Monday, December 26, 2011

Where Two or More are Gathered?

I have decided to start posting on pet-peeves of mine that relate to improper interpretation and/or applications of Scripture.  Last week it was "God won't give you more than you can handle" today it is dealing with the quoting of Mathew 18:19-20 that states, "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

I have been guilty of this in the past, and I hear pastors all the time say something to the effect of "We know that Jesus is here because He said He would be present whenever two or three of His followers are present" before or during their prayer.  On one level, I do force myself to keep my heart in check because the spirit of what is being said is not inaccurate per se and I don't want to be critical of people's prayers.

But on the other hand I have two problems with this statement.  

First, it is violates the first three rule of Bible interpretation: context, context, context!  This is what the immediate context before states:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

And this is what follows immediately after:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

What is the focus of the passages immediately surrounding our text in question?  Sin, correction, and forgiveness.  Is prayer the focus of this passage at all? No.  The point of "where two or three are gathered" is in reference to church discipline.  I tell you there is nothing less appealing as a pastor than having to confront a fellow Christian about their sin.  This passage is assuring us that in this process, Jesus is with us. 

The second concern is what if I am one?  Will Jesus only hear my prayer if I have a proper prayer quorum?  No, that is ridiculous!  Jesus' last recorded words in the Mathew (28:20), "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  The Scripture makes it clear that we are to pray always about all things!  God is there for us all the time!  So why don't you pray to Him now? :)

I don't want to be trivial, but I do think there are many things people think come from the Bible and they don't, or they are not understood in context and are ultimately misapplied.  As we interact with the Bible, we must take caution to "rightly divide the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15)!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

R.I.P. Grandma Kathy

It's 6:16am on one of the most memorable Christmas mornings I can remember. The text message came in at 3:32am, "Mom has passed. We are okay. You don't need to come." As my brain slowly processed the text, I knew that I needed to go be with the family through this process. Minutes later I was in my car asking God to prepare me to be there for the family. This blog is more for me than anyone else as I decompress my tired thoughts in order to prepare for Christmas service in about 3 hours.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting." This verse always comes to mind when I am called to a place where death has come, but on Christmas morning it felt so much more significant. There are many lessons that come from seeing a person lay over the remains of their spouse of some 50 years weeping on Christmas day. I am reminded how short this life is and how I need to cherish each moment that God gives me with my wife and children. Life is really too short to be grumpy.

I have only known "Grandma Kathy" for 7 months or so. She loved the Lord and taught me much on her journey heavenward. It brought me great joy to see her confidence in the Lord's promises as her life came to its end. My mind is tired now and my thoughts are disconnected, but I am thankful that the Lord crossed my path with this wonderful woman.

Leaving church late last night a Christmas song came on the radio. I have heard before, but I never heard the words if you know what I mean. The song is 'Christmas Shoes' and these are the lyrics:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Tryin to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

Standin right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldnt believe what I heard him say

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
And the, cashier said Son, theres not enough here.
He searched his pockets franticly
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Most years she just did without
Tell me, sir, what am I gonna do
Somehow Ive gotta buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down
I just had to help him out
And Ill never forget the look on his face
when he said Mamas gonna look so great

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I knew I caught a glimpse of heaven love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that god had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I couldn't help but to think of "Grandma Kathy" as I listened to these words. Tears began to flow as I thought about the simple yet powerful words of this little song. I had no idea that "Grandma Kathy would pass in a few hours. As I was there with the family tonight, I couldn't help but to think about this song and the beautiful picture it brings to mind of "Grandma Kathy" meeting Jesus tonight. After the mortuary came to take her remains, my time with the family had pretty much come to a close. I hugged them and headed on my way. You'll never guess what song came on as I was pulling away from there home. You got it, 'Christmas Shoes'! You may think it was just coincidence, but I do not. I am thankful the Lord gave me this song to remember this very special lady with...most likely every Christmas for the rest of my life.

Please continue to pray for the family as they mourn the loss of a wife, mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, and all the rest.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Reflections

I just started a new routine of Bible reading. No, I am not shooting for reading the Bible through in a year (although there is nothing wrong with that!). My goal in the immediate future is to read from the Psalms each morning. Psalms are so encouraging and truly help my heart focus on God and how good He is.

Yesterday I was in Psalm 2 and the end (2:10-12) jumped out at me in light of this Christmas season we are in. Look at what it says, "Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"

The focus of Christmas has become a holiday of spending time with family and loved ones and less about the birth of Christ. If Christ is apart of the celebration the focus is on the baby, innocent, gentle, palatable, and inoffensive. In this celebration today and tomorrow, let's not forget some biblical truths.

Jesus did not come into existence at His birth. Jesus existed in eternity past. The birth of Christ is referred to as the Incarnation--meaning God became man (not the other way around). He humbled Himself (Phil. 2:5-9) and in His coming He became the perfect revelation of God (John 1:18).

Jesus' birth was for a specific reason. Every human has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and is therefore separated from God. The purpose Jesus came was to save sinners from their darkness and separation (1 Tim. 1:15).

You have a choice that has eternal consequences. You can have peace with God and of God through believing upon Him (Eph. 1:13). I love that last verse of Psalm 2. Instead of destruction, we have take refuge in Christ and be blessed. The right choice is clear to me!

