Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thank You

I have spent a lot of time in the past few years assisting people in realizing one of the most important things a person can have in their life, their goals. I firmly believe that without goals no one can move ahead in their lives. We are unable to prosper. For without goals you will meet one of the criteria for living in that situation we refer to as "lost".

Lost is one of three things; not knowing where you have been, not knowing where you are or not knowing where you are going. Without goals firmly planted in your mind, you cannot possibly know where you are going. You will be relegated to that group that will believe "every wind of doctrine". Goals are shaped by your beliefs and then executed by your heart. That's why it is said regarding some, "they had great heart." Those who have great heart are able to accomplish great goals. But if someone has no goals, no matter how great their heart, nothing would be done, nothing accomplished. I have set many goals over the years and some I have accomplished and all of the ones that have been accomplished, were accomplished only through the power of God. I do not believe that anyone is able to accomplish anything unless God either allows it or assists it. Therefore God is present in all situations, and yes, even the bad ones. One of my goals, and I am sure the loftiest goal, as a pastor is to assist people in their search either to find Christ or to draw nearer to Him. There really is no other reason for my existence in the role in which God has placed me. I sincerely hope that in everything I do that God is glorified and thereby people see Him a bit more clearly. My greatest goal is to point to Him in everything I do. I think I discovered something this week that I have been unable in all my time on earth, to be able to describe in any sermon, or message or conversation or letter. I think this is a true revelation of something very important. It is the secret to a happy life. I want to share this with everyone, for I believe that we all have a desire to be happy. Some people would fool you on that account for they look always as though they just walked away from a train wreck. They look always dazed and confused. Their countenance is down continually and every attempt to cheer them or make them smile is met with a look that screams, "Just leave me alone".

Folks, happiness is a choice. And although it may not be a conscious choice, it is a choice nonetheless. Whenever an unconscious choice is made, it is accomplished because of an attitude that is owned or is at least prevalent in the very psyche of the one making that choice. In those who would own an attitude of extreme happiness, it is first necessary to own an attitude of gratitude. We must learn to be thankful. Now many will say that I am over simplifying the key to happiness, but I struggled with this quite a bit and I am absolutely convinced that being grateful for everything that happens to you is the most important key to any and all happiness in your life. I read a quote while researching this subject by a man named Emmet Fox. Mr. Fox stated, "Bless a thing and it will bless you, curse it and it will curse you... if you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it." I would add to this that it doesn't matter if something is permanently troublesome or painful, blessing it, being grateful for it will remove forever its power over you to make you feel its pain. Now are there things in my own life I wish hadn't happened? Are there things I wish I hadn't done? Of course there are. We all have pain and we all have regrets. But understanding that we must each take possession of our own lives will help us to understand that we must learn to be grateful for what happens in that span of years we call a lifetime. All of it, without exception.

