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Archive for March, 2012


– “A son honors his father and a servant his master.  If I then be a father, where is my honor?  And if I be a master, where is my fear?”, says the Lord unto you – (Malachi 1:6 KJV)

    No Christian will ever be perfect, but the head of the church will always be that way – for it is God Himself (Colossians 1:18).  Therefore, it is not a suggestion from Him that we longer conform to this world  … we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).  If we love the world and the things in it, and if we want to be a friend of the world, we are an enemy of God (1 John 2:15, James 4:4).   These attitudes as believers easily give birth to enmity (a state of being actively opposed or hostile to) with God.  Honor starts going to people and fear of Him fades quickly.  And He is not pleased with any of this (Romans 8:7)

    When I walk into a church on Sunday and get a sales pitch from the pastor for his new book of devotionals, or I hear worship leaders promote their latest CD, there’s something very wrong to me.  I see the world’s ways and methods all around.  What kind of honor to God is that?  A whole lot of “world” friendliness with such things.  And, great swelling words praising His greatness will be used, compelling us to buy them (i.e. “Our debut CD sold 1,000 copies the first week – God is so good!  And God’s people said: (And everyone says “Amen!”)).

     But we have been warned about practices like this in the Bible – 2 Peter 2;3 (KJV) reads: “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you”  The only time Jesus was known to have used physical force in the Bible was when he made a small scourge of cords and drove out all the sheep, oxen – even doves – emptied all the changers’ money and turned over their tables in the temple at the Jews’ passover.  He said “Take these things hence, make not my Father’s a house of merchandise (a “den of thieves” (John 2:13-16 NKJV).  It goes back to Old Testament times, too.  Religious leaders in the days of Malachi had grown lax, spiritually cold, and would not work unless they got paid (Malachi 3:8-9).  Many top Christian speakers today are the same way.   An honorarium has to be offered or they won’t talk. 

     Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been feeling a little exploited by Christianity lately.  There are three churches I know of in Tennessee; one with a Chick-Filet in the lobby, another with a Starbucks, … the third has a used car parking lot as part of church property.  Mission conferences/seminars I’ve attended seemed more to be vehicles for pitching and promoting websites, books, DVD teaching series – everything but the intended subject matter. 

     And, where are our tithes going?  To feed the needy and clothe the homeless – or being reinvested to produce slick ,promotional tools for our church? (i.e radio spots, banners, bumper stickers, newspaper ads, etc.). This was a problem with the religious leaders of Malachi’s day as well.  God accused them of robbing Him and they wanted to know how.  He said “In tithes and offerings.  Bring all your tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house” (Malachi 3:8,10 KJV)

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful to belong to a church with one true head(Colossians 1:18), one builder (Matthew 16:18), and only One who provided the increase and added to its numbers daily … such as should be saved? (1 Corinthians 3:6, Acts 2:47).  A place for changing souls, not money?  Where God had preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18), instead of being preempted in most?  A place to rest and not stress?  Filled with His Word, not buzz words?  A place to be convicted with prayer and praise instead of a place to contend about policies and programs?  Where there was a reverential awe and fear of our Lord Almighty, and people became silent when they walked in?  What a wonderful Word that would be.

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CHORE ENOUGH


– “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46 – NIV)

     Did you ever have a “chore chart” as a kid?  A list of things to do around the house throughout the week that your parents created?  Many parents still do.  A set of chores typically broken down by various factors such as “day of the week, child’s age, sex, frequency of the task, the child’s physical abilities”, etc.  So. let me ask you this if you are familiar with “chore charts”:  Did the mere fact of creating one and posting it on the fridge ensure that everything went smoothly?  No arguments or complaints about anything?  I might be way off here, but I am guessing the answer might be a resounding “NO!”.

     For example, you are a 10-year old girl and you have an 11-year old brother named Bobby.  It’s Saturday and the chore chart goes up on the fridge.  Almost immediately, it sets off complaining and debate and dissention with Dad and Mom.  “How come I have to do this again?” –  “Why do I have five things to do and Bobby only has four?” – “He gets to go outside and all my chores are indoors” – “This is not fair!”.  Finally, this all settles down and you and Bobby begin the chores …  and competition sets in. 

      Let’s say Bobby starts mowing the lawn but is really slack and slow.  He stops to shoot a few baskets, then stops to talk to a neighborhood friend and it is taking him “for-e-ver”.  So, you go back and look at the chore chart again – the one you previously complained about  – and look for something tasked to Bobby and go do it … such as taking the trash to the curb.  Secretly you are doing this to make yourself look better and perhaps get more favor, praise, fewer chores next time … and maybe more allowance from Dad and Mom. Outwardly, of course, you tell them you never intended to make Bobby look bad and only did it because you knew it needed to be done.  

