Pastor's Corner

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Sharing Your Big Table

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Luke 14:12 “And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

This is one of the less convenient, and not so popular teachings of Jesus. Everything about this directive from the Lord screams it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, awkward, and possibly a risky command to follow. We set up our homes for our comfort, our convenience, and our ability to come home and relax. There is no sin in this, it is just what we do. This command would most certainly upset the balance of this priority in our lives. Nevertheless, this is something Jesus said to do.

Jesus calls us to reach outside of our comfortable lifestyles, and extend a hand to those who are among the outcasts, the rejected, and the unwanted people in society. As Americans we have big tables, meaning we have tables that are able to be shared because we have more than enough to live every day, even by American standards of life. We know it, the whole world knows it. We do not contend with extreme poverty (living on less than $1.60 a day) in our nation, we deal with relative poverty – compared to Bill and Melinda Gates we are all poor.

As Christians, we are a part of the legacy of a kingdom where Jesus said to invite the outcasts and rejects to our big table. Yes, this is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and very messy – but we belong to a compassionate God whose legacy is caring for the outcasts and rejects when no one else will. You can start as many believers have, by sponsoring a child through great international relief agencies like Compassion International or by supporting any other number of amazing agencies working with LIVE58. Maybe volunteer your time at a local homeless shelter, or perhaps work with a local agency feeding the poor. If you are setting aside money to give to your local church, perhaps you could start setting aside some of your money to specifically help those in need as well.

We have big tables, Jesus said to share them. We have the chance to be a part of a great legacy. 

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The Tale of Fools Who Shipwrecked Themselves

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And in the end… time will tell the tale of fools who shipwrecked themselves.”

Politics in America is at an all-time low – at least from my view as a man in his mid-fifties. And what is worse, Americans have never been more absent from the political process while politicians are recklessly tearing the nation apart. At any given election, imagining even half of the population showing up to vote would be asking a lot. Although have voting for some popular reality TV show, and more people make their voice heard than at a national election.

What has happened? For the most part many Americans have disengaged because they are so tired and disgusted with the whole political process they have simply checked out. Others have given up hope that anything they do will matter, so why bother.

As for the rest, well, they are at war with each other over political agendas, ideologies, and power. Blue states, red states, right wing, left wing, it doesn’t matter – they are two wings on the same bird of political corruption. And sadly, these are the folks who are all over the media shooting their mouths off and not listening to anything unless it reinforces their political position.

Proverbs 18:17 “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.”

                       

If we could just listen to each other, stop shouting our slogans about gun control, immigration, and healthcare, we might actually get somewhere. Americans all basically want the same things, but to listen to the pundits, we are preparing for civil war. No American, whether for or against gun control, wants to see another shooting like the recent events in Oregon. No American wants to see babies being torn apart in the womb, or born alive only to be killed so body parts can be harvested. No American wants excessive taxes levied to pay for aid here or abroad which accomplishes little or nothing. The list is large, far larger than what we disagree on for what is best for America.

But how do we get there? We stop listening to the people on camera who are encouraging the conflict, and start listening to each other. We talk like rational human beings and come to some viable solutions. And if possible, as one voice, we tell our national leaders to lead or get out of the way. We tell our national leaders they no longer speak for the nation, so represent us, or get out of the way. We stop listening to the media who are only trying to tell us what to think, and demand they return to actual news coverage that is not tainted with bias. But it all starts with listening to conversations which begin with the right subjects, rather than combative rhetoric which has done nothing good for the nation. If not, well, God help us as we run our ship into the rocks and ruin what started out as the greatest political experiment the world has ever seen. 

 

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Never Meant to Go It Alone

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We have this image of the loner; they are strong, confident, independent, and capable – always capable. In film these people are often made heroes who know when to show up and save the day, and then disappear again into the sunset. There is something romantic and idealistic that seems to attract us to this.

The trouble with this image is that like all fantasies, the ugly realities are never included. The loneliness, the empty solitude that leaves you aching inside, and the various insecurities that got them there in the first place is never considered. Some people go it alone because they have bought into the fantasy, others because they struggle socially and fall back on isolation rather than risk being with others. Over the years I have seen some people who are very prideful, and because they think they can do it alone, or no one else is good enough to be around, they stand alone. Some folks have been hurt, so they have retreated to the secure place of not getting hurt again found in isolation. But from the beginning, this is not how God made us.

Genesis 2:18 “Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone…”

When God created humanity, He created us as relational beings. With Adam, God brought Eve, but as civilization grew, marriage was not always the end result of this idea. But the need to live in relationships is essential, it is at the core of how God made us. Over the whole of creation, God proclaimed it is good. But of the man alone in the creation, God said, “it is not good…”

As believers when we begin following Christ and are born-again, we are born into the family of God (Ephesians 2:19) and we are given a place as members of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27) We also have a command in the book of Hebrews regarding “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) We were never meant to go it alone. I realize this can send shivers up the spine of anyone who hates being in a group of people, any size group of people. I also realize if you have been hurt, this can sound overwhelming. But if you are alone, or are trying to go it alone, you are not where God intended. God has called us to community, a holy and sanctified collective of His people. Not perfect by any means, but His broken and redeemed community of people.

