Monday, November 28, 2011

Great. How?

     "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:1

   That is an amazing explanation of faith. It tells us not only what faith is, but also how it should be considered.  A lot of us will have no problem admitting that we are lacking in the faith department. We have a hard time entrusting our most prideful parts of our lives to Him. Though, sometimes, we do have moments of unbridled faith and love. These moments usually come in dark times in our lives when we believe we need God's help the most. Other times, these moments occur when we get answers to our purpose and talents in this life. Once we realize God's promise, and we make that jump to have faith in that end, it is easy to believe that it will happen. We have no problem seeing the end result. For example, you realize you have talents in medicine and pray for guidance. You receive a blessing letting you know that medicine is where you should do the work of God and spread His word. You are on your way to becoming a doctor. We have no problem believing that the end result will occur, and it is important that when we realize God's direction and guidance in our lives, that we keep our mind focus on His will. Our problem occurs after this faith in the end result occurs. We tend to ask God "how?" Now this, in and of itself, is not the problem.  Trusting God with every facet of your life and asking His guidance in all you do is a good thing, and is a vital part of walking with God. Our problem becomes our impatience. We want to rush the process. There is a saying that "Faith in God includes faith in His timing." This perfectly relates to our inability to follow God's process to His will for our lives. We want to take shortcuts, or we want to be more than He has asked us to be. This is where pride, and self-glorification can really get us into trouble, and possibly put us in danger of the enemy taking God's plan for our lives and turning it into a negative, if we let him.  We also are tempted to ask Him for or believe things are promised that are above and beyond the end result. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, "God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done." This is, unfortunately, the trap we fall into when we let our minds wander to our desires, instead of His plan.  Hebrews 11:8 says, "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."  Abraham had no idea where he was going or what to do, but he still walked, and followed God's plan for his life. This faith, not only in the end result, but in every step of the process along the way is what is required. No explanation is required, no further instructions, no need for over-analyzing every little detail, just faith in His promises and surrender to His will.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Blame Game

    We all do it. It is so easy. "Its their fault." Ah, the infamous "they." "They" do a lot of things, apparently. Whether "they" have a name, or they are a government group, city council, school, etc...  We love to blame others. Anything bad that happens in our lives, anything that goes wrong, the fault is never our own. This is, unfortunately, something that is incredibly easy to do, and often times the people we blame don't even know they are being blamed.  We even, arrogantly, blame God. Instead of taking responsibility for our sin and disobedience, we blame God.
    There is someone that we blame more often than anyone else. Someone that gets the glory for things that do not go our way. Someone that is easiest to blame, and lets us relinquish all responsibility for our actions and sin. The enemy. I have heard Christians blame the enemy for everything from a flat tire to their family pet dying. This is not to downplay the very real spiritual warfare taking place every single minute of every single day.  There is an enemy, and he does come to lie, kill, and destroy. One way he does this is to obtain glory from us. By blaming the enemy, and constantly talking about how mad we are for what he is doing in our lives, we are giving him the glory. We are fueling the fire of his delusional chance at victory. This not only gives the enemy glory, it allows us to rid ourselves of any perceived responsibility for our own sin.  
    So how do we fight this urge? By giving the glory to God in all things. The enemy only has the power that you and I give him. If we are focusing on giving God glory instead of blaming others for anything and everything in our lives, then we take that power away from the enemy. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you  know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."  Resist the devil when you are discouraged.  Don't give up on God, He has never and will never give up on you. Stand firm in the faith. Look beyond your circumstances and know that Jesus obtained your victory over all trials when He gave His life for you.  The enemy has no power because he has already been defeated.  Take comfort in that you are not alone in this. Know "that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He is the one who has the solutions to your problems, so there is no need to blame anyone else.  Focus on giving God glory in all things. In trials He teaches us and produces perseverance (James 1:2-4), and through His Son He produced victory for us. Trust in Him.

