Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Lesson from Steve Harvey

OK, so it's December 22, 2015 and it's been two days since the Miss Universe Pageant.  That's two days of news media and social media taking shots at Pageant host Steve Harvey for his undeniable gaffe.  If you've been on a media fast or simply out of touch because of the holiday rush, this is how it played out.   There were two contestants left.  Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines were the top two of the five finalists.  Harvey had carefully read the identities starting with fifth runner-up.  Miss USA was third, by the way.  With only two names remaining, the standard operating procedure is to announce the winner (Miss Universe) since the remaining candidate would then be first runner-up. Unfortunately, Harvey continued to read down the list and read the first runner-up, Miss Columbia, BUT proclaimed her to be the new Miss Universe.  Yes, it was a snafu of biblical proportions. Internationally televised with millions of viewers including those from the Philippines and Colombia.  

Steve Harvey had blown it and he knew it.  So he did one of the most honorable and painful things I have ever seen.  He acknowledged his mistake, took full responsibility, and apologized.  Yes, it's true that his actions did not remove the embarrassment Miss Colombia must have felt.  It didn't assuage the anger that the people of Colombia felt.  But it was quick, direct, heartfelt, and courageous.  I have liked Steve Harvey for a while, but on Sunday, my respect level for him shot way up.

For years we have been living in a culture where accepting responsibility is the exception more than the rule.  When things go wrong, when mistakes are made, we often look for scapegoats in order to escape responsibility.  It's nothing new.  In fact, it started in the Garden of Eden.  If you check out Genesis 3, you'll find that when God confronted Adam about his eating of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam's quick response was to blame God.  "It was the woman YOU gave me who gave me the fruit . . ." (v. 10  NLT  Caps emphasis mine)   Let's get this straight.  Adam and Eve sin and bring sin and death into the world (Romans 5:12).  When confronted about their wrongdoing, Adam blames God and the woman and Eve blames the serpent (vv. 13-14).  It was the beginning of denial, the unwillingness to take responsibility for our sins, mistakes, and failures.  

Blaming others is easy.  Accepting responsibility and consequences takes courage.  Blaming others is childish.  Taking responsibility for our words, actions, and failures is a sign of maturity.  Steve Harvey could have blamed the designer of the card or the lighting or the pressure of the moment.  Instead, he showed the world the card and owned his mistake.  

And that is exactly what we must do IF we want to have a personal and intimate relationship with God.  We cannot blame others for our sins, our selfishness, or our character flaws.  We must own them, take responsibility for them, and confess them to a holy God.  The word confess literally means "to say the same thing."  When we confess, we take responsibility by saying the very things that God already knows to be true.  But John the Apostle tells us in I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, we can depend upon Him to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every unrighteousness."  The "Him" John refers to here is Jesus (see I John 1:7)

This is WHY Jesus came.  God actually took responsibility for a creation that had become mired in sin, selfishness, and self-destruction.  No animal sacrifice or religious ritual could remove the stain of sin from the crown of His creation.  So He took responsibility and gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who places their faith in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16  NLT)   Now it's up to you!  God has done His part.  But He expects you to take responsibility for your sins, confess them, receive His forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and be born into His family as a child of God (John 1:12).  

I might not agree with everything Steve Harvey says or does, but in this instance, He showed us the way.  Take responsibility for your life today, confess your sins to God, receive the free gift of eternal life by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus, and enjoy a new life in Jesus Christ.  

Father God, I know that I'm a sinner and I take responsibility for my own life.  I cannot change on my own, but I now know that this is why You sent Your one and only Son.  Thank You for sending Jesus.  Thank You for His death of the cross which makes forgiveness of my sins possible.  Thank You for raising Him from the dead which makes eternal life a reality for those who trust and obey Him.  Today, I become a follower of Jesus.  I place my faith in Him and pledge my obedience to Him.  

IF you prayed that prayer, find yourself a good, Bible-based church this Christmas weekend and go there.  Let those people know what you have done, then follow the example of Jesus by being baptized as His follower.  

And if you're in the Walterboro, SC area and don't have a church, please consider Nova Church.  We're at 4955 Jeffries Hwy. and our service begins at 10:30am.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cultural Preference or Biblical Truth?

