Deflated Footballs, Inflated Egos, and Repentence

Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.

The current “scandal” involving a American football team – the New England Patriots – has enthralled Americans and taken over the endless news cycle. There has been many discussion with some becoming quite heated concerning whether the Patriots did indeed cheat in a football game. The evidence (at least that which has been released) seems to indicate that the Patriots cheated by using under-inflated footballs for when their team was trying to score points. An under-inflated football is easier to grip when the weather is nasty – and the weather was nasty for this game. The “they cheated” crowd is yelling about the principle of sportsmanship and fair play while the “they didn’t cheat” crowd makes a point that every team cheats in one way or another so, hey, what’s the big deal?

After I reflected on a discussion I participated in where the “everybody cheats” excuse was brought up I discovered why I find this whole event so disconcerting. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the apparent cheating. It also has nothing to do with the fact that cheating is prevalent in society. No, my reason for being so upset had to do with something much deeper and, in my opinion, more important that the cheating itself.

FIrst some facts…

We all sin and cheat

I am not using this as an excuse for anyone else cheating and thus saying their cheating does not matter. No I am observing a simple fact. All of us – you, me, everyone alive on this planet right now – have cheated and sinned.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  – Romans 3:23 NASB

We are all in the same boat. We all do things that are wrong. We all try to game the system. In the parlance of this scandal, we all use under-inflate footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Yes even those reading this that think yourselves as good, moral people. So get over yourself – and myself – already. We are imperfect cheaters who want to win at just about any cost.

We are all helpless to change on our own

I don’t care how much you try to change, you will remain stained with sin as long as you try to change. “Turn over a new leaf” those around you may say. “Take some behavior modification classes” others may offer. Regardless of what you try to do, you will never be able to stop sinning on your own accord. Why? Because we are all as a dead person when it comes to sinning. What can a dead person do to change his condition? Yeah, thats right, nothing.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  – Ephesians 2:1-2 NASB

So what’s the rub here?

So if we are all sinners and cheaters and we can do nothing to change that fact, why then should we get so upset about the Patriots apparently cheating their way to the Super Bowl? If everyone does, what’s the big deal? It’s just humans being human, right?

It is about their attitude

The Patriots have come out and said they didn’t cheat. They have given implausible (my opinion) explanations about how a football will lose pressure. Their denials actually create more troubling questions for me. Their attitude seems to be of indifference to what they have done. They seem to be trying to dismiss this from everyone’s memory. I don’t think that will work.

So what is the Secret Sauce here?

What would help them get over this scandal and move forward? Simply put, they need to ‘fess up and repent of this mess and then they can move forward. Without that, this will follow them throughout the rest of their history as a team and franchise. And that is a good thing. But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance

The Greek verb for repent is metanoeo (meta-no-e-o). It means simply “to have a new mind”. The idea of this word is to have a new mind regarding Christ (for issues of eternal salvation) or a new mind regarding the issues of one’s sin (temporal salvation). Though both aspects are important, I’m mainly concerned with the latter point.

How often do we feel bad or sorry about what we have done that is wrong? Whether what we have done is run a red light, take more than allowed, taken something not ours, or some other act, do we feel a sorrow for having done that thing?

 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 2 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

The passage above is referring to Paul’s scathing letter to the Church in Corinth that roundly condemned their hedonistic practices and perversion of the Lord’s Supper. If you want a good dressing down about sin, read through 1 Corinthians sometime. read it all at once. I dare you to stay the same after that. But in the selected passage here, Paul refers to the the sorrow that produced repentance. The Corinthians evidently repented of their wrongs when confronted about it. And here in 2 Corinthians Paul is commending them for it and even rejoicing that they did repent.

So what does all this have to do with me or you?

Well, simply put it has EVERYTHING to do with me and you. We have issues confront us every day where we must make a decision to sin or not sin. Every. Single. Day. What we do with that decision indicates where we are in our process of sanctification. If (when) we make the wrong decision and choose to sin or cheat, we suffer loss. Hopefully our conscience confronts us. When our conscience confronts us (as well as anyone else who confronts us) we have choice to either deny it and try to prove that everyone does it or we can choose to change our mind about our sin, agree we were wrong, ‘fess up and move on.

This is much more important than a football game where cheating happened. This has to do with your walk with Christ. Far too often we try to cover up our sin or even deny we did anything wrong. This is a huge mistake. Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.  HIding behind excuses does nothing but enrage those around us and create further hindrances to our own spiritual growth.

So the next time you cheat, sin, or deflate footballs in order to win a game in bad weather and then get caught at it, don’t deny, obfuscate, or offer other excuses. Change your mind about your sin. Admit what you did, ask forgiveness, and then move on after being a changed person.

His Blood

“It is OK. It is His blood, not mine.” Chaim Engel

I am fascinated by World War II. I have been interested in it since I was in junior high school. I’m not sure why I am fascinated by it. Perhaps it was the dark charisma that Hitler possessed that fascinates me. Perhaps its how a charismatic demagogue like Hitler led a cultured people to either do or ignore the savage things that happened during that war. Whatever it is, I just cant’ get enough of history regarding that time period and what happened in Europe during that time.