God Bless

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Apologetics Almost Always Annoys

      Have you ever had an epiphany?  You know, to suddenly realize something and to see it clearly? This has happened to me recently about the subject of apologetics.  First, for those of you who are not familiar, apologetics is the branch of theology that is concerned with the defense of Christian doctrines. In other words, apologetics is the practice of answering questions that challenge our faith.  In this manner, it is how we answer questions about our faith to non-believers, differing faiths, etc…  There are multiple scriptures to back up the practice of apologetics, for example 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.”  I am not going to bash apologetics, I realize it is necessary and good; however, its use is not always necessary, and definitely not always good.  I love talking about scripture, the gospel, and God as much as anyone, but sitting around debating all day really doesn’t get anything done, does it?  Too many Christians use apologetics as a way to save the lost, or consider it spreading the gospel.  Unfortunately, this is not what is happening.  Some of you may not have had parents who used this phrase, but mine did: “A child should speak when spoken to.”  This is how apologetics should be used.  You are a child of God, and when you want to affirm and give someone the reason you have hope in Christ, be sure you have been spoken to first. Give an answer when there is a question.  The further I dive into apologetics when talking to a non-believer, the less I see it matter.  I am in no way saying not to share your faith, by all means share the gospel of Christ, but don’t consider it your life’s purpose to prove it. My main form of apologetics is my life. I want others, non-believers and believers alike, to see my life and know that there is joy, light, and purpose in all that I do.  Too many times, intelligent Christians will lean on apologetics as sharing the gospel instead of simply caring for someone.  How many chances have you missed to honestly listen and care about someone because you felt the need to justify your faith, even though it was never in question.  You have to ask yourself, are they really challenging my faith? 

God Bless

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

By The People, For God

Focus is often held on the role of a pastor, the role of the elders, and the role of the church, but very little focus is pointed toward the role of the congregation.  A community of believers, like any family, will have problems, but it is how these problems are handled that really matter.  Also, how the congregation operates together is vitally important to the growth of each individual as well as fulfilling the great commission. 
First, the congregation must be focused on the whole community of believers, not focused on the pastor.  Sometimes the pastor receives too much praise when things go well, and too much blame when things go poorly.  The pastor’s role is important, but he should be protected from every good or ill will in the congregation.  In other words, talk about the church and its mission as a whole body of Christ, rather than the pastor’s.  This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 12 best when unity and diversity in the body.
Second, the congregation should be truthful with their pastor and elders, as well as offer grace.  If there is an issue within the church or anything the church is involved in, it is the congregation’s responsibility to speak up to the pastor, staff, or elders concerning the matter.  No one will know there is a problem if there is not anyone who will speak up.  This also needs to be followed with grace.  If there is a problem, that is not a reason to spread the issue around the church, nor to let anger get out of control when voicing concerns.  We are all under the grace of God, every single person. 
Third, the leaders are not meant to do all the work. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).  The congregation has just as much responsibility for furthering the body of Christ and accomplishing the great commission as anyone else.  This not only includes acts of service, but also even lifting the pastor, staff, and elders through prayer.  This is one of the most vital responsibilities of the congregation.  Pray for the church as well.
Finally, this is a sore subject among many congregations: conflict.  When there is conflict within a congregation, it can cause major rifts and ultimately damage many members.  One of the main things that can happen is that conflict can give the enemy a foothold to enter into the situation and turn many away from God.  Most believe that the pastor, elders, and staff have the responsibility of resolving conflict within the congregation.  This is, however, not the case.  The first responsibility falls on the congregation itself.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we have a deep spiritual connection to each other.  Our relationships are one of the main examples of how our relationship with God is doing.  There are multiple verses stating specific things we must do within the congregation for conflict resolution.  Matthew 18 is very clear on this issue, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…”  The first part of that verse expressly points out the responsibility of the congregation: handle it among yourselves.  Too many times this is forgotten and the pastor or others are involved before any attempt is made to resolve the issue with those actually involved.  This also leads to backbiting, which can spread like a disease across the church and give the enemy a tool to use to lead them away from God. 
  The congregation has a heavy load to carry within the church.  The body of Christ requires every member to be present and focused on God.  No member is dispensable.  Each member needs to understand how valuable he or she is as an individual, both in the eyes of Jesus who is the head of the church, and also to the rest of the body.  Those congregations and pastors who can sustain one another will be blessed because they are deeply rooted in the life of God.

God Bless

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Membership is Discipleship

           I am going to preface this post as being somewhat controversial.  Some of you may disagree with me, and that is okay. I want a discussion on this subject, if for nothing else than to make it known.

