Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You can see Christmas coming from a mile away

    This time of year the thought of Christ's birth is at the forefront of most of our minds, especially when we are reminded by the popular phrase, "remember the reason for the season."  We marvel at how miraculous this birth was.  We breathe new life into this story we hear year after year.  Through all of this, the Old Testamant is rarely mentioned.  Few people come to grips that the prophecy of this awesome and amazing birth was foretold all the way back in Genesis 3:15, (God speaking to the serpent in Eden) "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel."  Much later, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words centuries before God became man: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).  I remember hearing a story of a pastor going around to his staff and asking them to read verses he had written down without citing the verses. The verses were as follows:

   "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

What verses are these?  What book are they from?  If you guessed any book in the New Testament, you would be wrong.  These verses are from Isaiah, Isaiah 53:9-12.  When the pastor asked who these verses were talking about, every staff member said, "Jesus," but when asked where the verses came from all said a book in the New Testament.  How amazing is it that Jesus' story does not start in a manger, but in the garden of Eden?!? 
    When man first plunged into disobedience, evil entered into humanity, and we were forever changed.  Many struggle with God because they do not understand how a good God can allow evil and pain to continue.  The answer is simple: because He loves us.  He could have put an end to evil even before the forbidden fruit was plucked from the tree.  When saying that God should put an end to evil, do not forget that by saying that, you are also saying that you would have Him put an end to you and me.  Man is evil, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  If God puts an end to evil, then all of humanity is doomed.  God must punish sin, and the punishment of sin is eternal death.  In order to carry out this sentence, God loses the very people He loves.  Just as one man led all of humanity into rebellion, another must reconcile us.  But who?  Who among us does not deserve the penalty of sin?  Only a human who is also God would be capable of bearing the weight of the sins of all humanity.  This is God's amazing and beautiful plan.  A plan that has saved you and me from the punishment we surely deserve.  One man saved us, and this man was Immanuel, "God with us."

God Bless

Monday, November 29, 2010

Guard My Heart

    I do not know if you face the same struggles.  I do not know if you have the same doubts.  I do not know if you worry about the same things.  I do not know if you have the same longings.  I do not know if you are........like me.  The one thing I do know is that I trust that sharing my innermost thoughts, doubts, and struggles as I continue to strive to be ever closer to our almighty Father, I have one hope: that it will help you in your walk. 
    I recently reached a point where I felt comfortable in my walk with Christ.  I felt comfortable in my role in my Christian community.  I felt comfortable in my life.  Then......something unexpected happened.  A small voice inside me kept saying that something was missing.  It kept telling me that there is more than this.  It kept telling me that there is much more to experience.  At first, I felt this to be my body craving something more, and pushed it away as sin, but it was persistent.  Then, I tried to silence the voice by becoming more involved in church, school, social interaction, etc...  This, muffled, but did not silence the voice.  I prayed night after night for an answer, for help, for something to make me realize what I needed to do.  While reading my Bible, I came across Proverbs 4:23 which says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."  I read this verse again, and again, and again, and again.  My heart.  That's what was wrong.  I looked for more verses concerning heart and found a TON of references to heart in Scripture.  The main verses that really stood out to me were Proverbs 21:2 "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart," Matthew 15:8 "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me," and most of all Luke 10:26-28 "'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?' He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live.'"   First, Proverbs tells us that God is most concerned with our Heart.  He knows your heart.  He knows your true heart's intentions.  When you accept Jesus as your Savior, you accept Him into your whole being, but mainly into your Heart.  Jesus even states in Matthew that while certain people may honor Him with what they say, their true hearts are not for Him.  Finally, the most profound of all, God says to love Him with ALL YOUR HEART.  "All" is a very large word.  It encompasses everything that could ever possibly be thought of to do with the subject with which it is being used.  Every facet of your heart should be for God.  Love for Him.  Complete and total love for Him.  Now here is the kicker......is that easy to do?  No.  Personally, I am working everyday to love Him with all my heart.  I know I haven't reached that point, but I am trying everyday to get there.  Jesus offered in John 7 the key to the Christian life.  He says "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (37-38).  I first responded to Jesus for the longing in my heart.  Now that I reached this point of confusion, chaos, and constant, ever present spiritual warfare, I realize that my heart is my refuge.  My heart is my greatest asset.  My heart....is His.  I now pay attention to my heart, and I guard it with as best I can.  I guard against complacency, I guard against anger, I guard against anything that will hurt His heart.  I am trying to get from obligation, back to desire.  I desire to know Him.  I desire to serve Him.  I desire Him.