Maybe it is time for you to get back to church? Maybe you are attending a church, but you are keeping your distance. God says, “this is not good.” Get into a local church fellowship, get involved with other people’s lives, and serve as a member of the community. This is where God wants you. It’s going to be great!

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Understanding Faith

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Faith is a powerful thing, and it is capable of leading us into realities we might otherwise miss. But many people misunderstand faith. Faith is not blind, and faith is not trying to convince yourself to believe a lie. Staring at the weight of evidence against an idea or a truth claim, and yet choosing to believe anyway, is not faith. Believing a lie and calling it faith, is pure foolishness – the height of abandoning reason.

Believing the impossible or the incomprehensible is where faith brings us when we encounter a God who declares He loves us so much, He would die for us. Faith embraces the reality of His love despite knowing how absolutely unworthy we are. Faith believes and internalizes the love of God to such a degree we react regarding what we have brought into the depths of who we are. Faith does this, it brings action because we have encountered a reality which requires action. We receive His love, abandon our self and selfishness, and commit to following Jesus Christ with our whole life because faith has taken in the incomprehensible truth of God’s love toward us.

Lots of people believe lies all of the time. Lies give us permission to do as we please, enslave us with our permission, ruin us and the relationships we hold dear. Yet, many of these same people will not have faith in God because if they believe there is a God, they will be accountable to Him, and must take action regarding God as a reality. You see, faith is not blind, God calls us to reason with Him (Isaiah 1:18). Faith works within the real world, enabling us to relate to the Creator of everything who says He loves us (John 3:16) – believing His word and His promises to us. Faith strengthens us in those times when all does not seem well, by faith we trust God is still working on our behalf and we continue to move forward.

I have learned that faith means trusting in advance, what will only make sense in reverse.” – Philip Yancey

Faith is powerful, because faith is placed in One who is worth our faith and trust – God.

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Zeal, Faith, and Blind Fanaticism

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There has been a lot of talk about Islam in more recent years, and for good reason. The level of fanaticism which is represented by its followers is troubling to say the least; a fanaticism exhibited by murder, rape, torture, and more. The media in its attempt to temper attitudes toward Islam have continually promoted the idea of the existence a “moderate” which supposedly dominates the whole of Islam – it is the idea of a “kinder and gentler” Muslim. But because the same media continually propagates fear about Islam in their news feeds, displaying the worst of its radicals, many people do not buy the moderate idea.

Fanaticism is more than just zealousness, it is blind and raging, unable to be contained. Those who are fanatics come in many forms; ranging from the sports fan who has painted up their body and face and screams at the sporting event of their choice, to the religious fanatic who would just as soon kill an opponent as bow and worship their chosen deity. This religious type of fanatic more often than not, is overcompensating for their doubts, trying to quiet them by wild actions so the doubts will stop troubling their soul. Christian theologian Paul Tillich says this, “...history has shown that the most terrible crimes against love have been committed in the name of fanatically defended doctrines.” ― Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Tillich is not ignorant of such fanatics arising even within the Christian Church, he knows history. But such fanatics who rise within the Christian faith are not followers of Christ, they have latched on to something which they believe makes them right and provides them a platform for proclaiming others wrong – it is opportunism and arrogance of the worst sort. Jesus, the most humble of all of humanity is used as tool for the arrogant.

“Think of people you consider fanatical. They're overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It's not because they are too Christian, it's because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, emphatic, forgiving, or understanding- as Christ was... What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.” ― Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

The overzealous church member is often the one you see crash and burn down the road because they were overcompensating for their doubts, using Jesus as a platform for their ungodly ambitions, or simply trying to gain some attention. Commitment to Christ should be genuine and involve our whole being. Following Christ should be from a repentant heart seeking to draw close to their savior, not wondering how they can make a big splash. Paul speaks of some folks he knows who have a real zeal, but they hold it in ignorance, and because of this they miss the will of God and His righteousness. (Romans 10:1-3)

Zeal for God is good, blind fanaticism is not. Be careful to have zeal according to knowledge, in this way you will follow Christ with a heart of integrity rather than being at risk for being the next religious zealot hurting everyone around you. May God makes us His instruments of faith, truth, and compassion. 

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Getting Fit

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After my recent visit to the hospital for my scheduled angiogram and stent placement, which was not needed after all, I had to take a few days and rest. But last Monday I started slowly back to my regular exercise. Today I walked 5.40 miles in 1:31 minutes with an average pace of 16:54 miles per minute. Pretty much my regular pace so I feel really good despite a little chest pressure during the first mile or so. Since all of this began nearly seven years ago when I had to have my first artery stent placed, I have learned a lot about health and disease.

Many of the issues I have personally are the result of genetics, I inherited them from my family line such as diabetes and heart disease. No matter what I do my body produces too much cholesterol so I will be on medications to control that the rest of my life. The diabetes I figured was coming sometime since everyone in my family has it. So at least it waited until I was 56 to show up.