           The growth of Christianity has been long measured by church membership.  Christ's call to discipleship has been stressed, but has not affected the church (or group of believers) as a whole.  In the first century of the church, discipleship was the basic orientation of the church; it was its purpose.  The good news is that it still is the purpose, however far we have strayed from it.  Many churches have struggled to stay open, restructured, and even closed their doors due to little or no growth, membership apathy, and sporadic church attendance.  The issue at the center of these problems is: purpose. The "mission" of the church has been skewed so much as to make it near impossible to have a unifying calling for all to follow.  BUT there is a unifying calling: discipleship. The spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ: The Great Commission.
          I have brought up this subject to talk about another issue within the church.  The neglecting of church members under the guise of progressing the church.  Unfortunately, many churches leave the God given mission of the church in order to pursue what they believe to be the next "unifying mission."  From this, lines are drawn, emotions run high, and people simply fall through the cracks.  Large churches have a major issue with this simply because of the amount of people involved in the church.  Small groups are designed to help each member grow, and to "keep the church small."  This works in some cases, but what about the real MISSION of the church?  What about the real PURPOSE of the church?  Growing as a Christian in faith, relationship, and understanding should coincide with discipleship.  This mission should be at the center of everything the church does.  Although I hate this analogy, it is the one that best fits: a church should be like an organization.  The mission statement and vision should stay the same no matter what the strategy is.  If the strategy does not align with the mission statement and vision, then it does not need to be pursued.  The strategy should also be reevaluated regularly to make sure that current operations still align with the original mission and vision.  For the church, this means that anything the church does should align with God's purpose, mission, and vision for the church: discipleship.  In order to do this, we must CONSTANTLY consult our mission statement and vision: God's word.

Monday, May 9, 2011


                I return to work today for the first time since April 27, 2011.  I pull in the parking lot, grab my bag and head into the building.  As I cross the threshold the images of devastation and the faces of those in need are fresh on my mind.  My heart aches as I climb the stairs to my floor; I don’t want to be here.  This feeling has nothing to do with dread or dislike for my job or profession. This feeling is due to the deafening cries of what my eyes have seen and what my heart yearns to serve.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I have felt and seen 1 Peter 4:11 in action, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”  My spirit feels low as I sit at my desk and strain to remember the password to log into my computer.  People start to arrive; they ask everyone if they are okay and if they had any damage.  Everyone has conversations about the events over the past week.  Now, the work day resumes, normalcy starts to return to my environment.  But I don’t feel normal.  I don’t feel the same.  I feel changed by the rush of love I have felt over the past week, and I feel it overflowing onto everything.  How can I return to my normal lifestyle while every fiber of my being is pulling me to help?  The answer is: I can’t.  Why? Because from tragedy, God has produced not only an opportunity for the church to BE THE CHURCH and get off of the pew, go outside the four walls and SHOW God's love, but also the opportunity to share the gospel with so many who desperately need to hear it. In our service yesterday, a victim of the tornadoes that was helped by Christ followers gave his life to Christ. That, in itself, is the solemn voice of an almighty God that His love does prevail over all.  Why is this so powerful? Because, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-11).  Why does this matter? Because, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:35-40).  We are not saved by serving, we are saved for serving.  The main reason we don’t serve is selfishness.  We don’t have the time or energy to serve others because we are preoccupied with our own agendas, dreams, and pleasures.  God is far more interested in why you serve others, rather than how well you serve them.  He is always looking at your heart, serving willingly and eagerly out of love for Him.  Jesus gave us an example by washing His disciples’ feet.  Paul wrote to “serve one another in love.” If we serve others out of love, this IS the love of God being shared among His children.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).  Jesus is the Lord of our lives, and serving others is His example to us.  This is why I cannot return to how I was before.  I have felt the love of God poured out on me and everyone around me, and my desire for Him is growing stronger by the day.  You want to experience this? Get off the pew.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being A Witness