God Bless

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Glory Days

    The old Bruce Springsteen song "Glory Days" might seem to only apply to people in their 30's to 50's who look back on their accomplishments in high school or college.  Whether it be sports, relationships, status, or anything, they live in the past.  One of the lines in the song says, "...but time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days."  Now apply this to your walk with God.  Apply this to the Great Commission.  How have you been thinking and talking about these two subjects?  Do you sit around and talk about the "Glory Days?"  Are you living in what God has done for you in the past?  Are you a long time member of a large church, and sit around talking about how hard the struggle was to start and grow the church?  Are you stuck in your walk with God, and your spreading of His gospel? 
    Paul's missionary work is far reaching and extensive.  Many of the places he went had never heard the gospel, and some did not want to hear it.  From Antioch to Rome, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to far and wide.  Although Paul did not forget those churches he helped establish, he did not remain in his past accomplishments through Christ.  He was always dreaming, he was always moving forward. Anatole France said, "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe."  Paul was a master dreamer.   In Acts chapter 16, Paul has a vision while in Troas of a man in Macedonia (which is across the Aegean Sea) pleading with him to come and help the people of that city.  Of course, he goes to Macedonia and continues to spread the gospel from there. 
    This is not to discount what God has done, this is only a warning to not become like the Church of Laodicea.  Do not be lukewarm, and do not stay in past accomplishments.  Our dreams must be greater than our memories, or we will fade into the past.  While past blessings and accomplishments through Christ give us stronger faith and grow our relationship with Christ, it should not end.  We should never reach a point of contentment.  The Church of Laodicea were lukewarm Christians.  They were content in their relationship and their duties.  If you reach this point, you stop growing.  Not only do you stop growing, but you have a very real danger in actually going backwards in your walk.  Our constant longing to be closer and closer to God is what keeps our mind on Him.  Our focus on the Holy Spirit's guidance and counsel is what keeps our mind on things of heaven and not of earth.  Do not live in the "Glory Days."  Make every day a "Glory Day."

God Bless

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Authentic Love - A Continuation of Holy Kiss

    I feel led to continue the discussion on interation in the Christian community:

   How many churches have you attended where you felt "processed?"  You walk in, receive a program, receive a few greetings, take your seat, hear worship music, hear a message, and then are herded out like cattle of the building all the while hearing "we're so glad you came!"  When did worship become so impersonal.  When did gathering together with our brothers and sisters in Christ become so routine and so seemingly meaningless?  Too many times do we get an intellectual explanation of Love and following Christ, and not even physically touch one single brother or sister in Christ.  No hand shake, no embrace, no......Love.  A worship service shouldn't "process" people.  This isn't a waiting room in a Doctor's office.  This is a Christian community of believers who love each other.  Why then is it so hidden from view?  Why are we afraid to show our love?  Why aren't we authentic in our love?  Our love should be evident.  It should be bright.  It should be OBVIOUS.  It should be a beacon of light not only in worship, but also in the community.  Our interaction with others should make them feel welcome, not only into the church, but into our lives.  Care for people.  Show them you care. 