Nevertheless, apart from family genetics, if I had been more conscious of my health and being fit, I could have prevented some of the issues I have now. Eating right, not starving and not some weird diet, and regular exercise are amazing tools for keeping your body from picking up various diseases and health problems. This requires learning new habits, training your tastes buds for new things, and getting up and doing something. How effective is the exercise? On today’s walk my blood sugar levels were at 164, which is high for me – but after walking the 5.40 miles I checked again, and they were at 121, a much better number.

1 Timothy 4:7-9 “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.”

I am finding a better balance of physical training, and spiritual training now for my life unlike any other time in my life. The longer I stay alive and I am physically fit, the longer I can serve God with my life. And that, is quite appealing. How about you? Get fit; physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

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Political Blindness and the Media

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As I watched the Republican debates on CNN the second week of September 2015 via the internet, I noticed something that needs to be awakened in the candidates and the public. The mainstream media is manipulating them so wildly, they are becoming talking points against themselves and the message they should be presenting.

Over the weekend, Senator Lindsay Graham claimed Ben Carson does not understand Islam because he said he would not advocate a Muslim to be president. Whether you agree with Carson or not, is not the point. You see, the point is what Ben Carson answered is now the primary talking point of the media regarding Ben Carson – not his campaign issues and talking points. Carson would not have talked about this, except the media started the conversation. But, once they got him to say what they hoped for, they have seized the opportunity to beat him up over it ever since.

Further, Donald Trump was asked about Obama being a Muslim, which as it turns out, according to MSNBC, was Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign who started the rumor Obama was not a Christian. And here is the connection to the questions being asked of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and all of the candidates. The media starts this stuff, and then turns around and criticizes the folks who are answering their questions – they bait the candidates, and then tear into them for their answers.

Coupled with this, mainstream media also manipulates the information being pimped over the airwaves to accommodate their agenda. For example, NPR last week allowed Arizona congressman Ruben Gallego to lie about the videos exposing Planned Parenthood for their brutal and murderous activities regarding babies in and out of the womb. Gallego said, “There is only one video and it was highly edited…” about which NPR did nothing. By doing nothing, they pimped one more lie to the American public they are trying to manipulate. They would like to say the same thing, but they know it is not true. But allowing the congressman to say it and then remain silent, they have said it without saying it. The agenda is not a mystery, but the manipulation seems to be continuing while folks miss the obvious of what is happening to the candidates, and the public.

Time to wake up and see the manipulation! No more lazy soaking in whatever the media is propagating, candidates and the public alike must stop falling for this garbage. You should anticipate the media is lying to push an agenda, imagine nothing else. A misinformed public is more useful than a correctly informed public, but a correctly informed public is powerful. 

 

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Don’t Miss the Moment

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I remember the first time I saw her, what a moment in time… all I could think was a prayer, “God, could I date her?” She was beautiful, and now after thirty-sex years of marriage she still is. I am so glad God let me date her, and then let me marry her. A year later we had our first child, a beautiful little girl, what an amazing moment that was. While life as we knew it came to an end having a new baby in the house, it was worth it to have this incredible little life with us. She would be the first of four children born to us, all of them incredible, each with their own personalities and unique mannerisms.

Those moments in time present themselves to us every day. But it is entirely too easy to get so busy we miss some of the most important things which are right in front of our eyes. Or we get so caught in fear, anxiousness, and the struggle of the moment we never stop and enjoy the moment before it passes. Even as you are standing there in that moment, and you know you should stop and take it all in, the momentum of everything that is happening seems to be carrying you away instead.

That moment when you both realize you love each other, or the first time you come home from work and your child runs to you so excited to see you and give you a hug – these are amazing moments. Watching your child walk for the first time, or learning to ride a bike without training wheels, seeing them graduate from high school or college, or seeing your sons in a military uniform for the first time – those are incredible moments. They do so many things that make you proud as a parent, that catch your heart and push a tear of joy to your eyes. Life brings you so many moments like these to take in, and which make up what is your life.

Ecclesiastes 11:10 – 12:2 “So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. 12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them"; 12:2 before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain;”

So, with such opportunity in this life, so much to enjoy now while you can, don’t waste your life with bitterness and anger. Put those things away from you and enjoy all of those amazing moments God gives you. And one last moment to consider which the writer of Ecclesiastes mentions, remember your Creator. That moment when God created everything with just the word of His mouth, that moment when God took on human flesh and came into the earth to redeem His creation with His own blood, and that moment each day when He calls to you to spend some time with Him in prayer or the study of His word – don’t miss those moments either. 

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Thought and Action

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As they look at some event on a college campus or in the streets of the U.S. folks ask, “What were they thinking?” In response sometimes I say, “They weren’t thinking.” because it looks obvious that what we are witnessing is mindless destructive behavior. Other times, it seems really clear that what we are witnessing is the result of how someone sees the world. Here is a case in point from Chuck Colson.

