Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Without Christ



"When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.” Luke 2:15-16 
__________________________

     As we approach Christmas, I fondly reflect on my childhood memories of the holidays. I can think back to my earliest recollection of Christmas. Momma had told me to go on to bed so I could get ready for Santa Clause “to walk”, as they used to call it. I remember lying on the very edge of my twin bed so I could see down to the hallway at the sparkling lights on our tree. Every other light in the house was off, and the tree was really glowing. The combination of the lights, the smell of our live tree that daddy brought off the farm, and the nervous anticipation of waiting for Santa Clause was one of the most magical feelings I have ever experienced. The only problem was, for me at that time…there was no Christ in my Christmas. Sure I had heard the story of the Baby Jesus in the manger; even heard Linus on the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon tell the story from the Book of Luke. But Jesus was not the focus of my festivities. There was Santa Clause, a tree, gifts, food, and family…but no Christ. 

     Is it possible to have Christmas without Christ? I mean apart from the name; obviously you can’t spell the word Christmas without the name Christ. But I mean the event…the celebration…the holiday. Can you have Christmas without Christ as the focus? As ludicrous as the question sounds, if you stand back and look at our society, it looks like that’s exactly what people are attempting to do. We pile up gifts and food and festivities and shopping and…more food and days off from work so high that it’s hard to find Christ in Christmas. Now it’s the politically correct thing to say “Happy Holidays”, instead of “Merry Christmas” so as to not offend non-Christians. Heaven forbid we honor what actually is Christ-Mas!
     
     So it’s makes me wonder how many people could care less whether He came or not; whether they have a Christ for Christmas or not. So what if he didn’t come? What if the shepherds found an empty manger? They would have just gone back to their flock of sheep; but would it make a difference in your life?

     Well, whether it would matter to you or not, and I hope it does, it would make all the difference to the whole world. A Christmas without Christ would mean that the Bible  is false and the world would be lost. Which is why I am glad that the manger was not empty. There, born on that day in the City of David, was Christ the Lord. Our savior was born and He still lives. I have believed Him and received Him, and it has made all the difference for all of eternity.

      I pray that on this year, you won’t be having a Christmas without Christ.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Better Not Skip Leg Day!



I posted something a little while ago about the pushes and the pulls. Remember? I used bodybuilding as a canvas to paint a picture of how we need learn to balance our pulling and our pushing; to not just pull things towards ourselves in a selfish, self-centered manner; but to also think of others and to push towards the needs of those around us. To not always be in a mode of pulling stuff to us that we want, but to sometimes push things away that we don't need. 

Well, I'd like to add to that canvas, and submit to you that in our spiritual workout we not only need to focus on the pushes and the pulls. But we also need to make sure we workout our legs. See, when I was more into weight training, as opposed to the cardio workouts I do now, I always hated leg day. Not sure why. Maybe it was that the workouts were particularly hard for me, or that the recovery was a pain to deal with (some of you are gym rats and know what it's like with your legs being sore and looking like you're walking around on hot coals). Whatever it was, I frequently skipped leg day.

Skipping leg day, physically speaking, only left me with the inability to police-kick a locked door open if I needed to. I seem to be managing life ok with that handicap I suppose. But spiritually speaking, skipping leg day will prove to be much worse for us Christians.

Let's use the news about Phil Robertson from the reality show Duck Dynasty as a backdrop for our conversation. You may not watch the show, but I don't know how you could have gotten out of the bed in the last few months and not at least heard of it. I happen to love the show and love that family's story. I am glad there is at least one show on tv of a family who loves God, and to have something I can watch with my daughters and not have to the hold my finger on the trigger of the remote in case a bad word or nude scene jumps out at us. Now I certainly could not see into Phil Robertson's heart when he quoted the scripture about homosexuality and other sins, so I don't know if there was love in it or hate in it when he quoted the Bible. God will judge that. But what I do know is that...he quoted the Bible. And I believe that the Bible is truth...ALL of the BIBLE! And its truth is not dependent on me or anyone else believing it or accepting it. That's what makes it truth. Opinions fluctuate; truth does not.

I don't know whether or not A&E will allow Phil back on the show, or whether he even wants to. The show seemed to be more of a nuisance to him, and I think he only did it because he couldn't ignore the opportunity to share Jesus with millions of people. Frankly, I am surprised that the show has been on this long being that they end each episode with a prayer to Jesus, or that they show them blasting ducks out of the air with shot guns. Nevertheless, I do believe that all the hoopla about Phil being kicked off the show is something very important for us as Christians. What it is, is a reminder that we better…not…skip…leg day. Though we live in a society that supposedly promotes tolerance of the beliefs and choices of individuals, it is proving to be less and less tolerant of our belief in Christ and our choice to share God's word. So as Christians we need to have strong legs and be prepared to stand. I don't mean to stand up and fight. We don't have to, nor are we called to, defend God's word. It defends itself. But we are called to stand by living it and sharing it and leading others to Christ with it. And as we stand, we stand as Jesus stood; on truth with forgiveness, and grace and love.

