Christian Living

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April 18

Thursday, April 18th, 2024

Popular today among many is what I will call (and possibly other have already done so) the “positive thought/confession” movement. Long story that strain of thought says “whatever you think or feel, whatever your heart says to do, speak it out loud and then go, follow your heart.

I know people who believed this so much that they stopped taking their meds because they “thought themselves” healthy. I’m not saying we are not sometimes over-medicated. Not at all. But there are some meds you just can’t quit cold turkey.

I’ve known people who refused medical treatment because some huckster or some “speak positive thoughts” guru told them to speak themselves well and to not act accordingly was a “an act of unbelief.”

Granted, these are some extreme examples. There are those who need to stop feeding negative images into their brain after they look into the mirror. The “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat” or “I’m worthless” comments need to go.  But frankly, there is a lot more money made in cosmetology and plastic surgery for unnecessary procedures than there should be.

What does all this have to do with being a Christ-follower? Many try to apply self-help gobbledygook to lifelong and lasting change. Victory over an addiction or a traumatic event in the past (or the present) will not be overcome by “I think I can, I think I can.” That only works with trains trying to climb mountains. The real transforming approach is this: “You were dead because of  your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross.”  (Col. 2:13-15 NLT)

Real change, real transformation, does not come from thinking positive. Real change comes from allowing God’s Spirit to do His work in you. He makes permanent change. He disarms the enemy.

And I’m positive He will win the battle.

April 15

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Does the way things happen ever make sense?

That has been the question running through my mind the past week and on into the weekend.   Please give me a chance to tell you why I ask that.

My best male friend has been told he has 18-24 months to live. One of my other male friends was given 3-6 months to live and it has been close to two. Unless God intervenes time is running out. Then this past week one of our boys in the church (age 6.5 he has informed me) has been sick off and on since January/February. He goes from kinetic energy to crash is 5 seconds. Some things have been ruled out but what has not has been leukemia and lymphoma. He goes the 25th to Riley Hospital for a full work up. The family is still waiting to hear the prognosis.

As I shared with the church yesterday, I believe God has 3 answers to our prayers:

“Yes.” We like this one for obvious reasons. We like that we are in agreement with God…or is that He is in agreement with us? In either case, a good answer.  🙂

“No.” This is an answer but not quite the one we wanted. This simply means that God and I are not on the same page. Shocker! But at least its an answer!

“Wait awhile.” This is the toughest I believe. No one like to wait. From grocery store lines to prayer, waiting is not a strong suit. It’s like God is saying, “Hang on. I’m not going to answer right away.” The answer will come-perhaps a yes, perhaps a no-but just not yet. And it’s not because God is being mean or vengeful. Maybe there is a lesson I need to learn. Maybe there is a timing issue. In any case, I have to realize that what seemed like a bad idea actually worked out for my best.

Until God’s timing comes to fruition, I’ll live life to the fullest and realize God is good…no matter what. For reference take a moment to read Psalm 116:5-19.

April 10

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024

Have you ever had a sense of satisfaction when watching a movie or reading a book and the antagonist “gets what is coming to them”? That’s all well and good in a movie or a book; not so in real life. IMHO whenever we have a sense of satisfaction or that feeling of “Good. They got what they deserved” a small part of what little good is in us dies.

But there are times, even in the Bible, where we see this scenario played out. But as we will soon see it wasn’t by man’s doing, but God’s. Remember this principle as you consider the following story: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord.”

In the Old Testament book of Esther a character named Haman hates Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down and worship the ground Haman walked on. Literally. Haman eventually saw his chance to “get” Mordecai by getting the king (Xerxes) to put into law the extinction of the Jews on such-and-such a day. Haman even went so far as to erect gallows strictly made for Mordecai’s demise and display. Through a series of events -which actually go back to when Mordecai saved the king’s life by reporting a conspiracy but which had never been revealed or rewarded-Haman’s plot was exposed. Ultimately, Haman and his family were hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai’s demise.

We would say, “Turn about is fair play” or “He got what was coming to him.” But notice: Mordecai didn’t seek it. Mordecai didn’t go after Haman. No. He did his thing; God did His. (Please read the book of Esther for the complete story).

God is the creator and sustainer of all things and is in absolute complete control. Haman’s wickedness would not and did not escape God’s purview. God’s timing was and still is perfect. We would do well to leave all things in His hands and His control. Even, and especially, the “getting even” part.

April 4

Thursday, April 4th, 2024

One of the characteristics of a good leader is to see a need and act. That act may be one of delegation. See the need and find someone or assign someone the task of fulfilling it. One of the ways of filling a need is a way many leaders won’t even think of doing-“lowering” themselves to do what needs to be done right then and there. Take, for example, a toilet that has overflowed.  The leader may experience it or see it. Instant decision: take care of it, assign it, or pretend it didn’t happen and you never saw it. The good leader will do what? Take immediate action. If that means to stem the tide of the mess until maybe someone else can volunteer or step in to do the job, then so be it.

