2015 Vital Question

It is the Eve of 2015. What is the most vital question going into the New Year? Is it the world economy? Is it global terrorism? Is it the resurgence of the Cold War? Hold that thought…

Since the beginning of human history, men have struggled to determine what was most important in life. Every generation since the dawn of time has wrestled with the question of God’s integrity. It is the same question facing the young couple at the beginning of human history: “Did God actually say what He said?” And the temptation is always the same, to accept as truth the age old lie that God is bent on withholding the good stuff in life. And because we believe that lie, we respond and deny the sovereignty of God and His love as He describes in His Word.

Nothing has changed in the course of human history. Questions regarding balance of power, economic well-being and personal safety are concerns from yesterday, for today and into the future. Those are questions that we can see. But there is another question that cannot be seen. Does it not seem strange to you that for thousands upon thousands of years, the Bible is still being questioned, doubted, denied, twisted and reinterpreted. Those that believe the lie [that God is a figment or crutch of our imagination or He is real but did not say what He said] want to update the Bible to make it relevant to what the culture is saying is truth. Truth becomes non-truth based on whatever seems right for that time and situation. God becomes an idol to appease but not take seriously.

What is the most vital question going into 2015? It is simply this: Are we going to fall into the trap of denying God and the authority of His Word. If we fail to affirm the authority of what God speaks to us about, then we will believe the lie “Did God really say” and allow the weeds of doubt to be fertilized in our minds. We will be people of no vision. This question is at the heart of every human event. Denying God centrality in our thinking causes us to twist God’s original design and intention for us. Tragically, if we believe that God has little integrity, we try to hide ourselves from Him who is lying to us. Who wants to be around a liar?

Having taken that path, we miss the next question, not from the lord of liars, but from God’s heart: “Where are you?” [Genesis 3:9] God is under no obligation to us. We did not create Him, He created us. When that first couple rebelled by believing a lie about God’s integrity, God could have wiped them off the map of just silently ignored them. But He didn’t. He responded in love. We just celebrated Christmas, the advent of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, being sent into the world to provide an answer to our rebellion.

Back to the original question: What is your most vital question going into 2015? Your answer directly affects your destiny. God is asking you today, “Where are you?” He is not asking you because He does not know. He is asking as our Creator because He wants us to find hope and security in Jesus and not be rattled by the events of men. Do you know this Jesus, other than a swear word?

Jesus is calling “Where are you?” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew chapter 11, verse 28]

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Unity is not …

We talk a lot about unity. But what is true unity? I think it has much to do with honor. There are things in life that unify individuals together. People work at the same profession, attend the same church or school, have the same racial or cultural heritage, work out at the same gym, belong to the same family or have a common hobby. Is that the unity that Jesus talked about?

When Jesus prayed that “…that they may be one, even as we are one” was He thinking about something man-made? For example when one belongs to an organization such as a union the connection is mechanical; wanting to protect the group. Unity based on political needs will surge and ebb with the political climate. Unity based on religious rulings made by a denomination only create an environment of “us” and “them” and even if signed by the members will not truly unite people’s hearts. Iron-clad compulsion is not unity. Ed Noble clearly outlined how it can quickly morph into an environment of judging whether a person is qualified as being “in” or “out.”

Unity should not to be confused with putting together combinations. A manager can put together people in his organization to create a team but those combined individuals may not have unity. Unity initiated by God does not take away individual characteristics but rather honors them. Look at how God created a field of wheat. Each blade of wheat is different. No two are alike. Yet looking at the whole field there is a pleasant unity to it. When God created us in His image, He did not create any two individuals alike. Yet He expects us to be unified even though we think and act differently. How can that happen?

David writes in one poem: “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Throughout history, men have tried to create unity through the mechanism of socialism. Results have always been disastrous. Jealousies, envies, rivalries, wars, banishment are the results. Unity is not about uniformity. Unity is never completely achieved by merely engaging in some common work or thinking in a certain way.

God’s Spirit is the only person that can initiate and achieve a real unity of souls. Unity in the Spirit incorporates everyone’s gifts and focuses them toward a common goal. The Spirit teaches us to esteem [honor] others above ourselves. Unity comes when the people of God decide to take seriously the command of Jesus Christ. When the people of God fail to esteem [honor] one another we fail to demonstrate one of the primary evidences of Imago Dei. Our failure to give up our individualism is to deny godliness. We would rightly laugh at the US Army if different units started fighting each other over how to wear the uniform. Likewise, the world laughs at the different parts of Christ’s body as it contends in rivalry over non-essential forms. The world is waiting for the gospel. Jesus said that the fields are over ripe. In our arguments over dogmas, do we ever stop to consider the stumbling blocks we create for our mission as given by Jesus?