So as the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Thessalonica, I encourage you with his words to, “…stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eyes that See, a Heart that Feels, and Hands that Do.

"Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish." 
John 6:11 (NIV)
_______________________________________
When you're riding around, do you look around? Of course you have to keep an eye on the road, but do you really notice what's going on in your community? Sometimes I think we are more knowledgeable of the plight of people in foreign lands than we are of the people right around us. For example, do you know what the poverty rate of your community is? In mine about 27% of families are living below the poverty level. Do you know the leading causes of death in your community? In mine it's cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Ok, so those are stats that you have to research, but if you really open your eyes, there are things you can see. You'll see that marriages are falling apart, kids are dropping out of school, and elderly people are struggling to survive. Yeah, now that you think about it, you see those things and more don't you?

In the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with the two fish and five loaves of bread, the people had a need. They needed food to eat, and Jesus saw that need. He was not so consumed with His own needs or His own schedule or His own notoriety that He could not see it. But He didn't just see it; He felt something about it. He had compassion about their situation. And...He didn't just feel something about it; He did something about. The disciples suggested that they send the people away so they could get their own food. But Jesus said the people would stay and they would feed them. Of course you know the story, he took the two fish and five loaves of bread, He blessed it, He broke it, and He fed the thousands of people with it. That's because Jesus has eyes that see, a heart that feels, and hands that do. How about you?

What will you do about the needs you see around you? You might be thinking that you don't have much, and what little you have won't make a difference. Well, the little boy who gave his fish and bread over to Jesus probably thought the same thing at first. You will find that your little can become a lot in the hands of God. But you have to have eyes that see, a heart that feels, and hands that do.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Pushes and the Pulls

"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14
__________________________________
During his prime, Arnold Schwarzenegger was credited with having the most perfect body. Some would even argue that no one else has ever topped his accomplishments in sculpting the human physique through bodybuilding. He wasn't so great because he was so big. Certainly there have been some before and plenty since his professional career who are much bigger. Instead,  his accomplishment and reason for winning 7 Mr Olympia titles was the fact that he was so symmetrical and well-proportioned. And because of that, he became the standard.

So, its no wonder that when I first got interested in exercise and weight training years ago, I turned to Arnold for advice. I came across his book, now seen as the bible of bodybuilding, called the "Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding". Two things I liked about it was: 1) it was easy to read, and 2) it had pictures. Now, I can follow a book like that. In it, he broke all of the muscles down in two groups, push muscles and pull muscles. Think about it...God gave us muscles that either can pull things towards us or push things away. Biceps (front-upper arm) pull, triceps (back-upper arm) push; pectorals (chest) push, latissimus (back) pull, quadriceps (front thigh) push; hamstrings (rear thigh) pull;  you get the picture. So to reach optimal form in bodybuilding, you need to equally train both the pushes and the pulls. 

I think we'd also do well in our spiritual lives if we took a cue from Arnold. If we all really examine ourselves, we'll realize that our pull muscles are much bigger than our push muscles. We do a lot more pulling than we do pushing. If we could sit and review the tape from just one day of our thoughts, words, actions, and feelings, we'd see that we are consumed with ourselves. What we get, what we are given, what people say to us, how people look at us, the titles we're bestowed, the money we accumulate, the fame we achieve, and so on. Always a constant motion of pulling towards ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we need things for ourselves, both materially, emotionally and spiritually. But if pulling is all we do, our lives would be as unbalanced as our bodies would look if we did that in a gym. 