I witnessed this the other day. Grand Opening. Ribbon cutting. Grills aren’t working correctly (new one ordered). Breakers keep blowing. Men’s toilet overflows. One of the owners grabbed a mop during a lull (they had put an “Out of Order” sign on the door temporarily) and began mopping the bathroom floor. Leadership seen as servanthood. Eventually, someone else came and helped.

Ezra the priest goes to Jerusalem to lead them in a return to God following the exile. But 70 years later word gets to Nehemiah that Jerusalem is still in sad shape. A ruined city with broken down walls.  Enemies having a field day. Enter Nehemiah…miles removed from the situation. He prays first for wisdom.  Then petitions his boss (he was cupbearer to the king) for time off. With the king’s blessing he makes his way to Jerusalem where he proceeds to assess the situation, then rebuild the walls with help. He didn’t just order them done, but got his hands dirty as well.

In my book, true leadership does not sit in an ivory tower making rules, living like a king while doling out money or orders. No. True leadership gets dirty hands, often leading the way by doing.

Now…where is that towel and basin?

April 3

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

I have said on a number of occasions that “you cannot take people where you yourself have not been.”

Part of the vision of the church I pastor is Pursuing Jesus Passionately. We cannot lead or teach people to pursue Jesus if we ourselves are not doing so.

We recently visited the Grand Canyon. It is an amazing display of God’s creative genius. As we stood safely behind walls of stone taking pictures, we could see paths where people could hike to see more. I know there was more to see than I was able to see. So much more. And the best way to see that was with a guide who knew his/her way around. One who knew the trails. One who knew what to look for. A newbie is not what I would have wanted.

When Ezra came in the second wave of people returning to Jerusalem after having been in exile in Babylon, he was dismayed to see that the people had not fostered a love for God and His Temple. They had neglected the Scriptures and their influence in their lives. Enter Ezra, the priest. He saw it as his mission to lead (guide) them to the Scriptures, to call them back to the source. He knew that it was the Word of God that changed lives. What will turn this country around will not be a political party or candidate, legislation to change this or that; outlawing certain practices’; or legislating morality. If hearts are not changed, then we will just find another way to disobey God.

No. Ezra knew: change the heart with the Word of God and you change society. That’s good advice for the country. But it is especially good advice for the church. Study the Word, put it into practice, teach it to others, then the church changes. You can’t demand or legislate change. Only God’s Word can have a permanent impact.

April 2

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

Someone has famously said, “The seven last words of the church are ‘We’ve never done it that way before.'” That, of course, was not a compliment. It was, in fact, another way of saying that a church will die or have zero influence if it does what it has always done; is what it has always been; and sticks to what once was.

Sadly, it is true. Many churches (and organizations) are tied to to their past. Their glory days are long gone but “Doggone it, we’ve always done it this way and we will continue doing it this way.” Let’s start playing TAPS or maybe, just maybe, it started long time ago?

When I first started in ministry it was at the end of my sophomore year in college. I preached on Sundays at a little country church in a little town in KY (No need to mention where). I honestly don’t know if that little church is still in existence. But they used to have 2 week revivals. 2 weeks! In June! Every night! Now, I’m not sure if they still do that…I would hope not. I confess I had no clue what a revival was all about or even what it was, let alone pastor a church that had one 2 weeks long.  I see it now as a meeting for the already saved to get together, listen to a sermon they have heard multiple times before, and walk away feeling good they were there. Yeah…that’s cynical. I’m sorry I’m a tad bit jaded.

There is a church in the town where I pastor that has a “Gospel Meeting” i.e. their brand name for “Revival.” For a whole week (I think twice a year), they have meetings each night. I don’t see too many cars in the parking lot. If I did, I wonder how many are unsaved folks? Could it be the time is past?

Whether a church, a company, a local business, or even a local service organization, death comes knocking if there is a failure to change. I’m not talking about the mission or core values. We have enough of that nonsense already. No…I’m talking about the approach.  It’s time we stop living in the past or try to relive our glory days by “doing what we have always done” and start making the necessary changes to influence the culture. If not, the culture will influence us. 

I heard it put this way one time: Methods change; the message doesn’t. That’s it in a nutshell.

April 1

Monday, April 1st, 2024

Today is generally known as “Joker’s Day.”  It is the day we “approve” of jokes played on other people. The more outrageous the better. April Fools Day is known as a day of nonsense, tricks, jokes, and a general “I-got-you” day. Ironic then that it follows the day after we celebrated the greatest day in history (and no, it is not the day the White House declared it to be).  Psalm 14:1 says, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (NLT) The book of Proverbs is filled with references to fools. But let’s move away from that topic to one which is much more positive.