For example, I lost everything I had in one day back in 1994. I found myself without a family, a home, a car or even clothes other than what I had packed in a suitcase I owned. No books, no computer, no phone. At that moment I wasn't very grateful for my situation and I grew angry at not only the situation, but at God, those who were trying to comfort me, those who had caused the situation, and anyone who came close to me. But as some time passed, I learned to be grateful for the events of that day because it turned out that God had plans for my life of which I knew nothing. That day was a turning point in my life. And although it seemed as though it was a turning point toward hell, it was most certainly a turning towards heaven. I am now able to be grateful for that day and the events that happened then, because if they had not happened exactly as they did, I can safely say that I wouldn't be where I am today being blessed abundantly in so many ways by the same God I thought had abandoned me that day. The thing that I missed then, but know now is that had I blessed that day immediately and begun to seek all the ways in which God was leading me, I wouldn't have wasted so much time wallowing in self pity. Paul wrote this to the church in Thessolonika:
1 Thess 5:18 "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you"
Really? God wills that I might be tortured and even killed for believing in Him? That's what the church there was facing. Paul was saying that if it happens, then God allowed it and so then, be grateful for it. If we believe in God, then we should understand that all things come from God, directly or indirectly, ordained or allowed. Jesus said that the two commandments were love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. We all get that, we all understand that these are the things we need to do and that by doing these two things we keep all the law and acknowledge all the things in all prophecy. So how do we love God with all our hearts if we fail to show gratitude to Him when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives? How can we truly love our neighbor as ourselves if we fail to thank them for the pain that might be caused by them? Even when it is great pain. For example, if someone breaks into your house and steals your television set, a brand new 42" flatscreen that you just got a few weeks before in order to watch the upcoming football season. Then they catch the guy. The tv is gone, but they have evidence that this is the guy. The police are going to allow you to speak to the man who did this, So what are you going to say to him? You have choice. You can either get in his face and scream about what a horrible person he is and how all thieves will burn in hell and on and on and on........or you could simply tell him that you forgive him and thank him because since he stole your television you've had more time to get into the word of God and draw near to Him. And then you could tell him about the love of God for him as well. Which of these scenarios would be loving God and loving your neighbor? Which would be more likely to bring someone who obviously doesn't know the Lord to at least a place where he might be made aware of God's love? Anger never shows God's love, nor does it ever put us in a place where God's light is shone on a dark situation. Is being grateful for a tough situation even logical? Not in man's or the world's economy, but in God's economy it makes perfect sense. Dietrich Bohhoeffer wrote, while imprisoned in a Nazi prison, "Gratitude changes the pangs of memory to a tranquil joy." He was hanged while incarcerated in prison. Bonhoeffer was a protestant pastor who stood up against Hitler. He lived in God's economy. The doctor who witnessed his death and attested to it, wrote, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” The Pilgrims escaped religious persecution in England, fleeing to America in 1620. In that first winter they dug 7 times as many graves than built places in which to live. They were the poorest Americans who have ever lived in North America, barely eeking out enough food to keep themselves alive. Yet the one thing that everyone knows about them is that they set apart a day to thank God because they were grateful for where they were. And they shared what they had and had fellowship with the first Americans who joined them in that thanks to God. We all have trials and tribulations, but if we are to move past those things that are difficult, then we must be grateful for those trials, and bless the trials, laugh at those difficulties that seem too difficult to move past. And then carry on to what God has prepared for us. When my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I was told that she wouldn't be leaving the hospital in which she lay, that hospice needed to be called, I first told the doctor who spoke those words of doom to me that he wasn't in charge of life and death, but I knew who was. And because I had learned the lessons of gratitude I thanked God for giving me this woman who had given me so much joy in the last few years. I let Him know that if He chose to take her home to be with Him, I was OK with that and I would simply be grateful for the time we had together. I would rather He let me have her for a while longer, but it was up to Him, not me. I was just blessed to have her for as long as I had. As I write this I can hear her rattling some pots and pans as she does the dishes in the next room. I'm not saying that gratitude saved her life, but knowing that I would have been grateful either way, helped me get through it a bit easier just as she was grateful for more life on this earth. Gratitude doesn't make any problems or trials or tribulations disappear, but it most certainly makes them more bearable. And in fact, as Bonnoeffer wrote gratitude will change those difficult times, those pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. Gratitude brings joy, gratitude brings peace and for that you have His word on it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Good God...good man

