Monday, October 27, 2008

Vote the Bible

Bill Hybels once said, or maybe it was Rick Warren or Dr. Dobson, or Chuck Swindoll or someone else with a higher pay-grade than mine. I don’t recall who said it but that doesn’t matter. I just remember someone telling me recently that they heard a preacher say, “Just vote the Bible.” I wish I could remember who said it so I could give credit where credit is due but suffice it to say that it is not original to me. Truth-be known it isn’t even original to the guy that the other guy heard say it. It really is original to God. Ecclesiastes 1 says that there is nothing new under the sun.
God gives lots of direction on what to look for in leaders in His Word. In Genesis 1:26 He makes man in His own image so we should look for a leader who projects the image of God. Proverbs 29:18 says we need people with vision or we will perish; but not just any ‘ol vision; God’s vision. At their core our leaders need to be people who carry the image of God and share God’s vision for His people. Exodus through Deuteronomy has lots to say about what to look for in leaders as God was organizing Israel into a nation during this time; a nation of tribes, elders, judges, and Moses mentoring Joshua to take over as the national leader. The Old Testament if full of the ups and downs of leaders, the mistakes they made, the victories they won, and how choosing on superficial things such as appearance, speech, status, etc. is dangerous. Basically the OT says of choosing leaders: if someone honestly seeks God’s guidance on who to choose for a leader, He will reveal His intentions. Jesus taught that a leader is to first be a servant. No one is born into leadership. They must first be a servant if they are to become a leader and even once a leader they are still to be servants because leaders are there to serve those they lead not make those they lead serve them; that is dictatorship not leadership. 1 Timothy 3 lists the moral qualifications of a spiritual leader. Remember that all leadership and authority is established by God so every leader is a spiritual leader, the only question is, “Which spirit is the leader following and leading us to follow?” Good or bad, every leader is a spiritual leader.
So for this election, don’t worry; “Just vote the Bible.” Some would say that moral issues are really non-issues and that the real issues are the economy, war, healthcare, etc. I say why can’t moral issues be the issue to me? I have the right to vote based on any issue I want and if the morality of a candidate is an issue to me then it is an issue! I’m tired of the “intellectuals” of the world telling us Christians that we are ignorant and our issues don’t matter then turning around and complaining about the ethical and moral failures of our leaders! Maybe if they would stop telling Christians to shut-up and if they would start voting on morality and ethics with us then the moral crisis in our country’s leadership would go away! Moral issues matter to me! 2 Chronicles 7:14 says that if we would just humble ourselves, admit we don’t know-it-all, seek Him again, and give up our immorality then He will heal our nation. It doesn’t take a long look at America’s morality to see that we need some healing. As for the “issues” I am not worried about them because according to Luke 12:22-34 they are the non-issues. Those things are not truly in the hands of the candidates, they are in the hands of God. God provides food, shelter, clothing, and health/life. What else do we really need to survive? How much of our “needs” are really luxuries that we have grown dependent upon?
Because I have faith in God I can be at peace about this election and simply vote the Bible. If you want to vote the Bible then maybe this should serve as a challenge to you to study it and see for yourself what God has to say. Don’t assume you already know it or take your pastor’s word for it, see it yourself. I am not endorsing one candidate or party over another here; I am simply endorsing God’s Word and discovering whether or not a candidate truly carries His Word. God’s endorsement is the only endorsement that really matters. Simply vote God’s Word and all else will fall into place regardless of who gets elected. And it could be God’s plan to allow leaders in that will usher in the beginning of the end. If that is the case then it must be God’s plan; so what do His believers have to fear or worry about?
Talk to me

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

Over the last several weeks we have looked at a number of ways that we can tell if we are sanctified or not. Some of you may be thinking, “Several weeks? It has been forever, geesh! Let’s get on with it!” I promise we are coming to the end of the series on holiness. Next week’s article should be the end of it. I only hope that this series has helped you to become a better person but most importantly to be a deeper believer with a deeper walk with God. But anyway, we have looked at how you know if you have it. We have talked about giving every single aspect of your life over to God; about what your conscience says about your life; we have asked if we have a passion to serve others; we have questioned if other people see it; we have challenged our love for others; and we have even searched ourselves to discover if we have power over willful sin. We have answered a whole slew of questions about these but as you may have already guessed, there are more questions to be answered before we are finished.
Does the Holy Spirit witness to your heart that you are in fact sanctified? Believe it or not this day and age there may be some who are asking, “Who or what is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. He is God’s presence on Earth since Jesus physically left. The Holy Spirit is very real although we cannot see Him. He is God’s presence living and working among us. He is God’s power, God’s strength, and God’s wisdom. He is God’s everything. Does the Holy Spirit confirm with you that you have it?
God will not leave the sanctified believer hanging forever. He will let you know. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years but His Spirit will make it known to you. It will not be just some feeling either, “Oh I feel like I might be, maybe.” It will be deeper than that. It will be a certainty and a conviction within you. I mean, I feel like I might get a million dollars tomorrow, but I do not know that I will; most likely I will not but I feel like I could. Does my feeling like it make it so? For that matter does my knowing something make it so? No, of course not. The fact that I know something is a result of it being so, therefore if it were not so then I would not know it I would simply hope, feel or think it to be so. Sometimes our feelings can get us into a whole mess of trouble. Do you know it or just feel it?
The conviction we are talking about is much like when you were saved. How did you know you were saved? The Holy Spirit witnessed your salvation and He confirmed in you that it was real and genuine. There may have been evidence of a changed life, but other than that you just knew it. How do you know that you chose the right college, career, or mate? You just know it. Somewhere deep down in your spirit you just know it. If God has sanctified you then the Holy Spirit has witnessed it and He has no reason to keep it secret from you. He isn’t going to play the “Guess what?” game with you. He will speak to you. God’s Spirit speaks to you on a very deep level; much deeper even than feelings. If you can truly answer yes to all the questions leading up to this evidence, but you cannot say that you know that you know, wait for God to tell you. Until He tells you, you cannot be absolutely sure. So you cannot raise your hands if you’re not sure. (Sorry about that silly reference to a 70’s and 80’s commercial. It seemed funny but now it just looks stupid) When He does tell you He will speak it directly into your heart and spirit. Your heart will be “strangely warmed”[i] by the Spirit of God. “The Holy Spirit is faithful, and He will convince, even re-convince, of His work in your heart. Wait for His witness.”[ii]
All of these evidences and the sanctification itself will bring about joy in the life of the believer. Joy, not happiness. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances. Joy is present regardless of the circumstance or whether or not the believer is happy. When the believer is sanctified they can find joy and praise in and for every circumstance of life because in every circumstance, good or bad, there is an opportunity for God to be glorified and this brings great joy to the sanctified believer.

