29 December 2010

Fighting Materialism and Distraction with Humility

Daniel 10:12
...“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.

I recently listened to a fellow pastor share an encouraging word to his congregation via the internet. Speaking right before Christmas, and encouraging his church to stay focused on Jesus this season, he reminded them to remember the 'joy' of the season, but to not take it too far. This is itself is a great reminder.
As true Christians committed to Jesus and His ways, we should be able to find joy in all things. This however is only possible if we are focused on Jesus and not self.

The trouble in today’s modern Christianity is that pastors and teachers are all too often afraid to give people the truth in love, because the truth is sometimes hard, and often offensive. Let’s face it, if we are told that we are being selfish, that we are not focused on Christ, and that there are ways to draw closer to Jesus and really commit to Him in a more personal way, we can take this two ways: either we will look at these words with reflection and see that yes, there is room for improvement and humble ourselves before God – OR, we will take those words into our ears (ears that are so used to being ‘tickled’), and get angry, be offended. Man is not currently wired to be indifferent, we’ll choose one way or the other until our Spirit nature replaces that of the flesh.

But the pastor went on in his encouragement to enjoy Christmas. Don’t feel like you have to suffer (was his intended thought), don’t feel bad for having nice things he went on to say. And he’s right, we should not. God has blessed us all with much in this nation. But he did not stop there. He continued by saying, (direct quote) “You can’t not have (those) nice things!” Well, actually, yes, yes you can ‘not have nice things’.

Americans (generalizing) do not understand suffering. We know suffering. My comments are certainly not being made to belittle those who truly are suffering in this country, and yes there are many who are. But my point is that many who ‘think’ they are suffering, really need to reevaluate their lives. Yes, we can not have nice things. Sometimes a simple life is the one with the most blessing.

To me it is unfathomable that a pastor would tell his congregation, ‘you can’t not have nice things”. Think about it. It’s quite literally feeding materialism and greed, and taking away the possibility that God might have a plan in one’s socioeconomic home. God is in control after all isn’t He? Does this mean that those people who don’t have nice things are not God’s people? What is a ‘nice thing’, and who defines what a ‘nice thing’ is?

There are a lot of nice things in life than many of us would be better off without. The life that is filled with electronic brain stealers and time-wasters is one that up until one generation ago we all did without. Children watch more TV than ever, and spend more time gaming than ever before. The average male teen spends between 12-31 hours a week just playing video games. This is not counting other computer time or phone usage. One of the fastest growing trends these days in teen fellowship is ‘after hours’ teen gaming facilities! No more ‘clubbin’, now it’s gamin’. Don’t think that teenage girls are better because they spend less time gaming. They make all that time up, and more, on chatting on cell phones, texting (or worse), and social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Blogging etc.). Society, it can be argued, suffers for these ‘nice things’.

Do we need $45,000 cars or can we do with a $10,000 or $1,500.00 car and spend the difference supporting Christian faith organizations that help the needy in the name of Jesus? That’s the rub.

We need to humble ourselves, and spend some time trying to receive God’s good word. Even if we do not understand it all, or have trouble really getting things to come together in the application of what you read into your daily life, God hears. God recognizes, and if we truly seek Him as Daniel did, He will reward us with understanding. He will come in response to us. How can a loving Father do anything other?

The key point here is to recognize that we do not need to live lavishly to be a proper representation of Christ. We simply do not need to live lavishly. We do not need to have all the ‘nice things’, and that we can do without some ‘nice things’ in spite of what our hearts or minds tell us.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that video games, Facebook® or cell phones are ‘of the devil’. But each of these things, like just about any other thing that we are attracted to, can become at the very least a distraction of our attention, and at worst our own little gods.

Satan’s two most effective tools today, in my opinion, are these: distracting your eyes from Jesus (getting you to waste your time), and materialism. How are these things affecting your Christian walk?

28 December 2010


What more do we really need to say. This time of year is seen as one full of blessings. Focused on the birth of Jesus, our Savior, the one and only way. I know that blessings flow through my life and my home. Sadly, many blessings are missed by people who either do not look for them, or, when a blessing is given is not recognized because it is not how they wanted to be blessed, or is not significant enoough in their eyes to be called a blessing.

Since recommitting my life to jesus back in 2000, I have been able to do some short term missonary work. I have traveled to Israel twice, and plan to go back again in the next couple of years. Prior to being called into the ministry I served in the US Army as an Infantry Soldier. In both of these capacities I have seen immense suffering, and people in real need. We need to be open in our lives to recognize what blessings are. In many cases, this is only made possible through suffering.

In America, suffering is seen through the eyes of a .standard'. when our standards and expectations are not met, we view this as suffering. Our cable TV goes out and we call this suffering. We get a flat tire on our airconditioned SUV, and this is suffering. Or worse yet, the power goes out for a couple of days after a storm, and this is really suffering. In the eyes of some of the people of this world, wether in the USA or not, when there is not food on the table, no shelter, and death is knocking at our malnutritioned door, suffering takes ona whole new meaning.

We must always remember prespective. Without perspective assistance and even love can seem petty and insignificant. Without perspective suffering cannot be seen as it ought.

Perspective is the window through which all things are made clear. our position in Christ is only significant is viewed by God's perspective. If we do not understand our grand insignificance in the grand scheme of things because of our sin and seperation from God without Christ, while at the same time recognizing that werare love so much by God that He sent His son for us, then human nature takes over and we see ourselves as 'successful', 'important' or 'significant' to the point where God no longer has a place in our lives. Why, if I'm 'successful', 'important' or 'significant', why do I need a savior? I've got it all under control. See what I mean?

Without perspective what many see as a suffering, only getting two meals today instead of three, having to fix a flat tire, having to go a night without TV, many people in this world would view as a divine blessing.

I'm not saying that unless you see starvation first hand, that you cannot know suffering. I'm not saying that unless you yourself were sent to a Russian Gulag or a Nazi Concentration Camp that you cannot understand or relate to real life suffering. You certainly can. But if you forget to put your life in perspective, holding your 'sufferings' up against the back-drop of real human suffering, or real tragedy, your view will be skewed by pride, selfishness and standards that you have come accustomed to - which is our human nature.

In the end, considering our place in Christ is what is going to give us the best perspective on reality. Christmas sometimes makes us take inventory of ourselves, spiritually speaking. What do I have that really is good? What 'good works' does my life show? And of course, realizing that without Jesus we are lost in our sin and left to wallow in a life that regardless of it's quality or affluence, will end in eternal death.

Christ is everything. He is the only thing. He needs to be our center in all that we do, and everything in our life needs to revolve around Him. If this is our focus, the suffering of others comes into focus, and our selfishness fades into the background where it belongs. The perspective of missing Monday Night Football pales in comparison to someone who has not had water in two days, or clean water all their life, or the homeless man frozen on the steps of the store down the street.

Without perspective we cannot truly see through Christ's eyes.

10 December 2010

Pride & Conflict

Proverbs 13:10

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

How much does your anger have to do with your pride? Probably more than you might think.
Scripture warns us about pride all over the place. Proverbs tells us much about pride; none of it good. Pride comes before the fall, A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them, Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor, and Ecclesiastes says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” just to name a few.

It is one thing to be proud of something; it is another to be prideful of something. I am proud of my children, they are God’s gift to me. I am proud of my wife for all she does for the benefit of our family. I am proud of the spiritual growth I see n people no matter where that growth may find its source. I am also proud of the accomplishments I have made in my life, but the pride is based on an understanding that all that I have was provided for me by God. If I were to be prideful of any of those things, I’d be crossing the line into ungodliness. Or, if I allow pride in something to be misdirected believing that I was the source of that accomplishment through my own strength, not only would I be sinning, but I’d be opening the door for anger and bitterness as well.

Pride is like a disease or infection that has a long incubation period, or lies dormant until the right conditions present themselves. And unfortunately, those conditions present themselves frequently. The more prideful you are, the more frequently they will pop up.

Let’s say for example that you are prideful of your clothes. A person criticizes your dress, and the next thing you know, you punch them in the nose! Well, that may be extreme, but you get the picture. If you are prideful about something, whether it is your clothes or hair, or your car, your singing voice, your accomplishments in life, your wealth… whatever it might be, and someone criticizes that thing pride will cause anger and frustration.