God Bless

Holy Kiss

                The history of the holy kiss is very interesting.  In the time this verse in Romans was written, it was (and still is in some Mediterranean and other instances) common practice for men to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek.  The “holy kiss” reference gave it even more meaning to represent the unity in Christ.  Over time, this practice became an embrace and kiss on the forehead, then kissing the same cup as a symbol, then a “kissing object,” then passing a piece of wood down the seats of the church for the congregation to all kiss, then a piece of paper, and eventually nothing. 
                I say this as an analogy.  I realize that we probably aren’t going to start kissing one another, or that we even should.  This is an analogy of interaction in the Christian community.  The holy kiss deteriorated and eventually disappeared.  Now I realize this is also due to cultural changes over time; however, our interaction within the Christian community should not disappear. 
                When someone wants to have someone to talk to, where do they go?  When they want to find someone that will listen to everything that they say, someone who will not tell everyone they know, someone to be there for them, where do they go?  They will likely go to the local bar.  There are drunkards there, but most are there because they are lonely.  They receive attention at a bar that they do not get anywhere else.  The local bar has replaced what the church used to be.  The church used to be a place where everyone could be open and honest with one another, where everyone could be “real.”  A place everyone could share their sins and struggles and receive support and love.  What church have you been to where this happens?  It is rare, if it happens at all. 
                I am reminded of the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9).  Zacchaeus felt unloved until he met Jesus.  He realized the unconditional love, and felt comfortable confessing all of his sins and struggles.  This action should not stop.  The Christian community should be a place where we always feel comfortable confessing our sins and struggles to one another.  This is where we should receive acceptance, support, and love—unconditional love.  The love should not depend on how we portray ourselves, what laws we follow, or how “Christian” we seem.  The love should be there no matter what. 
                Believers and non-believers alike feel this is impossible because of the judgmental and legalistic state of the Christian community in general.   Some would say that it shouldn’t be viewed as general, but it should.  The Christian community is all inclusive.  There is no escaping this fact.  There are fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, and everything in between, but the world sees: Christian.  Christians need to spend less time SHOUTING what is wrong, and more time SHOWING by example what is right.  LOVE.  Let the world see Christ in us. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Patient Enemy

    I'm sure most of us have heard the strategies of Satan.  How he tries to deceive, how he comes to destroy, how he wants to rule, and how he wants to accuse.  When have you heard about his main and most successful strategy?  The strategy I am talking about is patience.  Satan is perfectly content in taking it slow.  This is not to say that he does not work fast, as in the example of Eve, but then again it is.  He plants a single doubt in Eve's mind, and when she furthers that thought, he continues until his goal is attained.  He doesn't have to win the entire battle, he just needs to win today.  He will attack a little, then retreat.  This strategy is aimed at wearing us down, little by little.  Pretty soon you wake up one day and don't realize how you got to be where you are. 
    Satan will attack a little one day, move away, come back the next day, do a little more, move away.  Come back a week later, do a little more.  He is incredibly patient.  Why is he content attacking you this way?  Because it isn't as noticeable.  He would rather be successful than quick.  If you notice his attack because it is huge and important, you will resist him with Christ's help, but if it is so gradual that you can barely detect it, then it is very difficult to know what is happening.  So, what you would have resisted upfront, might become a reality over time. 
   So how do we protect ourselves against this gradual change?  What must we do to guard against his almost imperceptible attacks?  Well, sometimes we can detect it ourselves.  We get away from our time in the Word of God daily.  We become cold.  We become a little callous about our thoughts, even our tongues.  We know we're becoming a good candidate for Satan to tempt us.  Other times we may be blind to it and that's why having someone in our life, someone who can spot these signs, someone gracious enough to point them out to us-- is in many ways invaluable.  A spiritual running partner is what the pastor at Epic Church calls it.  Someone you can count on to tell you the truth no matter what.  Someone who cares about you enough to tell you something, even though it may upset you.  A Christian brother or sister who will be there for you and help you grow closer to God.  Of course, you should do the same for them, and anyone you develop that relationship with as a matter of fact.  I have a group of about 5, and we all watch out for each other.  We aren't afraid to tell each other God's truth and show Scripture to each other.  This protects us from the gradual attack of the enemy.  If you don't have someone like that in your life, start looking TODAY. 