[i] John Wesley when he finally felt convinced of his salvation.
[ii] Keith Drury, Holiness for Ordinary People, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1983, pg. 120

Monday, September 15, 2008

To Sin or Not To Sin

The last few weeks we have been focusing our attention on other people in our quest for holy living. We have talked about a passion to serve; asked if others could see it in you and about your love for others. Holy living is more about others living then it is living for self. However, there are still things within you that need to be dealt with and looked at to fully understand your own level of holiness. So today we are going to turn our attention back to self.
The next evidence of holiness is power over willful sin. DeNeff asks, “Can I confidently say I will resist the next temptation, or do I only hope to?”[i] There are two ideas of sin. One is anything that falls short of God’s perfection and the other is to willfully break His desires when we know better. Which idea of sin is the one that affects holiness? Well let’s look a little closer at each idea.
The idea of sin being anything that falls short of God’s perfection says that any thought, word, or deed done or not done that falls short of perfect Christlikeness is sin. This idea includes anytime we purposefully choose to go against God’s will as well as all the times we fall short not realizing that we are. According to this idea of sin you have to be absolutely perfect in Christlikeness to have power over sin. I do not know about you but I do not know many perfectly Christlike people. I am not sure that humans can achieve a perfect Christlikeness this side of heaven. So, how do we explain the scripture that calls us to a life of holiness if holiness requires power over sin and we cannot have power of sin without achieving Christlike perfection?
According the other idea of sin, we have only sinned when we make the wrong decision knowing ahead of time that it is the wrong decision. Like my Dad use to say to me, “You knew better but you did it anyway!” Holiness does not give you the power to be absolutely perfect. You will still fall short of God’s perfection. The power is when faced with the dilemma of doing what you know is wrong or doing what you know is right; you will be able to do what is right even if it costs you.
You will only be able to reach this level of obedience when your will is totally submitted to God’s will. How do you know if your will is totally submitted? Well first you can remember a time when you once and for all decided the ultimate question of “Who is going to be king over my life?” Secondly, even though God has given you freewill, you have chosen to control yourself by submitting yourself to Christ and allowing Him to control you. Thirdly you see more and more of your desires going by the wayside to make way for God’s desires and you are okay with that. Fourthly you do have power to overcome those temptations when you know better.
God does not promise to remove temptation when He sanctifies you, only to give you the power to withstand it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that you will not be tempted by anything that others you have seen fall were not tempted with. So God will not remove temptations from your life simply because you are holy. They will still come for you just like they do for anyone else. I mean, what is the use of making you strong if you have no opportunity to use the strength? This verse goes on to say that He will not allow the temptation to be so strong that you cannot stand up against it. In other words, He has already given you the strength to stand up against any temptation. Also, to make sure that we do not go on thinking that God is going to somehow lessen the temptation for us or take it away all together if we are too weak, the verse goes on to say that when you are tempted He will show you the way out. But He will only show you the way; it is still up to you to take it. Let me ask, if you were in a burning building and someone showed you a safe way out; would they have to drag you out or would you go on your own? A weight lifter will never get any stronger if others always lift the weight for him and you will never get any stronger if God always does everything for you.
God will give you the power to overcome willful sin, but it is up to you to exercise that power or you will lose it. If you are truly trying but can’t succeed then God has not given you that power yet. If God has not given you that power yet, then there is something of your will that you have not fully submitted to Him yet. The great redneck philosopher, Mark “Tiny” Wilburn says, “Your ought to and your want to gots’ to get together.” The choice to have power over willful sin is yours. Do you want it or not?
Talk to me,
[i] Steve Deneff, Whatever Became of Holiness, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996, pg. 145

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How's your love?

Last time we talked about whether or not other people could see the holiness in you as an evidence of holiness. This time we talk about one of the things that others need to see in you. I believe that this one is such a big deal that it needs to be an evidence all in itself. So, to further the idea of others; does the believer have a genuine love for God and for other people? You guessed it; the only way to answer this question is to answer a series of other questions. Isn’t it cool how life’s biggest questions always lead to more questions? Why is that? Well, that is another writing altogether; probably one full of more questions. Here are the things you need to answer before you can honestly say if you love others which in-turn tells if you love God.
Do you have the capacity to love everyone? Think about this one before you answer it. It does not just mean everyone you have ever met. It means loving those that you usually do not think about. We will get deeper into that with more (you guessed it) questions later. Can you love your friends and family unconditionally? That means no matter what they do to you, you still love them. No one can hurt you like those closest to you and when that happens can you still love them? When they don’t turn out the way you think they should and don’t make the best choices, you still love them. Can you love one who has hurt you or your family? This is one who is not close to you but hurts you or those closest to you. Sometimes we get more hurt over our loved ones getting hurt than when we get hurt. When your child is the victim of a crime, can you still love the attacker?
Can you love the non-believer? This sounds easy because this is what we are supposed to do but sometimes the non-believer can get on our nerves because of their choices. We may not approve of their lifestyle and it may make us uncomfortable. We have to love them through the bad choices and consequences they face because of those choices. Sometimes the non-believer even lives a lifestyle of deep morals and great choices. This can be more challenging to love because of envy or inability to show them a need for Christ. Can you love them through this and let them met Christ at their own pace? Can you love the atheist who claims that Christianity is a farce and that you are lying about loving them? All of the words in the world are not going to convince them that God exists. The only thing that will is the love of a believer who never leaves their side, even if things fall apart in their world. When things do fall apart for an atheist, they have no God to lean on, they only have people. Wouldn’t it be great if the most loyal and loving person they have to lean on happens to be a follower of Christ? Then they will see your love. Can you love the homosexual, even the one who refuses to admit that it is a sin? Here I am not talking about the whole “hate the sin love the sinner” thing that we Christians try to throw at them all the time. I mean truly reaching out to them right where they are in life right now and loving them through it all. If we can love and reach out through other sins why not this one?
Can you love the drug addict or the alcoholic even if they are in that place by their own choices? The great “love” chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is less about martial love and more about holy love. Without love all the gifts in the world are worthless. Without love the believer cannot be sanctified. Do you love God? Not if you don’t love others! If obedience is an issue, if consecration is an issue, if how we treat others is an issue, or if fruit of our ministries is an issue, then we do not need to check our gifts or our willpower; we need to check our love. If you focus on loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body then everything else will fit into place and God will give you the capacity to love all these other people. So if you love God, then you will love others; if you do not love others then you do not love God. You can love others without loving God, but not to the depth and width as you can with Him. So it is that it’s your love of God that gives you the capacity to love others.
Holiness will give you a distinct increase in your love for others. An increase that you will notice and so will others. A truly holy person will live by this creed: “The world will not believe or care that Jesus loves them until they first see that I, the Christian, loves them.”
Talk to me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What do others see?

