Monday, February 9, 2009

Simple Words – You can make a difference!

I must confess, I think I have the ‘FB’ bug. I really enjoy the connections I’m making with people and getting reacquainted with old friends through – dare I say it - Facebook. I’m finding FB a great way to touch people, even if it is only a cyber-touch. I know there is concern by many that people can begin living in a fantasy world through this but I plan watch myself carefully.

The other day I sent several simple notes of encouragement to friends and church members via FB. I was very surprised by the responses. One young man from our church who is normally very quiet and reserved responded with something that showed me the power of this form of communication. He wrote, “You're a great Pastor and thank you for teaching the word of God to me!”

When I read those words I realized how powerful FB and other Social CyberNetworks can be. As I’ve grown older (and I hope wiser) I think I’m past the need to hear praise from people about my service as a Pastor. In order for Pastors to be healthy and secure they need to learn early in their ministries not to count on a lot of praise, so that’s something I don’t look for. But when a simple sentence like that is expressed by a quiet teenager, it is powerful. I’m considering framing it to always remind me that a quiet teenager is possibly listening and watching.

The book of Proverbs gives us a glimpse into the power of words. Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”.(1) He also wrote, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body”(2) and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver”.(3)

When the right words role off of our tongues or are typed onto our message boards, they can release a wellspring of life! We can make someone’s day, week, year or even life. Each one of us has that awesome capability and we need to use it more often. We need to carve out time from our hectic lifestyles to send people simple messages of encouragement that can revive fresh life in them.

(1) Proverbs 18:21
(2) Proverbs 16:24
(3) Proverbs 25:11

Monday, February 2, 2009

Position Yourself for Victory - Part 2: Where are you looking?

This is the second part of a series of blogs I’m writing based on the Bible story of King Jehoshaphat found in 2 Chronicles Chapter 20. In part one I pointed out that even though King Jehoshaphat was right with God his nation faced the possibility of destruction from an overwhelmingly superior foreign army.(1) Through this we realize people should not automatically think something is wrong with their relationship with God when they face great challenges in life.

The next thing that stands out is the response of King Jehoshaphat to this tremendous challenge. Without hesitation the King looked to God for help.(2) Not only did he begin to pray but he also rallied the nation to also call on God through both prayer and fasting. This was not a lighthearted action. The King acted with a resolve that reflected the seriousness of the situation, it was a matter life or death.

Too often we try to handle the challenges of life on our own, which is how most of us were raised. Our thinking is something like, “If I don’t make it happen it won’t happen.” While I’m a great believer in hard work and self initiative, I’m also a great believer in dependence upon God. There are things we can do and that we should be doing about our challenges. At the same time, we need to invite God to work in every situation we face. God’s power can accomplish things we can never accomplish on our own.

King Jehoshaphat’s heart is unveiled in his public prayer which I believe reveals some powerful truths. He began by acknowledging God as the ruler of all things and there is no power greater than God’s power.(3) Since God doesn’t need anyone to remind Him that He is God, I believe we need to be reminded of that fact. When we pray like Jehoshaphat prayed, our hearts begin to fill with fresh faith. We realize God IS on the throne and He IS all-powerful.

With a heart filled with faith in God’s power, Jehoshaphat then presented the specific situation to God. (4) While doing so he also confessed his weakness.(5) For a King to publicly confess such utter inability was humiliating, but he didn’t let pride hold him back from doing what was right and necessary. People often don’t ask for help or confess their weakness because of pride. As a result of their pride, they open the door to defeat and destruction.

The last part of the Kings prayer is powerful. While continuing his confession of utter helplessness he said to God, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”(6) The King decided to focus on God, not the enemy. When we are challenged in life it’s easy to let the problems we face captivate our minds and hearts causing us to loose true perspective.

The truth is - God is greater and more powerful than any enemy, challenge or difficulty. When we focus on that truth, our hearts can be at peace during the darkest and most difficult times. When we fill our minds with the never-failing love and grace of God – we have hope even when there seems to be no reason for hope. When we let our minds and hearts focus on the challenge we open the door to despair and hopelessness.

As we will continue to discover from this story, ultimately King Jehoshaphat defeated the enemy. Let’s learn from his example. When we have challenges, let’s immediately turn to God for help. Let’s praise Him and see Him as He truly is – the all-powerful ruler of heaven and earth who can do all things. Let’s be willing to humble ourselves through acknowledging our weakness. And finally, like a hawk, let’s keep our focus zeroed in on how great God is, not on how big the challenges are we face.

(1) 2 Chronicles 20:1-2
(2) 2 Chronicles 20:3
(3) 2 Chronicles 20:6-11
(4) 2 Chronicles 20:12
(5) 2 Chronicles 20:12
(6) 2 Chronicles 20:12

Monday, January 19, 2009

People are such a hassle, why bother!!??