Back in the 1990’s a co-worker of mine let me borrow a movie of his. It was about a revolt in one of the death camps in Poland. That movie’s title was Escape from Sobibor. It was about the largest and most successful revolt of Jewish prisoners in a death camp. Since that time I have looked high and low for information about it.

Recently there was a documentary on Public Broadcast System about the revolt at Sobibor. It had a few of the survivors in it sharing their experiences and the how the actual plan to revolt had progressed. One particular scene in that documentary got me thinking about the Christian life and how often we mess it up because we don’t see properly.

At one point of the documentary,there is the story of one of the Jewish prisoners killing a Nazi in an area filled with other guards and such. The man who performed this grisly task was named Chaim. His girlfriend (and later his wife) Selma went looking for him. She heard screams coming from the Administration Block where the killing was taking place. She was sure it was Chaim. When Chaim emerged from the building looking dazed and confused, he was covered in blood. When she noticed the blood she was certain that Chaim had been injured. Replying to her, Chaim said “It is OK. It is his blood, not mine.” That statement stuck with me.

How many times do we forget whose blood covers and cleanses us. 

Do you doubt?

Living in a fallen world with our battle with our old nature, we oftentimes focus on the battle that rages and not the war that has already been won. In other words we focus on our battle and not His blood. This focus problem can cause us to doubt our position in Christ. Paul writes concerning this battle within himself

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  -Romans 7:24 NASB

Paul recognizes his wretchedness in performing the very things he really does not want to do. Have you ever felt this way? Have you been this broken by your sin? Have I? I sure hope so because being broken over my sin shows that the war rages…which means I am sensitive to the evil that I still do. But one thing I must remember in this struggle agains the sin that resides in me is that I do not gain victory through my efforts or strivings.

The longer I live the life God has given me the more I realize that I still sin. The more I walk this pilgrims path the more I hate my sin. I know that I’m saved but there are doubts that creep in every now and again. When the doubts do come, I need  not turn to others for comfort (though my close friends are a source of comfort). I need only to look in my mirror and realize that I am covered by His blood, not mine. It is His blood that cleanses me. It is His blood that was spent to buy me. It is His blood that secures me. My blood and effort mean nothing. The only thing that matters is that His blood was spilled to redeem me.

 

When the sea billows of sin roll – when the thunder of accusation boom in your life – when trials come and we fail once again – all we must remember is that it is not by our effort that we are saved or stay saved. It is only through Christ that we have victory over sin.

After all, it is OK. It is His blood not mine.

 

New Year, Old Problems

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes the world seems to think that right is wrong and wrong is right. Yes there seems to be an amorality pervading the world. Yes it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Happy New Year! 

So it is 2015 already. I remember all the hubbub about Y2K and the associated paranoia about computers going bonkers that day. I was working for a defense contractor at that time and we had to take steps to ensure that a our systems were Y2K compliant. What a nightmare that was! Do you remember that time? Do you remember that next-to-nothing bad happened? And now we are 15 years beyond Y2K. You know what? We still have the same problems we had before Y2K – only worse.

Our society is breaking down. We have some folks chopping heads off. We have riots in the streets of the US because someone gets shot. We have police officers who are getting executed in their cars because they are police officers.

Drugs. Disease. Murder. Mayhem. And it is only getting worse. Is this as good as it is going to get? Are these the good ol days?

As Christians we must answer those questions with a resounding NO!

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes there are times it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Evil seemingly grows stronger

So is this statement a contradiction; “Evil will increase in the world but the future is bright”? Nope, not in the sightest. In fact I think it is the most biblically based statement I could make about the future. You see the Bible is full of statements regarding the ever-worsening state of this world. At one point in history Satan (through his anti-Christ) reigns on earth for seven actual years. That can’t be good.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. Matthew 24:21 ESV

Take a look at this verse for a moment. In Matthew 24:21, Scripture states that there is coming a time of great tribuation. This time of tribulation will be unique in its intensity. When this time occurs there will be nothing like it in history. That sounds pretty bad. But we shouldn’t stop there.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. Revelation 13:1-8 ESV

Ugh! Here in Revelation we are introduced to the beast. This beast is empowered by the dragon, normally understood as Satan himself. He’ll seem to suffer what should be a fatal wound to his head yet survive. He will be worshipped and he will gladly receive that worship. This beast will blaspheme and be a prideful person. He will reign for forty-two months (3.5 years).

These two passages highlight the problems waiting in the future. They seem insurmountable, don’t they. For some these future problems create fear and paranoia. They stock up on food and water, They pack their basement full for the coming problems. They fear the future. Because of this fear they become unreasonable in their present life. Their problem isn’t with seeing the tribulation as bad. Their problem is seeing God as less than sovereign.

But is there any hope for us? Is there anything positive about the future? There will be problems like never before. Satan empowers his beast to rule the earth for 3.5 years. There will be blasphemy, pride, worship of Satan…geez, where is the good?