Steve DeNeff writes in his book on holiness, “our holiness belongs to others as surely as a fire belongs to those people it warms.” This week’s evidence of holiness is going to ask you to look at yourself from a completely different point of view; that of other people’s. We have spent a lot of time talking about self-evaluation and asking introspective questions. (Wow! I didn’t even know that I knew what ‘introspective’ means much less how to use it! I looked it up so I know it is right. I must be getting smarter. I can feel my brain expanding as I type; no wait that is just me getting a big head!) One of the downsides to this is that we tend to look at ourselves through rose-colored glasses. It is human nature; do not feel bad about it. We just have to overcome it by finding out what others think. Other people will always have an honest evaluation of you in mind. They aren’t always willing to honestly share it, but they will have it. The trick is to give them the freedom to be totally and maybe even brutally, honest with you. Holiness is perfect love and God says in John 13:35 that it is our love for one another that will tell the world who we are. They have the God-given right to determine if our love for them and God is perfect. So here are some more questions to answer:
Do other people see it in the believer? Other people can see things in us that we cannot or will not see. We are naturally biased for ourselves. Others have a point of view of us that we could not possibly achieve. We can try to get outside of ourselves and look in all we want to but without the help and input of those who are really there, we cannot reach it. My fraternity used to do this thing that really helped us evaluate ourselves. We called it “The Hot-seat.” One fraternity brother would sit in a chair while the rest of the brothers would sit in chairs in a circle around that brother. We had 10-15 minutes to randomly fire positive remarks at the brother in the middle. Then we had the same amount of time to say things to him that we felt needed improvement. This was to build brotherhood, build us into better individuals, and thereby build a better fraternity. One improvement they said I needed was that I’m hard-headed and argumentative. I don’t know where they got that, I would have liked for one of them to have justified that but I could not get any of them to! Of course I am kidding about arguing with them that would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. Do other people see the Holy Spirit alive and well in your life?
Can others feel the presence of God when they are around the believer? Do they feel the love and passion of God or the judgment and condemnation of the Church? Do they sense that the believer’s life is one that is truly directed by God or someone who is just pretending? God has a huge presence and if He is present in the life of the believer then others around them will feel it also. When Jesus just came close to the demon possessed the demons felt Him. If you are truly holy others will feel the presence of God when you are around.
Is the believer considered a hypocrite? Most of the time, those who spend time with us know us the best. At least they know our behavior the best. Others will know if your actions live up to the beliefs you claim. They may sometimes expect perfection when perfection is unattainable, but how you handle those slip-ups will speak volumes to them about the sincerity of your heart. If you accept responsibility, ask for forgiveness, and then move on; you show holiness. If you blame others for your actions, then it is obvious to them that God is not living in you.
This is not necessarily the test because people could be wrong for a number of reasons. Good actions are not necessarily evidence that holiness is there, but the absence of them is great evidence that holiness isn’t there either. People could misunderstand your actions. After all, only you know what the intention of your heart truly is; whether it is pure or selfish.
Even still, the thoughts of others are great indicators. What does your spouse think? Would your children say you are holy? Maybe you see more holiness than is really there. Or maybe you are too hard on yourself and your family sees holiness when you do not. How about people you work or go to school with? Do they know that you are different? If your enemy attacked you for being a hypocrite would others be able, or willing, to come to your defense? What evidence would they use? What evidence would your enemy use against you? Does your holiness belong to others or are you trying to keep it all for yourself?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Passion to Serve

Alright. Here we go again, another beautiful Monday morning. (Is that even possible, ya’ know a beautiful Monday morning?) If anyone knows about a pastor’s life then you know that July is the busiest month of your life. With all the camps, mission trips, VBS, and your own measly attempt at a vacation. Today is my first day of a mini-vacation so I guess it qualifies to be a beautiful Monday morning.
Week before last I spent the first half of the week in Columbus, IN helping to rebuild houses for people who lost everything in the flood last month. We took eleven people down; six from our church  and five from another. Last week I also spent twenty four hours at the hospital with a family, had a board meeting, played in a golf scramble with some church folks, preached a Sunday sermon, and went to Marion for my own ordination service. That is just the tip of the iceberg for a pastor in July.
The time in Columbus serving with other brothers and sisters in Christ was very special. We enjoyed immense fellowship and were very blessed to have the opportunity to serve those in need in the name and out of the love of Christ. Pastor Mark is an awesome guy and my “brother from another mother.” The people whose houses we worked on were so appreciative and you could tell that through the devastation of their lives being torn apart that they had truly met Christ face to face in the willingness of the Christians in that area and around the state to answer the call to help.
The ordination service was a special time for me personally because it brought to fruition a six and a half year quest. My first official day in the ministry was Jan. 1, 2002 and I began as a 30 year old ministerial student and youth pastor. Six years later I have gone through numerous courses, became a licensed minister, moved to Indiana for a different youth ministry position, have moved even further north in Indiana to become a senior pastor, and am now an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church. It was fun to spend time with other minister friends reminiscing about the journey it took to get here. Let me point out that I have not finished anything. I have only finally made it to the starting block!
That week was special for me, but it was special only because God has instilled in His children a desire to serve Him. All that has happened in my life this past week has been evidence of a passion to serve God not only on my part but on the part of countless others. Some of whom I have had the pleasure of actually crossing paths with and some of whom I am simply reaping the benefits of the legacy left behind by their passion to serve. This week’s evidence of holiness is just that. A passion to serve God.
Both Drury and DeNeff list as an evidence that of our passion to serve God. Is it the believer’s one true passion or is it just a hobby for the weekends or when there is time? Do they think about God, talk about God, talk to God more and more than ever before? Would it be the last thing they would give up or would it be given up before anything else? Have they given anything up for it or have they kept it to times and areas that are convenient for them? Is obeying God the most important thing in their life? How about others; are they attracted to God because of this person? Are they trying to pack the bus as in the first article in this series? Is there any fruit from their ministries? If anything takes priority over God then sanctification is probably not theirs yet.
Time and again Jesus asked prospective followers to give up everything to follow Him and some just could not pay the price. There was the rich young man who did not want to sell all that he owned and give it to others; then there was the other who asked if he could wait until his father passed to follow. Both went away, of their own accord, dejected because they could not pay the price. The message was clear, nothing and He means nothing, is to be more important in the believer’s life than God.
If a believer is serving God than the believer is serving others because the one true passion of God’s heart is people. After all, He created them.
Have a great week! Talk to me!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Still Going & Going

You have seen the Energizer Bunny. That joker is always on the go! I mean, where is he going? I don’t know but I wish he would get there already! Is he ever going to get there? Good thing he isn’t traveling with kids, huh?(Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I gotta go! I’m hungry!) IDK where he is going, but he is having one awesome journey isn’t he? I mean he has been everywhere! So I guess the point of the commercial is not his destination, but rather the journey and of course how the batteries are strong enough to keep him on the move; even strong enough help others keep moving. (Remember the UFO commercial?)
The Christian life is kinda like this. We should grow from and enjoy the journey. The journey is an important part of who we become in Christ. We should stay plugged into our source of power that keeps us going. But this is where the illustration seems to break down. For this pink bunny the destination doesn’t matter and doesn’t even seem to exist. For us the destination is the best part of the journey; along with helping others get there. Not that the journey and the power to keep going are not important, because those things are what keep us going. (The whole A+B=C thing) But they also come as a result of the destination. We keep on the journey because we see the destination and the power to keep going hails from the destination. So the destination is what keeps us going & going.
Along this journey we have three focal points: Looking back, looking down, or looking forward. Usually we are going to be moving in the direction we are looking. Philippians 3:12-14 illustrates this well.
Looking back at what lies behind (v. 12). The journey we have taken thus far is behind us. We have had past progress. We have had good days. A season in life is measured by what it leaves behind and we have left behind some pretty cool stuff. It is okay to cherish and learn from the past journey. We cannot live there. The past journey is what has gotten us to the point we are at now, but it alone will not get us any further.
There needs to be some time looking down at what lies underfoot (v. 13a). We need to look at where we are. We need to have an understanding of our current situation and abilities. We need to asses where we to go next and stay plugged into the power source that takes us there. We are in a pretty good spot, but it is not “end game” yet and we need to keep moving forward. We can’t get caught trying to merely maintain status quo. Maintaining where we are is actually trying to maintain the past because the past is what got us to our current status quo. Maintaining the past means living in it.
So our chief focus should be on looking forward at what lies ahead (v.13b-14). Does this mean the past is meaningless? Of course not, it is why we are where we are. We simply do not need to get complacent. Take it forward. Keep your eyes on the prize and keep going until you get it. Keep looking at your destination, keep moving towards it and looking for those you can help.
In life we are either moving or we are losing; going forward or falling back. If we are trying to maintain status quo then we are really slipping backward maybe so slowly that we don’t notice until we have lost a lot of ground. In high school we used to slowly roll our car backwards at stoplights to make the driver next to us think that they were rolling forward. They were easily scared because they were not focusing ahead. We as individuals or organizations are typically going in the direction of where we focus our attention.
So where is your attention? Are you living in the past, still dreaming of the good ol’ days? Are trying to maintain where you are and what you have? Or are you looking to the future with a healthy respect for the lessons learned in the past and staying plugged into the power source that will get you there? Are you looking back; looking down; or looking forward? Keep going and going. Keep your eyes on the prize. When life is spinning out of control or when it is at its best, watch the Lamb. The world hates the cross because to them it means death and humiliation. We love it because to us it means hope and rescue. It means hope because the Lamb was on it; and because He was on it we never have to be! The rest of the world does not have that hope, or prize, to focus on. Their prize is the temporary, they can’t see the cross like we do. But, if those of us who claim to see it would start living like we see it, then maybe just maybe they will be able to see it too.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Independence?- Are we really independent?

