Monday, December 4, 2017

The Reason For Your Joy

It's that Season again when shoppers enter stores to the sound of bells ringing and voices everywhere from the crowds trying to find a bargain.  It is a time when many are buying for others as the tradition of gift giving at Christmas is in full swing.  The atmosphere is one of excitement and hope.  I have always greatly enjoyed the season of Christmas. Yes, even with all the trappings I still enjoy the season and all the festivities.  Then the big day arrives, the gift wrappings are spread across the house, feasting has ended, the crowds leave and a kind of depression can come on the scene.  Now a return to work and the routine is imminent and the bills must be paid.  Where did the joy, excitement and the hope go?  How could it vanish so quickly?  Are we really so shallow that our energy is controlled by superficial hype?  Now here is the really painful part.  What I just described is the condition of most Christians as well as the world who knows no Christ.  This observation demands a closer look at our lives and even the motivation of our hearts.  Many years ago a Pastor described a friendly man in a way I have never forgotten.  I have revisited his description many times as I examine my own life and the reason behind my motivations.  The man he described always seemed happy with a big smile upon his face.  He almost vibrated with energy and joy!  He said of the man, "he seems to be filled with unenlightened enthusiasm."  That would imply an outer excitement without an inward reason. The conclusion we must draw is that unenlightened enthusiasm leaves as quickly as it came and disappears with the decorations of the event.  In my lifetime I have watched as advertisement never stops from season to season.  There is always something we are told to celebrate.    Stores take down decorations from one season only to put up the new decorations of the next season.  It is now possible to live in a perpetual excitement, an artificial enthusiasm without any idea of why we feel excitement.  God has designed us to live from the inside and not the outside.  The outside can be artificial and relates to reason.  The inside cannot be be fooled.  The inside knows even when it doesn't truly understand.  The inside, the spirit man, is the abode of the Spirit of God.  The new birth through faith in what Jesus has done for us brings an internal inflation.  All that Jesus has is now on the inside and His Joy brings His fullness into man's emptiness.  That "Christ in Us brings the hope of glory!" As followers and disciples of Jesus we must maintain the friendship connection with Jesus throughout and above all seasons and events.  Isn't it sad that Christmas can actually become a distraction to our internal life.  When this happens our joy and hope suffers.  We may not appear any different from a lost world.  On the contrary, what a wonderful season to "shine".  This is our season to check our connections and make sure our true internal source is healthy.  We want people to see that we are different from the inside out!  Who knows, they might even ask about our difference?

1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...


Monday, November 6, 2017

Culture, Taste and God

Acts 10:13 13And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
I do understand  that this verse takes place during a time of transition from law to grace.  Actually grace had arrived at the resurrection of Jesus but I'm sure the culture was still reeling trying to adjust from law to grace.  In truth the Church is still trying to get it right!  From Peter's perspective to accept the voice as God's voice crossed religious lines but it also challenged his tastes and culture.  Someone called me one day and asked me a question about a big decision they were trying to make as a church.  As soon as the person asked the question my thought process was, "what will people think?"  The very first thing I thought was PEOPLE!  The subject of the question was nothing sinful or immoral but it would probably arouse some to cast instant judgement.  As I ran my mental search for a reason why they should not do the thing, the person asked, "do you know of a Scripture that says to do this is wrong?"  Ah, that brought me to a different level of soul searching.  Certainly there is a time that I should make sure I don't offend my brother.  Peter could have used that argument to avoid eating that which was unclean to him and in doing so he could have avoided obeying the voice of God!  We all know that if there is a clear Biblical precedent in Scripture, there is our answer.  Yet, as I pondered the question I knew there was no verse being violated.  My sole reason for wanting the folks to say "no" was because of what I felt other people would say or think.  I know talking about this leaves a lot of room for people to wonder how far I am going to take this!  Relax, I'm simply dealing with our leaning toward judging others because of our culture or taste.  We do it with our music tastes, our cultural bias and many other areas.  One day I heard a brother talking about a new worship song he was learning and he said how much it made him feel close to God.  I hate to admit this but my deep thought was, "I knew that song 30 years ago!"  Not only that but I immediately judged the brother as less mature than me.  We see a car with a license plate and we make a judgment about that person based on their home State.  We hear an accent and there we go again.  It's all sinful!  All too often our personal tastes and cultural preferences  have more power over us than the Word of God!  Now, you may be reading this and thinking that this doesn't apply to you.  I understand and appreciate that.  However, I have preached myself under conviction.  Next Time!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Knowing God Is An Up To The Minute Relationship