Our future is bright

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.   Revelation 19:11-21 ESV

The problems come. Evil seems to be winning. Until the return. Jesus Christ comes back riding on a white horse. He comes with the armies of heaven and destroys the nations that have gathered for battle. And it isn’t even close. In chapter 20 there is 1000 years of Christ reigning on earth. Boy that sounds great doesn’t it. Christ stomps His adversary and then reigns on earth for 1000 years. In those 1000 years there is unparalleled peace and prosperity on the earth. Noting could top this, right? Well, like Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

After Jesus reigns on earth there will be a rebellion. Yeah, you read that right, a rebellion. But never fear, like before, this battle is a battle in name only. Jesus stomps His adversary again, and the final judgment occurs. After that judgment, those who belong to Christ – whether  save 3000 years ago or during the tribulation or thousand year reign of Christ – will enter into eternity with Him.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

It will be a happy new year for sure. You see though our new years are plagued by old problems, this final new year will include a new heavens and new earth…and no old problems. The core issue – sin – has been dealt with and completely defeated. No more sin. No more death. No more drug abuse, disease, murder, or mayhem.

So for us who belong to Christ, no matter what happens in the next few years, we should be joyful. Regardless of who is President, who is murdering others, or who is wreaking havoc in the word, our future is bright. It is bright because Jesus has this. He is in control. He is sovereign. Since we know where we are going to spend eternity, does it really matter all that much what happens while we await our arrival there?

If you are worried about the times and trials, set your mind on the future. Set your mind on Christ and where He is. Remember that you belong to Him forever.

Lift your head, Christian. Your redemption is near.

Christmas on the Couch

Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

 

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays tucked in my least favorite season of winter, So it is always kind of an oasis for me in the midst of cold, blustery weather. But this year was just wow. It was THAT good.

For many an ideal Christmas would include snow, plenty of presents, family, food and friends. A Christmas would include a trip to grandmother’s house, a cracking fire, hot chocolate, special coffee. The smell of mincemeat pie wafting through the air while Nat King Cole plays over our speakers would make things perfect.

So was this the kind of Christmas I just experienced? Not quite. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But still, this year was the best Christmas ever.

My family got sick the Sunday before Christmas. It was a particularly ugly bug. There was throwing up, fevers, chills, stomach aches, sore throats…the whole shebang! This bug decided it liked us so much that it hung around through Christmas (and beyond). Just when we thought it was over, we would have someone throw up again. Couple this with a severe lack of sleep and the recipe was there for a horrible Christmas.

We were on couches with blankets and buckets around. We were physically miserable. But my was this a magnificent day. We looked like a quarantine area for a deadly virus but we had a wonderful day. How did THAT happen?

We re-discovered joy.

Make no mistake, we were not happy. Our circumstances stunk. We were sick and could not do the many things that we normally would do on Christmas. I think that was the point God was driving home to me and my family. Because we were not slowing down, God put the brakes on and stopped us. And it was wonderful.

So how do we rediscover joy when we are struggling? Here are some hints I hope are helpful.

 

Always remember your position in Christ is unshakeable

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB

In Paul’s closing of his dissertation on our deliverance from bondage and our victory in Christ, Paul minces no words, leaves no doubt that our eternal destiny is secure. When you are sick on the couch and the pressure of the now closes in and makes you wonder of God’s goodness, think about your security in Christ, Regardless of what you or I experience, knowing that when this life is done I have an eternity in the presence of God guaranteed makes me rediscover joy though I may not be happy.

 

Always remember the trial here now is not always going to be around

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

Here James centers us on some very important truths. First, trials are a part of the Christian life. Second, trials have a divine purpose. Third, that divine purpose is competed in us. Our sanctification is accomplished through these trials. Fourth, trials come in various shapes and sizes. Each trial is custom made to give us a missing part.

Trials come and go. How they affect us though, remains forever. For our Christmas on the couch, we learned through the trial of sickness that we did not need our traditions or preferences. We needed only to focus on Christ.

 

Always remember that others can help you bear the burdens that come up

 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

During our weeklong illness we had a number of co-laborers in Christ encourage us and offer to help us. We also had a few who braved our infectious house to drop by and say hello and drop off some yummy treats for when we were feeling better. We received encouragement from our Pastor as well. A final bit of advice about having your unexpected burden shared – be humble enough to joyfully accept the help. Don’t rob those who offer to help of a blessing. Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

So how was your Christmas?

I hope you were well, experienced a wonderful Christmas, shared Christ with others and, most of all, had a joyful time. This is my prayer for you for the coming year – that you will grow closer to Christ, become more like Him and experience life-altering joy all year long.

My prayer is for you to have the best year ever.

The Cross in the Manger

If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

When we think about Christmas visions of a cooing baby lying blissfully in a manger filled with clean, perfectly placed straw fills our mind’s eye. Rarely, if ever, do we consider the reason for the manger. We rarely think about the reason for the incarnation of Christ that way? Why is that? Though we seldom think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, we should.