Just examine the example Jesus set for us. He created all and could have had everything, but while He was here on earth, He pushed material things away and lived a humble if not poor life. Often when He healed people and they set out to spread the word about it, He pushed away the accolades and asked that they not share it with anyone because the time was not right. Satan even took Him up to the peak of a mountain to show Him all the kingdoms of the world which he offered to give to Him in exchange for His worship. Yet Jesus pushed...no shoved it away and said "“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Matthew 4:10 NIV) 

If your life seems too hard, then maybe you need to build up your push muscles. Start by pushing away the things the Bible says are not good for you; then the things that get between you and God. Then you'll find yourself getting stronger and stronger. Before you know it, you, like the Apostle Paul, will be able to say "I PRESS towards the mark of the prize of the high calling which in Christ Jesus."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Take Time to Be Thankful

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18
________________________________________
Long ago, Europeans left an old world to come to a new one; some for the satisfaction of exploring; some for economic opportunity; some to be free to worship in their own way. Whatever the motivation, they struck out together on a long journey for a new life. This new world was both full of promise and laden with problems. Many of these Pilgrims, as they came to be known, were Puritans, a branch of Protestant Christians. They were separating themselves from the Church of England, and were striving to be “purified” from what they saw as corruption in the church. So with Bibles in hand and hope in their hearts, they climbed on boats to sail to a new land.

In September of 1620, one such group of Pilgrims boarded a boat called the Mayflower and set sail for America. After about 2 months of hard travel, they reached Massachusetts and started building a settlement called Plymouth. They were ill-prepared to survive the winter they had walked into. Though they started building their settlement, they lived off their docked ship through the winter. Many did not make it to see Spring. History teaches us that friendly Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, most notably one named Squanto, showed the Pilgrims how to not only survive, but to thrive by farming and fishing. And thrive they did. By summer, their settlement was established and crops were growing in the fields.

As it had already been tradition among the Puritans, and many cultures for many centuries, the Pilgrims decided to have a feast the fall of 1621 to celebrate the bounty of their harvest and to give thanks to God. One Pilgrim wrote home of the celebration, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. ….And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Likewise, God has been good to us. And the least that we can do is to take time to be thankful. Even when we don’t have enough, or when things are not going our way, there is always something to be thankful for and God is always worthy of our praise.

Take time to be thankful!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Climbing Over a Fence of Fear

"For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee." Isaiah 41:13
_____________________________________
   I came along pretty much at the end of a string of generations in my family who worked on the farm. Therefore, I had lots of great experiences that my children will never have, and that makes me a little sad. Like for example, I used to love following my dad around on the land. Sometimes we'd walk around the pasture and through the woods checking the fence to make sure the cows where being kept in or to find a place where they'd gotten out. About half of his land is open pasture and the other half wooded. He had just about all of it fenced in for the cows; some of the fencing much like that in the picture above.

As a little boy, walking the land was like an adventure. We'd walk through pastures, cross over creeks and climb up or down wooded hills. But at some point our excursion would come to a road block, or a fence block I should say. We would get to a place on the land where we would have to cross over a barbed-wire fence. The fence was only about 4' tall, but to a little boy it looked liked 12'. So for me it was practically insurmountable. No matter what was on the other side or what our need was for getting to it, I couldn't cross it. If I had been by myself, I would have had no choice but to cut my adventure short and to head back from whence I had come. But...I wasn't alone. My daddy was with me. So he would cross over the fence first. Then he would reach back over and grab me under my arms and lift me over the fence. Granted, that process of going over was scary becuase I was afraid of that barbed wire. It would have done little more than snagged my clothes or at worse scratched me a bit; but to my little eyes, I thought it would slice me to shreds. But my fear was abated when I remembered that my daddy was strong enough to lift me high enough that it wouldn't even touch me, and it didn't. So we crossed that fence and our adventure continued.

In the 16 years I have been walking with my Heavenly Father, I have found him to be a lot like my daddy, but better. Walking with Him has been an adventure to say the least. It has been exciting to see the places He has taken me and the power and love He has revealed. But as wonderful as it has been, I have had many difficulties along the way . I've had to climb over haters and hurters. I've had to get past problems and pain. I've had to make it over sickness and death. And I couldn't get past any of it without climbing over a fence of fears. Had I  been alone, I could not have made it over. But I am not alone, and I never will be. My Father walks with me, He has climbed every fence ahead of me, and in the times that my courage was not great enough and my faith was not strong enough, He picked me up and carried me over.  Now who wouldn't serve a God like that!?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip?

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
______________________________________
  Do you prefer mayonnaise or miracle whip? I am a miracle whip man myself. In fact, for most of my childhood, I thought miracle whip was mayonnaise. It was all that I remember having in the house, and all that I remember eating. I even used to eat what I called mayonnaise sandwiches, but it was actually miracle whip I was spreading on that white bread.

It was probably sometime during my teenage years that someone somewhere was making me a sandwich, and asked what I wanted on it. Of course, I asked for mayonnaise, and of course....what I got was mayonnaise. One bite into the sandwich, and I was immediately trying to mask that "what in the world is this?" look that was showing up on my face. It was the funniest tasting sandwich I had ever eaten up to that point, but my momma had taught me that you never complain about food when someone else is nice enough to feed you. So I just ate it and smiled. 