We have all experienced things in our lives that we attribute to the goodness of God because they were blessings and they were good, and we have all experienced things in our lives that were…not so much. They were painful and we wanted them to just end, because not many really desire to live in pain and suffering.
Now you have to know that I’m going to speak to you about how God is present in the midst of suffering….and He is. And you have to know that I’m going to speak to you about how God will bring you through the troubles, but not necessarily take those troubles away from us. But there is so much more to the goodness of God that we must understand and there is so much more to the goodness of man, or lack thereof, that we must also understand if we are to have a relationship with the Creator.
I’m a word guy and I do believe that if we fail to look closely at the original words in the original languages that are used in the bible then we will understand less of what God intends for us and we may miss out on some very good things because of our failure to research properly. I realize that not everyone who is reading the bible has access to the same research materials I do, so that’s why we all get together at church or bible studies to talk about these things.
In the New Testament there are two Greek words that are used for good, Agathos and Kalos. Agathos means good that comes from within and might be used, to describe an intrinsically good person. Kalos describes a beautiful thing or person, one that is morally upright and might do good deeds. And it is important I think that we understand these differences so we can better understand how our relationship with God might be affected. Matthew gives us a good selection of both words. Everyone remembers the story of the rich young ruler;
Mt 19:16-17
16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"
17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."
Remember that Jesus told him to keep all the commandments, oh!, and added on that he should sell all he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow Him. The man walked away sorrowful because he had many possessions. All of these “goods” are the words Agathos, which means intrinsically good.
So no one is good except for God. Do you believe that? How dare Jesus say that there is no one good! I must take exception. Well, not really. Here’s an explanation that makes sense to me. And I hope it makes sense to you as well. I know some people who seem to be really good. They do a lot of good in this world and if it were true that no one is good then we are most certainly without hope.
Let’s stay in the book of Matthew but look at
Mt 7:15-20
15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Let’s look closely at this scripture for within these six verses lies a plethora of information. First of all, we must understand that very evil people can look just like very holy people. When Jesus speaks of false prophets, I am quite sure He wasn’t speaking only of those who speak to what is to come but rather those who speak of spiritual matters but are really only materialistic or after other earthly goals. They desire the things of the world and are willing to use the children of God to obtain them.
He said that we would know them by their fruits and I am positive that doesn’t mean that they will or will not have huge ministries or big churches or thousands or even millions of followers. Both truth and deceit can go either way. There are many who are easily deceived and they desire to go along with the crowd and feel good about themselves. That is all that’s important to them. And there are small churches or ministries that may deceive as well.
That should never be. We are all responsible for what we do as far as our own spiritual walk. You won’t be able on judgment day to point to someone else and say, “But Lord, he told me…..” Each one of us must study on our own and if we are at odds with some teaching that is given us, it is our duty to confront the one teaching and say, “Explain why you think this”.
The fruits Jesus told us to look at are not necessarily the works of those who are possible false teachers, for good works may be part of the fa├žade. I work in a lot of disasters and trust me, there are many false teachers out there doing wonderful things for people and that even in the name of Jesus. But the fruit of which Jesus speaks is both the teaching itself and the results of that teaching.
As Christians what we speak should always point to Christ, as Christ always pointed to the Father. The Father brings everything back to us. The most important verse in this section is;
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
There are also two words for bad, one meaning intrinsically bad (sapros) and one meaning ugly or just plain nasty(poneros) So this verse could be read like this: An agathos tree cannot bear poneros fruit nor can a sapros tree bear kalos fruit.
So what we must understand is what makes a good tree and what makes a bad tree. A good tree is one who is filled with the Sprit of God. A real Christian, one who is producing good fruit, is one who is led by the Spirit, filled with the spirit and has a productive relationship with God. One who continually puts others before himself, one who is a servant, who is humble and one who seeks constantly ways in which his time on this earth can truly please God. And foremost it is a person who constantly seeks to find and then do the will of God. For if we are seeking to be filled with the Spirit of God we will be filled with the goodness of God…..and we will become Agathos.
That’s why Jesus said there is only one who is good. If we are not filled with Him and His wonderful goodness, with Agathos then we cannot be called good. And if we cannot be called good, there is but one other option and that is bad. That is evil. That is sapros. And a sapros tree bears poneros fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit….and what did Jesus say about that?
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Now, please understand that Jesus doesn’t expect everyone who is a believer to be able to stand behind a pulpit and preach or teach and not everyone who is a Christian is expected to go to the mission field and save thousands, start an orphanage, build a part of the new Jerusalem, or even make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. None of that is important if that is not your calling.
What is important is your calling. And all of us are called to at least two of the same things. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. And if you love God with all your heart, you will seek Him, you will seek his will in all you do.
This ain’t rocket science, but it is much more important than rocket science.
Look at the next verse in this, for it is extremely important to how we interpret what we just read.
Mt 7:21-22
21 "Not everyone who says to Me,'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'
The ones who will enter the kingdom of heaven are the ones who do the will of the Father. He’s explaining that the works you do, whether you prophesy, cast out demons or do many wonders, and ALL in the name of Jesus, if they are not the Father’s will for you, they are all for nothing. The scariest part of the whole thing is the very next verse….
Mt 7:23
23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
We need to discover just exactly what God’s will is for us and then go do it. We need to uncover that mission in our life and get to it. We may not have much time and we’ve probably wasted too much of it already.
Is your life teetering on some difficulty right now? Do you want to make it better? Get in God’s will. Seek Him….not just with words, but with actions. And not later, but right now and do it with some passion. Like my father used to say, “Look like you mean it!” You may think that by coming to church on Sunday and praying a couple of times a week is enough, but if that’s you, you are just playing Christian. Are you ready to get serious? Are you ready to surrender?
God doesn’t want us to be lackadaisical. He wants spirit filled people who are on fire. I feel a move of the spirit happening and I can’t shake the feeling that things are about to erupt into a wonderful demonstration of God’s love and His magnificent power that we will remember forever as when things really began to move in the end times. If you don’t know how to be involved, but want to, ask me, I’ll show you.
Get ready church, to be part of a move of God that will be one of those things that we will loudly proclaim to the Lord when we meet Him and say, “Father, do you remember when I…..? And He will look you squarely in the eye and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter now into your reward.”
You have His word on it.