Monday, December 19, 2011

More than YOU Can Handle?

Have you ever had someone tell you, "Don't worry, God won't give you more than you can handle!" coupled with citing 1 Corinthians 10:13? The likelihood is very high that someone has told you this and you, in turn, have shared this hope with another person.

How would you feel if I told you that this completely wrong? First Corinthians 10:13 is not about dealing with handling life's difficulties, it explains "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." I may seem like I am splicing theological hairs, but I believe this point is important to the Christian navigating life. Let me explain.

First, this passage is dealing exclusively with sinful temptations we face. The Corinth church was a mess and Paul was writing with the purpose of removing their excuses or alibi's for why they continued to sin.

The problem with thinking "God won't give you more than you can handle" is it puts the focus on you and your ability to handle things in your strength. It's like God is measuring up person and calculating how much they can handle and then sending stuff our way that remains within our scope of ability things we can handle. This thought seems to cut against so many other principles found in Scripture. Namely God has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I am not too proud to admit there are many things I can't handle on my own. Death is one such thing in a long laundry of things. It will strike all of us and everyone we know. God isn't expecting us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and suck it up in our own strength. He is instructing us to embrace, or acknowledge, our weakness and lean upon Him and His abilities.

I know people who say, "God won't give you more than you can handle" are really making an innocent mistake, but I believe this thought forces us to rely on ourselves and our abilities when Scripture clearly advises the Christian to a life of complete dependence on God. I encourage you today, to stop relying on yourself and to seek God throughout the day asking Him to help you through whatever you are going through. Remember the great truth found in Philippians 4:13, "I can endure all things in Christ who strengthens me!" (my translation of this verse).

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Heart Christmas!

I love Christmas as much as the next guy. Who doesn’t love this time of year? As I type this, the fire is going, rain is pouring, and my five-year old daughter is singing, “Joy to the World”! This truly is one of my favorite seasons.

“Christmas Season” seems to be opening early and earlier. It used to start the day after Thanksgiving with the mad dash (by some) to the mall to score great deals. Over the last few years Christmas has broached this cultural barrier and I have notice Christmas related items in the store simultaneously with Halloween. I heard commentators in the news state this early arrival is because of the emotional strain the war against terrorism and recession have had on the American people and we the people need a little more good feelings this time of the year. I don’t know about this? But it begs the question, “What is Christmas all about?”

This is a good question. In simplest answer it is to celebrate the birth of Christ—in theological terms this is the Incarnation (see Philippians 2:5-11 for more information). This being the foundation of this holiday makes the widespread celebration of this holiday sort of funny in light of the overall rejection of Christ. But for most, holidays are less about the meaning and more about the time off from work and a regular schedule. Not in my home.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that Christmas is bad or that we shouldn’t celebrate it. My goal is to point out how significant the event of Jesus’ birth is for us humans. The most concise verse addressing the importance of this bit of history that changed the world is found in 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul writes, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came [the Incarnation, or the birth of baby Jesus who existed in eternity past] into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost of all.” Clearly Jesus’ birth isn’t celebrated as a standard human birthday, but rejoices in God’s plan of salvation through Christ.

In many respects Christianity has been so warped in our culture that we identify with Christianity while being separated from Christ. What is the message? Fortunately, the message is simple: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the gospel, the good news, but this is just the facts, not an explanation for becoming a Christian.

How do I make gospel have an effect in my life? This is the part that many miss. We know basic tenants of Christianity, attend church a few times a year, probably own a Bible, and try to be basically good people. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t cut it with God because our sin hasn’t been dealt with. My favorite passage that handles salvation, or how one becomes right with God, is found in Ephesians 1:13, “In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel [see above (1 Corinthians 15:34)] of your salvation—having also believed [the action that connects the facts to your life], you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…”

My prayer this Christmas season is that you would come to celebrate Christmas because you have received the greatest gift a person could receive—eternal life and peace with God!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Thanksgiving Game!

The Psalmist writes, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night..." (Ps. 92:1-2, NASB).

I believe Thanksgiving is the holiday that we as Christians should thoroughly embrace. We should be marked as a people who are thankful. Unfortunately, people tend to get bogged down with the nitty-gritty of life. I am guilty, and I am sure you are too!

I few years back I discovered a great game that serves as a powerful antidote to unthankfulness and discouragement. It is the "Thankful Game!" The beauty of this game is that you can play it alone, with your family, or with friends. Here's how it is played:

I am thankful for:

A - Anna, my lovely wife.

B - Bible. The Word of the Lord has changed my life. I am so thankful that God gave us His written Word!

C - Cars. God has blessed our family with three working cars. I am thankful for them...there are many people around the world that don't have any transportation other then their feet.

D - Dogs, especially Linus and Lady Bug. After I typed this out, I realized I really should put "Dad" here. I am really thankful for my dad, I do love him a ton.

E - Ellie, my beautiful little girl who is a gift from God and a total crackup. I am love seeing her little personality take shape!

F - Family God has blessed me with.

G - Grace, my wonderful little girl who cracks me up and fills my heart with joy every

H - Hanson family. I am thankful the the Hanson family, the tree that I fell from!