I later learned that it was mayo on that sandwich and not miracle whip. And I also learned that what I had been eating all those years was not mayo, but a sandwich spread that was similar to mayo but sweeter. But even to this day, I still prefer miracle whip, because for all those years my taste buds had been trained to prefer miracle whip.

In the passage here in Proverbs, the literal translation of the Hebrew phrase "train up" means to condition or train the palate. In other words, God is using the notion of training the taste buds to like certain things as a spiritual metaphor. See, all those years, my taste buds where being trained to like miracle whip and not mayo. Or like yours may have been trained to like pie over cake, or sweet tea over lemonade, or McDonald's fries over Burger King's, or whatever it might be. So with that understanding, we can see that the Lord is commanding us as parents, as teachers, as church leaders, as older brothers and sisters, as who ever is in a position to influence a child, to do what we can to train their spiritual taste buds for the things of God. To teach them to appreciate His word. To show them how prayer should be a part of our everyday life. To raise them in church so they can't imagine having a life that's not part of one. To model for them a love for God and a love for His people. Because the Lord promises in this passage that when we do, they will not depart from it when they get older.

Like with me, at this point I have tried all kinds of mayonnaise and all kinds of things that you can spread on a sandwich. But miracle whip will always be my preference, because that's how my parents trained my taste buds. Just like they trained me up to also have a taste for the things of the Lord, and from that I will never depart.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The World Ain't Flat But My Bible Is

"Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth." Psalm 119:142
---------------------
It's somewhat of a popular misconception that Christopher Columbus set out to prove that the world wasn't flat. Truth is, by his time is was a known fact among scientists and seafarers. He really set out to explore, because that was his passion. And those who invested in his voyages were looking for commercial opportunities. However, there were some people at that time who still believed that the world was flat and thought that if he sailed far enough, he would sail off the side of the earth. They rejected the truth they had been told because they couldn't reconcile it with what their eyes could see. After all, if you stand on a beach at ocean's-edge, it looks like there is an end to the earth. It looks like you could sail off over the sunset, not into the sunset. 

You know, similarly there are many things in God's word that people reject because it doesn't jive with what they see or think. A God who is everywhere and eternal, though we can't see Him? A perfect place prepared for those who believe? An eternal punishment for those who don't? A savior born as a baby, lived as a man, and died on the cross who separates us from the two? To many, it just doesn't make sense. But the truth, and always will be, what God says is true! Just like the fact that perhaps millions of people believed that the world was flat didn't mean that it was. Truth exists outside of our own opinions or acceptance of it. That's what  makes it truth. 

So, even though the world isn't flat, my bible is. And my bible flat out says that God loves you, whether you believe it or not.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Don't Let Your Blessing Become Your Curse

"And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Exodus 32: 3-4 (NLT)
----------------
Do you know where those gold earrings came from that Israel used to make their golden calf? God gave it to them. Yep, just a few chapters earlier in the book of Exodus, as the children of Israel were being lead out of Egypt, the Lord instructed them to go to all of their Egyptian neighbors and ask them for all of their gold and jewels, jewelry and trinkets. Not to buy it from them or steal it from them, but just to ask them for it. And the Lord touched the Egyptians' hearts, and they just gave it to them. So though they were living as slaves, God's people were on their way to the land He had promised them with great riches to help start their new life.....And look what they did.

While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, they got tired of waiting and decided to make their own god to worship. And that wasn't long after the Lord had commanded them to have no other God but Him, and to make no graven images to worship. Yet they took that gold and melted it down into a statue of a calf to worship (which was probably something they saw the pagan nations around them do). That's a shame...to allow what was given as a blessing to become their curse. And not just a shame on them, but also a shame on us.

We are all guilty of similar sin. God blesses us with a job, then we end up spending more time focused on that than our families or Him. He blesses us with homes and cars, and we develop pride over those things and turn them into idols. He blesses us with  gifts and talents and we use them for our glory and not His. You get the picture, and the picture is this. If we're not careful, our blessing can become our curse.

So I encourage you to do what I will do myself. Count your blessings, thank God for them, them ask Him to put them and keep them in their proper place in your heart. Then you will not only receive a blessing, but you will be a blessing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Until Your Well Runs Dry or Your Foot Valve Goes Bad

"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." John 4:14
-----------------------------
You know, you never miss your water until your well runs dry...or your foot valve goes bad. I was out of water here at my house for a couple of days. At first I didn't know what was going on. I was hoping my well hadn't gone dry. That would have been a much more difficult problem to solve. But I couldn't know until someone who knew what they were doing could come by and look at it. Finally someone did. He figured out very quickly that it was the foot valve that had gone bad. Its a device at the end of the line at the bottom of the well that allows water to be pumped up out of the well but won't let the water flow back into the well. He fixed it. I watched. Problem solved. Lesson learned.