Monday, February 27, 2012


This is a rather long post, but I got involved the other day with a friend whose life is controlled by fear....and he is a Christian. This just shouldn't be.
Franklin Roosevelt is quoted having said in a famous radio broadcast, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” And although that is a wonderful platitude that is meant to inspire courage and trust in a time that our country was facing a great crisis, it really means nothing.
We all have fear at some point in our lives, and if we don’t we are stupid. There is nothing wrong with having fear, but it is knowing what to do in times of fear that is important. Anyone who tells you that they have never been afraid has spent their entire life in a very sheltered condition, and they are afraid to leave that place of shelter….so they know fear too!
Peter the Apostle was a man who for the most part didn’t have much fear. If he had a pickup truck he probably would have had one of those stickers in the back window that said, “NO FEAR” Peter was a man who also was, to say the least, a bit impetuous. We all remember the story of Jesus walking on the sea;
Mt 14:25-31
25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.
26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid."
28 And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."
29 So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Like I said, Peter was an impetuous guy. But let’s look at the entire scene. It was the 4th watch of the night. That means it was somewhere between 3 and 6 AM. It was dark and they were in a wind tossed sea and though it doesn’t show it in these selected verses just before this, it says that the wind was contrary, which means that it was against them.
Verse 30 says that the wind was “boisterous” and the word used here is a word that means very powerful or mighty. So here’s a bunch of guys in a fishing boat in a huge lake in the middle of the night and a very powerful wind is tossing their boat around while they are trying to sail across the big lake (the sea of Galilee) to the other side. It doesn’t say it, but there must have been a moon, for they were able to see Jesus.
And when they did see Him, they became afraid. Imagine that. Here they are in the middle of the night on a lake and someone comes toward you walking on the water. Not something you see every day. Fear struck them and I imagine their skin was crawling and there was nowhere to run. At least if they were on land, they could all take off, but not in the water.
Now Jesus knew that they were afraid, otherwise He wouldn’t have said, “Don’t be afraid.” But the word that is written that is interpreted, “be of good cheer” is a word that implies comfort, like a mother comforting a child. “It’s OK sweetie, everything is alright.” There is another word that is very close to this one that means “to exercise courage” but this one means to have courage, don’t be afraid and is just a word conveying comfort. And then He uses the familiar phrase ego emi, which can mean “I am or I exist or it is I”. Remember, that’s the phrase that Jesus used when the Pharisees all wanted to stone Him.
Anyway, back to the boat. It has always struck me as strange that Peter said, “If it’s you, Lord, just tell me to come and I’ll come.” I know that John was in the boat that night. And He wrote later to “test the spirits, whether they are of God.” (John 4:1) I wonder if this is what Peter was doing. Anyway Peter asked and Jesus invited. This may have been Peter the impetuous or just Peter waiting to exercise his faith. Because when Jesus did say, “Come” and nothing more, Peter got out of the boat. Now we hear much about how he sank, but always remember that Peter was the only one who stepped out of the boat. To have faith like that, to trust in anyone to do what we would normally see as impossible is to overcome fear. Because the best way to remove fear is to have trust in someone who you know will protect you.
Fear can overcome our faith and in so very many situations. We as humans can have so many fears. Fear of being alone, fear of death, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of pain, not having financial security, failure, the unknown, not knowing God’s will or even knowing God’s will, man, or even scarier…woman. And the scariest thing of all…..Relationships.
Some people have one of these fears. Some have many. To have even one would be difficult, but to have a bunch of these and to live within the confines of these kinds of prisons is to say the least, horrible. I can guarantee that God does not want us to live like that.