Humility, a Godly trait, will cause introspection, and a desire to meet the standards that God has set before us; in every area of our lives. You need to seek God in all things and see if there is merit in any criticism you might receive. If there is, you need to be able to humbly receive that criticism and work to improve that issue in whatever way God might lead. But if you are prideful of that thing and criticism comes, it will cause you to be bitter, angry, hold a grudge against that person, or you’ll immediately begin to look for things to criticize in that other personas life, or use the failings of others you might know to justify your current state of pride.

Pride is at the root of every sin. In the end, your sin is just you deciding you know better for your life than god does. You choose your way over His. But where there is strife in your life, look for pride to be at the root. If it is there, the only way to remove pride it through humility in the Spirit. Look to God and remember that without him you are dead where you stand, but that through Him, all things are possible. Sometimes it is a good thing to be reminded of our place.

09 December 2010

Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Have you ever had a bad day? A day when not only things go wrong, but as they go wrong people are yelling at you, calling you names, and if they are not yelling at you and calling you names, you know they WANT yelling at you and calling you names. I’ve had days like that before myself. God knows we have days like this too, and Jesus had a few of them Himself. No matter what you do, even if it is the proper thing to do and righteous before the Lord, someone’s angry. Well, rejoice and be glad!

Becoming a Christian is an awesome thing. With it comes forgiveness for all your sins, trespasses and wrings that you have committed, and a knowledge of peace in your salvation is part of the fruit of the joy of knowing you and the Lord are back on track. With this understanding of salvation comes another gift. The Holy Spirit, dwelling in us, showing us the Light of Jesus and leading our way.

But the leader of this world is not Jesus. It is His enemy the evil one, the devil, Satan himself. Because of him and sin entering into this world through him when mankind fell in the garden, our flesh is sinful and fights against our Spirit. We, as people, in our human nature are at enmity with God. Satan tells us we can do whatever we want, our Spirit reminds us that we have a responsibility to our Christianity, and a responsibility to live a life worthy of Jesus because of the price He paid to redeem our spirits. This battle can be a hard one. Nah, let’s just tell the truth here; that battle IS the HARDEST battle you’ll face your entire life.

The moment you are born again in Jesus, the tables are turned. You are now right with God and enemies of Satan. Satan knows he has lost the battle, but he is going to do everything within his power to make your life as miserable as possible. This, after all, is his job. And he’s good at it. Thankfully, we have Jesus, and we have the Father in heaven. Hearing our cries, and having watched His own Son live through the pain and suffering He did, God the Father can feel our pain like no one else. Because of this He has filled scripture with verses of encouragement like the one we read today.

If ever you feel like you are in a predicament alone, and without any comfort, know that you have the Father in heaven. Reach out to Him in prayer, and through His word. When we feel that low, God reaches out to us with His word and tells us, “You are my little children”, “You are children of God!” Allow Him to comfort you in your suffering, and know that in spite of the fact that He allows you to suffer in this world right now, seek to grow in your suffering and start by praising Him. Follow that with the realization that you are saved, and that your afflictions on this earth are simply dust in the wind in the grand scheme of things. You may be suffering real pain, but it can’t do you any eternal harm! You are covered, you are forgiven, you are saved, and Jesus awaits you with your reward in heaven that will make all this seem so trivial.

In the mean time, praise God for what He has done in all our lives. Rejoice and be glad. We are being richly blessed and rewarded.

06 December 2010

TRADITION: (or not tradition, thatis the question)

Mark 7:8,12-13

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Yesterday I began a sermon series on the understanding of Christmas. The idea is to focus for the next three weeks, with an Advent sort of feel, on two things: The true Spirit of Christmas and secondly, the true story of Christmas and its impact on the world. In the end, no matter how you paint it, the story of Christmas is the awesome and predetermined expression of God’s love for His people. This was accomplished by the Son leaving His perfect heaven and Father behind to become a man, in every way, just like you and me. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the messages, but you get the idea.

But my point today is that, to the best of my memory, this is only the second time in my nearly 6 years now as the pastor of Calvary Chapel Bonney Lake where I have left the comfort and regularity of teaching exegetically verse by verse through a book of the bible. That’s what we have always done. It’s a routine for me, for our church, it’s what the congregation is used to and longs for, and it is a staple of Calvary Chapels in general.

In the late 1960’s this style of teaching word for word, and precept upon precept was popularized by Pastor Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, CA, and as the church grew, and others were planted, this successful and spirit lead method became what Calvary’s were best known for. And for good reason. It is an effective way to simply teach the bible simply, and to allow God to set the agenda and man to get out of the way of the teaching of God’s Word.

While Chuck was certainly not the first person to use this style of teaching, his charisma and knowledge of the Word, as well as His intimate relationship with Jesus Christ caused this method of teaching not just to grow, but to really bring a light into the church community at large about the importance of everyone, laypeople especially, to know their bibles well. It refocused a generation of people and a generation of churches on the bible as the focal-point for all things related to their spiritual lives. The focus was to be put back on the bible and Jesus Christ,  and taken off of things like liturgical homilies, church tradition, the priesthood itself, the hierarchy of the church, and vainly repetitious prayers.

Calvary Chapel would generally call itself a ‘Protestant’ church. What I mean by that is that its doctrine and theology come out of a tradition drawn from what is commonly called the Protestant Reformation. This was an historic period of the early to mid 1500’s where the Christian church in general began to rebel against the Catholic church in defiance of its maintained authority over man and apparently, the bible as well. The church had to this point deeming itself and its priesthood as being the only men capable of properly interpreting the bible, in spite of the fact that one of their main goals was to keep scripture from ever being printed or made available to the general public in the common language.

Martin Luther, the much lauded (and rightfully so) Augustinian Monk who was a professor at the University in Wittenberg, Germany is most famously assigned as the leader of this movement. What Luther had planned was truly a reformation of the Catholic Church, its doctrine and practices, and not a defection from the Catholic Church. Rather than having his way, the reformation did became a defection, something that not only broke his heart, but much, much more.

While Luther is given such credit for the ‘Reformation’ movement, it should be noted that Luther’s ideas were not nearly as ‘reforming’ as many would have liked. The idea of church reformation was ripe and it filled the air in many places throughout Europe in that era coming out of the dark ages. While he has become the best known reformer, and certainly earned his stripes in a courageous battle against the Catholic Church with his life literally in the balance (the Catholic Church put a price on his head – naughty Pope!), clearly Luther was not the only church reformer. Today I want to bring up the little known Huldrych Zwingli.

Zwingli was a contemporary of Luther, but the two never had contact or correspondance, and it is fairly understood that Zwingli had never even heard of Luther let alone had been influenced by him. What causes me to bring Zwingli’s name to our devotional is that he was the Chuck Smith of his age. Zwingli, like Luther felt there was a clear need for reformation in the church. But Zwingli, fresh off a personal revitalization as a Benedictine Monk in his home country of Switzerland, had an idea for reformation that paralleled Luther’s in many ways, but went even farther.

Zwingli, again like Luther, felt that the bible NEEDED to be available to all people, and in the common language. This was critical. But more than that Zwingli put special emphasis on the Grace and Mercy of God found in the New Testament knowing that for a lost generation of people, God’s love needed not only to be told to them, but that they needed to read it for themselves. So, in part to bring the word to the people, and in part to encourage the people to seek out and demand that the bible be made available to every man, woman and child that wanted one, Zwingli did something awesome, and literally unheard of in its day.

While the exact date has been lost to history, Zwingli showed up to his church in Zurich one Sunday morning in 1519 and made a startling announcement to his congregation: He was prepared to deliver a continuous course of sermons on the gospel according to Matthew. ALL of Matthew! Not only that, but instead of relying on commentaries and tradition to lead his way and guide his doctrine, he would base his sermons solely and directly on the scriptural passage itself. Zwingli may well have been the first exegetical teacher of his age. His success was such the people themselves demanded reform, as they cried out for more of the bible, and less of religion.