God Bless 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stained Glass Masquerade

     I heard something on the radio this morning that isn't really addressed in many Christian communities.  A woman called into the station and said that one of the main reasons she doesn't attend church is because she doesn't feel welcome.  She said she doesn't feel welcome because everyone in the church seems to have everything together and figured out, and they seemingly never sin, or do not seem to struggle with sin.
     This sparks a major reflection moment.  Do we put up a "false front?"  Do we act "perfect" at church and around others so that we look like Christians?  Why do we feel we have to hide our temptations, our fears, our struggles?  I think we do put up a false front, whether we intend to or not.  I don't anyone likes to admit this fact, but that does not change the truth.  This, obviously from this woman's observation, does not only affect the Christian community.  The lost also pay attention to how we interact and want some way to relate to us.  How can we expect to relate to the lost if we do not SHOW them that we are ALL sinners just like we keep saying?  I realize there is also argument from Scripture that you aren't to do anything that could cause your brother to stumble, but that isn't what I am referring to.  I am talking about hiding even little things that we do everyday from certain people to be seen a certain way.  We all do it.  We even hide other things from EVERYONE so that we are seen in a certain way by everyone around us.  Should we hide the actions/thoughts/struggles?  We should let others know what we are struggling with so that like Scripture says we can "encourage one another and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  If our brothers and sisters in Christ do not know what we are struggling with, then how are they supposed to help?  We also need to be open and honest with the lost.  If we hide our struggles and trials from them, then it is no wonder that a new believer is surprised at how difficult it is to struggle with sin.  It also does not help that the Christians around them seem so "perfect." 
     The main point of this is to be humble to everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike.  Being humble does not mean you grovel in front of others and constantly down yourself for your shortcomings.  God says that being humble means you are free from pride and arrogance.  You know that in your flesh you are inadequate, yet you also know who you are in Christ.  Our challenge this week from Epic Church was to read and pray over Romans 8.  This is beautiful description of God's love for us, but it is also a description of how we should treat others.  We are ALL free in Christ.  The chains are gone, why put them on in front of other people?  Let us stop trying to walk in our own personal power and portrayed sinless, self-controlled life and walk in the power of God's Holy Spirit.  Be honest with everyone about your struggles.  James 5:16 says to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Let us all be open and honest with everyone, so that Christ may be evident in our lives through all things.  Let everyone see the transformation, instead of trying to slowly transform behind a curtain and come out "perfect" on the other side.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Christian Knowledge of Nonbelievers

    There was a recent quiz posted among a few friends on Facebook that was being used by news outlets as a picture of religious knowledge by different groups of people (quiz can be found here: http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/).  The quiz itself is comprised of questions of religious nature spanning everything from Christianity to Judaism.  I took the quiz after seeing some of my friends' scores and I made a 100%.  Now I don't say this to be boastful, but to add to my point.  The story associated with the quiz states that the Atheist/Agnostic groups (groups were separated by beliefs) were the highest scoring individuals that took the quiz.  The question is: why?  Of course, from a statistical standpoint, one could say that the surveyed group is not a true representation of the population as a whole, but is that really true?  How many Christians do you know that could make a decent score on a quiz of this nature?  How many could make a decent score using simple questions straight from the Bible? 
    My main realization was that atheists and agnostics spend much more time in study of religious items in order to defend their position than Christians spend reading, studying the Bible, and praying to spread the Gospel (which, by the way, is the great commission).  I was atheist for 13 years.  I denied the Truth I knew, but refused to accept.  Not only did I deny this Truth, but I also studied feverishly to defend my position.  Strange isn't it?  Atheists and agnostics feel it necessary to be more studied in religions in order to defend their position.  Why do you suppose that is?  I say this not as a generality, but from personal experience.  Myself and the people I associated with that were atheist or agnostic knew quite a bit about the Bible and other religions and continuously studied more and more.  Looking back now, I can see why I did it.  Was it because I knew I would be challenged constantly and wanted to back up my belief (or lack of)?  Sort of.  That was definitely part of it, and to be honest, especially in Alabama.  However, I think the main reason I did it was not to prove that God didn't exist or to back my position, but rather a search for Him.  I guess I wanted to come across something so much to prove myself wrong.  So that I would have no choice but to relinquish my pride and accept what I wanted so much.  I didn't know I wanted it at the time.  I remember seeing someone full of the Spirit and who loved God, and wanting the light in their eyes, wanting the joy in their heart, wanting the purpose of their lives.  I studied religion to find God. 
    Some of my friends who are Christians have asked me how they should approach their atheist or agnostic friends with the Gospel.  The truth is, I would just be with them.  Show them by example.  Let them see the light in your eyes.  Let them see the joy in your heart.  Let them see.....Christ....Christ In You.  That is how you approach them.  Also, talk to them.  Calmly.  If they want to discuss religion, Christianity, God, or anything, then discuss it with them.  I remember as an atheist trying to talk to Christians experiencing many rejections.  This was in part to the Christians fear that I would convince them God did not exist.  They were so insecure and doubtful in their faith, and all I wanted them to do was convince me that He was real.  That He did love me, and show me how to get that light in their eyes, that I did not have.  Does a study like this disturb me and make me lose faith in the Christian community?  No.  On the contrary, it gives me faith.  It gives me faith that the Atheists and agnostics are searching for God.  They are searching and all we have to do is show them He is there, and He loves them.  We show His love by loving them.  Show them you care, and show them that YOU are there for them, and they will see Christ in you.  One thing we have to realize is that we may not see the result.  We may not see them accept Christ.  Do not be discouraged.  God's time.  God's plan.