     I could be wrong, but I think this scenario sadly describes the lives of many believers today, especially with church life.  Although we may not say it to anyone, we can look at our Christian lives as not much more than a “chore chart”.  Merriam-Webster defines a chore as a “routine, often unpleasant but necessary task”. This mindset often (and easily) leads to complaining, debate, and dissention (see above).  Believers can then quickly start comparing their business-like Christian performance charts and can start to change their behaviors and attitudes accordingly.  The danger of this is we can quickly fall outside of God’s will without ever realizing it.  Christianity becomes more of a competitive life instead of a cooperative one. 

     We are to “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 – KJV)).  According to Merriam-Webster, a commandment is: “To direct authoritatively, to have at one’s immediate disposal, and to demand or receive as one’s due”.  Complaining or arguing about any other Christian’s perceived performance does not negate His commandments to us.  Contending and griping about what gets done, when it gets done, and how … does not absolve us of our own personal accountability (Romans 14:12 – KJV) to Him and Him alone on judgement day.

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WHO ARE YOU?


“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 – NIV)

     So often in life, we get “what we do” confused with “who we are”.  Both my parents struggled with their identities  … who they were … after retirement.  My father told me once that he had to come to the realization that no matter how much time he had spent teaching, he was never going to be a teacher in that exact same way or capacity again.  At 43, I struggled with knowing that something I had spent 25 years doing would never be again.  That’s VERY hard.  My Dad is now a “retired” teacher.

– But in Christ, we are a new creation; not a new profession.  Ask someone, especially a Christian you don’t know very well yet, who they are.  My guess is that you will hear something like this : “I am a student, pastor, teacher, homemaker, elder, a lawyer”, etc..  Those are all roles … jobs … professions.  And those roles will someday end – and then who will they be?  Ask the question later again in that person’s life and you might just get the same answer … just with the word “retired” attached to whatever they “were” … but not who they were in Christ.

     The word “retirement” does not exist in the King James Bible.  Someone once asked Billy Graham when he was going to retire and he said he would “When the good Lord called him home and not a minute sooner”.  If we are not very careful, our professions can become a type of bondage and we don’t know how to break their chains after we “retire”.  Famed college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant held that position as an assistant or head coach for 46 years.  When he retired after a 23-22 loss in December of 1982, a reporter asked him what he was going to do.  Bryant replied “Probably croak in a week”.  He died of a massive heart attack one day after passing a routine medical check-up … four weeks later.  Andy Rooney, whose “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” ran on “60 Minutes” for 33 years – died 32 days after “retiring”. 

     We get so attached to our roles in this life that we never truly find out what our true freedom in Christ really means.  Galatians 5:1 tells us to “stand firm in that freedom and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage”.  This freedom in Christ should allow us to fully do the work He has called us to do for Him – if we look into its perfect law and not be forgetful hearers (James 1:25).  True love is allowing us to be who we truly are – in Christ.  Not what the world expects us to be.  I am going to leave you with an amazing quote (please do not prejudge the quote based on the person who said it).  It comes from Jim Morrison, lead singer of the 1960’s rock group, “The Doors”:

– “That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending performing. You get to love your pretence. It’s true, we’re locked in an image, an act … and the sad thing is, people get so used to their image, they grow attached to their masks. They love their chains. They forget all about who they really are. And if you try to remind them, they hate you for it, they feel like you’re trying to steal their most precious possession.”

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– Then was the part of the hand sent from him, and this writing was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN – Daniel 5:24-25

     The hand writing on the wall.  Even most non-believers have some knowledge of this Biblical story.  Not the “handwriting on the wall”.  It was an actual disembodied hand making strange words on the wall at a great banquet.  And it spooked King Belshazzar greatly – “Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins loosened, and his knees knocked against one another” (Daniel 5:6).  Why?  Because all of his astrologers and soothsayers – despite the promises of scarlet robes, gold chains, and prominence in ruling the kingdom (Daniel 5:7) if they could iinterpret the words – could not understand. 

    So, Daniel – having the gift from God of interpreting dreams (Daniel 1:17)  – was summoned.  And what the handwriting meant was very clear to Daniel.  It simply meant that God had numbered the days of the Babylonian kingdom, that King Belshazzar had been weighed in God’s balances – and found wanting … and that Babylon would be divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:26-28).  Later that night, Belshazzar was slain and the kingdom was taken over by Darius, the Median (Daniel 5:30-31)

    As we live, our every thought, action, and deed … and the motives behind them (1 Chronicles 28:9) are being weighed and balanced with God.  They have to be.  We can never be so callous as believers to think that God misses stuff.  When we meet God on that day of judgement (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 9:27), we are not going to able to introduce “new evidence” that is going to cause God to reconvene at a later date.  “Oh, Mark – I didn’t know that.  Missed that one completely.  When did that happen?  Well, this puts a whole new twist on the case”.  Somehow, I don’t think that is going to happen, do you?