I - Inlaws, the Hilton family. The Lord has blessed me with a great extended family

J - Jury Duty. Okay, this officially marks the hard stretch. I have "J, K, M, T, and U" remaining. But jury duty is something that makes our country great. I would love to serve on one, but am never needed.

K - Kettle corn. Wait to you get to "P", this is serious. There is a great explosion of flavor, the corn is crisp and crunchy. Great experience!

L - Lake Tahoe. I am thankful for the many memories I have growing up there. I am thankful that I am going to be able to vacation there this summer. I look forward to sharing my memories with my family.

M - Mountains...I am simply thankful for the great outdoors. Psalm 19 shares my feelings precisely!

N - Navy. The Navy was a major tool the Lord used in my life. I am thankful for the many experiences during my 12 years in the Navy.

O - Ocean. I am so thankful for its beauty and mystic. I feel so close to God when I am at or near the ocean.

P - Popcorn. I enjoy eating popcorn. Seriously. I have so much fun firing up some popcorn and munching on it with the family around a game of Candy Land or watching Little House on the Prairie!

Q - Quiznos. Okay, this game is hard. But I do like Quiznos.

R - Running. I am thankful that I can run--and really should start running again!

S - Spain. This is a country I knew little about, but after marrying I learned so much about this country. I traveled there with my wife and then learned of her youth. I am thankful for the experiences Spain gave to my wife.

T - Thanksgiving! This is the last one I filled out. I so thankful for being just makes you feel better! Thank you God for blessing me so!

U - Upwords. This is a great game and I am thankful for the many hours of playing this game with my wife and inlaws.

V - Valley Baptist Church. I love worshiping with my church family.

W - Water. Nothing quenches the thirst like it and I love that our Lord describes Himself as living water!

X - Xrays. X is hard, but seriously, I am thankful for the Xray machine way more that I am for xylophones. I was thankful for the Xray machine when my daughter broke her arm. Because of the technology the doctors were able to fix her up good as new!

Y - Yankees, NOT! I am going with Yams. Nothing better than a well prepared Yam on Turkey Day! I think the secret ingredients are brown sugar and marshmallows.

Z - Zoo. We are longtime zoo pass holders. Anna and I love walking and talking there...the animals are bonus!

Okay, now it's YOUR turn!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

For God so Loved...

I love this picture of Grace and I walking to the plane.  I am not sure where this is, but I think its in Pisa Italy for our return flight to Sevilla Spain.  Look at Grace and her little pink backpack.  I love it.  My two kids have been amazing as they have flown around the world with me.  If you prayed, thank you.  I couldn’t be prouder of them as they fly the friendly skies.

Why does this picture bring so much joy?  This may seem strange, or I may seem a little soft right now, but one of my biggest fears, or perceived sacrifices leaving the Navy after 12 years was that I would never travel again.  I grew up flying with my dad and I love traveling, but it is expensive and it doesn’t happen easily.  So I literally thought going into the ministry would be the end of my traveling.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to travel as a pastor.  In the last year or so, my passport has been stamped big time: Mexico, Mongolia, Israel, Italy, and now Spain.  The Navy trained me well to function cross culturally and I believe God is allowing me to use this training for His purposes.  He has been so gracious to me.

Okay, I was supposed to answer the question:  Why does this picture of Grace bring me so much joy? I want my children to have a global perspective of God’s love from a young age.  I’ll be honest—it’s scary taking my children into Mexico, Spain, and Italy, but it is more important to me that they come to see that God is God of all nations and loves all people.  So seeing that little girl in her pink backpack is so much more than an adorable little world traveler (she is adorable of course!), but it is a picture of me overcoming my fears and trusting God to shape her into a Christ-like young lady with a love for all peoples.

About ten years ago, I read Paul words in Phil. 3:20 that says, “For our citizenship is in heaven…” and God convicted me that I had placed my patriotism over being a follower of Christ.  I think many American Christians struggle like I did. We read John 3:16 as “For God so loved Americans that He gave…” Now this may sound harsh, but I think American Christians are apt to miss the global perspective of God’s mission to reach all people.   We miss seeing His love and character three-dimensionally and only experience a shallow perspective of who He is.   It is profound to truly ponder that God loves all nations and Jesus died for all people.  Paul, likewise states, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…” (2 Cor. 5:16) meaning we should see all people through God’s eyes, not our own.  I am thankful for Valley Baptist Church and their love for the world.  I pray we continue to grow in this area and help others to gain a love for all people, and it should begin with my example as the pastor.

When we first arrived in Spain we found a playground by our condo.  The kids loved it and we love it because there was free wifi.  Seriously, Americans should take note of this geniusness!  While playing, Grace blurted out, “I hate Spain!  I want to go back to MY country!”  Oh boy, we were very embarrassed and a little dismayed at this statement.  But we did understand the difficulty of adjusting to another culture.  The next day we flew to Italy where the missionary family had some girls her age who spoke both English and Italian.  I think this helped her adjust culturally by the time we hit church on Sunday.  There are not words to express the feelings Anna and I felt as we worshiped in Italian with our girls.  After the music time, Grace zipped out to Sunday School with no hesitation in Italian.  It was awesome to see her jump in.