It's been an interesting few weeks in the United States. An unarmed fleeing black man was shot in the back by a white police officer.  Because of video that seemed to show the injustice of that event, the officer was quickly fired and charged with murder.  It was a swift response from officials in a state that is often viewed as backward and stuck in the 1950s.  

We also had nine people murdered by a disturbed young man who wanted to start a race war. The victims were African American and the perpetrator was white.  Because of the young man's use of the Confederate flag image, South Carolina politicians across the political spectrum voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. I can't speak for the motives of all, but I do know one for whom it was a biblical conviction.  

A nine foot tall, bronze statue of Baphomet was unveiled in Detroit in opposition to public displays of the Ten Commandments.  This statue represents the Church of Satan and proponents have vowed to move the statue to other public venues where the Ten Commandments are displayed.  

In both locations, those decisions have met with opposing views that erupted in violence.  There were flash points of rational debate and attempts at understanding; but that doesn't sell papers or attract viewers like the mob violence, rogue vandalism, or in-your-face protests.  It's a shame, too, because the response of the Emmanuel 9 family members was once of the most gracious, Christlike responses I have ever seen.  That grace brought a shocked and grieving community together in ways that I have not witnessed since the events of September 11, 2001.

I haven't opined on any of this until this post and my opinion is just that  -- my opinion.  I have noticed a disturbing trend on social media among those that I know to be followers of Jesus . . . or at least they claim to be.  That trend to is expend far more energy, passion and concern over the Confederate flag, the satanic statue, & other cultural trends than they ever do about Jesus, the church, or the fate of those apart of Jesus.  In Detroit there were groups suggesting that the warehouse where the unveiling of the satanic statue was to be celebrated should be bombed.  In South Carolina, there were people who seemed far more interested in keeping the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds than they were about bridging cultural divides and lifting up Jesus. It's as if we let our lives be driven by the winds of cultural preference rather than being driven by the truths of scripture. It's disturbing trend and here's why:

1.  I Corinthians 10:31 says "So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God."     Whether you're white or black or brown, yellow or red, if you follow Jesus, this verse commands us to live ALL of our lives for the glory of God.  See also Colossians 3:17

2.  I Corinthians 8: 13 says, "Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat again, for I don't want to cause another believer to stumble."  Yes, he's writing about eating meat offered to idols here.  Some who had not yet understood freedom in Christ believed that eating meat that had been burned in sacrifice to an idol was wrong.  Paul's response was that we were no worse if we eat it or we don't eat it.  In other words, it wasn't that important to God UNLESS it became a stumbling block to someone weaker in the faith.  Bottom line is this.  If our African American brothers and sisters are bothered by the presence of a flag and we persist displaying it, we sin against our brothers and sisters.  Don't let your freedom become a stumbling block to reaching across cultural lines to lift up Jesus.  

3.  All of this, when it moves our focus onto politics, cultural differences, and religious differences, simply distracts us from keeping the main thing the main thing.  We shift our focus from Jesus to those waves and that wind and before you know it, we're sinking into the abyss of carnality.  

Now I'm not talking to my friends who are not Christ-followers.  But for those who are, we must remember that it is not our role in this world to be democrat, republican, independent, libertarian, protestant, catholic, or any denomination.  (All lower case purposely)   When we follow Jesus we become citizens of heaven.  See I Peter 2:9-17   We are strangers & aliens, not of this world.  Our purpose is maintain good conduct among unbelievers, living in such a way that our honorable lives will silence the accusations of foolish people.  We are called to be God's people.  Indeed, we are called to be the Body of Christ, His hands, His feet, His lips, His heart (I Corinthians 12).

Let's expend what time we have left being those things, having the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-8), loving as He loved (John 13:34-35; I Corinthians 13), and remaining focused on the mission we've been given (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  Time is short!  Times will get tougher!  But the mission remains the same . . . and so does the Savior Who said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Only then will we make an eternal difference!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shall We Pray?