In America we have a spirit of Independence do we not? It is awesome! We don’t need anybody or anything. We didn’t need the King, Britain, or Europe, did we? We left there on purpose! We trekked out on our own, blazed our own trail, and wouldn’t let anyone stop us! The American dream is built on the relentless pursuit of that dream. We are self-made people. The all-American person does it on their own! They make themselves! Nobody hands them anything! The all-American man is a self-made man and the all-American woman doesn’t need any man! We didn’t ask for anyone’s permission or help to become what we have become. We are strong and we are fortified! There has only been one war in our history that we have even come close to losing and we call it a tie! We are tough, we are rugged, & we are unstoppable! No one can stop America and we stand on our own two feet! When other nations need help who do they call? America! We have ambition, drive, and intestinal fortitude! We are what we are and we make no apologizes for it! God bless America! America is the greatest country on the face of the earth and we did it all by ourselves!
Or did we? (Philippians 4:13)Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence? I can’t even spell it! (Spell checker is screaming at me right now) Yeah we threw off the British rule, but we did it with the help and direction of God. The last paragraph has these two statements, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,…” & “ with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,…” We admitted from the beginning that we needed and had help. But it has been a long time since that day. It has been a long time since we as a nation truly relied on God for our survival. Even after 9/11 we didn’t truly rely on God! We gave Him some lip service and ran to sanctuaries all over the country. But we didn’t truly rely on Him! We wanted to be known for lifting ourselves out of the ashes of that horrible day and taking it to the punks that did this thing to us! And that is just what we did. We didn’t wait for permission from the rest of the world to chase those rats back into their holes. We jumped onto our steel steeds, rode over there and opened fire on ‘em! Man what a fight we put up! But where did we leave God? Did we follow Him or did we try to do it ourselves? I am not saying that we should not have defended ourselves. Even I myself called my Marine reserve unit and volunteered to come back and go with them if they needed me. I was mad!
How far should we take the independent American spirit? Have we taken it too far already? Is that spirit destroying us right now? Are we really independent? I submit to you that we are not totally independent, so the question is where do we put our dependence?
It is our independent spirit that makes it difficult for us to admit that there is a God. Even if we admit He is there, it makes it difficult for us to admit that we need to rely on a crucified savior for salvation and strength. But there is a God, and we do not have to do it all on our own. We can’t! We have to have something to depend on. Let’s put down our independent spirit long enough to seek the help we need.
If we would truly seek God, the true God, and live by His plan, we would have harmony, and love. We are not strong enough to get there without Him; as much as we would like to think we are. We are not strong enough to be totally independent of everything and everybody. That is why we have community and church; to be here for each other and lean on God. Let us be here for you and let God.
Some call God a crutch for the weak and feeble. I say they are right. If by crutch they mean something that helps me stand when I don’t have the strength; or they mean something that helps me walk when I don’t have the means; or they mean something that helps me get through life when I fall short of being able to do it myself; then I say: YES, YES God is a crutch! I am not too proud to admit I need a crutch. I am NOT independent of God and neither are you. Today I declare to be my dependence day for I depend on God and God alone! Maybe we ought to write a Declaration of Dependence?
Total independence is a pipedream. We all depend on something. So I ask you, what are you going to depend on to make it though life?

Monday, June 23, 2008

What does your conscience say?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the first way to tell if you are sanctified or what I am calling evidences. The first question to answer was whether or not you had truly made a total surrender to God. Now that we have answered that let us find the next place to look for evidence.
According to Steve DeNeff the conscience is a good place for a believer to look. In Whatever Became of Holiness he asks, “So is there any friction against the will of God within me?”[i] Our conscience is kind of like an internal moral compass which God has placed inside of us. If we have been ignoring our conscience for years we may think there is no rub in our conscience but we know if we have been doing this or not. If our conscience has not been distorted by years of neglect it will give us an honest answer, if we are willing to look in it and listen to it.
Christian/country comic Jerry Clower was famous for saying of the conscience, “If you are arguing with yourself about whether or not to do something, and you have to talk yourself into doing it; you are fixin’ to mess up!” This is a very simplistic way to approach life but sometimes simple is better. God gave you a conscience. He gave it to you to help you know the difference between right and wrong. Some old-timers including myself even though I am not old I was raised by two old-schoolers, would describe the conscience by saying that what ever you do today you have to sleep with it tonight and if you can do this and still sleep well tonight then your conscience is okay with it.
You may say, “Well, what about those who seem to do bad things with no remorse? Is their conscience leading them astray?” I would probably say yes. Consciences will usually lead us well if it has been properly programmed. Consciences will always lead us the way it has been set to lead us. There are no bad consciences, just bad programmers. There are some who have no conscience and do not ask me why. Some of the mysteries of the human brain are unexplainable even by the most educated experts amongst, us of which I am not one.
So back to the question at hand; is there any friction against the will of God with your conscience? If there is none then your can answer yes to this question and move on to next week’s evidence. If not you need to camp-out here before moving on and deal with whatever the rub or rubs may be. HOLD UP; WAIT A MNUTE! Before you answer yes to this and move on there is one more layer to this onion that needs to be peeled away. I mentioned earlier that if there have been years of ignoring your conscience you may not feel that there is any rub. What this means is that you have conditioned your conscience to accept whatever it may be that you have been ignoring as acceptable behavior even though it is not. Truth does not change just because you have reprogrammed your conscience. Just because a car is engineered and programmed to go 150 MPH does not change the speed laws in this country.
You can however get around this glitch in the circuit. Your brain remembers if you have been doing this or not. So before you move on, dig deep into your memory. If your brain tells you that you have been doing this, then you need to take a much deeper and more honest look into your conscience. Many are afraid to honestly look because they are afraid of what they may find; afraid that it may count them out as being sanctified or even saved. I ask you, “What is the first step of salvation?” No, before asking forgiveness. No, before repentance. No, even before confession of sins. Hopefully you settle on this; admitting that there is a problem. First you have to admit that there is a problem that needs confessing before you can or will confess it, repent of it, and then ask forgiveness for it. First you must admit that there is an issue. So now I ask you, “Do you really think God is going to punish or demote you for doing exactly what He tells you to do?” He ain’t cruel like that. The fact of the matter is that the issue(s) are there whether we look for them or not. Finding them is not the issue that would count us out of holiness; those issues being there and our not doing anything about them is the issue that would count us out.
So one more time, “How’s your conscience? What is it telling you about your faithfulness to God’s will?” Talk to me,