While God is a God that doesn't change, he is in the business of bringing change everywhere he is allowed to go.  You might ask, "allowed to go?"  Certainly God can go anywhere he wants to go!  Yes, he certainly can because he is almighty God.  Yet, from a relationship perspective he seldom goes where he is not welcomed and shown an ongoing loving hospitality.  It is so interesting and even a little embarrassing to men to read of the Church as the Bride of Christ.  We read of a day coming when there will be a wedding feast and a bridal chamber.  Even as I write this I pause and look off in the distance in discomfort.  Yet, I know it is true.  To me it speaks to my need to learn how to walk with Jesus and live with him much like I have learned to walk with my wife Teresa.  We are in our 50th year of marriage as I write this.  There have been turbulent years, joyful years, adjustment years and fulfilling years.  After 50 years our marriage is so wonderful...more wonderful than ever before in every way.  Yet it has always been a learning process and a dying process or we would never have gotten to this place of reward, joy and fulfillment.  There was a time when it looked like we wouldn't make it. During that time our problem was not God not helping us, it was my lack of cooperation with God's plan of change leading to today.  Having said that, that doesn't mean that we have now arrived.  I remember walking through some very hard times in our relationship.  There were times when we didn't really like each other and even love had to be examined.  Don't let me stun you but walking with Jesus as His Bride isn't a lot different.  Walking with Jesus isn't like a wedding banquet everyday.  Again, Jesus doesn't change but when you are walking with someone who is bringing change in your life it can get a bit difficult at times.  There have even been times when I might question, "do I really want to do this?"

As I look back over the last 50 years I see clearly that all that I have experienced was necessary and not simply a bunch of mistakes.  This is true in my life, marriage and my walk with the Lord.  There are times when you have to get your head and heart clear and ask yourself the question, "what is the right thing to do at this moment in time?"  Don't rush the decision and be honest with yourself.  Then, do the right thing.  Seek with all your heart to do the best thing, the righteous thing.  You next step won't be any easier necessarily but it is the right decision leading to the right next step.  One day as you look back on you life map you will see that it was not a haphazard journey but a Divine plan with a Divine destination.  Every one of those course adjustments may have been painful but yet they were necessary to get you to today.  The worst thing is to enter into a relationship of existing.  You can do that in your marriage.  I refuse to live that way!  You can do that in your relationship with Jesus.  I refuse to live that way!  Today make a fresh commitment to welcome the loving hand of God that promises even more change ahead.  Oh yeah, before I forget...quit asking why?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Do We Need The Supernatural Gifts In The Church Today?