The Christian church worldwide could use a great deal more bible and a lot less religion. This season as we look forward to Christmas day, let us all put a focus on the bible and on the real Christmas story and less on religion and religious tradition. Let us seek to know the true baby Jesus, and not only worship Him, but to recognize Him as a man spent a short lifetime breaking church traditions and the traditions of man, to show us that they need to be replaced with a relationship with Him, and a true knowledge of the Father. Let’s make this Christmas more about Christ and our relationship with his than ever. Let us refocus on His word, the bible, and He will reveal Himself to us. Let our reformation begin within.

30 November 2010

In an Upside-Down Economy...The More Things Stay the Same

Galatians 3:3

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

I find it hard sometimes to explain how God is working in my life. At many points I have to share that I'm afraid to share. I think there is a stigma, or some basic understanding that comes with the phrase, "God is really working in my life" that leads most people to believe, especially new believers, that GOOD things are happening! That spiritually, exciting growth is occurring in your life, or that some sort of wonderful, powerful revelation has been provided to you that perhaps many others are long to have. Sadly, that is most often not the case. Suffice it to say, and many of you seasoned believers will support me in this axiom, that when one says, "God working in your life", it does not always mean that wonderful, powerful things are going on. They are all good. But it might take a while for that good to make it's way through your thick skull before the 'Ah-hah!' moment reveals itself.

I have been trying to re-train myself to spend more time in reading. Not just in the Word, but theological works, church history, commentaries etc. I just know I have not been spending enough time with the Lord in these endeavors as of late, and I need to make that change. In this process, I have been reading a great many works or excerpts from classic Christian writers. While not looking for a particular book or theme, it is always amazing to see how God orchestrates the materials that I sift through randomly (from my point of view) in providing supporting or encouraging documents that really do follow a theme.

Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was an amazingly prolific Christian author. He lived and ministered as both a pastor and a writer from the towns and villages of South Africa. All of his publications were originally written in Dutch and then translated into English. As his popularity grew, Murray's books found their way into more than twelve foreign languages during his lifetime alone.

Andrew Murray's early writings were primarily written for the edification of the believer-building them up in faith, love, and prayer. Later writings leaned more heavily upon the sanctification and responsibilities of the believer. In his latter days Murray emphasized the need for a constant and vital relationship with Jesus Christ and for consistent, fervent prayer - leading backwards to his addressing the responsibilities of the believer. He also addressed the issue of the Church (corporate) and its lack of power on the earth.

In his book Absolute Surrender, Brother Murray offered this bit of encouragement:
  • As we look around at the Church, we see so many indications of feebleness, failure, sin, and shortcoming. They compel us to ask: Why is it? Is there any necessity for the Church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or is it actually possible that God's people should be living always in the joy and strength of their God? Every believing heart must answer: It is possible. Then comes the great question: Why is it, how is it to be accounted for, that God's Church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for it. Has God not given Christ His Almighty Son to be the Keeper of every believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their privileges?
In the context of Brother Andrew's paragraph above, the word privilege means, a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities. In his mind all Christians have a responsibility to live in the Spirit as a result of their 'privledge' of salvation. This is not to understand privilege as we do in today's modern vernacular, but a privilege in that we need to be honoring the one who privileged us be removing the liability of the penalty of our sin! A death sentence! We need to be honoring God, the one who so privileged us (and made the same offer for privilege to all mankind we might add) by providing for us the Holy Spirit, and a means to walk in the Spirit rather than the world.

Brother Andrew and I see this similarly. The apparent lack of power of the Church to affect the world for Christ is a lethargy or apathy of the individual first, and the Church second. Using privilege as you and I understand it, it IS a privilege to be saved, but all too quickly, and all too often we forget the responsibilities that come with the privilege.

In a secular world the famous quote, "with great privilege comes great responsibility" seems to be familiar to most people. While it is most often misattributed to William Falkner is based on the old French proverb of, "Noblesse Oblique" which translates literally 'Nobility Obliqates/Obliges' - certainly applies in this instance. By the act of salvation granted upon us, we are made prices! Heirs to the Kingdom of God, equal inheritors with Christ Jesus our God and Savior as well as brother. With that price being paid, and with these privileges granted, we must live a life that expresses our nobility by mimicking the nobility we serve: A life as a servant. Living for the benefit of others, putting self last and others first in all instances. Walking two miles in the shoes of a brother, not just one, and giving our shirts as well when asked for our coat.

The privileges of nobility, as you can see, are upside down in God's economy. Christ being the King that we serve, proved His nobility by willingly giving His life for us. Yes, we are princes and will bear crowns. But the King we have subjected ourselves to is a King of servitude who washes feet, touches leapers, councils prostitutes, and the jewels of His crown were thorns not diamonds.

We need to be living a life in the Spirit, lead by the Spirit, RULED by the Spirit. The responsibility of the privilege granted is to do just that. Yes, it is difficult to 'kill the old man'. Yes it is difficult to die to self and live to serve others in an 'others-centered' life. But it is not only possible, it is our duty. If we lived like this, as we are supposed to, the church would look different, because we would BE different! The church would not be confused on issues like abortion and gay marriage, it would be united in a biblical standard of righteousness and truth that is indisputable. The church is feeble, because we are feeble.

Help us god, through the privilege of the Holy Spirit that we take our lives and walks seriously. Strengthen us Father that we may represent You and Your Light as we walk from place to place in our lives. Give us Peace oh, God that when we face trials that we might exude confidence that You are in charge, and that my sufferings are but dust in the wind for this short time.

29 November 2010

Reformed Thinking - Avoid Apathy

Philippians 4:12-16

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

I recently began reading a book about the Protestant Reformation period. The reading of this book caused me to consider what I thought was a more serious question. It made me look past the understanding of the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ of the Reformation of the early 1500’s most identified with Martin Luther. While this is certainly interesting ground to cover that we would all do well to know, I instead began to ponder an even bigger and definitely more important question. How was it that Christianity got to the point where it needed a Reformation at all!

In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s there was a great deal of spiritual unrest. The Dark Ages earned that name for a reason. While religion was alive and well, most visibly in the Catholic Church, the laity was languishing at heart much like the enslaved Jews under Pharaoh. By this time the Catholic Church proper (Roman Catholic Denomination), had long since fallen prey to world. No longer headed by men of true spiritual greatness (if ever questionably), leadership in the RCC was now up for grabs to the highest bidder or most powerful ‘Lord’ or landowner. The feudal system caused well, lots of feuds, and out these feuds the winners often became church leaders as this was where the real power was. Not in government, but in the church.

So while religion was alive and well, relationship had long since died. The people, again comparing them to the enslaved Hebrews, were looking for a deliverer. Religion was just not cutting it for them, and personal faith, due mainly to illiteracy and the lack of bibles or biblical texts in the common language was essentially dead. Since no deliverer was apparent, or even very likely to come in such a divided world where the only centralized power was the church, the people began to get weary, and unruly. As this feeling spread it’s was from the laity in the church to some of the more obscure church leaders in smaller towns or areas far from the immediate reach of Rome, change was coming.

Martin Luther arose from this fray as a focal point of the need to bring faith back into the church. Fitting the description mentioned above to the “T”, Martin Luther was in fact a disgruntled priest himself. Handed a professorship in an unknown and new University in a comparatively small and unknown town of Wittenberg Germany, Luther put his thoughts to pen (or quill as the case may be), and nailed them to them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. Thus, with his 95 Theses nailed to that door, in the mind of most of the Christian faith began what is commonly referred to as the Protestant Reformation.

Last year about this time, God had really placed on my heart the history of Martin Luther, and the strength it required, spiritually and physically to stand firm in his defense of God’s word. He did so, virtually alone (at least in the public eye), and stood on the principals of sound biblical doctrine, placing the supremacy of scripture above all else. Sola Scriptura (in the Latin meaning “By Scripture Alone”) became the calling card of the Reformation.

All of this is good. Reformation was badly needed in the church at large. Luther and those supporting him, the feudal Lords, Princes, Regents and others in Theological Academia should be praised and remembered for what they have done. But back to my original question. How in the world do we as Christians, followers of Christ, allow ourselves and/or our churches to get to the point where scripture, God’s Holy Word is not the ultimate and only source of truth and doctrine? The answer is simple: Apathy.