“For some time now, I’ve been telling you that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that provides us with a rational way to live in the world. It’s the only worldview that we can live with. We simply can’t live with the logical outcomes of other worldviews like secular naturalism, new age-ism, or Freudianism. And thanks to the daily news, I’m never short of material to prove my point. A group of mostly female students is suing Yale University for allowing “a sexually hostile environment” to exist on the campus. The women, of course, have a point. After all, when the frat boys are allowed to parade around the old campus chanting “No Means Yes,” or to hold up signs that read “We Love Yale Sluts,” I guess you could say that’s a sexually hostile environment. But may I ask a question? What did you expect?” – Chuck Colson, BreakPoint

So much of what we are seeing on the daily news is just this, a worldview in action. Everyone is appalled by the murder of police officers, but when society loses respect for authority, then makes allowance for lawlessness for the sake of being politically correct – this is the natural outcome. When fathers are absent from the home, and there is no security or healthy role models to follow, “What did you expect?”

All worldviews are not equal, and not everyone sees the world in a healthy or virtuous way. Then, what is worse is there is a cycle at work. Society breeds these ugly worldviews through media and marketing which for example, degrade women and cast off a sacred view of life in general. Women are not worthwhile human beings in popular music, they are “ho’s” and “bitches” to be beaten or used for sex – something reinforced in cultural trends. But society and its mechanisms are created by the people within the society. The both are feeding off of each other, and at some point, it becomes rare when something virtuous is found in the cycle.

Matthew 15:18-20 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 "These are the things which defile the man..."

Examine any particular worldview, follow it to its logical conclusions, and you’ll discover whether we can live with the consequences. Be sure you are holding on to a healthy and biblical worldview. Live out that worldview, and encourage others to join in refusing to comply with anything less. Only God can redeem humanity, our worldview, and society – and through Him, we can make a difference in our world. 

 

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A Tale of Two Postures

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While being asked to perform her duties as a county clerk representative, a woman refused to execute the paperwork for a same-sex marriage license. She claimed it was against her personal convictions as a Christian, so she therefore could not take care of the paperwork.

"My conscience will not allow it," she said. "God's moral law convicts me and conflicts with my duties." – Kim Davis, County Clerk

Now, everyone knows the laws have been changed in the United States, based upon the Supreme Court ruling. So Ms. Davis’ actions as a representative of the state of Kentucky were not correct, despite her convictions. She was not a Christian Church representative, she was a state worker being asked to perform her duties as a state representative. While I appreciate her views on same-sex marriage, as a state worker she is responsible for fulfilling her duties. If she was no longer capable of performing her duties, she should have made this clear, and either resigned or taken another position. The law of the land is what it is, and until it changes, Paul makes it clear we are to obey the law.

Romans 13:1-2 “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

So while I think we are facing some issues regarding the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage which will require engaging in civil disobedience, this is not one of them. As a state representative she has an obligation. She is not in her private world, she represents the state as the county clerk. What she did was posturing, she is putting her attitude and physical being on display to make a point.

Then, Ms. Davis was arrested and taken to jail for contempt of court. The local authorities determined to jail Ms. Davis for failing to obey the court ruling. She could have been removed from her position, she could have been suspended, but instead she was placed in jail. So, the government is posturing as well. They too are trying to make a point with their choice of actions.

Christian civil disobedience is based in the book of Acts.

Acts 5:29 “But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.”

The apostles were being told by local authorities they could no longer publicly preach in the name of, or about Jesus Christ. This is an example of proper civil disobedience and I will go to jail if the government tells me I cannot teach what the Bible says about same-sex marriage, homosexuality, heterosexual adultery, bestiality, or any other ungodly form of sexual behaviors and beliefs. But if I have a job that requires me to fill out some paperwork for a same-sex marriage license as a state representative, I only have the choice to resign or be reassigned. I do not, as a state representative, have a biblical position for civil disobedience. Perhaps this is the spark to get this fight under way, I do not know. Nor do I know Ms. Davis personally, so I cannot address everything involved in this case. But I can say there will be plenty of opportunities to go to jail in the coming months and years; I encourage you to be sure you are engaging in civil disobedience based upon the right understanding of Scripture.

I realize this sets me at odds with some folks. I do not know everything and I am willing to be corrected. If you want to talk about this, be kind in your comments. 

 

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What if it is the End of the World?

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Over the last couple of weeks I have been receiving messages about how it is the end of the world via emails and newsfeeds, how about you? There are also a couple of well-known Christian personalities who are saying the Judgment of God has begun on America. Then, this morning I received a notification that a former U.S. Congressman is saying the economy is going to collapse this fall 2015. (Oh, and they told me I should buy silver as a precaution against the collapse also.) Pretty ominous week really for the type of messages coming in.

Danger of global economic collapse, nations in moral freefall, murder rate on the rise, people groups fighting with other people groups because of racist views and bigotry, disease killing hundreds and thousands of people, religious extremists causing problems, Christian persecution on the rise – sounds like the end of the world huh? No, this is a description of the first century Roman world that Christ-followers lived in.