So how do we overcome fear? Perhaps it would be easier to discuss how we manage to invite fear into our lives. Now please understand that fear is not altogether a bad thing. God built it into our very being so that we would become cautious. If you’re out walking in a dangerous place, it’s a good thing to be cautious. A little fear will contribute to that caution. Be safe. But if your fear makes you curl up in a ball and lie in the ground then your fear has overcome you.
We all have fear in our lives and that's alright. Fear is nothing of which we should be ashamed. It is how we handle that fear that is important.There are so many things in this world that may spawn fear, but it is up to us to discover the truth of who is in control. And that is the key. This key has a few different notches in it that all work together to open the lock that is held together by fear.
The first is truth. Truth is not whatever you think it might be, not what you think it is. Truth is what it is. Jesus was quite clear and spoke with not the slightest trace of ambiguity when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” He is the truth and there can only be one truth. We must never lose sight of that.
The second notch is faith. It’s that two edged sword of which I have spoken so often. Not merely believing in that which is not seen but making that unseen believable by your actions and deeds. When people can see Jesus in you they can see Jesus. When you know the truth, your faith is made clear in your life.
And the last notch is trust. We must learn to trust the one who has brought us the truth. And if you truly have faith, if you really own faith in that truth then your trust will be wholeheartedly in Him. It’s really easy to speak this, but to know that the truth is in your heart can only come to light by how that truth is revealed in you. It could be that if you have fear operating in your life, then you really don’t trust in God. Your faith is not where it needs to be because the truth you understand is not the truth that Christ has revealed.
Fear is a tool of the devil. It is used by him to keep you from operating at the fullness in which God desires you to operate. It is meant to keep you from being filled with the Holy Spirit and developing fully your relationship with God. It used by the enemy to make you believe a lie.
God woulld prefer to be involved in helping you overcome your fear, but we have to have a relationship with Him in order to have that happen. Our relationship with God must begin when we wake up and when we have that first cup of coffee and when we are going to work, and when we are doing the most enjoyable things we can do. He wants to share with us those times as well as the times of difficulty and suffering and pain and fear. He wants to be involved in our lives in a way that will give us the fullness of whom He is, in a way that will give us the fullness of who we can become, and it can only happen when we lose our fear due to our relationship with Him.
You have His word on it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rockin' on the Rock

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going down to Phoenix and participate in a Christian Rock festival. My disaster team's mobile kitchen was deployed and just a couple of us were employed in feeding the musicians. There were about 70-80 bands and some of them were big name Christian groups. Kutless was among them, as well as a few others of whom I had heard, but had not heard. Feeding people is a great way to get to know people....everyone wants to be your friend when you have food. I thought it might be a great time to witness to some young people, but they had that covered and I have to say that when I spoke to some of the musicians about the Lord, I was literally "preaching to the choir" albeit an unusual choir.

Although I didn't necessarily care for some of the music....(I'm old) I loved their attitudes. I stood backstage with the front man from a band from Canada (I can't remember any of the band names, but his was Jason)

and we told jokes to each other. He told me a "Neufie" joke (big in Canada) and I told him a couple that were equally as unfunny. We both pretended to laugh and thoroughly enjoyed one another's company. God's people are great to get to know and it doesn't matter the setting. I have an idea that Heaven will be a place that surprises a bunch of us. God has certainly made a patchwork of personalities with which to decorate His kingdom. We all stand on the same rock and it's pretty solid and there's room enough for everyone. How cool is that?