Before Jesus came to the earth to die for sins, I was dead. I was helpless against the power of temptation and sin.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesian 2:1-2 NASB

There was nothing I could do to stop myself. I sinned because it was my nature to sin. That sin was only a small symptom of the rotting of my soul. You see I was in total rebellion against God. Oh yeah, I was there. A war against God I knew – I KNEW – I could and would win. If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump I was Lieutenant Dan on Forrest’s boat in the middle of a hurricane yelling – and challenging – God to an all-out fight. Yep, that was me.

I could hide the bitterness and anger that filled my soul for a while, but it would come out eventually. My long war with God was indicative of my destination. I was headed to hell in the proverbial hand basket. I was heading to hell not because I had neglected to meet Jesus as my Savior. No, I was headed to hell because I was a slave to sin, powerless against it. I was going to hell because I was in utter rebellion against God. I deserved my one-way ticket to hell.

But something strange happened on my journey to Satan’s kingdom.

 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to thekind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight Ephesians 1:4-8 NASB

 

Jesus interrupted my life and had mercy on me. He saved me. He remade me. He extended grace to a graceless man. He extended love to a loveless man. I did not find God. He found me. Make no mistake, salvation is all God’s work and none my work. And I am so thankful for that.

Since that day when God irrupted in my life things have changed and continue to change. When I was outside of His grace, I could not help but sin. But now, I can resist temptation and sin. Oh I still give in – and that is to my shame – but I don’t always give in to sin. When I was outside of grace I could do nothing to please Him. Now, a recipient of His grace, I can please Him. I am able to obey now, rather than just rebel. I can serve Him rather than fight Him. My long war with God is over. And I was the winner. I am brand new!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.     2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

No I didn’t win because my will or strength bested God’s will or strength. No, I won because He defeated me. Sounds kind of weird I know but it is true. I’ve never been more joyful as I am a defeated human who is victorious in life…because of Christ.

So why consider the Cross – Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection – when looking at a manger? Well that baby in that straw – which probably not too clean – in the manger was born for one reason: to die for a sinner such as I. I can’t help but be humbled at the thought of Jesus as a baby – the only truly innocent baby ever born – born into this sinful world yet untouched by its filth. His mission was to seek and save those who were lost. He came to heal the rotting soul of man…my rotting soul, my lost self. He came for me. For. Me.

So this is why I think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, The wonder of the incarnation is fully expressed in the brutality of the Cross. If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

The incarnation is wonderfully awesome because in being humble enough to become human with the purpose of providing the only sacrifice able to wash sins away, Jesus demonstrated HIs great love for me.

What about you? Are you in Christ?

Do you consider the Cross when you see a cute baby all snuggled and comfy in a nice, clean manger? Have you thought about your war against God? Your rebellion? Your inability to resist sin?

Christmas isn’t about a fat guy traveling around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. It isn’t about trees, presents to each other, grandma’s house or anything else. Christmas is less about the manger and more about the Cross.Christmas is about the wonderful incarnation of God the Son, who soul mission was to die for a sinner such as I,  and a sinner such as you.

 

Heart Surgery

God cares about the position of my heart rather than the actions of my hands.

 

What is my motive for serving God? What is my motive for sharing my faith with others? Am I learning God’s word so that those who see me will think I’m great, smart, or something else about me? Or am I learning, sharing, and serving out of a grateful heart? Which describes you? Motives are often more important that the act.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

The fourth plea from the Psalmist comes now to change the position of his heart. The Psalmist wants his heart to be bent toward God’s testimonies. That is really cool if we think about it. The psalmist wants his heart bent toward God. Why would he use such language?

“Incline my heart to your testimonies…”

Well, if we think about this I believe that the answer will be apparent. The heart of man is evil, that much is true from Scripture. Every inclination of mankind’s heart is toward evil, toward rebellion against God and His commands.

Nothing much has changed in the years since the first rebellion in the Garden of Eden. We continue to fight God for control. We continue to kick back at His commands. We scream and yell about our freedom and how God’s rules impinge on our freedom. We are indeed a selfish and arrogant people. God has placed His law to protect us. His rules form boundaries that will keep us from harm. Our harm is from not observing His laws.

The Psalmist is asking God to change the inclination of his heart. He is asking God to change how his heart is oriented. In essence he is asking God to correct the incorrect bend of his heart from rebellion and evil toward God’s righteousness. What a prayer this is to ask.

If God is to “re-bend” our hearts, we need to be ready to experience pain. This pain will be deep. To change the bend of one’s heart means that our every behavior—our every motive—must be changed. But can I change it myself? No. Only through God can our evil heart of stone be turned into a heart of flesh that seeks after God and His righteousness. It is only through the transforming work of God that we can do anything right or good.

The “re-bending” of our heart is a life-long process. It is like progressive sanctification I wrote about earlier. We continually become more like Christ. The process we undergo in this “re-bending” is fueled by trials. We get placed in trials to change our attitudes, heart orientation, and motives. Courage is needed—faith is required—to ask God to re-bend one’s heart. Do I have that faith and courage? Do you?