“Christians practiced a morality that condemned the common Roman practices of abortion, infanticide, abandoning infants, suicide, homosexual sex, patria potestas, and the degradation of women. Their moral posture was one of many reasons why they were harassed, hated, despised, and often imprisoned, tortured, or killed. The Romans made them an army of martyrs.” – Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, page 27

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are a number of things happening right now we should concern ourselves with – or even take action concerning them. But, we have a tendency to imagine our time is the worst, or that our world is struggling more than any other. And with some folks, everything is a sign that God is doing something tragic as judgment against the world or our nation.

So what if it was the end of the world? What would you be doing today if it was? What if our economy were about to collapse? What would you be doing today? Seriously, what would be your priorities, and what would be your choices of action?

In most people’s lives it is great tragedy that causes us to re-evaluate our lives including our priorities and way of living. Folks suddenly realize how important their loved ones are to them, how important the little things are, and how much they need God. Unfortunately once the tragedy passes, they go back to being consumed with what TV shows they watch, what thing they are going to go and buy next, or what sin they are going to pursue.

What if today you lived like it was the end of the world? What if you chose to live simpler, live more graciously, and pursue God like He mattered more than anything else in your life? What if you had a reasonable amount of supply on hand to deal with a major event, or you saved, but did not hoard your goods? What if today, you made the choice to follow Christ the way you are supposed to – die to yourself and live for Him? (Matthew 16:24

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What Makes it Christian?

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I went onto Google to do a search for something Christian and several options came up – in fact the first search was for Christian Bale. Well, not what I was looking for. But down at the bottom of the initial search list was “Christian tattoo.” Curious, I clicked to see what could be on Google for that search. As I glanced over the images, I saw crosses, pictures of Jesus, and Bible passages… as well as other things which made me wonder, “What makes them Christian?” Madonna, a secular music artist, wears a cross but she is definitely not Christian.

I personally own several “Christian” t-shirts, but again, what makes them Christian? I guess what makes the t-shirts Christian is they are Christian themed. But, apart from that, there is nothing inherently Christian about t-shirts like there is nothing inherently Christian about tattoos. A Christian just happens to have one, or be wearing one.

There are many things folks do which really have more to do with culture and social expression than with Christ. We carry particular Bibles, listen to particular music, or go to particular movies and so on which are considered Christian. But just because you put a Bible verse on it or label it Christian doesn’t make it Christian. “Chariots of Fire”, a film not made by a Christian film company was more Christian in its theme than many other films I have seen. There were hundreds of churches attended by folks in the south who opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement because they believed it was their Christian duty to do so. Their actions in light of the Bible and history demonstrates what they did was totally southern culture at the time, but it was definitely not Christian. So we need a better distinction.

There is nothing wrong with t-shirts or tattoos, but they are not for everyone. Paul addressing issues of conscience warns us about doing something which is not of faith. (Romans 14:22-23) In fact, he clearly tells us that whatever is not of faith, is sin. What I am doing, can I do it before God with a clear conscience? What I am doing, am I sure it is not opposed to what the Bible says? If we sin, whatever we are doing, it is not for God’s glory and does nothing for His kingdom. Years ago I remember hearing someone say, “That was a very Christian thing to do.” as a reference to someone who had done an act of compassion for someone in need. What makes something Christian is that it reflects Christ to the world. What makes something “Christian” is that someone who is a Christ-follower is doing it, and they are doing it for the glory of God and for His kingdom. But in this sense, any job or activity we are engaged in becomes Christian because the believer is serving God with their whole heart, and they are doing it for His glory.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

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When the Answer is No, I Cannot

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It seems there is no end to compromise in some life situations, almost like there is no way for some things to function unless there is compromise.  Compromise is defined as an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by two or more sides making concessions. Two sides are in conflict over some matter, and in order to bring an end to the conflict both sides must give up something they want. In many relationships, especially in marriage, this is a way of life in order for two people to exist together long-term.

But in such relationships there are many areas of life which are ultimately not core values. Rather than absolutes, they are cultural perspectives, personal preferences, or even simple habits of life we are accustomed to. Which way do we put the toilet paper on the holder? What type of food we prefer? Or what recreational events we enjoy are all non-vital preferences as an example. We can or cannot have them in our lives, even if some of them may feel like they are absolutely necessary. We can give ground on these and still exist as our own person, and according to our core values.

In life though, there are some issues which are not up for negotiation. Unfortunately, some folks do not always seem to know the difference, so they compromise on vital principles or absolute truths and values when they should not. And what is worse, some folks do not see they are compromising while they are giving up a core value or principle they claim to hold in their lives.

In the Bible, the book of Daniel the prophet has a narrative about three men who were put on the spot about a compromise regarding their faith. The king determines to create an idol and then commands everyone in the realm to worship it on an appointed day. Three Jews, who only worship the God of Israel, cannot make this compromise – it is a core value to their faith and their existence as the people of Israel. When confronted because they will not bow down, they refuse to the king’s face. Then, they are threatened by the king with being thrown into a fiery furnace which is hot enough to kill them in the cruelest manner, but they answer the king with these words.