There are two primary views concerning the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit today.  These two opinions are cessationism and continuationism.  Cessationism says that when the New Testament was complete there was no more need for supernatural gifts in the life of the church.  Continuationism teaches that those supernatural gifts never ceased since they were given at Pentecost.  One of the reasons given as evidence for cessationism, that God stopped using these gifts in the church after the canon of Scripture was complete, was because over time those primitive gifts were witnessed less and less in practice.  The most ardent theologians amazingly arrive at this conclusion with very weak, if any, Scriptural validation.  If you read many scholars you will find they will depart from Biblical proof and use as verification the ancient writings of "church fathers."  There is certainly another obvious reason as to why the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit waned after the first century church.  That reason is a loss of a "first love" experience mentioned in Revelation 2:4.  In Revelation chapter 2 we read that Jesus is affirming the testimony of the church in that they worked hard, they stood the test of persecution but they had "left the love they had at the beginning."  
When we weaken in our faith, we weaken in our practice.  I would suggest that a major reason supernatural gifts were seen less after the first century church was not at all because God was not intending them to be functioning but because of a faith and love crisis within the church.  When that happens it is very difficult for the next generation to rediscover what has been lost.  It has never been modeled or taught to them.  It is not presented to them as something to seek and often taught as not to be sought.  Yet, even among those who teach the supernatural gifts of yesterday are not needed in the modern church, they still teach about spiritual warfare.  They tell us how we must battle in the heavenly realm with demonic powers and principalities. Certainly the use of Scripture is essential in obtaining victory.  Yet, as Peter demonstrated in his ministry the Christian ministry help for the hurting must come from the internal spring of "such as I have."  It is Christ in us that is the "hope of glory."  Christ in us consists of the Life of Christ, the Words of Christ as well as the supernatural power and authority of Christ.  As we enter deeper and deeper into the last days we encounter an amplification of Satanic and antichrist activity in the earth.  No generation in history has ever needed the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit like this generation.  Why would God withdraw this power when it is needed most?  He did not! He has not!  There is written evidence in the second and third century of spiritual gifts and miracles still happening.  They never ceased but lukewarm Christianity quenched the Spirit.  There is a direct correlation between faith and spiritual gifts.  We prophesy according to our faith.  (Romans 12:6)

What is our answer?  We must return to a first love faith!  Jesus must become the focus of the Church even more so than mission or movement or reaching a generation.  As we seek Him He will be found.  When He is found in his fullness the Church will manifest Him in His fullness. When His Church manifests  His fullness the world will be saved, delivered from bondage and activated into like ministry.

"Yes, this old-time pow’r was given
To our fathers who were true;
This is promised to believers,
And we all may have it too." (Charles D. Tillman 1895)

Hebrews 13:8  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

Monday, August 7, 2017

For Glory and For Beauty

 Exodus 28:2 “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”

I am studying in the book of Exodus right now.  I was struck as I read this verse in Exodus 28:2.  I wasn’t able to move beyond it until I gave it some thought.  Why would the idea that God would do something for the expressed purpose of beauty surprise me?  Like some of you I was a part of a renewal movement during the 1960’s and 70’s.  It was birthed by a hunger to know God in a more intimate way than the forms and rituals of religion alone.  It produced a radical pursuit of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  That spirit of yearning, motivated by the Love for God, created, in some ways, a disdain for the more formal forms of worship.  There was a “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” approach to this new era of church planting and Christian practice.  It was reflected in the architecture and quality of our meeting places, the lack of grandeur in our spiritual gatherings and even the clothes that we wore.  In many ways it was a necessary departure from the old norms in order to discover a more vibrant worship lifestyle.  We placed our emphasis on knowing God personally and worshipping from our hearts.  It was all centered around the indwelling, active, motivating Holy Spirit.  I have to ask if something was missing from our renewal journey?  Probably not in the sense of that time as that approach made the main thing the main thing.  Yet, God is bigger than our revelation of the hour.  He is always larger and grander than our present revelation and understanding. Now back to beauty.  God loves beauty and values beauty.  When I read of the plans for the tabernacle and the detail given to the garments of the priests I see over and again that God cares about quality and beauty.  We have almost come to believe that if the Holy Spirit does it that it must be crude with no thought of beauty being involved.  However, the first time the Scripture mentions the Holy Spirit filling someone it relates to God filling the artisans with the Holy Spirit to skillfully work on His designs in clothes and buildings.  Certainly these are Old Testament instructions and we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit but that doesn’t change God’s taste, His pleasure and His quality in all he does and leads us to do.  That brings us to appreciate His Glory and Beauty.  I visited the Louvre in Paris last winter.  It made me aware of how much of the old art had a religious theme.  Many of them were anointed to create what the Holy Spirit led them to design.  The same is true in music and much of the Arts.  That doesn’t mean that all art and all music are good.  It does mean that we need to open our minds to a broader appreciation to the work of the Holy Spirit.  May we release the gifts already given to the Church by encouraging those around us to discover their God given gifts and talents and use them for His Glory and Beauty. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Have You Ever Seen A Miracle?