I've seen it in the homes of Baptist Christians in Israel.  I've seen it in the house churches of Brazil and Venezuela.  And I've seen it once here in South Carolina at a "Shepherding the Shepherd" conference almost 20 years ago.  And I can say without exaggeration that these events were the most spellbinding, humbling experiences of my life.  Whether it was 20 people in a house church in Venezuela or the ball room of a lush hotel with 400 pastors and wives in Myrtle Beach, to see men and women on their faces weeping and crying out to God only to withdraw to a deafening silence waiting to hear Him speak was amaaaazing!  I've heard similar testimonies from friends who have done mission trips in Haiti, Romania, Southeast Asia, and southeastern China.  They've said things like:  "I couldn't believe how much time they spent praying!"  "There was a passion and urgency about their prayers!"  

This leads me to ask a question about the American Church.  When did we determine that prayer was wasted time?  Now I know that I'll catch some backlash on this, but having been involved in Southern Baptist churches as a member, youth minister, bi-vocational pastor, pastor, Director of Missions, and church planter for nearly 40 years, I think I can speak with a little authority based on my own experience.  AND, I will be the first to say that I did not always provide the most effective leadership in my various roles.  But that is why I'm writing this essay.

My experience in churches all across the state of South Carolina has been that prayer is a formality that we usually tack on at the beginning and end of a meeting.  Whether it's worship, organizational , committees/leadership, typical midweek "prayer meetings" or staff meetings,  we spend far more time meeting, discussing, debating, and planning than we do praying.  Now there's nothing wrong with any of those things UNLESS they take the place of earnest fervent, passionate praying.  

That's why I am so grateful to have received an article by Trevin Wax titled "5 Things Romanian Believers Taught Me About Prayer."  You might find it at www.churchleaders.com.  But I'll give you some highlights.  

1.  Prayer is NOT wasted time.   It never is!  Wax says that in most Romanian churches, the typical Sunday service begins at 9:00am with the first hour spent in prayer.  Larger churches open the floor for spontaneous prayers about various requests.  Smaller churches simply go row by row so that every member who wants to gets a chance to pray aloud.  Everything is soaked in prayer.  Because Prayer Matters!  It's never wasted time.  Wax calls it "the most effective type of activism for a child of God."  

2.  We should affirm one another as we pray.  Romanian believers pray aloud one at a time, but the prayers are never selfish or individualistic.  The entire congregation is listening carefully and affirming that person's prayer with the familiar "amen" or "Yes Lord" or Thank You, Jesus." While this is a fairly common practice among Pentecostals or charismatics, it's something most other mainline denominations have shunned.  That's unfortunate because all this practice does is affirm to the pray-er that others are in agreement with that cry of the heart.  

3.  Prayer is for everybody.   Every believer can and should pray.  In group meetings, worship services, and family devotions, prayer should be open to everyone.  It's not just the person on the stage or the designated deacon.  It's men and women in the pews praying for lost friends, broken families, and God's plan for them and their churches.  It's teenagers and children learning that more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.   This is a demonstration of the priesthood of believers --- every believer granted equal access to the throne of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  

4.  Prayer can be spontaneous and theological.   Once you, as a leader, make prayer the purview of everyone, you open the door to all sorts of messy requests.  New and younger believers often pray about strange things and/or they mimic phrases they've heard from others.  Don't get uptight or super spiritual.  They must be taught.  But sometimes the simplicity of those prayers are deeply theological.  It pertains to their belief that God is interested in everything that affects their lives. And it's also very child-like.  Use the Lord's Prayer pattern to begin with praise to God for Who He is and for the salvation that He provides through Jesus.  Then move into general requests/needs, and end with specific desires for deliverance.  Encourage one another to pepper prayers with scripture.

5.  Prayer Teaches.    Prayer and the Bible go hand in hand.  The most common way that God will speak and reveal His will is through His word AND He will never speak or lead us in a way that contradicts His word.  This is just one more reason that prayer is SO important.  It is an expression of our absolute dependence on God.  I love the prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12 -  O our God, won't you stop them?  We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us.  We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help."  (NLT)  Read the entire chapter.  The kingdom of Judah was faced with an overwhelming situation that would surely result in their destruction.  Did they spend a great deal of time making plans and then asking God to bless their plan?  NO!  They recognized that whatever almighty God would do would be better than anything they could plan.  So the king prayed and the people prayed.  And God said to them through "one of the men standing there" (Jahaziel):  Listen all you people of Judah and Jerusalem.  Listen, King Jehoshaphat!  This is what the Lord says -- Do not be afraid!  Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's."  After that, the instructions came from God that they were to go out for battle and the choir should lead them. Probably not the way most would have planned it, but when we desperately need God to help us do something that we cannot do without His power, Prayer always trumps our planning processes.  