[i] Steve Deneff, Whatever Became of Holiness, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996, pg. 142

Monday, June 9, 2008

Today let's talk about how to know if you have made it. How to know if you are sanctified or if you have achieved holiness. This is a tough question to answer and can even be a dangerous one; tough because there are so many aspects of the holy life to consider that we can not be totally sure that we are answering all of them. It can be a dangerous question to answer because it is a tough level to achieve and relatively few people attain it; and if you claim it, you had better live it. Claiming it and not living it makes you a hypocrite which damages the Church more than anything else.
Holiness is attainable. Very few actually attain it, but it can be done. Let me clear up something. Holiness is not cause for spiritual arrogance. In fact, spiritual arrogance is a sign that one is not holy. Achieving it does not make one a ‘first-class’ Christian and not achieving it does not make one ‘second-class.’ I had the honor recently to participate in an Eagle Scout ceremony for a teen in my congregation. I realized something there; even though Eagle is the ultimate goal of every Boy Scout and it is achievable, very few actually make it. A lot of very good Scouts do not make Eagle for whatever reason. Now, holiness is not exactly like Eagle Scout, but it is similar in that there are a lot of very good Christians that do not achieve it for whatever reason. Also similar to the Eagle Scout; it is not the award at the end that makes the person what they are; it is what they went through in the pursuit of it that makes them who they are.
So what do you need to know to know if you are holy? To the best of my knowledge there are seven questions to answer before answering the big question. I can not promise that answering yes to all of these guarantees that you are holy, but I can say with certainty that if you answer no to any one of these then you have not achieved it. I will call these evidences. I will cover one maybe two per week.
The evidences of a holy life begin with a question, “Has the believer made a total consecration to Christ? A total one?” Keith Drury asks, “Was there a time when you settled, once and for all, the question of who would be boss in your life?”[1] It is simple really; if God will only sanctify one whom has given everything to Him then one absolutely has to be able to honestly answer yes to this question before they can hope to be sanctified. So, let’s start with this question as to save time answering the rest of them. This has to come first, that the believer determines that they hold nothing back from God.
This sounds like an elementary question. You may respond to this with, “Isn’t that what I did the day I asked the Lord into my heart?” I would answer, probably not. Let’s think of it like your house; when you got saved you asked Jesus over to your house for coffee. Let’s say that when He arrived Jesus helped you cleaned up your living room where you wanted to have coffee with Him. It was clean and you knew He would be happy and impressed with it. You invite Him to take a break and have a drink, but all He wants to do is move on to the next room. You try to convince Him otherwise but He moves on anyway. From room to room you follow Jesus, totally embarrassed at the mess He finds in each room, but He lovingly helps you clean each one. Just when you think He would be satisfied and take that break He moves upstairs. Now you are getting upset and worried. Finally you come to one last closet. What is in that closet is the very last vestige of your former life. It is who you had always been until this visitor came and cleaned up your entire house, well almost your entire house. You beg Him, “Please can’t we just leave this one alone, go downstairs, and have the coffee now?” But instead He waits while you hide inside the closet not wanting to give up what is inside and embarrassed for Him to see it. He waits and He waits. He does not force this one on you. You have to make this decision. After a long wait, when you’re sure He has given up on you and left, you open the door to find Him still standing there with a loving smile on His face, just waiting for you to give the last little bit of yourself to Him.[2] At that moment you stand at the point of difference between salvation and holiness. “Do I give it all to Him, or hold on to this last little bit?” If you say no then He will not sanctify you yet. You have just counted yourself out of the possibility.
So today’s evidence, “Have you given it all, and I mean all, to God?” Talk to me;

[1] Keith Drury, Holiness for Ordinary People, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1983, pg. 115

[2] ‘House’ illustration also based on Drury’s book, Holiness for Ordinary People

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Growth Potential

Okay, why should we talk about holiness or sanctification or whatever you want to call it? Let us spend the next couple of weeks or so talking about the difference it can make in your life. Let us discuss one difference per week. This week I would like to expound on a comment I wrote in an earlier article, “opened up to a growth potential that never before seemed possible.” Please allow me to use a story from my military days to illustrate this idea.
Part of my job in the Marines was to off-load civilian ships that carried equipment and gear to sustain a battalion for thirty days in the event of an outbreak in fighting. These ships floated in strategic locations around the globe so that a rapidly deployed battalion could meet their gear there without having to load up before leaving home. These ships need to come in periodically for routine maintenance. Part of my unit’s job was to off-load these ships for this servicing. My first operation like this was also the first time for most of our unit. My team was sent below the deck to unchain vehicles from the deck. They had to be chained down to prevent them from shifting while the ship was floating around in the ocean. That kind of weight moving around could prove deadly to a ship even on a calm day at sea! These vehicles had been chained down for two to three years. The room we went to was about 100 feet wide by 100 feet long. We tore through this room unchaining jeeps, hummers, trailers, etc. and were finished in about two hours. We were so happy. We wondered why there were so few vehicles for thirty days of war but, we celebrated a job well done anyway. Just then one bulkhead (wall) of that room opened up and beyond it was a room ten or twenty times the size of the one we had just finished, full of more vehicles such as five-ton trucks, howitzer missile launchers, tanks, hummers, you name it and it was in there. That rained on our parade pretty hard because we thought we were done, even though we knew there must be more vehicles than this. So we just buckled down and got to work on that room. Then we discovered that there were many more rooms just like this one that we still had to conquer!
The Christian life is kind of like this story. Salvation happens when we learn of the job that needs to be done and we arrive at the room to do the job. In our initial sanctification we begin to unchain things that hold us down and are dangerous to our lives and we remove them. However we come to a point where we realize there are more things to unchain but we can not quite seem to get to them se we can get them loose and out of our lives. Entire Sanctification happens when we cry out to God, give it over to Him and He opens the wall that has kept us from growing beyond that point thereby opening up a whole new realm of growth opportunity to us. Now providing we truly love God and buy totally into the mission He has for our lives, we will unchain and clean out everything in our lives that should not be there. If we do run into another wall that seems to hinder us we are equipped with the knowledge and power to get past that wall and keep growing.
If someone has been struggling with a particular sin or sins I challenge and encourage them to give it all over to the Lord. I challenge them to stop trying to do it themselves and to truly give it over to Him. All the spiritual disciplines are great if they are not simply another attempt at doing it on their own. Believing God can sanctify is also great, but when do we stop believing God can do it and start believing that He will do it?”
If one says that they have already done all this yet still struggle with a particular issue, the question then becomes are they talking about sin or the temptation to sin? The difference is that temptation is being tempted to do the sin and sinning is actually giving into that temptation. Sanctification does not stop temptation it simply makes it possible to resist it. If they are still committing these willful sins then, have they truly given it all to God? Hebrews 5:11-14 says if we are going to grow then we have to stop eating baby food over and over and begin to eat solid food. People will stop themselves from growing but God will not. If they have truly given it all to God, stopped trying to handle it themselves and if God had truly sanctified them then they would be past the point of being held back by it. I encourage you to continue in your pursuit of Holiness. It is a tough row to hoe and at times seems impossible. Even still, the opportunity to be opened up to unimaginable growth in Christ makes it worth all the trying.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What difference does it make?