But the best part happened tonight at the park—we are back in Spain.  We were at the awesome playground and there were about five Spanish kids playing and my two daughters.  They were all sort of checking each other out, but not talking.  Eventually someone made first contact.  I missed it, but when I looked up all the kids were comingled and chatting away.  Of course it was LOUDER Spanish and LOUDER English which we all know helps when trying to speak to someone that doesn’t speak your language—it is a human thing.  Grace ran up to us and said, “I am going to teach them how to play Duck, Duck, Goose!”  I couldn’t help but to laugh and say, “Okay!”

I looked up five minutes later to see all of the kids in a circle.  Initially there was some confusion, but then a ton of laughter in Spanish while a Spanish girl ran around the circle saying “Duck (touching one kid on the head), duck (and another), duck (and another)…”  I couldn’t believe it.  Here were a bunch of kids, different languages, different cultures, and different religious views.  I was so touched when Grace said, “Adios!” and her new friend replied, “Hast luego!” 

I am having difficulty landing this post.  The playground was sort of a microcosm of the world.  We are all people that God loved and created, yet the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 and Eph. 1:13) hasn’t made it around the world.  God has called us as believers to share the good news to the world.  It breaks my heart that there isn’t any sound church in this neighborhood.  This isn’t because people haven’t tried.  Anna’s dad and others have served here for many years, but the soil is hard.  I pray that God will raise up others who are willing to come with the good news and a heart that sees Spaniards as people for whom Christ died.  I am looking forward to seeing my seminary’s extension campus in Sevilla that is equipping Spanish believers for ministry!

This picture is shot of the Spanish girl playing Duck, Duck Goose!  I am so proud of my little girl.  Please pray for Spain and those who are serving Christ here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not All That Glitters is Gold

Some things are so pretty at first glance, but often it is only just skin-deep.  Florence Italy is one of these places.  I just came from there where I spent days with missionaries Valley Baptist Church supports.  Firenze (Florence) is a beautiful city with history that is hard for Americans to truly appreciate.  America is 200+ years old while Italy—the buildings, culture, and traditions exceed 2,000 years.

After leaving the city, some things stuck out to me about Firenze that I would like to share about—specifically relating to why we as a church support missionaries in Italy.  I mean isn’t Italy a Christian country?

The definition of a Christian country.  Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is headquartered in Rome.  If you consider the Roman Catholic Church to be Christian, you would be dismayed at the sharp decrease of the church.  I was raised Roman Catholic.  I love Catholics.  So I say this next part with sensitivity.  I don’t think the Vatican’s teaching is in alignment with the Bible.  The Catholic Church in the United States is VERY different from Catholic Churches in the rest of the world.  I was shocked to see the Catholic Church in Europe for the first time after being raised one—this is not the church I grew up in.  The Gospel of Christ (i.e. 1 Cor. 15:1-4) is not clearly taught in the Catholic Church.  Period.  Most Catholics have not come to a saving knowledge of Christ as described in Ephesians 1:13-14.   But this is a moot point, as people in Europe do not care about God or a relationship with Him at all.  In meeting with the family the mom quoted one of their kids while on furlough in the United States this summer.  She asked her mom, “Why can’t we just stay here where all the Christians are.  I don’t like being the only Christians at home” (or something to this effect).

Safety is an allusion.  What would you answer if I asked you this question:  “Which country would you feel safest: Mongolia, Mexico, or Italy?”  Well if you are like me, I would have answered in this order: Italy, Mexico, Mongolia.  Boy, was a wrong.  Italy was by far the most troublesome place I have visited.  Mongolia and Mexico were easy in comparison.  Sure, you can visit Italy and stay in a hotel and not feel true Italy, but in staying with our missionaries we were able to get a feel over what is really going on.  The police in Italy are a joke.  They don’t exist for all practical purposes.  The same goes for medical care.  On a side bar, Americans who think Europeans are in love with their system are living under false allusions.  In addition to these two factors, there is a huge influx of foreigners from northern Africa and Eastern Europe who cannot get work so they rob and terrorize people with no worries of consequence.  The Giorgi’s were violently robbed a couple of years ago and both of their neighbors had been violently robbed—I am talking beatings and being tied down while men ransack your house.  They light up the outside of their houses, have loud alarms that sound if people enter the perimeter of the home.  I think there was only one night where we did not hear alarms and go outside to assist neighbors whose alarms started going off.  Seriously, it was a worrisome reality of life in Florence.

Why we support Andrea and Susan Giorgi.  There is a huge need for the Gospel in Italy.  It is huge.  It is an unreached country by all standards a less than 1% of the population is Evangelical Christian.  When I look at a church planter I look for a couple of things.  In addition to calling, training, etc, I look at their ability to fit into their culture.  Italians are resistant to outsiders coming in.  Andrea is born and raised in Florence.  Hi is a Florentine inside and out.  He knows the culture and the people inside and out and God is using his background in reaching Italians for Christ and is making disciples through the church and seminary.  In addition to this, Andrea’s English is spot on.  His theological training is solid—of course we met at seminary J.  But Andrea is totally game for others coming here and helping him reach his country for Christ.  He works with and trains missionaries who are coming here to plant churches.  I can’t tell you how huge this is to the young missionaries coming here.  He has been a huge asset for Campus Crusade here in Italy and has to leadership as he assists them.

