of those hidden fragile parts is allowed to take control, it all can grind to a halt.  And there we are: broken, needing to be mended…restored.  Because of this tendency, we are compelled to…cling to the cross.

Cling to the Cross
I’ve heard pastors preach of the ‘power of the cross’, and I do not suggest that they have done so in error.  Yet in truth, the cross itself was not powerful.  It was merely the instrument of Christ’s death.  It was two pieces of wood and a few nails…the cumulative effect of which was extreme human agony and eventual death.  

The true power of the cross was in Christ’s willingness to die.  He was obedient to the will of the Father unto death, and in dying, he became the worthy sacrifice for the guilt of sin…all sin.  By the grace of our Heavenly Father, by faith, we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul explains in Galatians 2:20:  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

We cling to the cross therefore, not for any redemptive power it has of itself, for it has none.  But we cling to it as a desperate reminder that there, by faith, the power of sin over us was cancelled.  As we read above in Romans 6:6, it was in the cross, by faith, that we died to sin.  

We cling to the cross, as it becomes the reminder of our own obedience to die to self that Christ might live within us.  We cling to the cross not in denial of our hidden, sinful nature, those vulnerable tiny parts, but because of them.  

Prayer: “Oh Lord, you know my every weakness.  You know my mind.  You know my ways.  As I live today, make me mindful of all you accomplished on Calvary’s cross, and compel me to live worthy of your great gift.  Amen.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sloths and Ants

Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, Proverbs 6:6

The slothful sloth is a strange animal that can only really survive in the tropical forests. The sloth has a face that only a mother sloth could love, and it is doubtful if even a slothful mother sloth could look with love on the rest of him. Sloths have short, flat heads; big eyes; a short snout; long legs; and tiny ears. The sloth's fur is coarse and shaggy and its hair grows toward its head because it hangs around sleeping so much. The fur is also the home of algae. So the sloth not only looks like the surrounding vegetation - he is part vegetation himself. Though it can move easily in the trees - upside down, and downside up - he cannot progress on the ground. The sloth is not a good example for a anyone who wants to accomplish something.

This description may remind you of someone around your house.  At some point in time, most teenagers resemble these creatures.  We struggle to find ways to motivate them to get up, bathe, stop eating junk food and get a job.  For the most part we succeed.  But, sadly, there are some who never rise to meet the challenges of life.  Their existence is limited to a wrinkled bed and eyes bulging from too much television or video games.  Attempts to move them are met with illogical rationalizations spoken with disdain and disrespect.  So, does scripture say anything about this? 

Loafers say, "It's dangerous out there! Tigers are prowling the streets!" and then pull the covers back over their heads. Just as a door turns on its hinges, so a lazybones turns back over in bed. A shiftless sluggard puts his fork in the pie, but is too lazy to lift it to his mouth. Dreamers fantasize their self-importance; they think they are smarter than a whole college faculty. Proverbs 26:13-16 MSG

Wow!  So I’m not the first one to have to deal with this!  The writer of Proverbs must have had such a person in his house.  His advice?  Tell them about the ant.

You lazy fool, look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two. Nobody has to tell it what to do. All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions. So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing? How long before you get out of bed? A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy--do you know what comes next? Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life, poverty your permanent houseguest! Proverbs 6:6-11  MSG

The industrious ant lives in a hole in the ground. The ant is a busy insect, and he accomplishes much. He is a hardworking creature, and he is willing to co-operate as part of a team. He works when the working is good, and he saves his product for hard times. He is fast; he is strong; he is smart. Above all the little fellow is noted for his industriousness.

Those who know my strange way of thinking will understand my next advice...Maybe we should put ants in the bed of the sloth and see if it motivates them to rise.  Start an ant farm in the chair they lounge in all day!  

It really is a serious dilemma for those who are dealing with someone who just can’t get going.  It’s sad to see a life wasted by slothfulness.  If you don’t think it is serious, consider that it is listed among the Seven Deadly Sins most likely to threaten individuals. Slothfulness is an open door to all kinds of sin.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, Some temptations come to the industrious, but all temptations attack the idle.  As harmless as it may seem, laziness can be the fertile ground for all kinds of trouble.

So, we should all beware the temptation to let idleness fill our lives and be diligent in encouraging our children to learn the value of personal responsibility and industry in life.  It truly is a valuable lesson.

Scripture to Claim:
In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23 

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