Why should one pursue the holy life? It sounds like a waste of time since we have already received our pass to Heaven so why pursue it? My answer to that would be because of the difference it makes in one’s life. “Well, what difference does it make?” you might ask. I have always told people that aside from the story of Jesus, the best story you can tell is your story. Tell people what a difference Christ has made in your life. No matter your story, tell it. It may be a big and dramatic change or it may be that you have always walked with Christ. Whatever your story, tell it and let God worry about giving you the audience that needs to hear it. In John 9:25 the blind man that Jesus healed says, “I do not know much about Him yet, but I do know what He did for me. He healed me!” (My paraphrase) So here is my story of how holiness and the pursuit of it have made a difference in my life. Sorry to talk about myself, but it is the only story I have.
Holiness and the pursuit of it have made a significant difference in my life. I have gained control over issues in my life that trapped me before my conversion and continued to trip me up afterwards. Until my late twenties I had walked into and out of relationship with God many times. Even though I grew up in a church that taught otherwise, I never could accept that it was impossible to walk away from God because I had done it many times myself! Plus scripture supports this possibility in several places but two of them are John 15 when Jesus says, “if you remain in me,” and in Hebrews 10:35 where it tells us not to throw away our trust. Prior to my latest conversion I struggled with a myriad of sin issues such as alcoholism, sexual immorality, cursing, fighting, pride, anger, and all sorts of unhealthy choices. I use the word struggled only because having been brought up in a Christian family I knew better than how I was living so I struggled trying not to live this way but still falling to the control of sin in my life. After my conversion I found control over most of these issues but not all of them. The ones that remained were not as prevalent as before but they were still there. As I grew in Christ I gained control over more of them but still not all of them. These issues seemed to never go away and God seemed so distant in helping me with them. I prayed and prayed asking God to take these from me. I was just about to give in and proclaim them as the proverbial “thorn in my flesh” (or should I say thorns?) when God confronted me with the idea of giving my life to Him totally. I always thought that was what I did at conversion? Apparently not so much. So in a very broken state on the floor of a coliseum during the alter call at a men’s rally I cried out to God to take my entire life. I was tired of doing it myself and I wanted to fall to my knees and cry out to my Shepard like a sheep does when attacked by a wolf. I came off of that floor with a new sense of God and of living life. I came away from there knowing that there was more to this life than what I had been doing. I believe that on that day God opened my life to growth potential that before had seemed impossible. Since that day I have gained control over issues that I never could have dreamt of before. As a matter of fact I had given up dreaming of someday having control over them.
I have now found a much better life to pursue. I know that I can have control over willful sins that once had control over me. Only now I know that I must rely on God to do it. I have realized that alone I cannot, but partnered with God, I can. I have a love for people that was never there before. I have always loved people but I have never cared about them like this before. I used to be so wrapped up in my own life and my own agenda that I did not care what happened to others. I was the one with the attitude of, “Well they can find their own way like I did,” or, “They got themselves into this mess, they can get themselves out of it!” Even after my conversion I still had this attitude towards people! However, since God got total control of my life He has shown me that in fact I did not get myself out and my one biggest passion has become to follow His will for my life. His will for my life is to fill the bus with as many passengers as possible and to encourage others to do the same thing. It was not until I committed my entire life to Him that He renewed the call on my life to become a pastor.
Now, this has been my personal experience with holiness and the pursuit of it. However I know that everyone is different and I do not want to convey to someone that it must happen like this for them because it does not have to. Even though I use my story as an example, I hope that it comes across only as an example and not the example.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

God & Greyhound?

Let’s take a break from our series on teenagers for a week. I will pick back up next week with a bout two more articles to come on that subject. You can consider that a promise or a warning, whichever you choose. I would like to have a series on living a holy life so I want to wet your appetite for what is to come by giving you a taste of it now. Actually I am writing in code. I have painted myself into a corner this week and have no more time to write a new article so I am going to send you a snippet of something else I wrote this week and plan to expound on it later to make it look like I am doing this on purpose. Seriously though, I do like the idea of taking a break from a series to foreshadow what is to come, even if it has happened by accident!
Have you ever sat around thinking, “There has to be more to the Christian life than this; isn’t there?” I mean, we get saved then we go to church every Sunday for the rest of our lives, yeah right, okay most Sundays, but still, is that all there is? No, it can’t be! There has to be more. So what is it? Well, let’s meditate on Greyhound to help find an answer.
Once a person is saved, regenerated, justified, converted, been blood bought, or whatever terminology you chose to use, their ticket is punched and they are on the bus to Heaven. The funny thing though about buses is that they do not necessarily leave the station as soon as a passenger gets on. So this new passenger has some amount of time between the time they get on the bus and the time it arrives at its destination. During this time the passenger has to determine how they will pass the time. They can do several things. For one, they can get off of the bus if they have grown weary of life on the bus and are tired of waiting for it to leave or arrive. They do have the option and freedom to remove their self from the bus.
They could stay on the bus even though they are miserable because they have a dogged determination to not get off. This is great except if they do nothing to improve life on the bus then they are just going to drag everyone else down who may be having a hoot on the bus.
They could also waste the time. They could spend their time on the bus mindlessly keeping their self entertained, accomplishing nothing of importance or significance by the time it arrives at its final stop.
They could however spend the time at the station familiarizing their self with the bus, its purpose, its operation, even its destination so that during the journey they could be a resource for other passengers or the driver if need be. With this knowledge they could do a couple of things. For one they could use this knowledge to become an expert on the bus and its destination. As an expert they could take pride in what they know that others do not and consistently remind others of their superior knowledge of the bus and its journey. In their expertness they could become judgmental of those who can not see the benefit that they see in being on the bus and therefore refuse to get on. This only reinforces their decision to not get on. If any others do happen to get on with them, they may become impatient with them for not educating themselves better and for not knowing what they already know, maybe even so impatient that they refuse to help the other passengers because after all, “If they really wanted to know they could find out for themselves like I did!”
But, they could also take this knowledge and use it to help as many people as possible to get on the bus with them! They could also use their expertness to lovingly teach and encourage the other passengers to learn the bus and to turn around and use their knowledge to help fill the bus! So in short, as they wait on the bus following their own decision to get on they could do any of three things; get off of the bus and not go on to the final destination; they could just wait for it to leave and then ride solo to the destination (by which they may be surprised if they chose this option); or they can pack it to the brim with others and ride with lots of traveling companions!
There is so much more to the Christian life than just getting your ticket, having it punched, and getting onto the bus. It starts with this, but what follows is so much more glorious than a lonely bus ride; it has to be. Talk to me