Many would disagree with my assessment, placing large blame on the lack of common language bibles during the period prior to the Reformation. True enough. But scripture has been printed in the common language of the people for thousands of years! The Jews had the Pentateuch and more written in their language of Hebrew. New Testament scriptures had previously been made available in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Take your pick. Later as the aristocrats and self proclaimed Theologians began debating scripture in Latin, the language of the educated elite, that the joy of reading God’s word and allowing Him to speak to you through it began to be taken away from the laity, and placed in the hands of the elite. Why did this happen? Apathy. The church leadership began to care more about the position, and entitlement, than they did about making sure the laity had access to God’s word. What’s worse yet, because of this apathy, the people could not have cared less.

In the process apathy working its slow strangulation on the laity of the church, the peace, joy, grace and love received from God’s word directly into the spirit of the reader. Clarity was gone. The ability to stand firm on truth was gone. Closeness faded and comfort was nowhere to be found. It is at this point, struggling to make sense of their lives, and languishing in pain and suffering, that the people begin to ask the question, “Why has God abandoned me?”, when just the opposite is true.

The Reformation did not happen because God had abandoned His people, and it did not occur because God had abandoned the Church. It occurred because the people had abandoned God and His word, and the daily need to seek Him first in all things. The Church became corrupt not overnight, but over a matter of decades and centuries of apathy. The church became corrupt, not because God had abandoned it, but because the Church had abandoned God.

I think of it this way. How bad does our apathy towards God have to be that we could not care less if we did not have had bibles to read? How apathetic are we as Christians if we got so used to day to day life, even going to church without our bibles? Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? Well, that’s how it happened then, and for many of us, that’s where we are headed today.

How many people do you know that call themselves Christians, and yet do not take a bible to church, let alone read it during the week? Worse yet, how many churches or denominations do you know whose attendees do not take nor ever need a bible at church? For that matter, we actually have churches that discourage the bringing of bibles to church because it is only the ‘church’ and its priesthood that can ‘truly interpret’ scripture anyway?

Asking the question of how the church got to the point where a reformation was needed, the logical progression of this train of thought does not allow us to stop there. Because this happened before, we must therefore also ask the question: Do we need a reformation today? Are we so apathetic as Christians that we are allowing the ‘church’ to be sole in interpreter of scripture and not being like the Bereans and checking all things against scripture ourselves? Have we lost our desire to be in the Word that knowing God, knowing truth no longer matters?

We must examine ourselves, and we must examine our churches. Do not become apathetic ourselves, and do not allow your churches to become that way either. If you are not in a bible teaching church – get in one. If you go to church and do not need a bible, ask yourself, ‘why is that’, and ‘what am I learning/being taught here?’

Apathy is defined as absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. Also it can be described as a lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting. As you can see it is not enough as a Christian just to be excited about Jesus. We have to be so excited about Jesus that we want to get others excited too! I find Jesus, my salvation, and my relationship to God exciting! If you are not so excited about Jesus and your relationship with God, and reading His Word daily, being in devotionals and prayer and desiring to know God more and more all the time, that YOU are apathetic as well.

Don’t allow yourself to get that way. Apathy creeps in slowly so that your prayer life suffers just a little, or that your devotional time becomes a little less and less each month. But in the end, apathy unchecked becomes an individual Christian, and eventually a church that could not care less that they no longer even need a bible.

Do we need a reformation today? Not just yes, but double yes.

We need a reformation of heart and commitment to God, so that God’s Holy Word and our relationship with Him become first and foremost in our lives. Secondly, we need a reformation of the Church corporate so that the Bible, the inerrant Word of God, becomes the one and only standard on which we all stand united. Unfortunately, and sadly, both seem to be true to Christians and the Christian church today. Without change, we are headed towards another ‘Dark Age’.

Reformation starts within.

15 November 2010

A Harvest of Souls & A Harvest of Blessings

What a weekend we have just had. As most of you know, two weekends ago Greg Laurie, along with guest speaker Lorenzo Romar and Nick Vujicic came to Seattle to share the gospel and messages of hope. Seattle Harvest 2010 also included bands such as The Katinas, Crystal Lewis, Jeremy Camp, Revive, Hawk Nelson, Kutless, Jars of Clay and Mercy Me spread out over the three day Crusade. While the purpose of this Harvest Crusade was to bring lost and hurting people to Christ, and it was a great success at that with over 3,000 people in attendance coming to Christ, the effects on those who went there to serve may have been just as profound. I have been sock for most of the last week, so this is my first opportunity to share on that weekend.

The message of the gospel is AWESOME! It is emotional – it is powerful, and as scripture says the word of God is power unto salvation. Even for born-again believers it is nice to have the reminder of the simplicity of the gospel once in a while. We need to be mindful of that. But we are also called to make the gospel known through our lives, and testimony as we serve God in our families, churches and communities. This portion of the weekend was so very important for us as believers; to be there to serve the body of Christ in the reaching of those new believers, and being there for them from now on.

Being there on the floor as the Key Arena praying with and for those people who had just committed their lives to Christ (and in such volume!), was an experience that will not be forgotten by those who served. Not only that, but it should be something that is strongly desired by those who didn’t.

After Sunday night’s event it was determined that well over 3,000 people had given their lives to Jesus at that event. What that means is that for me, and all the others that attended all three nights, is that we were able to witness as many people get saved in three days as Peter did in one on the Day of Pentecost! What an awesome thought. Then I began to think of why these things happened. What was it that on both of these occasions many people were brought to a saving faith in Jesus Christ?

First of all, the message of the gospel was preached clearly proudly and without reservation. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We heard that said over and over at the Crusade. Secondly, there was an expectation that God’s Word was going to have an effect on the people to whom it was being preached. Thirdly, the people who had the faith stood up and made themselves heard! They worked hard in a concerted effort. The Christians responded to the need for service to reach the unbelievers.

Evangelism and making disciples requires active labor on all our parts. We have to know God’s Word first. We have to have not only a firm foundation in the understanding of the gospel, but we have to have enough faith in it to shout it from the tree tops knowing that it is real! We must have no doubts, no hesitations. As James says in chapter one of the book of James, “…you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” What James says here plays into the second factor of expectation. If we believe it, and live it, than we will expect big things from God! I’m not talking big things like finding a million dollars, or fancy cars, excellent paying jobs or fame, I’m talking about spiritual things. We should expect great spiritual things from God.

And lastly, we must be willing to take on the job! Evangelism does not get done by itself. When the call is made, we cannot stand still in our places of comfort and security in our salvation and be satisfied that getting saved ourselves is enough. If we love the Lord, we must take on the calling that He has given us all – to make disciples! That includes everyone.

Many will say, “but I’m not called to be an evangelist”. Well, wrong. You are. Everyone who answers the call to salvation is called to take the gospel to the people. EVERYONE. To say, “I’m not called to do that”, or worse yet, “I don’t ‘feel’ called to do that”, is to have a less than complete understanding of your Christianity.

Remember, there is a difference between a gift, and a calling. If you are gifted by God in one form or another, you know you are called to use that gift. However, you will be called to do things every day of your life that you are not “gifted in”, and/or do not “feel” like doing. Get over it – and get to work giving God the glory and honor He deserves for saving your sad sinful behind in spite of the fact that you deserved nothing of the sort. No one said being a Christian would be easy. No one said that being a follower of Jesus Christ was going to be a life warm siestas, full bellies, and all the bills getting paid on time. His burden is only light, if you accept the load. Never getting off the couch and into the action of evangelism and the making of disciples is not an option God gave us.

This putting of our faith to work is something sadly lacking in so many believers these days. To me it is most sad because the ones who don’t feel lead to serve, are the real people missing out.

Serving three days in a row at an event like the Harvest Crusade, getting there an hour and a half early and stay an hour or longer after requires some sacrifice… and I would do it again in a hear beat.