It IS true that we must always put feet to our prayers; but this isn't the chicken or egg argument. The fundamental truth is that there is no revival, no transformation, no great break through in Kingdom work that is not first and foremost bathed in prayer.  Jehoshaphat was a man of prayer. David was a man of prayer.  Daniel was a man of prayer.  Moses was a man of prayer.  Nehemiah was a man of prayer.  Samuel was a man of prayer.  Isaiah was a man of prayer.  Simeon (Luke 2) was a man of prayer. Anna (Luke 2) was a woman of prayer.  The members of that first Church in Acts were people of prayer.  Both Lydia and Dorcas were women of prayer.  The church at Antioch were people of prayer.  And Jesus . . . 

What this tells me is that as the time draws near and it becomes more and more difficult to follow Jesus, prayer must become more of priority for our churches and for individual Christ-followers. Paul writes in Romans 12:12  -  Rejoice in our confident hope.  Be patient in trouble and keep on praying.  (NLT)   So go into your prayer closets and gather with your small groups.  Prepare yourself for worship on your knees and let's get busy filling up those golden bowls (Revelation 5:8) because that will direct our plans, bolster our courage, and honor God in all that we do.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

How Can I Know?

We live in a day of blurred lines and moral relativism.  What used to be considered morally wrong is now often considered just a personal choice.  I am convinced that most people still want to make the right choices.  But how can we know which decision is right when the line between right and wrong has become so blurred in our culture?  Well, it begins with the Bible.

There are certain things that we must realize about the Bible if it is to help us make the right choices in life.  First, we must remember that the Bible is a guide book, not a rule book.  Contrary to what some might think, the Bible does NOT directly address every moral issue that we will ever face.  But if you can accept that the Bible is God's word and, as such, should be obeyed, that's the first step in determining right from wrong.  If you are willing to be submissive to what the Bible says, even if it's painful, that's the second step. And that's reasonable for those issues confronted directly by the scriptures.

But what about those gray areas of life --- those times when God's commands or desires aren't stated so clearly?  How can we determine right from wrong then?

Well, throughout His word, God has given us principles for life rather than rules, regulations, or specific directives.  Oh yes, there are some rules, regulations and specific directives in there.  But I'm simply saying that those things do not address every situation or decision that we face.  That's why He has given us those principles that are like road signs on our journey through life.  They are timeless and eternally relevant, whether we like them or not.  And they DO address every moral, ethical or spiritual decision we will ever make in life.

Let me offer you seven (7) simple principles for when you're faced with deciding if a situation is right or wrong:

1.  Ask yourself, "Is there a direct command from God on this matter?"  There are some activities, lifestyles, and circumstances that ARE addressed directly by God.  For instance, there is never a circumstance where adultery is the right decision.  Why?  Because God specifically says "You shall NOT commit adultery."  The same is true of lying, stealing, murder, and taking God's name in vain.  So when God gives clear concise instruction on a matter, that matter is settled.

2.  Ask yourself, "Will my actions or words bring glory to God?"  Paul wrote in I Corinthians 10:31, "Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do ALL to the glory of God."  This is a fundamental Christian principle.  Bringing glory to God is our purpose in life.  So ask, "Can God be glorified by this?  Can I honestly do this in Jesus' Name?"

3.  Ask yourself, "Will this cause other folks to stumble in their relationship with or search for God?"  This principle has to do with our responsibility toward others.  Paul wrote in I Corinthians 8:13, "So if what I eat (or drink or smoke or wear) causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live -- for I don't want to cause another believer to stumble."  (NLT)   Some things might not be wrong in themselves, but if a weaker, less mature Christian or unbeliever is offended by it, then it shouldn't be done.
Now the problem here is "How far should I go with this?  What if someone doesn't like my mustache or the fact that I like to wear jeans to church or that I occasionally go to a movie on Sunday afternoon?"  Well, there are steps to take.  If we become aware that our action or words have offended someone, our first repsonsibility is to gently confront that person, apologize, and attempt to graciously explain our view.  The motive is to hopefully encourage and build up the offended party.  But if that person is still offended, it is our responsibility to avoid the offense when possible.  The greater responsibility falls on the more mature believer.