                What does that mean?  Not only what does it mean to Christians in general, but what does that mean to me?  How do I “be a witness?”  Many Christians confuse “being a witness” with “bearing witness,” or “witnessing.”   In bearing witness, you testify what you have experienced in your walk with Christ, and His healing power in your life, and possibly what you have seen in the lives of others.  This is the definition of testifying.  The definition of witness is different.  The actual definition of witness is “one who publicly affirms religious faith.”  Now I realize there are definitions for law, and also general definitions to the word “witness,” but for Jesus, this was the only definition.  Matthew 5:14-16 states this plainly, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  We are to live and our lives should show Christ’s love to all who see us.  This is how to “be a witness.”   To be a witness does not consist engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.  Does this mean that the Great Commission is negated?  No, it does not.  We are still commanded to “bear witness,” but we must first be a witness in order to bear witness.  1 Corinthians 13:1 says,” If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  How can we expect to bear witness to something that is not evident in our lives?  Paul even takes this notion one step further when he explains, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).  This is often the part of witnessing that often goes unnoticed.  As Christians, we cannot expect to spread the gospel to a lost and dying world when we do not represent the very thing we teach.  This applies to pain, suffering, temptation, good times, bad times, all of the time.  In everything we do, good and bad, God’s glory must be the “city on a hill” that cannot be hidden. 

God Bless

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stress Management

When I was 22, I read a book about managing stress.  Although I wasn't a believer at the time, it was a tremendous help to me and has been up to now.  This is what I remember from the book (I am unable to remember the name of the book, which, is stressful *smiles*).  I have added some Biblical realities to the methods discussed in the book.  I hope this can help someone be able to better manage stress in their life.

The definition of stress is actually a reaction to a person, event, or demand.  Stress management is defined as the ability to maintain control when situations, people, and events make excessive demands.  There are a few things you can do to better assess the situation and be more able to handle stress.  The main thing you must do before you do any of these methods is to take 5 minutes and breathe.  I know that sounds like a long time, but trust me, it helps.  Set the timer on your phone to go off in 5 minutes and just sit down, breathe, and focus on clearing your mind of everything.  This calms you down and allows you to look at the situation more rationally.

Prayer is one of the most weightlifting methods for relieving the bonds of stress.  Pray without ceasing. 

 - First, look around.  See if there is something you can change or control in the situation.  If there isn't, then there really isn't any reason to worry or stress about it because there isn't anything you can do anyway.  You just have to pray and have faith in God to work all things to your good.

 - Set realistic goals for yourself.  If possible, reduce the number of events in your life to lessen the load that has been placed on you.  The best way to do this is to prioritize everything.  List out all of the things that are stressing you out and number them in order of importance, 1 being most important, 2 being the next, etc...  Once you have done this, list the REALISTIC consequences of not completing each task.  After listing the consequences think about the list from a love standpoint.  Think about how each task relates to someone you love.  After doing this, 9 times out of 10 the importance of tasks will change.  Change them and make a new list.  Always remember to pray and put God above all else.  Relate your list of priorities to scripture.  Are the top things on your list what you should really be focusing on?

 - If possible, remove yourself from the situation, even if it is only for a few minutes. This allows you to calm for a moment.  This is a perfect time to pray (of course, all the time is a perfect time to pray). 

 - Selectively change the way you react.  Don't do too much at one time.  Start by picking one thing, event or person and focus on changing the way you react to them.  Focus on changing your reaction to positive rather than negative stressful reaction.  Relate the situation to scripture. Is there someone in scrupture that has struggled with a similar situation?  How did they react?  Was their reaction positive or negative?  

 - Change the way you see your situation by seeking alternative viewpoints.  ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THEM.  Open your mind to alternatives and listen to how someone else sees your situation.  

 - Avoid extreme reactions.  Don't fly off the handle immediately, don't jump straight to hatred, don't immediately fall into depression.  Focus on scaling back your emotions so that they don't overtake you.  You cannot function properly and rationally if you are a slave to your own emotions.

 - Get enough sleep.  This is an extremely important thing to do.  No matter how you have to rearrange your schedule, be sure you get at least 7 hours or more per night.  Make a routine before you go to bed.  Do the same things every night to help you get yourself in sleep "mode."  Brush your teeth, wash your face, breathe and clear your mind, and pray.  

 - Work out.  If you are feeling super stressed, then work out.  Focus that anxiety into physical activity, whether working out, playing a physically demanding sport, or cleaning, or whatever.  This will release endorphins and will allow you to better approach the situation afterward.