Why? Because we, the workers, the servants, are the ones that are truly blessed! We got to see lives change before our eyes. We got to see families restored. We got to see hearts understanding forgiveness for the first time. We got to see the Holy Spirit ministering to people in ways you just don’t see every day. I got to see my son’s faith become his own as he shared his heart with others and prayed with them as they came to the Lord. I was blessed to see my other children, a son and daughter sing and dance with the joy of the Lord really getting into their own heartfelt worship – alongside 16,000 others!

It was amazing. God gifted us workers with a blessing of such joy and privilege that only His grace can afford to provide. I wish all of you could have been there. Our lives were truly blessed, and to Gods goes all the glory.

05 November 2010

Where the Rubber Meets the Road...

Taken from Lide Magazine
James 1:22-25
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The rubber meets the road today. The Christian churches in the area were asked several months ago to team up with Greg Laurie Sr. Pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, a Calvary chapel affiliate from Riverside California, and support an evangelic outreach event called Seattle Harvest. The event is tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at the Key Arena in downtown Seattle. The event is free, and there will be musical concerts, an awesome array of speakers and guests, and the message of Hope and Salvation to be shared with tens of thousands of people by Pastor Greg.

We look at events like this, sort of a modernized Billy Graham Crusade for those struggling to put a face on the event, and we see this event is geared towards reaching those unreached people for Christ, and it certainly is. But it is so much more. And we’ll get to that in a minute.

This world is an evil and dark place. We have been called to do our part in taking God’s word and making disciples of people from all over the world. While great emphasis and ‘legitimacy’ has been assigned to Christian missionary work over-seas, and around the globe, for the most part domestic evangelism has ceased to be thought of as worthy, legitimate or even serious in comparison. ‘The United States is a Christian nation, why do we need to do domestic evangelism?’ Well excuse me if I hurt your little feelings here, but Christian brothers and sisters, have you looked around you lately? America looks to be far from Christian from here on the ground.

While American Christians have been funding 80% of world missions, we have spend little precious little time and effort or money here in this country. As a result, we are losing America. Not just because of the ride of unbelievers, and the accelerated growth of Islam and the popular cults, but because Christians here are no longer holding to biblical truths as the foundations to their faith. Christianity in America is now setting their faith standards on societal norms or the majorital opinions of their congregation, rather than the inerrant word of God. The bible is no longer truth; it’s just a ‘resource’ of a set of recommended guidelines. Oh, how far we have fallen.

This Harvest event may be designed to reach those for Christ that to this point in their lives have not had the opportunity to do so, to preach the gospel message of hope to a generation that needs it so badly, and it is. But like I said earlier, it is so much more. Seattle Harvest is designed from the ground-up to be an event to reach people for Jesus. That’s the result of that will be found by those who attend the rally as visitors, as those invited by friends and family, by those called and appointed by God to be there to hear the message of Jesus. But what is the effect on the others?

Almost a year ago, Greg asked the churched in this area and it’s members to help him in pulling off this Harvest event to reach the unreached. But what Greg was really asking of us the ‘church’ in this one of the most un-churched areas in the United States, was to put our faith and calling into action; to not be just hearers of the Word but doers of the Word. Greg has asked us to take our life in Christ seriously enough to be there when there is work to be done, to pick up God’s hammer of Grace, to pull the plows of peace, to share the hope that is in us, and to make war – not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Greg has asked those of us who call ourselves Christians to prove it.

Talk is CHEAP. Grace is not.

Will you join me?

03 November 2010

Sacrifice & Brokeness: Signs of Life

Hebrews 10:1-4

1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

I don’t think anyone takes great joy in being reminded of their sins. I know I don’t. But yet, this element of our Christian walk is important too.

If we look at biblical history the law in its entirety is designed to show us our sin, and to point us to Christ, who is our salvation from the penalty of that sin. This is just a simple gospel message, and it is not hard for us to grasp. While trying to understand why God would do such a thing (make a way for blatant sinners to find their way into heaven), and the mysterious and miraculous incarnation of Jesus and his atoning sacrifice - may be a bit more difficult But the fact remains, it has happened. What we need to concentrate on is not the why of God’s plan, but rather to simply be grateful for it.

Up to the point of Christ’s work on the cross, all things that happened in God’s plan for His people happened with a foreshadowing of things to come; not just ‘things’, but ‘good things’. We now live in the time of ‘good things”! It is good that the work of salvation is done. It is good that we live with the hope of things to come, knowing that all will be glorified by God. It is good that while we still live in a fallen world, the things of glory and eternal await our arrival in the presence of Jesus. But I also feel that it is good that we get the occasional reminder of our depravity before God.

James was good enough to provide us with the biblical truth that temptation in and of itself is not a sin. My good friend Justin Alfred is always kind enough to remind me that it is not the sin that defines the man, it’s the brokenness, or lack thereof, that will define a man ( or woman) of God. Getting back to James he knew that a life without sacrifice, sacrifice of self and the flesh for the work of the kingdom is a life devoid of the fruit of your salvation and appreciation to Christ for His work. A lazy spiritual life removed from being in action for the kingdom, is a life removed from the Spirit of God, a place none of us would choose to be. Getting back to Justin, his reminder is one of grace, practicality and truth. As long as we live, in spite of the Spirit being alive in us, we will have failures. But what do we do with that failure? Do we brush it under the rug without a word spoken, moving on to the next inevitable failure, or do we confess and repent? It is our brokenness in our sin before god that defines us as a Christian who recognizes his place before a pure and prefect righteousness in God.

While it may not be a great idea to seek out reminders of our sinful nature so that we are mindful of our place before a Holy God, it is good that we have them from time to time just the same. Just as the sacrifices in ancient Israel were reminders to the people of the sin before God, it was a regular reminder that we must have a saving relationship with our Creator.

In short, our sin should remind us of our separation from God, and our brokenness should bring us to a place of humble submission and reverence for a God that has done so much for us – when we never deserved it.

29 October 2010

Most Important...Most Neglected?

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

As I was reviewing for an upcoming bible study, I found myself spending more time than usual on word definitions, meanings, colloquialisms, idioms and figures of speech. And then, much to the danger of us all - I got to thinking.

The fact that we have the bible to read is such a blessing. God is well aware of our shortcomings, and in spite of being made in the image of God, we are god’s ourselves. We don’t know everything; He does. For this reason, knowing that man would fall, and would need to be given a path to find our way back to Him, He provided through divine inspiration the bible – His Word – to have, to read, to gain direction and to grow by. Scripture tells us in several places in the New Testament that what was hidden has been revealed through Christ. That what we need to know we will find in Him and through His example.

What a gift we have been given in the bible. I used to always say that the greatest gift that man have been given through Christ was prayer, in that we have an immediate way to communicate with the Father with Jesus as our personal intercessor anytime we like. I also thought that this was perhaps the most accessible, and yet most untapped resource we as Christians have. I mean, who does not wish they had a better prayer life? Who does not wish that their communication with their Creator was more open, fresh, revealing and intimate? Even those with the most excellent prayer life are aware that it can be better.

But after today, I wonder that point. Is prayer life the best gift we have been given in furthering our relationship with God? Is prayer life the most accessible gift we have that helps us strengthens our relationship with God and gain a better closeness with Jesus, and yet the most neglected? Because, I’m beginning to think that perhaps it’s not. I’m beginning wonder if the greatest, most powerful and important and yet most neglected gift given to us is the bible itself.

Outside of the general statements erroneously accredited to the bible like, “God helps those who help themselves”, and “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, neither of which are found in scripture, there is much declared as having been spoken in the bible which in fact is not. Equally, there is much in scripture that is summarily dismissed or sections disregarded in one form or another so that the bible better suits our culture, personal emotive standards or our self designed Christian ‘faith’.

The disciples asked how to pray. They had no idea. Their religion had built a wall between them and God. Their Priests had placed themselves as intermediaries between the Jews and God. Their traditions had become a hindrance to their growth. Communicating with God in this intimate and personal manner was new to them so they asked. But they knew how to study. And while they needed some explanation to make proper interpretations, Jesus became the ‘secret decoder ring’ to the Old Testament scriptures explaining, exposing and fulfilling them all at the same time. The disciples ate this up. They would sit for hours upon hours listening to Jesus, God incarnate, the Living Word, speaking to them the heart of the gospel, and the heart of the Father. Based upon this, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we have those thoughts, notes and experiences to read for ourselves – explained through the Words, actions and character of Christ.