Ask yourself, "Is this really necessary?"  Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6:12, "You say 'I am allowed to do anything' -- but not everything is good for you.  And even though 'I am allowed to do anything,' I must not become a slave to anything."  (NLT)   And in I Corinthians 10:23-24, "You say, 'I am allowed to do anything' -- but not everything is good for you.  You say 'I am allowed to do anything' -- but not is beneficial.  Don't be concerned for your own good, but for the good of others."  (NLT)

The principle here is that some activities that seem OK to us are things that we can and should do without if others are offended by it

5.  Ask yourself, "Could this harm me physically, spiritually or emotionally?"  Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6:19-20, "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must honor God with your body."  (NLT)  Our physical bodies belong to Jesus just as much as our spirits do and we are to use our bodies for His glory and service.  We must guard against addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, food, nicotine or a sedentary lifestyle.  Remember Paul's words in Romans 12:1, "And so dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice -- the kind He will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship Him."  (NLT).  

6.  Ask yourself, "Does this activity or these words encourage evil?"  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:22, "Stay away from every kind of evil."  (NLT)  The King James Version says to abstain from every "appearance of evil."

7.  Ask yourself, "Can I ask God to bless this decision?"   If, after applying these first six principles, we can pray about our decision, ask God to bless it, and feel a comfort and peace about it, then we should proceed.

Above all, remember what the writer of Proverbs told us in Proverbs 3:5-6  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take."  (NLT)  Don't be swept away by cultural blurred lines or moral relativism.  By spending much time in submissive prayer and weighing decisions using biblical principles, God Himself will help you to discern right from wrong so that you can make good decisions.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

You Talking to Me?

I cannot tell you how often I've wondered about my call to ministry.  I certainly empathize with Moses who raised a plethora of questions when God appeared to him in the burning bush.  (Exodus 4). I've often questioned God thinking that He must have mistaken me for someone else.

And yet, here I am.  This year marks 38 years since my ordination to ministry.  In case you don't know, in Southern Baptist life, ordination means that others have seen evidence of God's gifts and call in your life.  This year marks 41 years since I heard that call. It's been 4 decades of mountaintops and steep valleys, but I wouldn't change a thing.  At least that's what I thought until I spent three days in a coach/consulting workshop.

On the first day, we were required to do what's called a 3 in 1 Leadership Profile, a Leadership Assessment tool, and a Spiritual Gifts/Passion instrument.  All three were extremely important because the reality is that a call to ministry IS a call to leadership.  Some of what came out on these instruments was not news to me. I knew I was a strong introvert.  I knew that dealing with people was a large energy expense for me.  I knew that public speaking really was work for me. I knew that I just wanted people to get along.  But when I got all the results together, it really struck me.  Everything that I'm doing at this point in my life is out of character with the person described in my Leadership Assessment profile.

On DISC profile, I'm a high S with a good bit of C thrown in.  That means I'm a "steady competent" type.  I enjoy small groups of people, I am sensitive to the needs of others, and I'm loyal.  But, I can be caustic and critical.  I move slowly to correct things in order not to hurt feelings.  I do not like speaking in front of large crowds.  I prefer to weigh evidence and move slowly toward a logical conclusion.  I'm a collaborator who is a stickler for responsibility.  I am a passive person by nature and can be satisfied working behind the scenes. Not exactly a charismatic leader.

Now, let me remind you that there is nothing wrong with any of that.  It IS who I am.  It is how God wired me.  BUT, I am not what the world sees as "leadership."  Yet, that is exactly what God called me to be and do.  Isn't that just like Him?  He's constantly pushing us to move out of our comfort zones because when we're comfortable, we really don't have to trust Him as much.