The way of Jesus is counter-intuitive. When Jesus prayed: “…that they may be one, even as we are one” He was not praying about obliterating individuality in His followers. He was not praying about unity as something external and structural. Unity is not by artificial restraints. It is by being faithful in allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us grace; it is a holy work and not a work by us. A durable lasting marriage is the result of two distinct individuals actively honoring the other above themselves regardless of the pain to themselves. As we learn to honor Christ and honor each other over ourselves, we will achieve unity.

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Game changer …

Jesus’ words will change your life. His words aren’t magic words. Those words of His printed in red are not mystical. Reading them is not like reading a magic potion. But when we humble ourselves, taking to heart what He says and follow His leading, which is when things happen. Words of Jesus are game changers. The very point that Jesus makes over and over again is the one that we seem to miss most often. The message is clear and succinct: God is present. God is with us. When we face heart pounding situations in life it can seem like entropy [things falling apart, chaos, and generally a downward spiraling of life]. The opposite is true. God is with us. Just because we cannot see something does not mean it does not exist.

I remember time when Kathe and I and got separated in a foreign and strange place. I was looking for her and when she came up behind me and laid her hand on my shoulder it was incredibly comforting to know that she was there beside me. I needed to experience her presence in a tangible way. And God being present makes all the difference in our daily lives. I have found through experience that only God can bring peace and comfort and wisdom confidence and even clarity in the midst of some very trying times.

The very last thing that Jesus tells us is that “He would be with us and walk with us through all the things we have to do.” It’s a game changer in that all we need is His presence in the midst of our trouble. No need to worry about rules, regulations and things to do in order to stay on God’s good side. In reality, without Jesus in our lives, living is just a list of rules to follow in order to survive. And what makes His statement of “being with us all the time” so profound is the qualifier for His claim. He said “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.”

There been times when I have felt very distant from God. And usually those times are times when I’m being rebellious. And it’s that very rebellion that keeps me, blocks me from focusing on the presence of God. Because of that instilled rebellion that resides within me, I think that’s why it’s so much easier to ask God to do things or to answer prayer than it is to ask Him for His presence with me. James chapter 4 verse 8 says “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We can change the game if we so desire. Jesus wants to change our living from entropy to abundant life. Take the first step. He is waiting.

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When Your Beliefs Do Not Match Your Behaviors

Glen Goddard:

Excellent article that avoids name calling common to the “religious right!”

Originally posted on Hope Stands:

Normal individuals don’t kick themselves in the face when they walk because they have kneecaps.  Likewise, normal people cannot play it cool when there’s an inconsistency between their beliefs and behaviors.  The mental anguish that’s caused by inconsistencies between our beliefs and behaviors is called “cognitive dissonance.”

When your actions don’t line up with your beliefs, an unlivable anguish is created in your mind that has to be dealt with.  You have to get rid of the dissonance; just like kneecaps, it’s in our nature to do so.

We attribute the Cognitive Dissonance Theory to Leon Festinger, who wrote about it in 1957.  Humans are sensitive to inconsistencies between their actions and beliefs.  Once we recognize these inconsistencies, we’ll try to get rid of them.

When you violate one of your beliefs or convictions, you won’t just say, “Oh well.”  Instead, you’ll be mentally disturbed and motivated to resolve it. …

View original 756 more words

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Shake off your religion

When you think of the church, have you ever ask yourself this question: “Are you in relationship with a person or with an organization?” As with any relationship, there is always the opportunity for misunderstanding, hurt, neglect and abuse. Sometimes it is intentional and sometime not. The thing that pushes people away from God is not isolated to just one thing. It is like trying to pull apart a hairball. [Thanks Jason for that illustration!] The problem with religion is that it was a good thing that went wrong a long time ago. It comes down to four basic issues.

With religion there is the issue of “us and them” or whether one is “in or out.” Jesus encountered this when the religious leaders of his day asked “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” In other words, how come you and your group do not do things as we do them. We are right and you are wrong. You are out while we are on the inside.

Religion can also create the problem of power. Power equals control and is too easily turned into manipulation. How often have you heard a TV evangelist tell their audience that they just send in money they will be blessed by God. I heard one man tell his audience that they would just send in handkerchief to him he would blessed it and return it to the sender; and God in turn would bless them in answer prayer all for a small donation.