Daniel 3:17-18 "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

They could have simply bowed down, saved their lives, and done it knowing they did not believe in anything they were doing… but they didn’t. They could have compromised their faith, excused themselves for this one moment in time, but they didn’t. The God they worshipped was everything to them, and they could not compromise no matter what the consequences. We may believe we would die for Christ, and I hope at the right time we would. But, would you live for him? Do you have absolute values, principles, and areas where no compromise will be allowed? Do you have a line regarding what you will look at, watch, or even listen to? I find it is easier to consciously know where my line is so it is simpler to never cross it. 

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Self-esteem, Narcissism, and a Biblical View of Self

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Researchers have discovered that teenagers and college students are entirely self-absorbed, and are even narcissists? Anyone who has raised a teenager knows they are pretty self-absorbed and this is nothing new, but recent studies are showing this exists in unhealthy measures among today’s teens.

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Young people's unprecedented level of self-infatuation was revealed in a new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has been asking students to rate themselves compared to their peers since 1966. Roughly 9 million young people have taken the survey over the last 47 years. Self-love: New data suggests students today are convinced of their own greatness regardless of whether they've accomplished anything. Over the past 50 years American students have increasingly grown confident not only socially but also about their own writing and intellect skills and their confidence in leadership ability. Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there's been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being 'above average' in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence. But in appraising the traits that are considered less invidualistic - cooperativeness, understanding others, and spirituality - the numbers either stayed at or were slightly decreased over the same period. Researchers also found a disconnect between the student's opinions of themselves and actual ability. While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts. Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s. – Daily Mail article, January 7, 2013

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It is important to recognize that narcissism, self-esteem, and a Biblical view of self are not all the same thing. Narcissism is defined as an excessive self-love or vanity; self-admiration, or being self-centered. Moreover, it is not just high school students or college students with a problem regarding narcissism, this is becoming an American cultural issue. Narcissism is absolutely destructive to self and all relationships, and it is especially dangerous when it is embraced by an entire culture.

We derive our self-image from various factors including; appearance, competence, intelligence, personality, success, the view of others about us. We gain our identity by these things, and often, we take on other elements like styles of clothing in order to fit in. Such additions become a part of our identity only so long as they gain us some positive results. The trouble with basing our self-esteem or our self-image from such factors is they are constantly changing and can be unreliable, especially if we are allowing our view of ourselves to be based upon how others view us. Music artists like Madonna have admitted they perform to gain praise from their fans to feel some sense of worth. Men and women both will enter into relationships just to silence the noise telling them they are only worth something if they have someone… anyone.

A biblical view ourselves is based in reality and in God. We view ourselves based upon what has said about us rather than all of the other factors which can elevate or lower our self-image. God has made it clear we are all sinners, selfish and self-absorbed – as well as being prone to living in ways that are self-destructive. Yet, despite our selves, God attributed worth to us and determined to pursue us through His Son Jesus Christ who came and died upon the cross for our sins which we will be held accountable for and which prevent a deep, lasting relationship with God. In this position, we are transformed into dearly loved children of God, who are then changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the people God intended us to be in this life. We can be confident, powerful, and creative beings because we are no longer hindered by sin. We have no need to base our view of ourselves in anyone else because God has spoken love and worth into our lives. We can focus on others, a true sign of maturity – meet the needs of others and be a blessing to everyone around us because God is working through us, rather than our working to attain worth from the praises of others.

Psalm 139:13-15 “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”

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When My Mind Gets Lost

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As an adult, I recognize that I have quite an imagination. It is one of those things God built into me when He determined my life. It helped me through my childhood, and has been something which makes for an interesting adulthood. This personal trait of mine makes for quite the rollercoaster in my mind at times, and sometimes it leaks out and gets me in trouble. But for the most part, I really enjoy seeing the world a little different. I am not severely ADHD for an adult, so I do not have the trouble other folks I know do with controlling their thought life through the day. I thank God for that as well.

Controlling your thought life is a critical component for living a good life. When you control your thought life, you are capable of seeing the world the way God does, you are able to be creative and more at peace. If your thought life gets out of control, fears and anxieties can really overwhelm you and leave you disabled. If you do not do something about it, all creativity and peace will flee from you.

There must be a deliberate and purposeful use of our thinking, focus, and meditations. The book of Psalms reveals the psalmist at times speaking to himself, encouraging himself to remember God and His gracious dealings with him in order to rise up from his own depressed thoughts. (see Psalm 42 and 43) When we begin to fall prey to our own destructive thoughts, we must do the same and encourage and direct our thoughts to something better. The apostle Paul gave us some clear direction about our thought lives.

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

This is not a call to ignore reality, but it is a call to not allow your thoughts to control you or lead you down a destructive road. Focusing on politics, the horrible acts of ISIS or any number of other world events which are ugly can leave us feeling depressed and helpless. While it is important to be aware of what is happening in the world around us, a steady diet of such things will leave you far from thoughts about God and what is good in this life. Be careful. Whatever you find yourself focused on, or contemplating throughout the day. Be careful to not get lost there, or lose sight of God and the common grace of God for all humanity that allows us to live in a world where there is much to be thankful for. 

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Making the World a Better Place

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A few years ago I used to manage retail stores for a corporation in Southern California. It was always an interesting job because you are working with people all day long, and people can be quite “interesting” indeed.