I’m baffled sometimes by how little Christians know their bible, and even more surprised when I find out how little desire there is in some to be in their bible, and reading! Someone recently asked Pastor Chuck Smith how long he had studied for the sermon that he had just shared, and his answer was 60 years! If by God’s will Chuck is with us in another 10 years his answer will surely be, “70 years!”

We are encouraged to pray always, but we are also encouraged to study to show ourselves approved, to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), searching the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), washing our wives in the Word (Ephesians 5:26), and to always be ready to offer an explanation for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). We cannot do those things without being in the Word of God.

Why do we find it incredibly easy to neglect it so?

The only truth relative to our growth as Christians is found in the Bible. Encouragement is found there. Glory is found there. Salvation is found there. It is our foundation, our spiritual food, our direction for life. It is the source for all absolute, and the resting place of the foundation of eternal life. Yet how many of them collect dust all week long, and are lucky to come off of the shelf for Sunday, let alone to be found resting in our laps –exactly where the Lord desires you and I to be?

We need to rethink our commitment to God’s Word in scripture. We need to be settled on scripture being the inerrant Word of God, believe it, and LIVE it.

Let us all recommit ourselves to our bible reading, study and memorization. More importantly, we need to make the bible the centerpiece of our home, in conversation, and practice. Place one on the coffee table, or in every conspicuous place where it can be seen y those who enter your home. Let the bible be where your heart is.

20 October 2010

Vigilance: It Cannnot Be Done While Sitting

I Peter 5:8-9

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.

So much is said throughout scripture. Some of it is heavy on theology defining Christianity, its beliefs, standards and God’s character. The gospel message of The Savior Jesus Christ permeates the bible from beginning to end. But the overwhelming majority of scripture is simply stories, parables and other telling that either directly show us, or intimate to us a practical, Godly way to live.

In the passage that I was taken to today in I Peter, Peter is speaking specifically to church elders or leaders. Peter however, was a man who had experienced much with regards to the joy of walking with Jesus, to the utter failure of falling away at the moment that Jesus needed him most going so far as to deny Jesus with anathema. Yet, despite the prototypical roller-coaster life Peter lived – after finding his real faith at the sea-side breakfast prepared by Jesus Himself, he stayed faithful to the bitter end. And remember, the end was bitter for Peter, as church history credits Peter dying a martyr’s death, crucified upside down on an “X” shaped cross. Peter, knew love, he knew the wiles of the enemy, and more than any man that walked in those days, Peter knew Grace.

Knowing Grace, Peter applied it will liberality, and skill. But he also knew that after knowing your salvation is assured, that there was still much work to be done, and that resting on one’s laurels was simply not possible, if for no other reason than for self preservation.

Leadership is critical in any organization. Perhaps more so in an organization that deals with the solving of conflicts and problems, or one that is responsible for the proper dispersal of benefits. Take government, any government as an example. Poor leadership leads to corruption, and corruption eventually leads to collapse. Look at the CEO’s of major corporations. They must have solid control if their profits are to continue to grow, or the business collapses. Peter knew that because of the Grace gifted to us by God, that leadership was critical. He also knew that while Grace is an indispensible element of the Christian walk, applying it so liberally that sin is overlooked, or that poor leadership is allowed to continue, not only endangers the individual, but the church as a whole. If there’s an infection in the brain, the whole body suffers.

Peter understood that self control, in conjunction with an ever vigilant attitude and posture against the injection of sin, corruption, and apathy was a necessary posture for all believers. He warns us that in spite of our ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling associated with our salvation, that we cannot allow that peace that surpasses all understanding to hypnotize us into a position of lethargy that opens us up to an enemy that is constantly seeking to stumble or steal you.

Peter tells his readers that self control and vigilance are staples to a Christian character. If we are celebrating our Christianity in such as way that we are not practicing self control from the sin that seeks us, and being vigilant to always be looking for the enemy trying to find his way into our lives and walks, that we could be in trouble.

His continued encouragement in verse 9 tells us, like James did as well, that faith without works is dead, that faith requires work, and that we will be required to not simply stand, but resist! As Paul tells us in I Timothy 6, we must not just flee the things of sin, but seek righteousness! Sometimes fleeing is not enough, and we need to seek God in the midst of our resistance in order to replace what the enemy is trying to corrupt, with the incorruptible God.

And here’s where a little Peter style Grace comes into play. He gives us a reminder of something that Peter himself could have used in his time of trouble. None of us are alone in our struggle. None of us.

I Corinthians 10:13 is the key:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

We are not alone – at any time. Firstly we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, rely on Him. Secondly, we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses that the author of Hebrews tells us enables us to lay aside even the heaviest weight – bearing each other’s burdens of course.

As a combat veteran of the United States Infantry, we used to have a saying (well we had many, but this one I can share): “Peace – Through Superior Firepower”. As Christians we have peace, through superior Faith Power, through superior Prayer Power, through Superior Fellowship Power, and because of Superior Grace. In our freedom, joy and peace, let us never rest on our hind-quarters. We do not battle against man, but against powers that seek to devour and destroy us. Like Nehemiah, let us be watchmen on the wall, standing guard in faith. Faith that we have peace in Christ, and faith that when we do hit those fiery trials, that Jesus is always there to put out the fires.

12 October 2010

Hope Reigns Eternal

Romans 8:24

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I received an email yesterday morning. Well, actually, between the more than half-dozen email accounts I have to use in order to keep up with many assets of my daily responsibilities I received 238 in total, but one stood out.

This email happened to come from my sister. She had sent me an email regarding former Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court Roy Moore. Justice Moore’s career seems to have been one of exemplary service. Having graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Moore first served in several posts as a military police officer, including Fort Benning, Georgia, and Illesheim, Germany before being sent to South Vietnam. Moore left the United States Army as a captain in 1974, and was admitted to the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa that same year. He graduated in 1977 with a Juris Doctor degree.

Moore spent the majority of his life in public service of one form or another. However, what justice Moore is best known for is his firm refusal to remove a plaque that contained the Ten Commandments from his courtroom walls. After receiving some initial complaints, Justice Moore decided to take action. Rather than remove the plaque from his courtroom, he commissioned a 5,280 lb monument carved in black granite to be placed in the rotunda of the Alabama State Supreme Court. During the unveiling ceremony Justice Moore said, “Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded....May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land."

For his efforts, on October 30, 2001, the ACLU of Alabama, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Southern Poverty Law Center were among groups which filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, asking that the monument be removed because it "sends a message to all who enter the State Judicial Building that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular."

In outright defiance of [authors note: unlawful] rulings from Federal Courts and Judges, Justice Moore refused to remove the monument. Moore argued that he would not remove the monument, as doing so would violate his oath of office. He stated:

“[The monument] serves to remind the Appellate Courts and judges of the Circuit and District Court of this State and members of the bar who appear before them, as well as the people of Alabama who visit the Alabama Judicial Building, of the truth stated in the Preamble to the Alabama Constitution that in order to establish justice we must invoke 'the favor and guidance of almighty God.”

Justice Moore was right in what he said, and right in taking his stand for truth and Christianity. We are living in a time when Romans chapter 1:18-20 has come to pass; “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

While I look about at the world we live in, my heart has no doubt that we live in the last days. For mankind to live in such a state of depravity and to not just call it good, but to flaunt it in the faces of Christians calling us “fundamentalists” or “radicals” because of our conservative biblical Christian values is all the proof we need.

So how do we live in the face of this turning tide of hedonism? With hope eternal.

In my exchange with my sister she responded to me with just one simple sentence. “Hope reigns eternal.” How right she is Hope does reign eternal. We have seen hopes become reality in the lives of people we felt had little chance at all to come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I sit here at this desk typing this message today as a prime example of that. I may not be able to call myself the Chief of all Sinners like the Apostle Paul did, but I sure was a decorated Lieutenant rising in the ranks of those opposed to God.