The problem of righteousness scale is a problem of trying to keep certain commandment to please either a group of people or to please God. It becomes a thing of judgment if you fail to keep those certain requirements. Who is keeping track of the ‘righteous scale.’ Is it a church group? Jesus made a startling statement when he said to the religious leaders “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” In Jesus day, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jewish people who worked for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. They were hated and seen by their own people as traitors of the worst sort. But here’s the point of what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes were generally not proud of their professions. They knew they were not living a life that would be pleasing to God. And when Jesus confronted them they were humble. The people that were not humble or those that thought they were living a righteous life. They were proud of their ability to keep the law and were not of the worse sort, tax collectors and prostitutes. And because of that pride their heart was closed to God when Jesus appeared on the scene. You might want to read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. It will give you insight into the difference between prideful righteousness and humility that God seeks.

And then there’s the problem of just simply missing the point. When we’re missing the point we are spending more time obeying and loving what men have set up as the right thing to do rather than loving God and our neighbors. Being legal is more important than loving others. And interestingly enough the world is not becoming less religious but more religious. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day they were setting aside the guidelines of God to follow the guidelines of men. They were setting aside what God wanted in order to keep their traditions.

One reason people adopt following a religion and not a relationship with Jesus has to do with humility. Following a religion and being part of ‘in crowd’ can give us a false sense of security, all in the name of worshipping God. Jesus said “whoever exalts himself will eventually be humble; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So if you turned your back on religion for whatever reason, that’s a good thing. Now start afresh and go seek out Jesus. Abandon fear, fighting, control, wall building and just simply trust Jesus. He is far superior to religion.

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God’s Candle

As young men, several of my buddies and I were new believers, serving on board a ship in the Navy. I wrote home one day from overseas complaining of the darkness of temptations. She wisely wrote back and said that as she prayed for us, she envisioned our ship on the dark ocean with some little lights moving around on it to bring God’s light to a dark ship. Those little lights were us accomplishing our work. That image stuck with me through the years.

Before I met Jesus, I was an unlit candle. God sent several people across my path telling me about Jesus. Finally I realized that I needed God’s Spirit to re-kindle my spirit. In the beginning, it was a small spark. I was careless and sometimes felt as if a puff of wind would surely extinguish it. God put some men in my life that taught me how to feed the flame with God’s fuel. I disciplined myself to daily fuel myself with wisdom from His word. I found that Jesus’ words about “not hiding my light under a bushel basket” meant Jesus wanted to shine through me. When we experience a power failure, the first thing we do is go find some candles and matches, get one lit and place it in a candleholder. Then we place it on the table. I have never found us standing around spending any time admiring the candle holder or the wick. What we are delighted in is the flame that is lighting up the room. That is the focus of attention.

God rarely uses supernatural events or miracles to reveal Himself to the world. His Kingdom expands as we recognize and come to the Light. So the question is this: Today, how else will those around you and I ever see the light of God unless it is radiating from us?

Luke 11:33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.

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Crossroads

FAITH (strong, confident belief in God)

What does faith look like? Over the years I have found that faith is built at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

My wife and I spent three and a half years as missionaries in South Africa. During the first six months we were part of a Mission Development Team located on a primitive base. We left sunny southern California at the onset of warm summer and the next day arrived in Pretoria, greeted by the southern hemisphere’s starting of cold winter. The base amenities’ consisted of cold showers, poorly prepared food, cockroaches and no heat in any rooms. Everyday everyone got up when it is dark and we sat collectively in a freezing room wrapped in blankets while one of us led devotions. Then we each went back to our rooms to spend another hour in personal devotions; all before having coffee. Two months after arriving, I was standing early one bitterly cold morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Icy blasts of wind were blowing through the room like a sieve. My hands were wrapped around the bowl and I had my head over it to catch the hot steam. There just was not enough heat. I remember distinctly questioning myself “What on earth I was doing here?” This was not my picture of serving the Lord. This is not what I had in mind coming to South Africa. “Lord, did I make a mistake?” That was the first time I really started to examine my faith.

On any day in the year, somewhere in the world there is tragedy. The most common question asked is “Where is God?” People from assorted faiths were asking this question last year when 200,000 lives were extinguished in several minutes from a tidal wave and when an entire village of men, women and children were wiped off the face of the earth in less than a minute by a mudslide. My wife and I struggled with the same question two years ago when within seven months of being diagnosed with cancer, our oldest daughter who was an ardent Christ-follower, was dead. Where was God?

It is easy to say that I am going to step out in faith and trust God. It is not so easy to have my faith stretched. Walking in faith means that maybe I am going to be asked to do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in another culture means that I may have to worship with other Christians in ways that may be uncomfortable, or work with other nationalities who do not share my ways work should be accomplished or eating graciously food that is very different from what I like or expect, or doing ministry that seems meaningless in order to reach a people who show no appreciation.