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Life and Times of a Roman Warrior

This is Easter week. The most holy week a follower of Christ could know. What do you think about during this week? Is it a special week for you? Is it a life-changing week? Or is it just another week with just another holiday to have to celebrate? “Well, I guess I should take the kids to an Easter Egg hunt or two and get them some Easter baskets and candy.” “Ah, don’t forget the Easter dresses and church that morning.” I know of one person in history for whom this was not a typical week. I am not talking about Jesus either. This was the week He came to Earth for. This was His destiny and He knew it was coming. I mean a guy who did not sign-up to be a part of this week yet through life circumstances he became a part of the biggest event in the history of the Christian Church or in the history of the world. I am talking about the Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion. I asked him one time what that day was like for him. Here is what he told me:
“It all started early one Veneris dies morning or what you would call Friday. It was like any other day when we had executions to do. They were becoming much more common ever since Rome became an Empire rather than a Republic. I was growing somewhat weary of all the violence and death yet at the same time I had become numb to it. Each prisoner had become just another nameless face, a chore to oversee in a day’s work. On this day however, something was different. There were three prisoners being executed this day and one of them had been given the “near death” treatment which meant he was beaten with in an inch of his life before being crucified, our most viscous and humiliating form of punishment. As an empire we had perfected torture and death to an art form. We were good at what we did and I had risen to substantial leadership on the back of this job. But on this day I noticed something different about the one prisoner. One of the other ones was loud and belligerent towards us and the crowd. I can not blame him for being angry; I mean what did he have to lose at this point? Another was begging for his life like a weakling. I guess I can not blame him either; who wants to die? The third prisoner however, never said a word and he was the one with the worst beating I had ever seen. He did not even look human! Yet he carried his cross through town and up a hill just outside the city gate with not one word of complaint nor one plea for mercy. We got to the top of the hill and did our normal thing by nailing all three of them to their crosses and raising them high in the sky. The one in the middle, the worst beaten of the three, finally spoke. I was surprised he even made it up the hill without dieing, so now surely he will curse the crowd or beg for mercy. What he said has left me stunned ever since. He called out to his god which I expected him to invoke the wrath of his god on us all yet what he did was amazing. He called out to his god and asked his god to forgive all of us who had a part in his death! Forgive us! In all my years as an executioner I had never heard a prisoner do that! The rest of the morning and midday was a huge blur to me. My men were taunting him, shoving drink in his face, gambling for his clothes and all sorts of behavior that I would not ordinarily allow. My men were soldiers of the Imperial Army of Rome, they were to be dignified, but I was so enamored by his prayer of forgiveness that I could not make myself react. It was like I was not even really there but was walking around hearing and seeing things that I could not hear or touch. I remember once looking at him and he turned and looked me straight in the eye and even though his mouth was not moving and he wasn’t speaking I could hear him talking to me! He told me that he loved me and he told me that he was doing this for me and that someday I would understand! He closed his eyes and hung his head.
Suddenly the ground began to violently shake and it got real dark even though it was midday. This shook me out of my trance I could now move and speak. My natural first reaction was to begin barking orders to make sure the prisoners were dead if a storm was moving in which was protocol for us. Also protocol was to break the legs of the prisoners as they hung on the cross to make sure they could not push up on the spikes in their feet and continue to breathe thus not die. I gave the orders, ‘Break their legs there is a storm moving in!’ …’What do you mean already dead? Which one? The one in the middle? Well, stab him with this spear to make sure!’ When he was stabbed blood and water came gushing out of him. Then just as quickly as it had come, the darkness was gone and the shaking stopped. I looked up at the middle prisoner and dropped to my knees. Then from somewhere inside me, I do not know where, I heard myself mutter, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’”
He definitely had a life changing experience when the reality of God and Jesus’ sacrifice became real to him. Have you ever had an experience like that? Do you still have them where the gospel continues to become more and more real in your life? Talk to me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Life in a Child's Eye

Have you ever sat back and watched a child live life? It is a really cool thing to do. To just sit and watch the way they approach life and interact with each other is amazing and is unscripted. Hollywood could not script anything like it if they put all of their most talented writers together. Their actions are usually very raw and very natural. They haven’t really been around long enough to be taught how to “behave” so most of what they do comes from raw human instinct. Maybe they have learned some things from their environment, but a lot of what they do comes natural to them.
Have you ever watched a kid tell about something that has happened to or around them? They get so excited about what they are telling you. They really get into the story by telling you all the details (mostly in a random order). Children use colorful descriptions and loud sound effects to tell their version. They get their entire bodies into to the story to express the event. They really love telling stories and make the listener feel like they had been there.
Everything is exciting and new to them. There is still an entire world of possibilities out there for them to explore and learn. They get so excited about learning something new. When our kids get home from school and we sit down to eat dinner, my wife and I will go around the table and ask the ones that are in school, “What did you learn at school today?” This takes the conversation way beyond just asking them if they had a good day.
Kids do not worry a lot either. Some do worry but for the most part kids are fairly fancy-free. (Try saying that five times really fast!) They just play and have fun not really worrying about what everybody thinks. Kids do not have to worry about things such as where the next meal is going to come from, how a certain bill will get paid, being cool, having a boy/girlfriend, etc. They can relax and just concentrate on being themselves, a kid.
They have instantaneous punishment for doing another kid wrong, the lesson gets learned and they move on still friends and cohorts. They do not hold grudges nor try to “get even” all the time. They forgive each other and seemingly forget and move on. They do not sue each other over silly things. Issues among friends do not fester and grow; they deal with them and go on being friends. Now granted the ‘dealing with it’ may be an all-out brawl, but once it is over, it is over and they go on being friends.
Kids are very trusting and want so badly to be helpful. They haven’t learned yet to be leery of every Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes along. They aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and take risks. No one has told them yet that they can’t so they try whatever they want and learn what they are made for that way. They want so badly to help. They do not always do the best job in helping, but their heart is in the right place.
Somewhere between then and now adults loose their childhood. Yes, there are certain childish things that should be left behind, but our approach to life should stay pretty much the same, only our skills should get better. Our stories should be energetic and exciting. We should really put ourselves into the stories we tell so others can get the full benefit of it. We should get excited about learning something new. None of us know everything there is to know about anything. We shouldn’t worry about things so much. Does worrying add a single day to our lives? No, it actually takes days away! We should not worry so much about what others think of us and just be how we were created to be. God meant for us to enjoy life and He gave us rules to live by not to stifle life, but so we could get maximum benefit from it. Granted we shouldn’t go around getting into brawls with everyone we have issue with, but we should deal with issues as soon as we can instead of letting them fester. When someone does us wrong, do not hold a grudge, sue, or try to get ‘even’, just deal with it, admit fault where fault is, forgive, and move on through life as fellow humans doing the best we can to serve an awesome God. Never, never lose the desire to help others. It seems that when we are little with no skills we want to help, but when we get grown and have acquired skills, we no longer want to help. I understand what it means to get burned and not want to let it happen to you again, but is becoming cold, skeptical and paranoid of everyone the answer?
Attacking life through the eyes of a child can be very liberating. Jesus tells us to become like little children to Him if we are to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. A child’s actions may not always be the best idea but their desire to live life to the fullest is something to be desired.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Life is Like a Steam Iron