God Bless

Monday, September 27, 2010

Testing Me

    I got up to my alarm clock at 4:30 AM and started getting ready for work.  About midway through my "getting ready" routine, I heard the sound of thunder from outside the house.  I basically did a mental shrug of the shoulders, confident in my driving ability and lacking in fear of storms in general, and went on about my morning.  There have been few times driving in the rain when I have actually questioned my ability to keep going.  I see multiple people on the side of the road waiting for the rain to let up, but I press on in my stubborness and perceived invincibility.  This morning was different.  It began to rain so hard on interstate 565 that I could not see the road in front of me, much less any car that would be brave enough to lead this blind driver.  I actually felt fear for the first time in this situation.  I, of course, calmed myself and restated my firm belief in my driving ability.  Upon reaching my destination, I went about my routine of grabbing my bag and going into my office.  It wasn't until I sat down that the thought, feeling, and utter shock set in: I wasn't paying attention.  I completely ignored everything around me and pressed on so I would make it to work on time.  Would it have made a difference if I would have been a few minutes late? No.  Why did I do this?  Even more worrisome is during the whole experience, I never once asked God for protection or asked Him if I should pull over. 
    I think this is an analogy for our lives in general.  I know it is for my life.  At Epic Church we are doing a 60-60 experiment where we are reminded every 60 minutes, by a watch that beeps, that God is with us.  This is wonderful and definitely has helped me develop a closer relationship with God; however, I think one of my main problems is not only knowing that He is with me, but also that He is in control.  He is in control and I am NOT.  I constantly rely on myself to fix things.  From relationships to finances, I only trust myself with taking care of things.  It is so hard just to let go, follow His voice, and trust that He will provide what He wants me to have.  I didn't stop in the rain or even try to assess the situation because I was trusting myself like I have so many times before and like I do every single day. 
    Now I give this example and point this out not to give some magnificent fix or tool to remedy this issue, but to point it out in my life so that I can see it and openly express it.  I need to trust Him with EVERYTHING.  Not just with blessing my food, not just with leading my study of His word, not just with major decisions He has put in front of me, but EVERYTHING.  How do I plan to do this?  Give up.  I know that sounds strange and in complete contrast to what one might exect, but it is the only way.  I will give everything up to Him.  I will give up trying to control my life.  I will give up trying to trust myself to fix things.  I will give everything to Him so that, WITH Him, my life will be controlled.  I will give everything to Him so that, WITH Him, His will is the focus instead of my own.