So here I am at 60 years old doing things I never thought I would do, having to be something I never thought I would be, and using my position to urge others to get outside of their comfort zones in order to experience God in a new and exciting way.  The old saying just might be true -- that pastors are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  It's a part of leadership.  Oh, I've used the excuse.  "I'm not wired that way.  That's not one of my gifts.  This is the way God made me."  All of that might be true.  You can use them to stay within your comfort zones your entire life and rob yourself of the adventurous faith that God wants you to experience.

I used to see introversion as a weakness.  I used to see collaboration as a weakness.  I used to see the need for time before making a decision as a weakness.  I used to see reluctance to confront conflict as a weakness.  I used to see passivity as a weakness.  Hey, who am I kidding?  I still do.  But we all have weaknesses and that's where God shines.  Paul summed up God's response to Moses' objections and his own objections in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10  - . . . I will only boast about my weaknesses . . . Three times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time He said, "MY grace is all you need.  MY power works best in weakness.  So I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong." (NLT)  Why can he say that?  Because when he (or you or I) is weak, it strengthens the faith, heightens the need for God, and humbles the spirit.

So stop worrying so much about your weaknesses.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Give your testimony, teach a class, give more than you usually do, pray publicly, apologize to someone you might have hurt, forgive someone who might have hurt you.  Go on a mission trip, do a local mission project, visit a nursing home, or mentor an at-risk student.  There are so many ways to make a difference and to build the Kingdom of God.  But most of them will be outside of your church walls and out of your comfort zone.  It is God Who qualifies the called.  So stop making excuses and start making a difference!  And if you're a pastor, stop making excuses and start leading!   "He Who calls you is faithful and HE will do it."  I Thessalonians 5:24 (HSBC)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Does This Lipstick Make Me Look Holy?

I once heard someone say, "Putting lipstick on a pig doesn't make her a debutante."  I'm sure you've heard variations.  The point is that the nature of any beast is certain to come out.  A pig will act like a pig no matter how well you dress it up.  That reminds me of a passage from Jeremiah:  Can a leopard take away its spots?  Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil."  13:23 (NLT).  Jesus put it this way in Matthew 23:28 -- "Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness."  You can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig.  But when Jesus really comes into your life, He begins a transformation from the inside out.  That's called change!

In I Peter 2:12, Peter admonishes us to maintain an "excellent lifestyle" among unbelievers in order that they might be attracted to the gospel.  In the verses that follow, he applies that admonition to specific, practical situations.   So often, though, the Christian lifestyle is characterized as a life of abasement and abstinence.  You know the list:  no smoking or chewing, no drinking, no dancing, no gambling, no secular music, no long hair or earrings on men, no pants or makeup on women, no, no, no! You get the picture.  

As important as these "legals" are to some folks, they ARE mere externals.  They can be used to fake a faith that doesn't really change a person.  BUT, a personal relationship with the living Jesus can transform a person from the inside out.  The excellent lifestyle Peter talks about involves an outward expression that grows out of an inner character.  It's genuine, it's obvious, and it honors God.  And it's impossible to fake.   It's expressed in our relationships with the government (whether we agree politically or not), the society at large (whether they share our values or not), the church, and with God Himself.  Peter tells us to be subject to those who govern, to always do the right (godly) thing, and to live as free people and servants of God.  Then in v. 17, he tells us to Respect everyone, love our Christian brothers and sisters, fear God, and respect the king.  

It's pretty simple!  If we want to be biblical disciples in a society that increasingly resistant to what it believes are the tenets and values of the Bible, then live in a way that changes their perception.  When relating to others, including those who do not share your faith or values, show them respect.  The golden rule is not outdated.  We're to treat others the way we want to be treated whether they treat us well or not.

When relating to fellow believers, let your love be unmotivated and undemanding.  Jesus said, "By this, all men will know that your are my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:35)   Love doesn't require agreement on everything.

When relating to the God of the universe, honor Him as the Almighty God He is.  Recognize that in HIS presence, we are deserving of death.  It is only His love, His desire, His sacrifice, and His atonement that makes it possible for us not only to live, but to live eternally as His adopted children.