“…and not to selfish gain!”

The Psalmist wants his heart—himself—to be bent toward God’s testimonies—God’s words—but that is not the end. He desires that this re-bending will cause his motives will be toward God and not toward selfish gain.

Every church has experts in everything who are quick to judge, critique, and condemn. Sometimes these folks are pastors and elders. Other times they are those who sit in the pews. If a man can not serve quietly in submission to an elder or pastor, that person should never be allowed to lead a church. Someone who constantly draws attention to himself instead of being as quiet as possible should examine his motives. Sadly though these folks will probably never truly look at their motives. Remember, they’re the smart ones. But this problem has been around since the church began. It will remain until after the millennial reign of Christ.

We see this in the Judaizers in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We also see it in John’s 3rd letter when he referenced Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). When we read about Doitrephes we read about a man who out for his own gain, his own position. He wants to be first. He wants to be “the man” when it comes to things of church. He always wants to be first. He is not so much a servant as he is a taskmaster.

Have you ever met on of these folks? You probably have. I have both seen these types of people while sitting in the pew as a congregant and preaching form the pulpit as a pastor. I like how Chuck Swindoll refers to these folks. He calls them “Boars in God’s Vineyard.”

What about me? How are my motives? Am I overly critical about tiny things? Do I want to bend toward God’s testimonies? How about my motives? Do I serve to truly build the body of Christ or do I have selfish motives? The motives of the heart are more important than the actions of the hands. How about you?

Crush me O Lord! Make me into YOUR workmanship and not mine. Conform me, shape me, change me, use me for YOUR glory, not mine. Re-bend my heart toward you and not toward selfish gain.

Hittin’ Nerves

 

“Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.”

I remember this mantra being drilled into my head as I served in the Marine Corps in the 1980’s. Yes I know I’m old. But an aspect of a good leader that is often lost is that a leader is first a good follower. A good leader is willing to be led and has been led.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

In saying “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” the Psalmist again hits a nerve in our modern culture. Actually I think he hits a few nerves. Especially for those in the Church.

The first nerve is that of being led by someone else. How long will we wrestle with God over just who, between man and God, is sovereign and who is not? How long will we battle with Him over control? And before you think I’m being holier-than-thou in asking these questions, I’ve already asked them of myself. Our battle for control goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. How much simpler and enjoyable would life be if we simply observed God’s leading and His sovereignty over us.

Another nerve is the one of knowing everything, or being the smartest. Being led means I have to admit that I don’t know it all. That can be tough sometimes. Well OK, often times! If you haven’t noticed I am quite an opinionated person. I like my opinions. I think my opinions are right. But I hope I know enough to know I don’t know it all. While I may believe my opinions are right, I know that I’m probably incorrect in some of them. I need to be teachable enough to admit I’m wrong when I’m demonstrated to be wrong. I need to be willing to be led to the truth regardless of how many degrees I have on my wall. Being willing to be led means that I don’t know it all but the One who is leading me does. Am I humble enough to be led? Are you?

“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”

And that is exactly what the Psalmist is asking God to do. Look again at our verse for today: “Lead me in the path of your commandments…” The Hebrew word here means “to tread on a path, to march or to cause to march”. Another meaning which I find interesting is that it can mean “to tread a bow (bend a bow to string it) by stepping on it with a foot”. It appears that the Psalmist is desiring that God make him conform his steps to His path. The Psalmist longs to be led into God’s commands, not into a particular place, circumstance, or anything else. Just lead me into the path of YOUR commandments! Are we willing to do this? There’s another nerve! Conform me to You, God!

The Psalmist also states his attitude: “for I delight in it.” Wow, what a great attitude. The Psalmist has his head screwed on correctly. Perhaps this is because he had seen so much disregard for God’s commandments in his life. Perhaps he had seen so much unrighteousness, so much ungodliness that his heart cried out for this. The Psalmist may have seen man at his worst and realizes that man at his worst—or even at his best—requires God to be center of all of man’s desires. Only God can save us from ourselves and our wicked ways.

 I delight in being led to God’s commandments

So the Psalmist not only desires the right thing (to be led God’s way) but also for the right reason and result: delighting in the way of God! How cool is that. Wouldn’t it be great to have a congregation full of folks this way? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends like this? To have those around me (and you) with this type of attitude would be encouraging and a huge blessing.

While we don’t necessarily have this universal attitude today, I know one way we can improve that situation. I can begin to have this attitude. I can desire to be led of God in His commands. I can delight in being both led in a certain way AND in the commands of God. And if every one of us dedicate just himself or herself to becoming this type of person, well, do I have to finish describing what this would look like?

Break my will, break my heart. Crush me O Lord that I might delight more fully in Your commands and Your leadership over me.

Shopping at God’s Feet

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

 

“I want this!” is sometimes heard in my trips into a store. Sometimes the demands for stuff are accompanied by kicks, screams, and tears if the person demanding the stuff doesn’t get what they are demanding. Our selfishness is often on display in the acquiring of stuff.