Please pray Andrea, Susan, Grace, Goia, and Eva as they serve Christ in Italy as a family!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wisdom from Proverbs

When I first became a Christian, I was taught a great way to gain wisdom for life.  It is quite simple and I recommend it to you.  Read the corresponding Proverb for today's date.  For example today is September 12 so I read Proverbs chapter 12.

A couple nuggets of wisdom stood out to me, in no particular order, that I would like to share. 

The first is Proverbs 12:11, "He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense."  This one reminds me to evaluate how I use my time.  I work a lot and I am not convicted to do more because of this proverb, but rather to spend my time well.

The second that stood out to me is Proverbs 12:27, "A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious man is diligence."  I liked this one because it sort of emphasized the importance of barbequing your meat...there is a right way and a wrong way! :)

The next one that jumped out at me was Proverbs 12:10, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel."  I am not a vegetarian, nor do I think the Bible promotes this.  But the Bible does teach stewardship of animals and the earth.  It troubles me, and I think there is something really wrong with people who are cruel to animals.

Proverbs 12:22, "Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight."  I want to delight the LORD, period.

Finally, one of my favorites Proverbs 12:1, "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid."  This one is pretty bold, but is so true.  I love the person who corrects me in love and wisdom.  They are doing me a huge favor by helping me become a better person.  The Bible is pretty blunt and not politically correct by saying the one who can't take correction is "stupid."  So true, so true!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pray for Your Pastor and Your Church!

I am currently in Florence Italy visiting missionaries that Valley Baptist Church supports. It is Saturday. Church is tomorrow and I am not preaching. It is so nice just vegging. I am just a fly on the wall trying to give some space so Andrea can get ready to preach. There is a crisis brewing and I am cracking up--praying for them of course, but totally cracking up because I am seeing a crisis develop that I have been through.

What is the crisis? The whole worship team is on vacation. What will he do? At this point, the plan is for him to lead the worship and to preach. I think he is going to call his wife, Susan, in for backup even though she is losing her voice. I have been there, but I think he is a little more gifted musically than I am so he should be fine. But in the midst of this, I am reminded of an important lesson concerning worship.

Traveling away from my home church and especially overseas always challenges me concerning the heart of worship. For the sake of this blog, "worship" is limited to the the time of music during the Sunday worship service. I really love the worship time at Valley Baptist Church, but this hasn't always been true.

Worship time is a fascinating dynamic in church. Seriously, we start by singing...almost a concert sort. I am a teacher, but what teacher is required to provide a concert of sorts before they start a class? People totally judge churches based on their worship. I have been guilty of rating worship week to week by comments like "worship was really great today" or "Man, I didn't feel like the worship was very worshipful today." For more on a Biblical concept of worship, I recommend this recent post on Cross Connection titled "Toddler Worship." This is in my own culture. But, tomorrow I am going to church in Italian and next week in Spanish. I won't have a clue what is being sung or said during church, but I have every intention of worshiping God. How, if I don't speak the language? I am convinced that God grades our worship based on the condition of our hearts, not the skill of our instruments or voices...and I can worship God regardless of the language or style of music that I am exposed to in the next two weeks.

I don't think people who attend church have any idea of the massive amount of effort that pastors go through to help you worship and to grow in your relationship with God. I would ask you to pray for your church, your pastor, and for all those who serve at your church. Pray all the time, but realize Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are particularly stressful days for pastors....but not for me the next two weeks! But I find myself praying for VBC and all the churches I have relationship with!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Can't Do It!

Tomorrow I am preaching on Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him how he can gain eternal life. Jesus responds by asking him his thoughts. He essentially responds, "You got it, just do it."

The lawyer should have responded like Grace responds at the end of this video!

Instead, he wanted to gain eternal life on his own. May we come to the place where we say, "I can't do it" and turn to Jesus trusting Him alone.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to read the Bible?

The Bible is unlike any other book for it is the very word of God. It is thick and intimidating--especially if you grew up like me with no foundational knowledge about it. I remember being attracted to it, but not know where to start. On more than one occasion, I played "Bible roulette" on the Gideon's Bible in just about every hotel room. Nothing really came out of it.

Often I am asked, "How, or what, should I read (in) the Bible?" There are books and books on hermeneutics. I don't want to go there in this post. Let's keep it simple. We are about to start a new month and I would love to give you something tangible that is guaranteed to grow your relationship with God.

Okay, in the morning start with Proverbs. Read the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month we are on. Now September only has 30 days, so you will have to read two chapters on the last day. Proverbs is all about wisdom. It hits about every area in life. Starting your day with a chapter of Proverbs will help you have godly wisdom at the forefront of your mind as you take on the day. You will be blessed if you do this year round!

I normally tell people to start a deeper study with Ephesians. It is in the New Testament. It is short and packed with all sorts of important stuff. It is simple to read and understand, yet it contains deep theological truths that you can chew on for a long time. I don't know how you like to study, but I would take on Ephesians later in the day...say sometime between lunch and bedtime. Read Ephesians everyday for the month of September. Don't freak out, it is only six chapters and you can read it in about 15 minutes. Reading it everyday you will notice that you almost memorize the book--you can think through it and it will be with you throughout the day even when you are not near your Bible.

Okay, now we know what we are going to read in September, let's check out the "how to" portion.