     The days of our own personal kingdoms may already be numbered.  I hear people say so often “My whole world came crashing down around me”.  It breaks my heart when I hear that for two reasons: 1) because it’s not our world to begin with – it’s His, and (2) because that’s sadly where so many of us have to go before He gets our attention.  If only had King Belshazzar humbled himself before God.  Although he was fully aware of what happened when his father King Nebuchadnezzar became prideful in mind,  King Belshazzar chose to continue down the same road (Daniel 5:20-22).

     Although only God knows for sure when, He may be getting ready to divide “our kingdoms” through things we are not expecting … and that we will probably see as not being “fair” if they happen.  It may sound harsh, but He may be getting ready to end our “own little worlds” completely through death.  We don’t get to decide who lives and who dies, … ever.   People trembled and feared before King Nebuchadnezzar – a mighty ruler who decided who would live and who would die – who would be set up and who would be put down (Daniel 5:19).   Read what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5:20-21, as a result of his high-mindedness and pride.

     If you don’t agree with this, let me ask you this:  How is God going to judge all of mankind … if He is not weighing what we do now (Proverbs 16:2, Job 31:6)?  That does not mean we have to be perfect – that is impossible.  But we must remain sober and vigilant (1 Peter 5:8)… and conscious of every single thing we think (2 Corinthians 10:5), say (James 3:3-4), or do (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Listen to what the apostle Paul writes in Romans:  “Is God unrighteous who takes vengeance? (I speak as a man).  God forbid, for then how shall God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6).

      We won’t get to take our high-powered legal defense team with us when we meet our Maker.  God will be the jury and the judge.  Just you and Him.  And He will speak and you will answer (Job 38:3).  The outcome of our cases is being decided as we live – not then.  When we face our Lord Almighty, the verdict will already have been reached.  It will be a day of sentencing, not deliberation.

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“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:10 (NIV)

God called all of us to be servants – not de-servants. We don’t do a little bit for God, then come in and wait for a pat-on-the-back or a thank-you before we go back out again to serve. Unfortunately, a culture of per…sonal, corporational, educational, and commercial rewards has slowly developed over the past 10 years or so …especially in the West. Almost an air of “I’ll do something for you, buy something from you, work for you, or learn … only if I get something back”, permeates our society. Spending more time in the world and not the Word won’t help this mentality at all.

Sadly, this mindset has snuck its way into the church and into the lives of many believers. A local Christian radio station here in Nashville seems to be caught up in its material goods rewards program for frequent listeners. But the concept is not new to God, nothing ever is … (there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9). It was a problem back in the days of Isaiah. Read what Isaiah 1:23 says: “Everyone loves gifts and follows after rewards”.

So, how does one recognize a non-servant mentality? I was contemplating this over coffee this morning and came up with this “We May Not Be a Servant … If” list – if we either say or just think these things. You may know some others and I would love to hear them:

“This is the thanks I get”.
“After all I’ve done for you”.
“Serves them (you) right”.
“It doesn’t pay to be good/nice anymore”.
“That’s not fair”.
“You owe me”.
“What’s in this for me?”

As believers, we are to set our minds on things above, not below (Colossians 3:2). Not chasing the corruptible crowns of earth that never last, but a crown in heaven that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25). For where our treasure lies, there so lies our heart (Matthew 6:21)

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CALENDAR CULTURE


– But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. – 2 Peter 3:8 (NIV)
 
    They are meaningless numbers printed on pieces of paper … well at least in older times … also known as a calendars. Most people now have them on their electronic devices – but they are still meaningless in the eyes of the Lord. But even as believers we can all too easily let these man-made “calendars” dictate how we spend time and money in these brief lives we have been given.  We know from the verse above that God does not operate according to our timetables.  Man observes days, and months, and season, and years (Galatians 4:10 – ESV).  God does not. 

     Living in a calendar culture can quickly spill over into living in a comparison culture – have you ever heard people make remarks similar to these?”

– “Why aren’t you married yet? – you’re 28 and all your friends are married and having kids already.  What’s wrong with you?  I know this really handsome and available bachelor – let me set you up for a Valentine’s Day date”

–  “You want to go on America’s Got Talent? … you’re 61! … you should be thinking about retirement at your age, not singing  You have trouble getting your flag out on the 4th of July!”

– “All the ladies in my bridge club have grandkids – I want one too …maybe you can get pregnant by Christmas – what an announcement that would be for the holidays!.  I’m not getting any younger you know, and they’re starting to talk.  Do you know how this makes me look?”. 