I learned quickly the “knots” of faith: faith does not just drop out of the sky; faith does not just happen like magic; faith is not a result of my effort to believe.

It took more time to learn the “mean’s” of faith: faith means experiencing God under difficult times; faith means learning to go where you have never been before; faith means trusting God for the things that you cannot see, much less understand; faith means trusting God’s intentions [Is He always for me or is He out to get something from me?] and finally faith means that I believe that God is capable of producing results from things I cannot see.

It is easy to say “I trust You God” when things look good. But when I get into heart-racing situations those words can melt like butter. I think that faith may be one of the greatest human achievements possible. The test of my faith comes when I have lost control of the situation and am powerless to do anything.

The test of your faith will be when you encounter something beyond your ability to control. Will you suddenly have “spiritual forgetfulness”? Will you lose sight of what God has done for you in the past? Faith is really nothing more than a practice of choosing to trust God at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

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A Treacherous Trap

I read recently of a woman who was enjoying time with her family one evening. Quite suddenly she started experiencing some mild stomach pains. 24 hours later, after taking some over-the-counter stuff for flu, the pain persisted and got sharper so she went to her doctor. The doctor gave her some flu medicine and told her it was nothing to worry about. A week passed with the pain continually worsening, until finally one evening it was intolerable. Going to the emergency room, the on-call surgeon took and studied her x-ray. He then ordered she immediately be prepped for surgery. The x-ray revealed that her appendix had burst several days previously and poison was slowly killing her.

Greed: avarice, particularly for wealth and things. Greed is analogous to that burst appendix spreading poison. There was a time early in my Christian journey where I was driven by greed. My lust for things started off small. As I spent money that I could ill afford on things I wanted but did not need, I would get annoying little twinges of guilt. Like any sin, greed is never content. During that time in my life I was never satisfied with what I had. As my friends bought new things, I just had to get those same things or even better things so I could stay up with them. The focus of my life was to grab all that I could get even if it meant going further into debt.

Greed warped my personality. I became jealous of my friends for the things that they had and even the positions they held in work and church. I developed an insatiable desire on having my own way. I started to be quarrelsome. Jealousy turned into conceit. I began looking down on those who did not have the things that I had. Looking back, I was struggling for pre-eminence in all that I did, even in the church. I choose to ignore that there is only One who is qualified pre-eminent. I claimed that Jesus was pre-eminent in my heart but that was a deception. Greed was the driving force in my life. I became ego-centric, not thinking about others and did lots of damage relationally.

Here are seven specific things I have learned about greed:
1. Greed is destructive to me and those around me.
2. Greed hinders honest prayer.
3. Greed is offensive to God who is unrelenting in His giving of Himself to me.
4. Greed cannot be reformed by more religious activity.
5. Greed insists on growing over time.
6. Greed breeds injustice and inequality.
7. Greed is the worship of me instead of my Creator and is therefore the highest level of treachery against the King of Kings.

The Bible and Jesus in particular, have some pointed things to say about greed. Jesus combined hypocrisy and greedy self-indulgence together. Matthew 23:25 God warns us that unchecked greed will turn a man of God into a sworn enemy of the Gospel, hindering God’s intended salvation, keeping men from believing in Jesus. Hypocrisy fueled by greed will cause men to take great pains to appear Godly but they are living a life of extortion and excess at the expense of the poor. It is a treacherous trap.

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It’s Not Magic

It’s Not Magic. We all have one thing in common, how to keep sin out of our lives? Even the Psalmist asked the question: “how can a man keep his way pure?” [Psalms 119:9 NIV] Then he turned right around gave the answer by saying “by living according to your word.” Our world is full of “how to” books and seminars. The most consistent answer to living as God would want us to live, is by realizing that it’s only by a divine intervention that man can shape his character so that is pleasing to God. God has provided us that divine intervention. It’s not magic. How do we do it? Be intentional about living according to God’s word. We start the process and God does the rest.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the New Year I make a resolution. I am never going to look at pornography again, ever. But that resolution soon gets broken. The problem is I am seeking God with my head and not my heart. It’s easy to agree with God’s word in my head. But it’s in the heart where God makes the changes. Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart where the “want” to look at pornography comes from, along with every other sin. God has the solution for us.