One of the most common questions I have been asked through the years is, "have you ever seen a miracle?" The short answer is Yes!  But then I wonder what generated the question.  The implication is that the person asking the question has not, or they don't think that they have.  You may not think that it matters in the world of faith.  It really does matter.  The foundational truth of Christianity is that the Christian life itself is supernatural.  There is a vast difference between joining a Church and becoming a Christian.  As a Church member I become a new attender, a rule keeper.  As a Christian I have become a new person.  The Apostle Paul describes it as becoming a new creation.  We struggle with the concept because we still see residual character traits of the old person and we are tempted to believe that we are still trapped in the old life.  The moment we truly repent of our old nature and ask God for a new nature He brokers a change of identity within us.  From that point on there is a war of identity, not in heaven but in our own minds.  Heaven knows our new identity and acknowledges it. Our names are written in the "Lambs book of Life" in heaven.   One of the biggest faith battles is the battle in our own minds.  Because the new identity or new creation happens the moment we ask God in faith, we have trouble believing it is possible with us.  We know us!  We remember the past and all our bad thoughts and evil deeds.  It can't be that easy.  Oh, it wasn't easy!  It wasn't easy for Jesus but He did the work once and for all on the cross as a sacrificial act for us.  However, we have to daily make the decision to believe that we are changed by the finished work of Jesus.  It would be easy to think that we are talking about mind over matter here. No, we are talking about a Miracle!  That's right, a miracle.  Every person who has ever become a Christian since Jesus died on the cross has become a miracle.  No miracle ever performed has come near to comparing to the miracle of you being made into a Christian.  It is an ongoing work for sure yet it is a completed work.  Romans tells us that we are transformed by the "renewing of our minds."  While we are a completely new creation we are still in process, we are in the renewing of the mind process.  The spirit man inside of us is a completely new creature and now our mind is gradually transformed to bring us outwardly in line with what has happened inwardly.  That means that you haven't just seen a miracle you are a miracle.  Keep cooperating with the inner miracle and you will continue to see and experience the outer miracle.   

Monday, June 5, 2017

Street Beggars

It is a difficult thing to see beggars on the street corner.  All that we say we believe flashes before our eyes and burns in our hearts.  I was raised in a hard working blue collar world that rewarded the industrious and penalized the lazy. More often than not when I see one of these unfortunates, I'm not moved with compassion but with indignation.  (Please don't write me to correct me as I already struggle with what is right!)  I often think of the words in Scripture, "if a man won't work, neither let him eat."  I see those asking for handouts and I study their appearance. Some of them are obviously well fed, smoking expensive cigarettes and have fat well fed dogs with them.  Then the inner war begins.  Are these folks con men and women?  Out on the streets taking advantage of our Christian compassion?  I have seen some reject food, refuse to work even while holding a sign, "will work for food!"  I have seen teams of them unloading from vans, working an area in the city and regrouping later to share their spoils!  My humanity wants to scream, "Get a job, you bum!"  Then as I drive away the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit begins to seep into my consciousness.  "How do you know the truth of this person's condition or need?"  They may be whole physically but crippled emotionally.  Then I am reminded that we might be "entertaining angels and not be aware."  Certainly there are professional beggars who learn to play upon our Christian conviction and conscience.  But what if our turning away from them has calloused our hearts to the point that we are now insulated against genuine needs or even angels?  The enemy has now positioned us into a place where we may be robbed of a "God event" in our future.   What a difficult dilemma!   I believe the Holy Spirit can reveal to us the difference between the real and the fake but how good are we at discerning in this way?  I'll leave you with words from the Bible commentator Matthew Henry who lived between 1662-1714: 

"It is better to feed five drones, or wasps, than to starve one bee."

 Matthew Henry

The Reason For Your Joy

It's that Season again when shoppers enter stores to the sound of bells ringing and voices everywhere from the crowds trying to find a b...