Sometimes our selfishness can slide into our spiritual life. I once heard a man say that he wanted all the rewards he could get. He wanted ALL the rewards. One of this person’s chief disciples said he wanted a huge crown. In fact he expected his crown was going be soooo big because of all the work he was doing. These folks didn’t seem to be serving God out of a thankful heart. They seemed to be serving God out of selfish motives. Is that really service? Motives are very important to God. James 4:1-3 come to mind when thinking of motives.

Some demand things to make our lives easier, life more certain, family more enjoyable. But How often do I ask for something to make a difference in my friendship with God? How about you?

Returning to our text in Psalm 119, we get a glimpse of such a person. Here we read the second thing that reflects a person who is teachable and one I think is used in a mighty way:

“Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”

“Give me understanding…” 

The familiar “Give me!” is here but look at what the Psalmist asks: “Give me understanding…” Notice that he asks for understanding. This type of understanding is not just mental acquisition of facts. No this includes the idea of discernment. The Psalmist is asking for the ability to discern between things. But to what end?

“that I may keep your law and observe it…”

The Psalmist is not asking for understanding so that he will have a good reputation, be respected, or idolized. No the Psalmist wants to keep and observe God’s law. The Hebrew is interesting here. After the “give me” part, the two words translated “keep” you law and “observe” it are constructed in such a way as to show the purpose of the request or the result of the request.  A translation could be “Give me understanding for the purpose of me keeping and observing you Law” or “Give me understanding with the result of that understand being that I keep and understand your law.” Either way we decide to take this (purpose or result) the motives of the Psalmist are clear.The Psalmist is focused on God’s desires, not his.

Do we have this attitude in prayer? How often do we focus on what God wants for us rather than the things we want? I don’t mean the “if it be your will” caveat we attach to some of our prayers. I’m talking about prayers regarding our sanctification. How about asking God for trials so that we become more like Him? What about asking God to take us to a foreign land? What about asking God for the ability to understand His word so that we might conform to it all the more? How about asking God for challenges so He can glorify Himself in my life? And what about living a life more righteously?

As I look at these few questions, I think “YIKES! Do I have the faith to ask God for understanding so that I will conform to His will more?” How about you?

“…with my whole heart”

Finally, look at how the Psalmist wants to observe God’s law;  the Psalmist doesn’t want to give a half-hearted effort. He doesn’t want to give 90% effort at this. No, he wants to go at it wholeheartedly. He doesn’t want to hold anything back. In sports verbiage, he wants to leave everything on the field.

Have you ever seen someone serving God with their whole heart? Someone totally committed to serving God—totally committed to observing God’s will for their life is a sight to behold. I wish I was that person. I want to be that person. So what keeps me from being that person? What keeps you from being that person? I’ll work on the answers to thee questions and get back to you!

More than a great teacher, fantastic preacher, or renowned theologian we should want to be a teachable people.

We should want to be one who does not know everything but wants to continue to learn. We should never want to think that we have “it” all together but always want to be putting “it” together. We should want to desire to have understanding so that I can discern the things of God from the things of man. We should want to pursue God’s will for his life with our entire being rather than pursuing our own goals.

Will we be satisfied with the respect and admiration of man…or do we desire conformance—and the work that comes with it—to God even though the process of conforming is often painful?

O Lord, how I want you to give me understanding so that I can discern correctly your will from mine and that I would pursue You with all my heart, mind, and soul.

Fake Stuff Can Kill

We should always prefer the real stuff—however it is presented—over the fake.

I have no doubt that quite a few of you who are reading this have heard about the multitude of studies linking the fake stuff we put in our food to all sorts of bad things. I am amazed at the wealth of information out there regarding some of the additives we place in food and deleterious effect on the human body. Before I go too far, here is my disclaimer: I’m not a nut! I don’t think everything ever made in a lab is necessarily bad for us. But I do know that there is good, solid, scientific evidence for some of the stuff that is in our food that can kill us. Or at least really injure us.

One of my sons can not have red food coloring. If he has this red food coloring—well, lets just say he looks like “Dash” in “The Incredibles”! He’ll run around like a crazy man. He’ll stand on his head on our couch. He jump off stuff. He’s a maniac when he has red food coloring. He can’t control himself. That can’t be good for his body. He gets in trouble. He doesn’t prosper. He becomes a real mess.

Just as one of my sons can’t have red food coloring and be normal, the church can’t expect to be prosperous if it settles for fake stuff. Let me explain.