The staff I worked with in each store knew they were not paid to deal with angry or troublesome customers – that was my job as the manager. So as a result, I had many days working with people who were rude, angry, and even generally threatening to deal with regarding whatever issue brought them to my “desk” so to speak. At times the customer had a legitimate complaint about something a salesperson had done, such as ruin their artwork while working on their custom framing order. But for the most part, dealing with unreasonable customers was due to their pettiness and need to shout at someone. Perhaps they had a fight with their spouse just before they came into our store and ended up taking it out on me, perhaps it was the timing at the end of their very bad day – but I had them… they were mine. I have to admit, there were some days when it was pretty tough to deal with these folks.

I was trained to deal with these types of situations, either by corporate managers or by what I learned from experience. Either way, it was up to me to listen, understand, and respond in a way that communicated I was going to do what was necessary to remedy the situation. No, the customer was not always right, that is a fallacy. Nevertheless, I was tasked with leaving them feeling like they had things corrected to their satisfaction.

How do you treat someone who can do absolutely nothing for you? I really think this is a good indicator of the true nature of your character. I also think that how you treat your enemies, or people you do not like, is a good indicator of your true character. How do you treat that waitress who brought your order to you wrong? How do you treat that salesperson who sold you the wrong product?

Luke 6:31 "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

This is what Jesus said. I think it is fair to say we would all like to be treated with respect, with consideration, with kindness, and with something better than fair treatment. We would all like to have others give us the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong, and we would all like to have others extend grace to us when we have not done well. The world can be a kinder place, and we can begin by making our own world better because we have been kind. 

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Noise and Your Spiritual Life

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I live near an Air Force Base and with that comes certain sounds; such as fighter jets taking off or landing on a regular basis. I have lived here for a long time and it is more of a background noise unless there is heavy traffic because of flight training. I am accustomed to it, so I don’t think about it often. But hearing the noise level of music in a restaurant, or moving through a crowded environment like a mall can be difficult. It can be a strain to filter out those noises, there is so much happening and it is so loud. We live on a noisy planet.

In case you did not know, sound is measured by units called decibels. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Here are the average decibel ratings of some familiar sounds: The humming of a refrigerator is 45 decibels, a normal conversation (60), the noise from heavy city traffic (85), an MP3 player at maximum volume (105), Sirens (120), and firecrackers or firearms are 150 decibels. By the way, a loud rock concert is often rated at least at 120 decibels, and I have been in rock concerts where the sub-woofers were pushing so much air, my pant legs were moving.

But what about everything else which is coming at you every day? Take TV for an example; as on March 2011 there were: 1,774 full power TV stations: 1,022 UHF commercial, 360 VHF commercial, 285 UHF educational, and 107 VHF educational. Imagine what four years, and the shift to digital did to add to these numbers. Then add the internet, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and the growing list as to what else distracts us on a regular basis.

I have a tendency to label all static interference physically, visually, and at the audio level, noise. Noise demanding our attention, noise distracting us from what is really important, noise often created to manipulate and control our thinking, spending, and habits of life. All of the noise we encounter is not only doing physical damage to our ears, eyes, and minds, but there is a spiritual aspect to all of the noise. Be honest; do you read Facebook more or before you take time for prayer? Do you watch TV or movies more frequently than you study and think about what you read in your Bible?

This is not to guilt you about your prayer life or Bible study habits. I am simply trying to draw your attention to all that is pulling on your attention and causing you to lose your attention for what really matters. I had the chance to pray at the close of the day for a children’s camp for troubled kids last night. Just as I was about to pray, one of the boys burped, and giggling erupted all over the place. What a beautiful sound giggling is among a bunch of troubled kids who only have one week away from their painful lives. What a beautiful sound it is to hear the voice of God in your heart, because you took the time to turn to the quiet, and away from all of the distractions in order to be able to hear it. Don’t miss what is important. 

 

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My Apologies to You

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If you are old enough to remember the movie “Love Story”, you will remember there being a line in the film where the man tries to apologize to the woman and she says, “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” This was a very popular film and there were several statements like this in it which were quoted for quite some time after the film hit the theaters. While the sentiment behind the line was good hearted, in relationships, not apologizing can be very destructive.  

Inevitably in this life, you are going to do something wrong, and you will hurt someone. It is a natural fact of this life with all of us being broken people. Even in our best and most valued relationships this remains true. With these breaks in our relationships because of something we have done, apologizing is the first step to repairing the break. Despite this being the case, saying “I am sorry” seems to be a missing element in the vocabulary of some folks. For some folks it seems like there is always a reason, an excuse, or something else they can point to which they believe was the cause of their actions – and for some reason this equates in their mind to not needing to apologize. Apologizing requires admission of fault, or admission of failure, so it is unappealing to our selfish pride.

Matthew 5:23-24 "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

It is important to understand that having a broken relationship with someone in this life, interferes with our relationship with God. Repairing the breach in a relationship is so important, Jesus tells us to fix it before we come to worship.