How should we read the Bible? Let me give you some quick tips:

1. Pray. Ask God to help you understand, to guide you, to soften your heart as you read His word. The Bible just isn't a is God's very word and we should seek Him for help before reading it.

2. Bring a pad and pen with you. As you read make notes. What things caught your attention? What don't you understand? What encouraged you? Actively engage what you are reading.

3. Buy a good study Bible and read the notes, the background information...anything that will help you understand the context of the text. I highly recommend the Life Application Study Bible. There are many out there and I am happy to help you find one that fits you. Just ask!

4. Close in prayer. Thank God for His word, ask Him for help to work through things you were convicted of--maybe confess sin that was exposed.

Hope this is helpful! Do it this September and let me know how it goes!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A One Side Marriage

Imagine your wedding day. You have just made your side of the vows. You have vowed to stay with your spouse in sickness or in health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and forsaking all others till death do you part.

Then your soon to be spouse whispers to the the minister and says, "You know, I have made some modifications to the vows and would like to read them myself." Your heart races with excitement as your significant other begins to say their vows to you. "I promise to take you in health only, for better only, in riches only, and I will most likely not forsake all others till whenever we part." Can you imagine the look on your face? Would you go forward with the marriage?

There are plenty of Bible passages that illustrate this is how God feels by the actions of His people. Check out the book of Hosea (3:1-2) as an example.

Now, this post may seem to contradict my last doesn't. We are saved by grace through faith alone and we stand in grace as Christians, but does God not want us to live for Him? How do our actions fit into the Christian life? I wrestled through these thoughts in preparation to preach on Luke 9:57-62. You can listen to the message by clicking here.

I find it funny when Jesus challenges American Christianity as we know it. Seems, He sets the bar, not vice versa. MacArthur suggests this passage reveals three areas that hold people back from following after Him--1) personal comfort, 2) personal riches, and 3) personal relationships. I think these three point adequately outline the message of this passage. What does the text say and how do we struggle with each.

Personal Comfort - Luke 9:57-58
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
I wonder how those who preach a prosperity gospel on television can keep a straight face. The promises they make to people practically exclude Jesus from their club.

The lesson I learn from this man is I do not come to Jesus as my personal butler that has the job of making my life comfortable. I come to Him as Savior and Lord over all. He has saved me from my sin and I serve at His pleasure.

Personal Riches? - Luke 9:59-60
And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
This one offers to possibilities of interpretation. I will explore both.

The dad is dead. People don't like this one because it makes Jesus words sound very harsh. But if this is the case, let's step back and examine human history. Whether or not you trust in Christ for salvation, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are the number one event in human history, yet this guy opts out. The lesson is simple. Follow and serve God now, don't make promises for all you will do...later.

The dad is not dead, but the son doesn't want to displease his father and be cut out of the family business and ultimately lose his inheritance. In this case, Jesus is stressing the point that He is our ultimate provider. He will provide for you...too often we place our trust in God second to things like our 401k, IRA, or our inheritance.

Personal Relationships - Luke 9:61-62
Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Letting personal relationships hinder your following Jesus. The thought of loosing face or relationship with friends and family is a terrifying thing. I know that following Jesus seriously has closed the door on some close relationships of mine over the years. Early on I felt a tug-o-war in my heart trying to live two lives (one for Jesus and the other for my friends). These worlds eventually collided and I had to choose one...I chose Christ and haven't looked back.

Last week I caught myself struggling with this one. This may seem stupid, but I think it identifies this problem at its core. During worship my heart's desire was to raise my hands in surrender to the Lord, but I resisted because my tattoos might show and thought, "What would people think?" Ah, there it is..I should care about what God thinks. Who cares what people think...and they don't even care!

So What?

The bottom line is I want to be loyal to God. Fully sold out with nothing holding me back. Lord, I am yours. Help me to live for you with all of me!

Standing in Grace

One of the first things I learned as a Christian was I was saved by grace. In short, this means my being right with God was done totally by him and activated when I believed upon Jesus. This truth is summarized in a couple places in Ephesians.

The first place is Ephesians 1:13 which says, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise..." The second place is found in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."

It seems to me the Protestant world pretty much understands the truth that salvation is by grace alone. But what about the Christian life? I love the old hymn "Jesus Paid it All, All to Him I Owe", but is this misunderstood by Christians who think works sustain their relationship with God? I wrestled with this question preparing for a sermon on Luke 6:1-11. In this story there are some Pharisees who essentially jump out of the bushes trying to condemn Jesus for breaking their self imposed laws.

What process does one take to get to this point of legalism (i.e. the strict enforcement of non-biblical rules)? How do we guard ourselves from creating rules that are not biblical commands? I think this is a very important issue as I have seen many turn a relationship with a loving God into a strict list of things to do or not to do if you are going to please God. The list is so long of examples, but some I have seen recently concern how a Christian family educates their children, style of worship in church, the translation of Scripture one uses, etc, etc...

In my own life I have learned that God uses the conviction of the Holy Spirit to move me into closer relationship with him. The conviction of the Holy Spirit can be painful, but he is so good to help us in our walk with God. One area in my life where I felt this conviction in a mighty was was my drinking that led to drunkenness on a regular basis. I really struggled to maintain sobriety for many years. About 10 years ago, I quit drinking altogether through the Lord's help.