We do not know what the future holds for this nation, or for your neighbor or loved one. But life without hope is a life already lost. Justice Moore lives with a hope that he cannot see. We should be doing the same. Living a peaceful life having all your hopes and dreams fulfilled is a wonderful thing. But as a Christian, is that reality ever capable of being met? I ask that question because as a Christian we are required to live an others centered life. If others are suffering, we should be sharing in that burden. If our neighbors are poor, we should be seeking to lift those people out of poverty, supply jobs, skills and opportunity for growth. If our friends and family are lost, eternally dead in their human tents, separated from God, we should not rest until we have given our last full measure in an attempt to show them Jesus. Hope can we do this? By living in hope of things we cannot yet see, but yearn for with all of our sacred being.

Hope truly does reign eternal. Thanks Deb for the reminder.

07 October 2010

All Creation Waits

Colossians 1:15-20

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Inspirations for my devotionals come from a variety of places. It may be from a reading that I have been going through. It may be from a thought that comes to mind that causes me to research a topic or theme. Sometimes it is just a feeling that I have or a mood that I am in that will drive me to be comforted by the Word, or to be lead by it.

As I have mentioned before, I was born and raised on a small farm. Dad’s farm adjoined large tracts of unmolested lands that were free for hiking, biking, hunting, horseback riding and all sort of leisure recreation. I spent my formative years, not behind a desk or on a sports team, but rather in the deciduous woods of western, PA. If I wasn’t hunting or trapping, I was tracking and scouting and learning that terrain like it was the back of may hand. While I knew my Dad owned just a small tract in comparison to the vast forests I roamed, but it sure felt like it was all mine.

I’d see some of the same deer over and over to the point where I’d give them nick-names. I’d visit the same creek crossings and field divides and just sit and watch for hours. I’d stand there in wonder of the wonder. How could such an awesome place exist, and what’s my role in it? I pursued that wonder for a long time. I started college to be a biologist, and then to be a teacher of biology. Then, who knows what happened. I grew. I changed. But I’ve never lost that wonder.

My thoughts that I put to paper today are not meant to draw us into a heart of conservation, or ecology, or to debate the value of recycling or, validity of global warming, or even as our God-given responsibility of stewardship over our natural resources. I write today simply because I cannot look or even consider nature, this world – and not give thanks to God.

It’s called natural revelation. It’s a theological term for God revealing Himself through creation itself. That wonderment that stifled me in the awe of the great outdoors in my youth, was an inner yearning to know God. My God shaped hole was filled by creation. Not just the outdoors and all that it has to offer, but in my children. The birth of our three children drove me to a place of contemplation that I knew I would never be released from until I could reconcile the fact my children were no accident, and that the button noses and toothless smiles were descendant of some Neanderthal-like creature, or worse yet an accident of nature itself when some random strike of lightning impacted a mud-puddle.

When I look over the hills and trees and canyons of this country, I know that nature is not an accident. When I look into the eyes of my children, I know that they are not a result of some cataclysmic storm, but that they were designed, and made in the image of God.

I’m humbled by God, in some small way, nearly every day of my life, and I’m a better man for it. The idea that my intellect can define who God is and how He does things is crazy. The thoughts of His mind, and the reasons that cause things to be done or not done, is so far beyond me that it is almost embarrassing to think that I can even conceive of those thoughts. But, I am made in His image, and all that is made, we are told is for us to care for, enjoy, and use to bring glory to Him.

After all, His work has been done to reconcile us to Him. And not just us, but all creation. All that has been created has been made sinful and dark and spoiled, and placed into an ever-ongoing state of decay, physically and spiritually. Let us be reminded daily to make peace with Him as we are washed by the blood of His sacrifice.

Thank you God for your creation, as it is your creation that has driven me home.

29 September 2010

Understanding God Means Understanding Suffering

I Peter 4:1-6

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

I’m so looking forward to going through this book with our church in the not too distant future, if the Lord continues to lead in this direction. In the mean time, going through the books of Peter and James, repeatedly, to prepare myself for this past has been, and continues to be an awesome experience. Additionally, God is using it in my life to open spiritual doors revealing passages I should have traveled long ago.

The first thing that any congregant must know about their pastor is his humanness. Pastors are fallen sinful people just as the rest of those in the body of Christ. What makes them different is their calling, not their righteousness. Look back at the choosing of the nation of Israel by God to be His focal point all throughout history. Many fell along the way. More importantly, many learned from those who fell, and committed to a more serious life to Jesus. Any pastor or church leader who sets themselves up above their congregants in quality of person or Christian, as opposed to simply doing their best to be a Godly leader according to his calling, is setting himself up for a terrible fall.

In my walk and sanctification, God has revealed to me many things. Accordingly, I have done my best to adapt to those revelations accordingly by choosing to let the Spirit lead me more and more each day, and giving each area God desires of me, over to Him. This process, while necessary, and slow to come, is one that I must embrace as a Christian – painful as it might be. To not do so, to not go with the leading of our sanctification as the Lord calls is to deny that Jesus is our Lord (and not just savior), and worse yet, to deny the Holy Spirit in our obligation as confessed Christians to deny ourselves and pick up the cross that God has said before us with obedience – as painful as it might be. I am no different. God is calling me to change. If I deny the call to change, I’m denying God’s leadership in my life.

Peter was an amazing man. For many reasons. To rise to the level of the man he became, required that he lower himself into the servant of God he thought he was. See what I mean?

Remember what John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. For three years, Peter saw himself as increasing. He was with Jesus with a select group of 12 men. Of those 12, he was part of a select group of three. He was spoken to directly by the Holy Spirit to reveal to Peter that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, savior to all (Mark 8, Luke 4). Peter was special. He is the only disciple to defend Jesus’ physical life, and did so by wielding his sword in the true manner of someone whose career is that of a fisherman: by nearly missing altogether and only cutting of an ear. Peter was a well respected and honorable disciple that was truly looked up to as a Sr. leader on that group of twelve; at least in his mind. Perhaps in the minds of the other disciples too. However, God had bigger plans for him than just peer popularity. To rise to that level at which God had intended for him to be used, Peter had to endure, and find out that maturing really means becoming less, decreasing, so that he might be increase in a Godly way.

Suffering was something Peter had to endure. He was chastised by Christ, he ran away from the scene in the garden after raising his sword, and denied Jesus three times, the third time with anathema. The rest of the disciples knew this and it took Jesus Himself in His resurrected body to go to Peter, one on one, and get things worked out. To bring Peter back into the fold of a Christ follower, Peter had to realize that the suffering he had gone through already was just slight in comparison to what was coming. More so, that all these sufferings were nothing in the grand scheme of things when compared to the Glory that would be bestowed upon him, and all believers, in the heavens for eternity.

Peter understood, intimately, that to be used by Christ to his fullest potential, the potential that was divinely enumerated to him that he must die to himself. He knew that the things of his old life, his old ways, and the ways of the gentiles would have to be put behind him. I’m sure that a litany of old fishing buddies and their fish stories and their lifestyle and behavior so commonly attributed to men of the sea, would have to be left behind, in favor of the new man created in him, and renewed daily by his faith.

We too must do the same. Things we value, if not equally valued by God, must decrease, so that what God has for us can increase. Old friends and old ways, MUST be left behind, so that the new man can grow and blossom in the service of God. If you categorize yourself as Christian, you MUST do the same. To think you can live a life unchanged by the Holy Spirit alive in you as a mark sealing you to Jesus, is akin to believing that there is more than one way to heaven, and that perhaps Jesus really isn’t the Way, Truth and Life. There are some things about Christianity and it’s doctrine that we can debate, and there are some things for which the bible leaves us no room for error. Living like the old man, is not compatible with living a life for Christ, or a life save by God. Scripture is clear, the old man must die.

In truth, we realize this. In reality, we find it hard to crucify what was once our way of life. But we must. Living for Jesus means not living for the last, but to satisfy the calling for our future. Pray daily that we are given the strength to do this through the Holy Spirit. We must give all to Him. Think of this as our way of decreasing. Receive what God offers to us, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, and deem it to be increase, for we know it is good. To God be all the glory.