An apology requires four basic elements:

  1. Recognizing what you have done to hurt someone. You start then by admitting your offense to yourself and to God.
  2. Having appropriate regret and expressing it. If you truly understand what you have done to hurt someone, an emotion of regret should be felt, even if you were only partly to blame.
  3. Taking personal responsibility for what you have done, no blame-shifting or passing off excuses for your actions which hurt someone. This is especially true if you were only partly to blame, take responsibility for your part even if the other person does not take responsibility for theirs.
  4. Offer to remedy whatever pain or trouble was caused by your actions. Just saying you are sorry does not remove the trouble caused, so be prepared to take action to fully correct the damage done. This may involve some cost depending upon what happened, and may require a personal change in you to insure that this type of situation does not happen again.

Making an apology requires sincerity, so if your attitude or intentions are mixed, your apology will likely not be accepted well. Be real, be honest, and be deliberate in your intentions to repair your relationship. Making a written apology can be an acceptable way of apologizing, so long as it is not a way out of a face to face reconciliation. Face to face provides a more relational means to repairing damage because facial expressions, tone of voice, and heart felt words are more clearly expressed than in print. So get to it, the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to make an apology.

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Hang On To That Marriage

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No one ever chose to get married in order to be miserable, they chose marriage because they hoped for a life-long relationship they could enjoy. But there are complications in any relationship, especially in marriage because of the closeness and intimacy which are possible for a married couple. And those complications can become pretty messy in any marriage.

If you find yourself at the end of your rope in your marriage relationship, tie a knot and hang on. I have yet to meet someone who did not regret their divorce. One woman came up to me when I was guest teaching at another church on marriage and confessed she had divorced her first husband and was now remarried. As we talked she admitting to sabotaging her marriage relationship, but it was only after it was too late she realized all she had done to ruin her marriage with the father of her children and the man she had loved. She loved her current husband, but admitted she threw away a really good marriage. For your sake, and the sake of your children, don’t make this mistake.

Marriages move in cycles, they have good times and bad times. If you are both giving all you can to make your marriage work, there will be more good times than bad ones.

Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, be in submission to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself {being} the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives {ought to be} to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,”

Admit your selfish pride and submit to your spouse, even if you are struggling with the idea. Out of honor and respect to God’s word, love your spouse even if it is a battle. Don’t be someone who is difficult to submit to, and don’t behave so unlovingly your spouse finds it more troublesome to love you. Love and submission are unconditional acts, given because this is God’s will, and not because someone deserves it. If we all waited until our spouse deserved anything good from us, none of us would ever know what it is like to be loved. 

And while you are hanging there at the end of your rope, and the knot you just tied, consider a few more things. (1) What is the real problem, this may not necessarily be what are you fighting about? (2) What have you done to cause the problem, and what are you doing to make the situation worse? (3) What could be a possible solution for this conflict? (4) What can you do to make things turn for the better, even if your spouse does nothing?

Choose to love, choose to hang on to your marriage, and choose to trust God as you make these choices. God wants your marriage to be more wonderful than you can imagine. 

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Guilt and Shame - Good and Bad

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There is something we all struggle with who have reached the age of adulthood – guilt and shame. We have done things in our past for which we feel guilt and shame, things we regret and wish we could take back – or at least somehow forget. This is not how God created us, He created us innocent and without sin.

Genesis 2:25 “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Unashamed, but then because of sin and the fall of humanity as a result of sin, we all contend with the consequences of sin. Guilt and shame are a part of the consequences of doing what is wrong. Guilt and shame are the natural byproduct of someone having done something wrong – they are not unnatural or even inappropriate. If we do something wrong, we should feel guilt and shame. God placed within humanity a conscience, and within our inner man that conscience cries out when we are contemplating doing something we should not be doing, or it floods us with guilt and shame after we have done something wrong. Adam and Eve having sinned, immediately recognized their sin and began trying to cover themselves. Our response to guilt and shame is either to be driven to repentance for our sin, or attempting to shift the blame and cover up our sin like Adam and Eve did in the garden. (Genesis 3)

It is important to note the human soul is very tender, sin can ruin our souls and cause us to become callous and unable to sense any guilt and shame to the point we are unable to feel the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul the apostle speaks of such people as “having consciences that have been seared as with a branding iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2) All sensitivity is lost, our hearts become hardened.

Something else can go wrong with our consciences; carrying guilt and shame we do not need to carry, or having others heap guilt and shame upon us we do not deserve. Here is where guilt and shame become inappropriate and destructive. Some folks trying to hurt us, attempt to lay more guilt and shame on us we do not need to carry. As a result, many people carry guilt and shame for which Jesus died to set us free from, these are a burden Jesus took upon Himself on the cross. (Hebrews 9:14) Whatever sins you have committed and may still be dealing with the consequences of, repentance before God is meant to release the guilt and shame of the sin – let God cleanse your conscience.

1 Timothy 1:19 “…keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”

With our consciences cleansed, we are encouraged by the apostle to keep it and our faith in good repair. Don’t let yourself go long without repentance, or lose sight of Christ. In Him is life and freedom for our souls. 

 

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