I’ve seen some uncharismatic men in the pulpit. And their delivery was passionless (or at least appeared to be). They were dry, slow, and some would say boring. But they absolutely needed to be in the pulpit. They were gifted and people prospered under their teaching. I’ve seen very charismatic men in the pulpit. They have the winsome personality I would love to have. They meet people and quickly make them close friends (or so it seems). I’ve seen men like this—and the ones I’ve seen should NEVER be in the pulpit. (There is nothing wrong with being charismatic. But if charisma is all you have, then stay out of the pulpit)

I’ve sat at the feet of at some of the most gifted teachers in Christendom. I’ve learned from them many different things. Most of all I’ve learned about selfless service. These great men of God—Dr. Jim Mook, Dr. Thomas Edgar, Dr. Mark Meyer, Dr. Todd Beall, Dr. George Harton, Dr. Ken Quick, Dr. Dan Mitchell, Dr. Ed Hindson, and many more—taught me that serving in one’s giftedness is more important that simply serving somewhere. When a gifted person is plugged in where he/she is gifted, watch out! Now all my teachers are very different in their approach to teaching and their style. Some are not as charismatic as others. But each one is authentic. And the students who have studied under them have prospered.

You see it isn’t what we see with our eyes that matters. What matters is the heart.

God told Samuel not to look at outward appearances when choosing a King. God said He looks differently than man. Man looks at the outward appearance—how attractive, “king-like” a person appears. But God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When the church chooses fake stuff—whether that be a preacher who shouldn’t be preaching or a teacher who shouldn’t be teaching—because they are just sooooo cool and charismatic, the church is in trouble. When we choose the smooth style of Mr. Charisma over the authentic but perhaps charismatically challenged preacher/teacher, we’re in trouble. (This is not to say that every person who is charismatic is bad. Or that every person who is not charismatic is good. These are broad generalities)

We need to look as much as we can on the inside not the outside. Is the person I’m sitting under truly called of God to that position? Is he authentic? Does he really care?

Sometimes we can get the answers directly. If a man claims to be a teacher but has never submitted to a teacher, we should have great pause. In order to teach one needs to be taught. If a person is a self-trained person, that is reason to be cautious. Being self-trained isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be.

I truly believe that to be a Pastor today requires a seminary education. Yes, REQUIRES a seminary education. Why? The proliferation of false teachers and false teaching screams for those in the pulpit who have been tested and tried at the highest level. And a good, solid seminary will test a person before he becomes a Pastor. A Pastor needs to be able to address these false teachings and horrible interpretations of the Bible that false teachers spread. We need pastors who can pass on what was entrusted to them (2 Timothy 2).

Would we trust brain surgery to a self-trained medical doctor? Or how about someone who was trained in veterinary medicine? How about someone who graduated top of his/her class in gardening school? Would you want them messing around in your noggin? I wouldn’t. Well then, why would we allow an untrained man to perform soul surgery on us? Why do we allow an untrained man teach us truths that were written in a culture far removed from our own or  in languages far different than our own? I am convinced that Pastoral ministry is the only “profession” where an advanced degree is seen as a hindrance.

But this isn’t just about Pastors. It is about everyone. When we choose based on appearances we are rejecting God’s model of looking at the heart of a person. When we want our building to look “just so” or our music to be “just this” we are looking at the outward. When we want to program worship so that there is a specific response at a specific time we are trying to be the Holy Spirit. Whatever happened to God moving in the midst of His people? Why can’t God simply be God and we simply worship Him? Sure we’ll worship differently but so what! Some may raise their hands in worship. Others may close their eyes. Me? I usually close my eyes and sing while holding one of my children. And I imagine in my mind that my heavenly Father is doing the same to me.

How cool would it be if we left our preferences at the door of church each week and simply enjoyed the fellowship of the saints of the preaching of His word?

The church has far too often embraced the appearances rather than the true. I’d much rather sit under a charismatically-challenged person who is a selfless, heart-full, compassion-full, grace-filled man rather than the most eloquent, charismatic fraud. The ineloquent, charismatically-challenged authentic Christ-follower will always bring life, love, and liberty . The fake, while he may give a little “sugar (or red-food coloring) high” for a while, will always bring about death, division, and degradation.

Choose the true. Look at the heart. Live authentically. Serve God only.

Wet Feet, Deep Faith

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control.

What is the fascination I have with water? I love listening to water running. I love to listen to water flow in a stream or river. I love waterfalls. I love the sound of water. I love the feel of water. I love being near water. And don’t get me started about the beach! The salt air, the waves beating against the beach, the salt air…ah, the beach! Flowing water has a calming effect on me.

But I’ve noticed something about water in all my time studying it. It can’t support my body. If I step into it, I sink. If I try to float on it, I sink. When I try to swim, you guessed it, I sink. I sink like a rock. I’m sure there is a mathematical equation that explains why I sink. I don’t really care about the scientific explanation; all I know is that I sink when I get in water. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have gills, I have lungs. I need gills to breathe under water…lungs don’t work well when filled with water. But I do like to get my feet wet. I do like to play in water. I just don’t like to sink.

Life can sometimes seem like the place we are and the place we need to be are separated by a wide gulf of deep water. Other times it seems like we are a little boat getting tossed around on an angry sea. Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna sink…you see I can’t swim well and if I enter deep water, there is about a 100% chance I’ll sink. It seems though that God often calls me to get into water. Deep water. Have you ever felt this way?