When relating to the government, be submissive in your citizenship.  Be respectful of the laws and those who enforce them.  Be respectful of leaders so long as it doesn't require a compromise of your faith.  And in doing these things, the witness of your lifestyle just might attract someone to the Christ you love and serve.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Read the Directions

       It was a not-so-subtle reminder of how much I hate those words. It triggered an unpleasant memory.  We purchased a "Cadillac" treadmill for my wife and when I picked it up at the store, there on the box were the words Assembly Required.  My mind raced back to that day in my garage.  Dozens of scattered tools and parts littered the garage.  Right in the middle of that mess was a large folded paper that was clearly labeled Instructions.  
       Now you need to know that I always start with the best of intentions.  Follow the instructions and assembly should pose no problem.  That usually works until about step #4, when the male ego kicks in and the instructions get pushed aside.  
       This computer desk that should have been assembled in an hour had now been spread across the garage floor for over three hours.  When I neglected the instructions and went with my intuition, I assembled some parts out of sequence.  To install the final part, I had to disassemble half the unit.  If I had only faithfully read and followed the instructions, I could have spared myself the anger, frustration, and sense of failure that invaded my life that night.  AND that is why I had my good friend, Paul, help with the assembly of the treadmill.
        There are far too many well-meaning Christians who fall victim to something I call "Biblicus Neglectus."  We push God's instruction guide aside and do our very best to live that Christian life.  The reasons vary, but the results are the same. When strife, strain, and struggles roar into our lives, we sometimes retreat into cynicism, frustration, and despair.  Occasional chaos is a fact of life.  Whether we become victims or victors really depends on how closely we have read and follow the instructions.  
       Assembly a life that pleases God is a life-long pursuit, but it doesn't have to be chaotic or frustrating.  The psalmist reminds us that God has given us indestructible guidelines so that we can know Him and how He wants us to live.  The quality of our lives is directly related to how we answer this questions:  "Will I read and follow His instructions today?"

Well, will you?

I take pleasure in your laws; your commands I will not forget. Open my eyes so that I may see the wonderful truths in your law. Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.

                                                     Psalm 119:16, 18, 105

Thursday, January 22, 2015

All or Nothing

Natalie Gabal did a little research to determine what would happen if 99.9% effort was "good enough."  And so did a few other folks.  IF 99.9% were good enough, this is what you could expect:
* 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS each year.    Not a problem unless one of them is yours;
* 291 pacemaker implants would be performed                    improperly this year.  Again, what if it were yours?
* 20,000 prescriptions will be written or filled incorrectly        in the next year;
* 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents EACH      DAY this year;
* 35,000 newborns will be dropped by a doctor or nurse this year.
* For 3 full days this year, everyone in America will have unsafe drinking water;
* 2 million people would die from food poisoning this year;

None of this sounds life-altering UNLESS it happens to you or someone you love.  But in reality, it demonstrates the importance of maximum understanding, maximum effort, and maximum responsibility.  99.9% just isn't good enough for anything that stirs our passions.  So why in the world would followers of Jesus and those collective bodies called churches settle for 99.9% or less?

British writer and scholar Isaac D'Israeli once wrote, "It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us."  Perhaps that one reason so many churches struggle today.  Members settle for mediocrity while those outside the church look for excellence.  No one achieves or maintains excellence by setting the standards lower.  Many people and organizations feel that they're doing okay as long as they get somewhere near the goal.  When you get to that point, excellence is reduced to acceptable and before you know it, acceptable has given way to adequate.  At that point, mediocrity lies just around the corner.

As the collective Body of Christ and individual members of it, we have a responsibility to strive for excellence in whatever we do.  Providing nursery facilities, clean restrooms, high quality teachers, good music, relevant preaching, community service . . . whatever we do, we must strive to do it with excellence. Not only will it attract those who are seeking high quality spiritual care, it honors God!  Paul reminded the Colossian Church in Colossians 3:17, ". . .whatever you do in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God."  In his letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote, ". . . whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God."  (I Corinthians 10:31) 

God doesn't want our second best and a world seeking hope and help shouldn't settle for second best.  The responsibility lies on us as those who represent Jesus.  So make the sacrifices, do the work, take the risks, learn from the failures, and strive for excellence in everything you do as you serve the Lord.  HE certainly deserves and expects 100%.

See also Ecclesiastes 9:10, Malachi 1-4