Memorization is one of the most effective tools God provides for us in combating sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But you might say “Well memorization is something you do with your head.” And you’d be correct. But here’s what happens. As we memorize God’s word we are actually hiding it in our heart. The Holy Spirit can remind us of how He wants us to live. It’s at that point that we have the opportunity to meditate on what we memorized. IF we choose, we can apply it to our lives. As we go through the process of considering what we memorized and considering what God is telling us, we gain the opportunity to try to apply it to our lives. And here is what’s really cool. One outcome is discovering that we are changing. We start delighting in reading His word. And the more we work the process the more we find that we will not neglect finding time get into His word.

The process memorizing, meditating and applying God’s word is much like the old illustration but we’ve all heard. A glass of muddy water stands on the counter. Move the glass under the tap and let the tap run water into the glass. Eventually the running water will push out the dirty water. As we fill our life with God’s words, the pressures of sin become negated and pushed away, replaced by God’s word. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Psalm 119:15-16 ESV]

Here are four things that from my experience I can count on:

  1. When I meditate on God’s precepts [directions for living] this affects my thoughts.
  2. When I fix my eyes on God’s ways this changes my attitude.
  3. When I delight myself in God’s statues [God’s permanent rules established to govern my internal life] this affects what I strive for.
  4. When I make a conscious effort not to forget God’s word, this changes what I remember; old things get nailed to the cross and God makes things new in my life.

Like I said the beginning this is not magic. God wants to support me changing my life. All He wants me to do is to start the action. Listen to the Psalmist: I seek…, I have hidden…, I rejoice…, I meditate…, and I delight. [vs. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 16] Only I can start the process of exchanging my dirty undrinkable water with His clean living water, Jesus. What are you waiting for?

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Too Long?

Did you know that Psalm 119 has 10 synonyms for the word of God? Having lived three score and 10+ years I can honestly say that the Bible is God’s medicine chest for me. It contains every medicine I will ever need to cure any spiritual disease I might have. Check out these synonyms:

Way: a particular course or direction set for us to follow.

Law: a rule of conduct or procedure to govern me along the right way.

Testimonies: evidence from real people in real situations telling me how to live in story form.

Precepts: a principle that takes precedent over cultural norms of society that helped mold me.

Commands: directions given with irreversible authority directly telling me how to live.

Statutes: guidance from the collection of rules established by God’s authority.

Judgments: a testing my faith to strengthen it.

Word: speaking to my heart by the Holy Spirit comfort and contentment.

Righteousness: setting a standard for me, that if I apply, will set me living without guilt or sin.

Truth: the supreme reality; the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

There are 162 verses in Psalms 119 and many have said that is just way too long. Robert D. Foster tells this story about Psalm 119:

“The Bishop of Edinburgh, unwilling to yield to the king of England, found himself on the hangman’s scaffold availing himself to the custom of the times, he was permitted the choice of a song to be sung before his death. He selected Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the song had been sung, a pardon arrived and his life was spared.” [The Challenge, January 1, 2007] Sometimes longer is life-saving!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 MSG)

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Road Map

It is not hard to see that we live in a world with decreasing standards. I love that I can count on the Bible to give me rock solid foundation for living. In my journey through life toward the city of God, the question I have often asked myself is simply “how can I remain uncontaminated. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my experience, but my road can get really muddy or really dusty. It is hard to keep from getting muddy or dusty at times. And there is only one way that I know of to keep from getting dirty and that is walking according to the principles that God has so clearly laid out for us as a road map, no matter what the conditions of the journey. “Blessed are those who live without blame. They live in keeping with the law of the LORD.” [Psalm 119:1 NIrV]

Ed Nobel talked a lot about habits this past few weeks. One of the important habits is consistently obeying God’s rules for conduct. There are just two basic rules for living. First, have the right attitude toward God. Second, have the right attitude toward man. And where do I learn what that attitude should be? By reading and applying what I read. Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. I have learned that I experience the most happiness and contentment when I learned to become habituated to consistent listening and responding to God in obedience.

Make no mistake. I am not talking about religious habits that make us think that we are something special to God and therefore have a certain holiness by obeying certain rules. What I am talking about is having conversation and action that is without hypocrisy. What I desire is that my will should be brought into alignment with God’s purpose. I want to experience unbroken fellowship with Jesus. Psalm 119 is the possibility psalm. It is really a clear statement of what I can experience when I believe what God says and then walk by faith according to his promises. God promises that my life will be blameless in His eyes if I follow His lead.

All people have the possibility of genuine contentment but few take the right way that God has laid out for us to follow. God has established a hedgerow for us to live within and when we get obstinate and break out of the hedgerow by doing what we shouldn’t we end up with consequences not to our liking. And then we blame God or others.

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