There are illustrations all over the place that we can apply to life and learn something about life from. Last week it just so happened to be pancakes this time it is ironing. The other day I was ironing my clothes for church. I know, some of you are thinking, “Geesh, this guy is a big girl! Last week he was cooking, this week he is ironing clothes!” First of all, do not be so barbaric, there is nothing wrong with a man ironing and cooking in the 21st Century. Second of all these are all traits I learned in the Marine Corps, where by the way I even learned how to sew on buttons. So for anyone who thinks that the Marines only produce killers, you are wrong. We had to learn other life skills as well. So if you make me mad I will kill you then replace missing buttons as well as iron the suit we bury you in. Obviously I am totally kidding about that. I would not kill anyone with a wrinkled suit that is missing buttons; that would just be rude. Unless of course I had fixed them pancakes for breakfast then it would perfectly polite.
Seriously though, I used to iron clothes like the stereotypical American until I had an ironing life changing experience. What do I mean by stereotypical American? Well, let us just say that moderation is not an American strong suit. If one teaspoon works, then two must work better. Americans are known for overkill and rightly so. So, I used to iron everything with the heat and steam on them turned all the way up because I thought that the hotter and steamier the better it must iron clothes. Then one day I decided to actually read the chart on the iron. I noticed that there were different settings on the iron for different types of fabric. Just for giggles I actually set the iron to setting that matched the tag in the shirt. I was amazed at how much better the iron worked! Since I have started matching the setting to the fabric it takes a lot less time to iron my clothes and they come out looking better.
Have you ever wondered why life does not always work-out like you want it to? Maybe it is because you aren’t living it like you are supposed to. Maybe it is because you aren’t living life at its proper setting. Maybe you have more things going on in your life than you can handle and life is getting too hot. Maybe you are not doing what you can and life is too cold and boring. Maybe you are trying to do things that you aren’t programmed to do at that setting. Either way, your life is not going to be as effective as it could be. Life works much better when it is being handled properly, at the right settings. When used the way it was intended it will yield much better results.
God put us on Earth with a right way to live. Along with this right way, he also gave us freewill. He actually lets us decide if we will live right or not. He does not make us do it right nor does He force us to read the directions. He leaves all that up to us. If we want to just skate through life settling for less than the best by ignoring the directions and doing things our own way, then He will let us. If we do decide to read the directions then He will allow us to understand what it is saying. But when we decide to take those directions and our new understanding of them and actually apply them to our lives then our lives will click like never before. We will still encounter wrinkles in our lives, but we will be prepared to overcome them and even change them. We will be able to flatten the hills and fill-in the valleys of our souls. We can also decide to approach situations in life at the wrong settings, but if we expect to churn out the desired result in doing that then we are fooling ourselves to believe we can do it our own way.
May you learn to live your life at the setting which God designed for every situation you find yourself operating in. May you actually apply what you have learned of the proper settings to the situations which call for those settings. May you learn that when you live the way God intends you to live that He will do infinitely more for and through you than you could ever hope for or imagine.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Life is Like a Pancake

Saturday I was fixing breakfast for the family. I was fixing pancakes, the whole grain kind. Hey I am getting older and need to get used to that stuff and the kids use enough syrup that they do not know the difference! It could be a piece of carpet under all that syrup and they would not know the difference. Anyway, back to the real story. Speaking of rabbit trails, I tried to take my beagle back outside to chain him up this morning, he was busy trying to follow all of the rabbit tracks in the snow. Man he was everywhere! Do pets really take on the personality of their owners? I do not chase rabbit trails do I? Ok, maybe the people take on the personality of their pet instead. Ok, now back to the real story for really real this time.
When ever I flipped the pancakes they would kind of get all warped on the side I had just griddled (is that a word?) I like my pancakes to be flat and smooth which makes no sense because then the butter and syrup run right off and do not soak in. So I would take the spatula and smack the pancake to make it flat again. All the women are now screaming, “What are you doing? Don’t you know how to make pancakes?” Which is the very reason for this story. My wife noticed this and promptly told me that hitting the pancakes would make them hard. Being a typical man I muttered under my breath, where she couldn’t hear of course, something like, “Leave me alone woman, I know what I am doing.” Now the men are saying, “If you were typical man you would not be cooking breakfast.” Men, you would be surprised how many brownie points that wins; you ought to try it sometime. Plus our women have to live with us so they deserve our help sometimes and if Christ died for His Church and God told us to love our wives the way Jesus loved the Church then the least we can do is make some pancakes. Well, after I got over myself I was hit with a Forest Gump moment only this time life was not like a box of chocolates. Life is like being a pancake is it not? Society and even the Church have their idea of how we should look and when we get a little warped from their idea they smack us into submission. Even when doing so makes us less effective in our mission because now we are not allowed to be what God created us to be and God created us a certain way to serve a certain purpose in His Kingdom and now we can’t serve that purpose. Now instead of being shaped the way God shaped us we have become flat and hard and can’t serve the higher purpose. Now I am not saying that there are not certain standards to live by. There is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to live, however, none of God’s standards will ever prevent you from being what He created you to be. That would be insane and God is way smarter than that.
It would be nice to tell people to back-off and let us be what God created us to be, but if that ever happens it will be a long time coming. So in the meantime we need to work on ourselves. We need to not allow life and others to make us hard on the inside or flat on the outside. Allow only God to shape us, and He is not standing over us with a big spatula making us all the same shape. Take heart in knowing that God created you unique for a unique purpose that only you can accomplish. Find friends, family, and a Church that will support and encourage you to use your God-given shape to build His kingdom and then life will have purpose and keep you moldable to His will. Besides, if we all work on ourselves in this area we will stop beating others into submission and if the people stop, society will stop, and we will instead encourage each other.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Christmas Break

So, let’s answer the question we all answered this time of year when we were in grade school, “What did you do over Christmas break?”

+ On two occasions we had family from North Carolina visit.
+ We did lots of shopping! (Whew!)
+ I built my three year old a small clapping horse for Christmas. I have a tradition of building one of these for each of my daughters for Christmas the year they are three years old to honor my Grandpa Sheffield whom was a great wood carver, but never had the money to buy presents for his kids so he always made them out of scrap wood from work.
+ I had the privilege of doing a winter wonderland wedding three days before Christmas.
+ I also had the honor of doing a funeral for the daughter of a church member four days after Christmas.
+ We had a Christmas bash at The Studio and my first ever Christmas Eve service at the AWC.
+ We of course celebrated Christmas by remembering the birth of Christ and by remembering that His death and resurrection were what made His birth so special.
+ I got to attend an international youth conference in Orlando, FL (yes Florida!) for a couple of days and paid for it with a 21 hour bus ride home with 70-80 crazy teenagers!
+ I had more dates with my wife during this time then we had the rest of 2007! Awesome times guys! If you haven’t dated your wife in awhile, ask her out soon, her response may surprise you! She is still that hot chick which you didn’t have the guts to talk to the first time you laid eyes on her only this time she is already yours so just ask her already!
+ One of the most special things I got to do was spend a lot of time with my daughters playing games, playing in the snow, and building our iFrosty snowman (see picture).

I hope you have a great year and that we have an awesome ride together!