This was a great victory for me in my weakness. But as the years went by, I started to notice a root of self-righteousness sprout up. I don't think it was evident externally, but I see it in the depths of my heart. From a theological standpoint, I don't thinking having a glass of wine, or a beer, is wrong. The Bible is clear that drunkenness is the problem. For more on my views on drinking read my blog about Christians and Drinking. But my self-righteousness would sprout up when I saw a Christian having a beer (without drunkenness and under legal conditions) and it was evident to me through a critical spirit within.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly sinful man because religiously arrogant. There is phrase in Romans that caught my attention a few years back. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul says this:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith [salvation], we have been peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom with also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand [the Christian life]; and we exult in hop of the glory of God."
God's grace is not just sufficient for salvation, it carries on into the life that we live as followers of Christ. Why is the concept of living under grace so difficult for us? I think it boils down to our lack of understanding God's nature. The deeper my relationship grows with God, the more humbled I am by His graciousness to us. My worth is based upon God's love for me, not by my accomplishments for Him. In looking at others, I am constantly reminded that while we need to care for each other, we should hold ourselves to the highest biblical standards which will humble us into the arms of Christ and ultimately give us a spirit of grace and love as we hold others to the lowest biblical standard!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Priority of Going to Church

Church. It's something I attempted to evade virtually every Sunday of my youth. I hated it. I found it to be terribly boring and a waste of my time. I try not to bash the Roman Catholic Church, but I was raised in it and it was B-O-R-I-N-G to say the least.

Today I find church to be one of the most important things in my life (I am saying this as a Christian, not as a pastor). Regardless of my vocation, I plan on spending just about every Sunday in church for the rest of my life. There are very few things that would keep me from church. I don't really even remember the last time I missed church. I know that I missed two weeks on my trip to Israel, but other than than I have been in church almost every Sunday for about the last 15 years (of course there were many times as a Navy SEAL where going to church wasn't an option).

What gives? Why the change in my life? These are hard questions. I don't know how well I will do answering them, but I feel guilty for not blogging recently so I will sort of shoot from the hip on this one. I feel like this is an important question to answer in light of the fact that so many people who profess Jesus as Lord rarely attend church on a regular basis. Here are some reasons why I think going to church is important.

1. The Bible commands it. I look to the Bible for instructions concerning this life. According to the passage below, I think God wants Christians to go to church on a regular basis.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb. 10:23-25 NASB).

2. According to the above verse, going to church helps you grow as a Christian through community. I am finding this point hard to express right now. Notice the part above that says, "consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Clearly going to church is more than just doing your time on Sunday to please God. Church is a place to fan the believer's flame for God and to equip the Christian into action (Eph. 4:11-13). I believe the growth of many Christians is being stifled by not attending church on a regular basis (i.e. once, or more, times per week).

Books could be written on point number two, but time precludes my ability to do this. Instead, I will conclude with some thoughts from my heart. As we go to church on a regular basis a number of very important things will take place:
  • I have developed deep friendships through being connected at church. There is a certain sort of relationship that occurs through the local church that cannot be replicated anywhere else--this is what the Bible means when it uses the term "fellowship."
  • I have grown in my understanding and application of the Bible in my life. This is the foundation of discipleship. I have grown in my walk with the Lord because I have been in church on a regular basis. I have also grown stronger in areas of weakness.
  • I have been given the opportunity to serve and and to function according to my place within the body. I say this as a Christian, not as a pastor. If you are a Christian, God has a place for you to serve (Eph. 2:10).
This list is not exhaustive. Not every church is created the same. We live in an era of consumerism where people are fickle and don't plug in and stick as God wants them, but a church should offer some basic elements:

1. Sound Bible teaching that is interesting, practical, and true to the text. I truly think this is the most important aspect of a church as it is in essence the rudder of the direction of the church. I think other areas can be corrected through solid Bible teaching and the leading of the Spirit.

2. The worship should be worshipful. I hesitate posting this point as I have come to learn as a pastor that the "worshipfullness of the worship" is directly linked to the condition of the heart. This being said, I want to attend a church that aids in my worship, through music, to the Lord.

3. The people should be loving. Now you can't judge a church based on one or two bad apples. This is a general statement concerning the pastor, leaders, and bulk of the people. Jesus said that the world will know people are followers of Him by their love (John 13:34-35). I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a church to be filled with loving people.

I am a rush right now. You got it...I am off to church for Bible study! If you are looking for a church, don't judge the church in one setting. I think it takes between 4-12 weeks to truly get to know the church. I would encourage you to talk to the pastor, talk to the people, plug yourself in, and ask God for wisdom.

I know I didn't hit everything in this post. How has church been a blessing to you?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Would Like to Scratch Your Itch

One of the hardest things about blogging, or writing really, is inspiration to write on issues that are important to those reading. When I sense a subject that is of importance and could serve as an aid to help someone, I have all the motivation to write. If I lack the inspiration, my motivation wanes and I end up writing simply to keep the blog active.

I am officially shouting out for help. What are your questions, struggles, concerns about this life? The subject has to be in the realm of faith, Christianity, the Bible, etc, etc. as I have no expertise to offer you concerning building a shed or laying tile--although I have down both!