Let’s be honest, relationships are hard. People are VERY different from each other. Everyone grows up with different experiences, in different environments, and with different training. Plus, God has masterfully created every person with their own unique thoughts, gifts and emotions that are completely different than anyone else on this planet. With all these massive differences – smooth, comfortable, understanding relationships are hard to find.

At some point in most relationships of substance, they can be described as messy and difficult. Close relationships take a lot of hard work, not just hours of hard work – years of hard work! And even after years of sacrifice and investment, sometimes relationships don’t survive.

As a result of relational stress and failures, people often become fearful, closed and cynical. Some people begin to withdraw from others feeling life would be much easier without having complicated relationships with people. Not only is this true in the world, unfortunately it’s also true among Christians, the church - the Body of Christ.

As I was preparing a message for my church last Sunday, a Scripture came to life in a way I had never seen it before. The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church (I Corin. 12:19-21 The Message Bible);

“But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Hand telling Foot, “You're fired; your job has been phased out"?”

As I was in the middle of preaching my message Sunday, a new picture formed in my mind around those verses and a new understanding dawned on me. In the past I have often challenged people to be responsible members of the Body of Christ because they are needed. Without them, the Body is not complete and healthy. That is absolutely true and I will continue to trumpet that call.

Not only does the Body of Christ need us, WE NEED THE BODY OF CHRIST! “No part is important on its own”. If my finger is cut off from my body, my body will be in great pain, suffering and not complete, but it can survive. While my body can survive without my finger, my finger CAN’T survive without my body! Without being connected to the body properly, the finger is dead, without meaning and insignificant.

I see many people in the Christian world today who are withdrawing from the church – the Body of Christ. The stress and potential of failure have convinced many to close the door on meaningful relationships in the Body of Christ. They often think they only need Jesus. While Jesus is our complete source of salvation and access to God the Father, we also need the church, the Body of Christ.

So – why bother with people? We bother because we experience true life and significance when we are joined to others. WE NEED the Body of Christ in order to be alive! Let’s not let past failures, wounds and difficulties hold us prisoner to an insignificant, lonely life. Let’s trust God for relational protection and be willing to find those people God has purposed for us to connect with in His church.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

PRAY for our next President!!!

As I write this blog, the inauguration of our next President is three days away. President-elect Obama just began his journey from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. As I listened to his speech I instantly realized the serious need he has for God's protection. 

As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for people God has allowed to govern us whether we agree with their political positions or not. As I wrote in an earlier blog, if something sinister happens to our next President, it could spark major civil unrest in our nation and the world.

I urge every Christian to not allow their political agenda to hold them back from SINCERELY praying for the protection of our future President Barak Obama.

Father, I pray for your divine protection over Barak Obama. I pray that all evil plots to harm him will be stopped, exposed and absolutely fruitless. I pray that You will visit Barak Obama and place within his heart the desires You have for governing our nations. 

In Jesus' wonderful name, Amen!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Position Yourself for Victory - Part 1: Challenges

There's a powerful story in the book of 2 Chronicles that intrigues me. God's people, led by King Jehoshaphat, are about to be attacked by a massive army and are facing destruction.(1) The response of the King and then the answer God gave to him, are something I believe all believers and churches can learn tremendous lessons from. This is the first of a series of blogs I will write about this theme. Since there are so many truths conveyed in that story, I will simply start at the beginning and work through it one simple step at a time. 

The first thing that's important to know about Jehoshaphat is that he was in good standing with God. He had been faithful to God from the time he had been given charge of the Kingdom, bringing the people back to Him and away from the worship of false God's.(2) This is an important truth because many people today have the false impression that when they are right with God, they will not have problems in their lives or they won't face major spiritual challenges. Although Jehoshaphat was ruling properly and he was in right standing with God, he faced a tremendous challenge.

Every Christian will be challenged. A challenge is not an automatic declaration that things are wrong in someones life . Some challenges are tests that can make a person's faith stronger and more powerful. That said, people need to be careful not to make trouble for themselves by placing themselves in a wrong or bad situation. People need to realize they will receive the results of whatever they have and are planting in their lives.(3)

While people have no control over some challenges that come their way, there are other challenges that people bring on themselves. If a person is obese due to gluttonous eating habits and laziness - the health problems that person faces were brought on by themselves. That person needs to change their lifestyle and their eating habits (position themselves properly) in order to be healthy, otherwise they will suffer from their own irresponsible hand. 

For the challenges people face that are beyond their control, they don't have to walk through them alone. When people reach out to God, He is faithful to walk through the challenges with them. In fact, as difficult as it may be to understand, some of the challenges people face have been specifically arranged by God to accomplish a deep spiritual work in their lives. Jesus is a perfect example of that.