Sadly, to make people happy and keep the peace, we listen and comply – and usually end up making ourselves miserable in the process. 

    An even more dangerous side of living in a calendar culture is we can let it start dictating our emotions.  How we should and should not feel.  Not because of our truest, innermost emotions … but because the calendar states it’s an “important date” created by man … and we should buy and celebrate and feel the way society expects us to accordingly.

     For example, have you ever felt sad on your birthday or Christmas?  Only to have someone notice this and come up to you and say something like : “It’s your birthday! Put on a happy face, You shouldn’t feel sad”.  So you suck it up and put on a brave face so everyone will think you’re having a good time when you’re not?  I’ve heard many medical professionals talk about how more people end up in Emergency Rooms on Christmas Eve and Christmas than at any other time of the year.  Those people didn’t speak up about a strange ache or pain because they didn’t want to ruin anyone’s good time.  They thought it would pass and it didn’t – and they never made it to the new year. How sad.

    Every day is a gift from God.  In the Bible, our existence is likened to a shadow (Job 14:2), a vapor that appears for a little time (James 4;14) … water spit on the ground that cannot be gathered up again (II Samuel 14:14).  We are to never boast of tomorrow for we do not know what the morning light will bring (Proverbs 27:1), redeeming the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  With the dawning of each new day, we are to simply be glad and rejoice in it (Psalm 118:24) as it may be our last – one day we will be right. 

     Until the Lord takes us home, we must not wait until Valentine’s Day to show affection to someone special, Memorial Day to thank a veteran, the Fourth of July to fly our flags, or Thanksgiving to give thanks.  Don’t wait until the calendar tells you to love or appreciate people (and how much you should spend to do so).  Do it when your heart tells you and I pray that is every day with you.  And, please don’t wait this year until Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. There’s no guarantee in the Bible that any of us will make it that far.

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BAGGAGE CLAIM


– This is love for God … to obey His commands.  And His commands are not burdensome. – 1 John 3:5

     It was 1994 during a layover at the Munich airport.  On the way home to the states from Turkey for Christmas.  I saw him from a distance.  You could not miss him.  He was not old but he was all bent over and moving at a snail’s pace.  Why?  Slung over each of his shoulders were two small pieces of baggage.  Around his neck, falling down across either side of his back, were two more.  In each hand was a rolling suitcase.  Two airport employees offered assistance, and I did the same as he neared.  He dismissed us all with a sigh and the wave of his hand, and a weak “No, thank you”.

     As humans, we often get weighed down with our emotional baggage.  Guilt slung over one shoulder, discouragement over another.  Around our necks we have bags of distrust and anxiety.  In our hands, we roll along with the bigger suitcases of unforgiveness and bitterness.  In Galatians 6:2, we are told to bear each other’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ.  But do we really want to for others … and do we really want others to ease ours … or do we just like to say it?  This was part of what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples, regarding the hypocritical behavior of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:4 … “They tie up heavy cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders … but they themselves are not willing to move a finger to lift them”.

    Three people above at least tried to ease this traveller’s burdens and he did not want any of us to.  I’ve often wondered since then, how far I would have gone to help that man.  Carry his baggage just a ways, or until he actually got them through check-in?  Maybe that’s why he refused help.  Because people before had only helped part of the way … then took off when things got too heavy.  Imagine how much lighter his load might have felt if I had gone the extra mile as Jesus did (Matthew 5:41).  Was he so used to carrying his emotional suitcases alone that he subconsciously did the same with his physical baggage?

    We can have a tendency to act like it’s too hard as believers to love some people  and forgive some others … and be longsuffering and patient.  One reason is that I think we get so used to carrying the opposite feelings so long … that we have absolutely no idea how to live another way.  We’ve heard about the freedom in Christ but we have never truly experienced it.   It is something we must ask the Holy Spirit for help with – and be willing to accept His way; for it is only with this liberty that we can serve others with love (Galatians 5:13).    

     Another reason is that so many can become institutionalized with their negative feelings and emotions … much like a physical prisoner who has served many years in jail … that they don’t know what to do with their new-found freedom in Christ.  They may experience it for a short period.  Exciting at first because it’s different and the results can be uncertain … but the newness wears off.  So they go back to where at least they know what to expect.  They know it’s not right … but at least they’re comfortable.  But our Lord’s commands are intended to free us and lighten our load, not to freeze or frustrate us … and make us labor with our load. 

    The primary way not to return to the old way is to continue … constantly … walking in His Word (John 8:31).  Hear what He is saying, not the world.  God claimed all our bad baggage at the cross with the death of His only Son.  It was meant to free us once and for all from our old self and lives – to be truly free indeed (John 8:36).  Let the blood of Jesus lose that luggage once and forever for you.  He wants us to come to Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30).

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