I also understand most questions that are of value are also sensitive in nature. Please feel free to send me a private note on Facebook or to I am looking to create a data base of subjects to write on. Your identity will be kept confidential! Thank you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Just Can't Do This-The Struggle to Quit

The reaction to my last blog on "Christians and Drinking" revealed to me that I must continue this conversation with a couple more blogs. I would like to speak to the person who is struggling and failing with attempts to break out of their bondage to booze.

Please, if you are in the camp of "It's okay to drink stop judging me already" please hold your comments until my next blog where I will seek to explore how the Christian should handle their freedom. But for now, please look beyond your freedom and recognize there are many Christians struggling with this very real battle. The two sides of this discussion are not balanced--the lives being destroyed through the consumption of booze far out weighs those whose freedom is being impeded to consume alcohol (without drunkenness) by people judging them. Also, more importantly, the Bible's warnings against drunkenness is overwhelming and exhaustive in contrast to its support of alcohol consumption.

My struggle. I became a Christian in 1996 and my battle with booze came to a climax in 2000. Where did it begin and how did it progress? I know I was drinking in high school. I know that during my high school years I had drank to the point where I vomited on multiple occasions. This cycle continued until I stopped drinking altogether. So as I reflect on this, I realize for the first time that my drinking years lasted about a decade--the 90's. Instead of reflecting on my low-light reel, I want to share some of the emotions I felt during that era and how I successfully achieved victory over drunkenness.

Hopelessness. I think this word best describes how I felt when I was looking at my life in light of the battle to gain control over drinking. My drinking was ruining my life. I couldn't gain control over it and I could see the devastation it was having on my life--an abortion 1994, resisting evading arrest 1995, losing my security clearance 1996 (which meant my life in the teams was over...turns out it was temporary). Do you see the progression here? I didn't like the path booze was taking me down. I wanted off, but I couldn't seem to stop the train. Life was unraveling upon me big time and I was desperate for help. This is when I met Jesus, or when I believed upon Him for salvation.

The slow change. I've heard of people who become Christians and everything changes instantly. This wasn't me. I was more like a huge container ship in the ocean that takes miles to turn around after the course has been changed in the wheel house. God was at work (I can see this in hindsight), but it was hard to see the change between the years of 1996 and 2000. I would have seasons of months of sobriety followed by a crash of binge drinking. This cycle culminated until I felt like I could continue no longer with my dual lives. I was going to church and growing while partying all week long. Finally after a weekend of drinking, I sort of threw in the towel with God. I really liked the hope the Bible offered, but I wasn't seeing it in my life. I could no longer walk these two paths simultaneously. I remember one night checking out with God to tell Him I could no longer do the whole "Christian thing." This wasn't because I didn't want to walk the Christian walk, but it just wasn't working out so I would just stay on the path of partying. Little did I know, but God's Spirit was convicting me and exposing my hypocrisy. The anguish I felt inside was really a good thing as it forced me to confess and to call to Him for help.

Tell it to Jesus. If you are in a season of hopelessness with drinking. Know there is hope. Jesus can and wants to help you gain victory over this through His help. In the recent years, I have come to love a hymn that gives very practical advice. Wow, tears are welling up just reading through the verses of this hymn.

Are you weary, are you heavy hearted?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you grieving over joys departed?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,
He is a Friend that’s well known.
You’ve no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Have you sins that to men’s eyes are hidden?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you anxious what shall be tomorrow?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Are you troubled at the thought of dying?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
For Christ’s coming kingdom are you sighing?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Don't under estimate alcohol's danger. I never considered myself an alcoholic, nor am a sure I buy into this teaching. Namely I hear people who have been Christians for many years and have drank in decades and they still label themselves as an alcoholic. The Bible is clear: You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). But alcohol is as addictive as any other drug--I just think it places its choke-hold on a person slowly over the course of years. I have done visitations with people in the hospital going through detox when they stop drinking. It is just as ugly as all the big drugs like heroine and others.

Don't be a lone ranger.
This is not a lone man's battle. Find others to encourage you, to pray for you, and to help you stay accountable along the way. You may even need medical treatment if you are in the advances stages of alcoholism. My victory over alcohol came in large part through the help of like minded buddies who want to win this battle as well. I encourage you to find a good church where the Bible is taught and the people are loving and sincere. This is a good step.

What's your Kryptonite? I eventually had to evaluate how I was losing this battle. I traced back my steps to figure out what tripped me. I realized there were people I had to avoid because when I was around them I wanted to drink. This was hard because as a new Christian these were friends that I wanted to share Christ with, but it wasn't my time for this. I really needed to work on my walk with the Lord. This was hard, but looking back now, I realize I am still friends with these friends. Some are Christians now, some are not, but I am no longer a slave to booze and can be around them and not stumble. This is my theme verse for this season of my life, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you you but such as common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

Press on, don't look back. Looking back on the past tends to cause two reactions in people: 1) Shame and discouragement that they will never succeed, or 2) a prideful spirit about how righteous they are. Rear view mirrors are good and I am not opposed to using them, just don't live your life looking exclusively in the rear view mirror. We must look forward like Paul says, " Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14).

What have you found helpful in your battle against drunkenness?