Yesterday was Resurrection Sunday. We had a super fine day as we joined together in one service at another venue. Even then we ran out of chairs. What a great problem to have! 🙂 During my sermon I asked the question: “What if the resurrection never did happen?” Well, the Apostle Paul gives 4 ramifications of that from I Corinthians:

  • Our faith is useless.  (Verse 17a). The Greek word for useless means “futile, empty, of no value.”
  • We are still in our sins. (Verse 17b). Succinctly put: if Jesus is still in the tomb, His death cannot save us. He is no different than any other religious teacher.
  • We have no hope of a future. (Verse 18).  Without the resurrection a bright future is an empty promise.
  • We should be pitied more than anyone. (Verse 19). All we do in this life is for nothing if all we have is this life.

But let’s turn those thoughts around and show what a difference the resurrection makes:

  • Instead of our faith being useless, we can say our faith has meaning.  Something we believe in is true.
  • Instead of still being in our sins, we can say we have forgiveness. The resurrection makes sin forgiven a reality.
  • Instead of having no hope for the future, we can know we will see our loved ones who died in Christ.  Can there be anything more lonely or lost than no hope, of just being worm food?
  • Instead of being pitied more than anyone, we can be certain of our own future.  Knowing we have something to live for, to look forward to changed everything.

You may have heard something like this yesterday from your own pastor. But today is Monday, the day we begin to put it all to the test. Live today in the light of His resurrection.

March 27

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

I read an interesting verse this morning that I have to admit, got me thinking some. Proverbs 27:21 says, “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.” (NLT)

The fire testing the purity of silver and gold part I get. Peter uses that same imagery in I Peter 1:7 where he writes, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (NLT)  So having our faith tested by going through fire is to be expected.

It is the latter part that has me curious. “A person is tested by being praised.” But then I started thinking: How many people do I know who have changed once they started being praised? The accolades started rolling in. The words of praise were said, conveyed, and maybe even printed. And it is like a switch is flipped. The person changes. The man in the mirror is no longer recognizable. Gone is humility. Gone is sympathy and empathy. Gone is a wonder at life. And, even more tragic, gone is a softness and yieldedness to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Decisions are made, not so much by what does God think? but what will please my followers? The praise of man overrides the praise and approval of God. It think it would be correct to say that the genuineness of a person’s faith is tested by fire, but so is the humility of that person’s faith.

Be careful-be very careful-of the applause of men. If you receive it, don’t allow it to go to your heard or to change you. Stay humble. Stay grateful. Stay alert to the enemy’s schemes. 

March 26

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

I had someone say to me the other day, “Getting old s**ks.” (I can’t stand that word hence the astericks.  However, it is a quote so…). While I hate the way he said it, I can’t totally disagree.

At age 71 I’m getting older. Well, so are you, but let’s think about this for a moment. As we age, lines develop on our face. We call them crow’s feet. Some develop “wisdom wrinkles” which become more prominent as one ages. Depending on your body fat, skin will hang and wiggle. Skin will get crepe-y. Bruises (blood) will show up in the arms and forearms or skin nicks will show up when you can’t even remember bumping or scraping them. Your stamina is not what it once was. For example, I used to ride 20-30 miles a day. If I do that today, I need a day or two between rides to recover. I might do 20 miles for 2-3 days in a row, but then I have to give myself a day or two off the bike.

Getting old is an adjustment, that’s for sure. That’s why I have issues with the “preacher” i.e. self-help guru who tries to tell me my best life is now. No, Joel, no it is not.

My best life is yet to come. I recently held the funeral service of a man whose last 2-3 years were spent fighting the effects of diabetes, a nasty bed sore caused by neglect of a rehab facility, the amputation of a leg at the knee, and a couple of strokes which affected his right hand strength and his communication (he could communicate but was slow in responding and putting sentences together). His best life was not now, laying in a bed. Not here. He is enjoying his best life NOW, living in the presence of the Savior he loved so much.

Do not look at your present or even your past life, as the pinnacle..as your best life. It’s not. For the follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come! That, by the way, is what the story of “Easter” is all about.

March 25

Monday, March 25th, 2024

This week is called Holy Week because it is the last week Jesus spent on earth. Palm Sunday was celebrated yesterday. It is tied to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the people waved palm branches and even laid them on the ground, all the while yelling, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

All of what took place that last week ultimately had its sights set on the crucifixion and resurrection. With that in mind, I want to share with you something I read this past weekend and shared with the church on Sunday morning. It comes from a new devotional book called Overflowing Mercies by Craig Allen Cooper. I leave it with you to ponder:

Christ sacrificed His perfect life to secure our eternal life. Jesus’ love is everlasting, eternal, unceasing, unchanging, steadfast, and unrelenting (Jer.31:3), and it has nothing to do with your own performance, your own good works, or your own achievements. It has everything to do with His one great love, wholly and completely unmerited, unearned, and unalterable, laid down for you.  (p.20-21)

Sounds a whole lot like grace. Just sayin’.  🙂