 - Avoid self-medication or crutches.  If a stressful situation arises and you go straight for the alcohol, don't.  Whatever habit you have or whatever is your gut reaction to stress, don't.  It just furthers this compulsion and addiction.  Although this might seemingly relieve the stress, it is only making it worse for later and also making you dependent on something else other than God. 

 - Manage the effects of stress.  Don't overwhelm yourself.  Focus on one stressful factor at a time, and work until you have the ability to control your reaction to this factor, then move on to the next.  Prayer through this process and reading scripture references on how you should deal with the situation is best.

 - Try to "use" stress.  If the stress is unavoidable, then try to channel it into something productive.  Use the nervousness you feel to propel you into further application towards the result.  

 - Be positive.  Negative thoughts are like a disease, they take over your mind and if you let them they will be a part of every thought you have.  Give yourself messages as to how well you can cope rather than how horrible everything is going to be.  Stress can actually help memory, provided it is short-term and not too severe.  Stress causes more glucose to be delivered to the brain, which makes more energy available to neurons.  This, in turn, enhances memory formation and retrieval.  On the other hand, if stress is prolonged, it can impede the glucose delivery and disrupt memory.  Create good memories of how you think everything will turn out, and the stress will be positive rather than negative.  Focus mainly on faith in God's love for you.  Trust in Him to be your mighty Father and Lord over your life.

 - Finally, this is perhaps the most helpful method.  Do something for others.  Doing something for others gets the focus off of you and your perceived problems.  Not only will you feel accomplished, but seeing someone else's situation might help you see yours in a new light.  

God Bless

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Common Church Mistakes

   Over the past few weeks, my discussions have revolved around church and the role of the church.  I have been studying and reading on this subject, and have realized some of the most common mistakes churches make.  I have discussed some of these previously, but here they are all in one place.

   The first and one of the most common is embracing the building.  A lot of churches are greatly distracted by their desperate need for a building.  They believe a church cannot be a church unless they have this great "house of God," complete with steeple and maroon carpet.  The New Testament emphasizes a church "not made by human hands," but instead made of of people.  People are themselves Temples of the Holy Spirit and a church body is comprised of a group of believers, plain and simple.  The actual meeting place is completely irrelevant.

   Another common mistake is to be confused about tithing.  Biblical mandate for tithing is an Old Testament law and was intended to maintain the Jewish Temple system and support the Levitical Priesthood.  The New Testament church neither taught it, and they also did not practice it.  I realize this may cause some contention and major disagreement, but read on before you disagree completely.  The Christian Church did not mandate tithing until the 7th Century.  Over 700 yeas with no tithing.  If you read the New Testament, the offerings in the church were freely given out of love, not as a mandate for tithing.  Some even gave more than a tithe and sold everything they owned and shared it with those around them.  Tertullian, in his "Apology" in the 2nd Century confirms that no offering was taken out of compulsion but:

"Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering…to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old."

   It wasn't until Constantine, that the clergy were paid for their services for the first time in Church history, and the payment was provided by the Roman government, not by the Christians themselves.  

   Another HUGE mistake churches make is ignoring the poor.  There are over 2,000 verses of scripture in the Bible that speak of God's heart for the poor, and that we should love and bless the poor among us.  Deuteronomy 15:11 states, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  A church community should be active in their community helping everyone and showing everyone Christ in them.

   Still another mistake many churches make is over-emphasizing the role of the pastor.  The pastor was not the head of the church in the New Testament.  The word "Pastor" only appears once and non of the epistles to the churches are addressed to the pastors, they are addressed to the church, the people themselves.  Christians of the New Testament Church could not point out one man as their "Pastor."  They could not even point out a priest.  This is because everyone understood from the Apostles that they were the Priesthood.  The people are the Priesthood.  

   Finally a mistake churches make, especially in larger churches, is yearning for political power.  We cannot "Christianize" our society by legislating our Christian values.  The New Testament Christians lived under an oppressive government, and were killed and persecuted on a daily basis.  Instead of trying to reform the government, they obeyed God's word and loved their oppressors.  They did not verbally abuse people with a sinful lifestyle, they did not form a coalition or a lobby group, they did not even pick up a sword and fight back.  They simply loved the people around them.

   Churches should focus more on the people that make up that body, and showing Christ to the whole community through love.    

God Bless