Luke wrote that Jesus, who was full of the Holy Spirit at the time, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested for forty days by the devil.(4) After Jesus had successfully resisted doing wrong and had faithfully stood against the devil, Luke wrote that Jesus left that situation in the power of the Holy Spirit.(5) First, Jesus was FULL of the Holy Spirit, then He was tested and the result was that He walked out of that situation in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

When a person desires to develop physical muscles, they must exercise in a way that stretches and challenges the existing muscles. As the existing muscles are challenged on a regular basis, they will grow larger. God wants to do powerful things in every person's life. Walking in God's power will require the stretching and challenging of their faith. In the same way bodies develop muscles, God will develop spiritual power in people as they walk with Him successfully through the challenges they face.

James was very clear when he wrote that Christians should not be discouraged if they find themselves in the middle of terrible difficulties. In fact, instead of being discouraged, James wrote that people should be filled with joy because God is at work changing and perfecting their lives.(6) 

Let's not believe the lie that something is wrong when we have all kinds of trouble in our lives. Instead, let's do what Jehoshaphat did, turn to God with our whole heart and then we will  experience the amazing victory God has for us.

(1) 2 Chron. 17   (2) 2 Chron. 20:2   (3) Gal. 6:7    
(4) Luke 4:1   (5) Luke 4:14    (6) James 1:2-4

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Gospel of JESUS not Moses

To be a Christian, in the true sense of the word, is to be a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. It amazes me to see how many Christians today espouse beliefs that were not taught or promoted by Jesus. It's even more surprising to hear so many preachers and teachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ presenting messages that Jesus would never have presented. 

I believe one of the reasons for this is a lack of understanding between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant. While Christianity was birthed by Jesus out of Judaism, there are many distinct differences between the teachings of Jesus and the laws received by Moses. 

It's easy for Christians and Christian leaders to mistakenly apply Old Covenant teachings to our New Covenant relationship with God. When Jesus was with his disciples at the last supper he handed them the cup and said, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."(1) The writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus the mediator of "the new covenant" and describes it as a "better covenant."(2) The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "(Christ) made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life."(3) 

When people open the Bible it's easy to read from the Old Testament and, without realizing it, think that the law and the way God operated under the Old Covenant also applies to Christians today. The thinking goes something like this, "Since the Old Covenant is part of the Bible and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then all the things in the Bible must also apply to us today." As a result, there is a mixture of old and new which brings tremendous confusion. The letter to the Romans states clearly that, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes."(4) 

Christians need to realize they are not under the curse of the law. The Apostle Paul made that clear when he wrote to the Galatians saying. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us..."(5)

Christians must be careful not to mix the Law and faith in Jesus Christ. Again writing to the Galatians the Apostle Paul said, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Then Paul added, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."(6) 

There is a huge difference between Old Covenant thinking and New Covenant thinking. Under the Old when someone sinned, often the punishment was immediate death. There were also times God ordered the Jewish people to completely destroy their enemy, including women, children and animals. But Jesus presented a completely different teaching. He didn't teach us to destroy our enemy or to execute a sinful person. He said we should love our enemy, forgive and pray for those who hurt us and are against us.(7)

Even the disciples of Jesus struggled with a law mentality. A perfect example of this is the response by the disciples James and John when some people opposed Jesus. Those disciples said to Jesus, "Lord, do You desire that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did? But He (Jesus) turned and rebuked them and said, You do not know of what spirit you are. For the Son of Man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save. And they went to another village."(8) Those disciples acted in a way that was normal under the Old Covenant just like many Christians do today.

The Law and Old Covenant are important and there is much to be gained by knowing and understanding it. Paul said, "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith."(9) At the same time, it needs to be clear in our belief system that we are not under the Law but under grace.

The Galatians had come into relationship with God by grace through faith and then through the influence of false teachers they began trying to gain God's favor and acceptance through following strict spiritual rule-keeping (the Law).(10) When the Apostle Paul wrote to them about this he used very strong language saying, "You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives."(11)

I value Moses and the law but I am not a minister of the 'Gospel of Moses' rather the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We all need to remember to keep our focus on Jesus, whether we are leaders in the church or not. Let's all be pure Christians and ministers of the GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST and Him alone.

(1) Matt. 26:28   (2) Hebrews 8:6-8   (3) II Corin.3:6
(4) Romans 10:4  (5) Gal. 3:13   (6) Gal. 2:16, 19-21  
(7) Matt. 5:44  (8) Luke 9:54-56  (9) Gal. 3:24   
(10) Gal. 2:21 from 'The Message'
(11)  Gal. 3:1 from 'The Message'