28 September 2010

New Vision

I Corinthians 4:7

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

I’m not sure why, at least yet, but God really has me going through some changes. It is not that I do not want to change, because quite frankly any change away from what I was or have been, can only be good as long as the leading is of God. But I see things differently. Compassion is more real. As funny as it may seem, reality is more real. Simple decisions are not just being brought to God, but being weighed to determine if they are really even legitimate questions I should be asking, or directions I should be going. In other words, if you should not be going in that direction, why do you have to worry about a decision that takes you that way?

I know that some get to this point and really hit a cross roads in their faith. I guess in the end you have to. What happens is that something awakens in you by the hands of God working in your Spirit. In the process, He places glasses on you that cause you to see things a little more through His heart, which is of course a desirable thing – unless of course you do not want to change.

Funny thing is, can we really be sure that God has not tried to put these glasses over our eyes earlier? I mean, think about that. If He had, would we really know it anyway? Or would that attempt have been forgotten by us, buried deeply in a subconscious fallen, human, sinful mind? Would our own fleshly agendas and desires buried God’s attempt at sanctification and increased righteous thinking in our hearts and minds simply because we had already decided to take the path of our choice anyway? If one does not desire to change, any simply reason becomes a worthy enough excuse to deny the calling of the Holy Spirit into a righteous lifestyle, simply because we want to keep our fleshly lifestyle all the more.

God is changing my heart. Things that used to anger me, now simply make me weep with the thought of the lost soul, the fallen societal morals that are behind it, or the simple thought of how this situation/incident/decision might look if “God” were infused into it. I ache for a more simple life, as God is not complicated, but desires us to be like children so that He can minister to us in more useful ways. Important things become less important. Other things, things that were things of God all along anyway - but were overlooked by the business of life, or the indifference of our flesh-driven world, are coming more into a Christly focus. More clear to His vision, and more convicting to mine.

There are things in my life that, after having put years of labor and focus into, not to mention a level of importance in my life that maybe they should not have been, I’m perfectly willing to walk away from now, if in fact that is what god calls me to do. Knowing that God could call us to go anywhere, do anything or say any word at any time has always been a no brainer to me. Seeing Christians who refuse to consider that God might use them outside of their own little comfortable box refuse to act, or even pray about a calling that God might have for them used in a way they did not want to be used, used to infuriate me. How can you call yourself a Christian at all, and sit there in your chair, all snug as a bug in the rug, and throw your hands up at the very idea that god might call you to do something uncomfortable to you, is beyond my comprehension, and just made me want to grab people by the shoulders and exclaim, “Do you understand you’re telling God NO!?” Now I just want to cry for them, and pray for them, and thanks God that He has given ME the grace and strength to change. Something about horses being lead to water comes to mind…

More than anything, this work in me has shown me more clearly than ever that everything belongs to Him. All that IS, is His. All that I desire is His to give or keep. All that I need is His to provide. Any change in my life that is for the better, begins with Him, and ends with me. All things that are good are His to give, and He desires to do so.

But this is the biggest change of all: I have understanding that everything He chooses to give me IS good, or He would not give it to me.

Be it victory, or trial. If it’s from God, it is good for me. Be it a new path to travel, or a new burden to bear, it’s good for me. If it is a new direction in life, a new job, or a new hair-style – if it is a call from God, shame on me for not believing that it is good.

To get to this point one thing must happen in our relationship with God. We simply get to the point where we say, “God, I give up. EVERYTHING is about you now”, and then release our flesh so that the Spirit leads. So that all we see is the look of our lives, and our witness through the lenses of God’s righteousness. It is easy to confess that as we do things we must do them all for the Glory of God. We can all agree on that I’m fairly certain.

But first, we have to do them.

24 September 2010


Do We Really Grow Up To Become Our Parents?

Matthew 10:42

"And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

Last night my family and I attended the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup. What a great time we had, but boy, it can be an expensive trip.

By all standards of reference, attendance was down in all areas near as I can tell from reports. But hey, let's face it; the economy isn't the greatest right now. People are in dire straits. Ends are hard to meet or are not meeting at all. At any rate, discretionary income is at its lowest level in years, and so everyone is cutting back. The one good thing about that is this - it's less crowded, and the lines for everything are shorter.

As we walked around I noticed quickly that there were fewer vendors. Trade show type exhibits were smaller, and some of the people that we have seen there for years are just simply not there. As our populace relies more and more on our government to bail them out, or to give them some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, the reality is that things are getting worse for the majority of Americans.

As I pondered this thought, I really did begin to pray for our country and the people here. Our leadership in this nation lacks so much in so many areas. Foreign policy, if we have one, is an utter failure. Domestic policies have us on the fast-track to total socialism. Our Congress continually passes legislation that 65-70% of Americans oppose. The elite are ruling what is quickly becoming a subjugated middle-class who are seen as only servants to those in power. All I could think was, "Come Lord Jesus!"

Throughout my childhood, I knew inside my parents loved me. I do not remember my Dad telling me that in words until I was 24 years old and married, but I know the love was there. Growing up on a farm, life was hard, but while we may have had a lot of hand-me-downs, and lacked the latest styles in tennis shoes or didn't have the biggest birthday parties, I had enough. Thinking back, I see how hard we did have it, and also how hard mom & Dad had to work to provide for us 5 children. While I may not have had the Converse All-Star hi-tops that everyone else had and that I always wanted, what I was given was an appreciation for what we did have, and one thing that can never be taken away: Memories.

Walking through the animal barns last night holding hands with my kids, and an arm around my wife I was suddenly 10 years old again myself. In my mind I was the little one holding my Dad's hand, and looking up into his eyes. I remembered the hard life on the farm, and was so appreciative of the lessons that it taught me. I was once again skipping through the barns of the Butler County Fair back in western PA. I was reminded of the importance of the agrarian lifestyle, and how the hard work of so few feed this nation, and for a large part the world.

I remembered admiring not just the farm animals, but the men that owned and worked their farms and how proud I was that some of the best known farmers in the area knew my name and who my Dad was. Names like Knauff, Drueschel, Beahm, Knox and Scheibel may mean little or nothing to you, but they were legendary in the western PA farming community - and they knew my Dad! Wow! I remember the excitement knowing that I was going to get paid 50 cents a day for my work plowing the fields, putting in hay or working in the grain silos. Money I saved to put together $15.00 to become the first Spithaler in history to take a ride in an airplane; rides they sold at the annual Farm Show event for the $15.00 I worked all summer to save. I remembered the satisfaction I felt knowing the dirt that was rubbing off onto the towel even after my shower, was because I had put in a hard day's work.

Perhaps more than anything, I remembered the joy I felt being at the Fair with my family. I knew that this break from the labors of farm life was a well earned reward, and that my Mom and Dad had earned it as well. Days at the Fair or Farm Show were memories that could not be taken away - fond memories of my youth, family life, and the relationship I had with my Mom and Dad.

Then it happened. I was then struck by God with a firm reminder that my children are a gift from Him, and I wondered to myself: Am I making the same memories for my kids today that my parents made for me 35 years ago? Tears welled up, and all I could do was mutter a few prayers under my breath, knowing that the Lord would here, and hoping that my wife would not (grown men should not be caught crying at the fair after all). Well, she caught me anyway- but I did not know how to fully explain how i felt. At least in such a way that I would not totally break down in tears for everyone to see.

The family is God's design, and the most foundational element of society that He has created. We owe it to Him, and to our spouses and children to do all we can to make sure that family is loved and nurtured, supported, and cared for, and given our best attention and strongest most sincere love. Christ died for all of us as sinners so that we might be reconciled to God, and our sins fully forgiven. But He lived a perfect life to be an example of the love that we are to have for His children, and our families that He has gifted us with.

I cannot imagine being blessed with a more wonderful family. God is perfect, yet I am not, and so I pray today that the Lord bless me personally, and all of us corporately, that our Father gives us Wisdom, peace, kindness, caring, love and peace as we do our best in our failed, weak human bodies to live up to the example that Jesus gave us. Without fail, we must be certain to give God the thanks and glory for all that He has done to mold and shape these leaky vessels thus far.