How do we act when God calls us to believe Him to provide a way for us when there seems to be no way? Do we act on His call or look at our circumstances? Sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve focused on the raging waters around me instead of God’s voice calling me to the opposite shore. For all my bluster, I can be such a coward sometimes. But God works with this coward and glorifies Himself in and through my weakness.

Do you remember when God called Israel out of Egypt? He led them through the desert. He fed them, He protected them, He went before them and was an ever present God.As they were fleeing, the Red Sea was between them and their destination. God said you belong “over there”. Behind Israel was Pharaoh with his army of chariots pursuing them. In front of them, blocking their path forward was the Red Sea. Oh boy! There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do but die.

God decided that He would call Moses to do something that seemed odd.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” Exodus 14:15-16 NASB

So God says to Moses, stretch out your staff over the deep water of the Red Sea and I’ll take of the rest. All of Israel will pass through on dry land. Now the text isn’t clear where Moses is standing but I think Moses was in the water a little bit because he needed to stretch out his staff “over the sea” not toward the sea. So, if I’m right, Moses got his feet wet while God parted the water.

Pharaoh was pursuing Israel and was pretty close to overtaking them. But God took care of that too.

“The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.” Exodus 14:19-20

Right after this, Moses did as he was commanded, the waters parted, Israel passed through and Pharaoh pursued. But the waters didn’t stay open for the Egyptians. God closed them, drowned them and blessed Israel. God continued to lead Israel to the Promised Land. He continued to lead them where He had called them.

This journey, as you know, took a lot longer than previously expected. But after 40 years wandering in the desert, Israel came back to the Promised Land. Moses has died, Israel sent spies into the land to take a look, found Jericho, met Rahab and returned. The nation was at the Jordan River. At this time the Jordan was overflowing its banks. So here we go again. A deep, wide body of water separated Israel from the place where God called them. If I had been there the coward in me would be looking at the water, not my destination. I would hope that my faith would defeat the coward in me.

So what happened?

“Now the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:7-8 NASB

So God tells Joshua He will demonstrate He is with Joshua the same as He was with Moses. He tells the priests to get their feet wet while carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Do you notice something? God said “get in the stinkin’ water!” Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing and interpreting things a bit. But I imagine God was pretty emphatic with His command to proceed, placing their faith in Him and Him alone.

“So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” Joshua 3:14-17 NASB

So the priests dip their feet into the water. They begin to walk in, believing God would take care of things. God parted the waters, just like He did at the Red Sea. Israel went through on dry land. The overflowing river dried up. God did it. But the Priests and Israel placed their faith—and exercised their faith—in God. They got their feet wet.

But what about us? We can see how God acted towards Israel, but what about us? We are not Israel, we are the church. What about us?

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Matthew 14:22-32 NASB

Do you see what happened here? The disciples are in the boat, a sea is buffeting them, and they see a ghost on the water. Jesus tells them not to worry it is He that they see. Peter calls out. He says “If you’re really Jesus, tell me to come to you.” Jesus says “Come on out, Peter.” So what does Peter do? He got out of the boat, and walked toward Jesus.

Don’t miss this: the wind is “contrary” and the boat is being “battered” by the sea. It wasn’t a glassy smooth surface. It wasn’t a nice, calm boat trip. Imagine a stormy sea. And yet Peter got out of the boat. He walked toward Jesus. When Peter began to focus on the effects of the storm, he began to sink. Immediately Peter called out to the only One who could save him. Jesus saved him and asked Peter what he doubted. They got into the boat, the wind and sea calmed down.

Peter got his feet wet. He acted on Jesus words, just as Israel acted on God’s words at the Red Sea and the Jordan River. In these three incidents both Israel and Peter were faced with some difficult if not impossible circumstances. God had called them to these circumstances. God had called them to these places. And God determined to glorify Himself through His people Israel and through Peter. You know what? God wants to glorify Himself through you.

We can have seemingly impossible circumstances confront us. Sometimes when God calls us to a new place of ministry, there is a wide gulf of water between us and our destination. When we stand on the shore facing our “promised land”, what are we to do? When we are in our boat getting blown about by the vicissitudes of life, and our boat is getting swamped by the waves of difficulty and the unknown, we must act on our belief in God. We see our Savior and He calls us to get out of our boat—our security “blanket”. What will we do?

Faith isn’t some theoretical thing. It isn’t something that is impractical. Faith is the verb of our belief. What we believe will show itself in the action of our faith. We must act on our beliefs or those beliefs really are not our beliefs.

Do we believe that God calls us to a destination to serve Him? Do we believe God will provide for us when circumstances oppose us? Are we pursued by the enemy of faith while facing deep waters ahead? Do we sometimes get afraid when we are faced with stormy seas?

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control. When God calls us to a new place, we need to go without worrying about the circumstances. Yes the circumstances might cause fear to creep in. And that is OK. What we need to do when that happens is to have our faith defeat our fears, not the other way around. He has called us to this place for a reason. He will glorify Himself in our lives. We must be willing to act on our beliefs—to willingly choose to follow His call into the water no matter how scared of water we may be.

After all, waters never part until our feet get wet.