  In addition to learning what a foot valve is and how it works, I was also reminded of how we use water so much in our daily lives. Drinking, bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, cooking, washing cars, watering flowers, and so on. Water is such a part of living; it even makes up about 70% of our bodies, yet I realize how much I take it for granted. Sure, I was able to get some water to do what we I needed to do, but my life was hindered considerably all because of a lack of running water. I can't even begin to tell you how glad I was when that water started flowing into my house again.

   There is something even more necessary for living than water, or I should say someone. God is everywhere all the time, which is great because we need Him everywhere all the time. There would be no plumber to fix my foot valve if it were not for God. There would be no foot valve to fix if it were not for God. In fact there would be no water in the ground for us to dig a well if it were not for God. Yet, I'll be the first to admit that I go through parts of my day not even thinking of Him. I have received blessing and didn't thank Him. I have needed help and failed to call on Him. I have had questions and didn't think to ask Him. I have basked in His glory and delayed in giving Him praise. Shame on me for that, because I know where I would be without the Lord...I would not be.

   I am so glad that I will never have live with out Him, and never again will I have to experience a relationship without Him. Not only because He exists around me, but also because He lives within me. And for that well of water, I am truly grateful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Following Jesus

"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And He said unto them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:18-19
------------------------------------
We can follow people in a lot of ways. We can follow them with our eyes; watching where they go and what they do. We can follow them with our legs; walking behind them or with them wherever they may go. Or we can follow them with our actions; taking their lead and emulating what they do.

Certainly when Jesus was here on earth, he had "followers" that fit all three categories; more in the first two than in the latter. There were some who who watched what He did when He came through during His earthly ministry. There were those who traveled to Him or behind Him to see what miracle He would perform or what truth He would share. Some times those crowds numbered in the thousands, but they included those who were waiting for a chance to criticize Him too. Then there were those few who were willing to give up their lives and their hearts to do what He did.

Jesus in calling His disciples said "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." He didn't say follow me and I will show you, or follow me and I will take you, but He said follow me and I will make you! For those few who were willing to truly follow Him, 12 at first, Jesus didn't just change their view or just change their location. He changed their lives to be more like His.

How are you following the Lord now? Are you just watching what He is doing in the lives of others? Are you just following Him to church to see what He might say or do? Or are you following Him with your life, allowing Him to change you into a disciple who goes out and makes other disciples?

Let's not just follow Jesus with our eyes to see what He's doing or follow Him with our legs to be where He's doing it. Let's follow Him with our hearts to BE what He is doing.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

God at Work!

Here's a question for you who are prepping to go to work, heading to work, or already at work (by the way, should you be on FB @ work?)...anyway...the question is, when you show up to your job, is God at work?  Is God in you, and do you allow Him to show up with you and through you at work? See often times as Christians we think that God's command to share the Good News and to make disciples only applies to some foreign mission field, at your church, or at least anywhere but work. But I say that your office, your plant, your site, your workplace is just as much your mission field as anywhere else God can send you; perhaps even greater. Being a believer, carrying a bible, listening to preaching, and participating in worship are not required tasks at your job as they may be at your church or some evangelistic rally. Therefore, you have access to people at your job who don't know the Lord and frankly never even thought to seek Him. And guess what....Jesus died for them too...especially for them.

"But I can't talk about Jesus at my job; I'll get fired", you say. That may be true. My first response to that is, SO WHAT! Jesus bore the cross. Is it too much to ask us to bear a pink slip? But, ok so maybe you haven't worked yourself up to that kind of boldness..yet. Let me offer that there is yet another way that you can allow God to show up through you at your work, and its by the way you work.  Let me ask you this? How do you treat people at work? Are you kind, helpful, and show them love? How do you treat your boss at work? Do you submit to him or her; do you seek to serve God by serving your boss? How do you treat your work at work? Do you work hard, giving it all you've got; do you give your best and use the gifts and abilities God has given you to perform your tasks? Ooorrrr, do you treat the people you serve like an inconvenience of your time; do you talk about your coworkers more than you pray for them; does your boss have to search for you and constantly check up on you to make sure you're doing your job; do you dodge work, doing just enough where there's not quite enough evidence to fire your tail?

Colossians 3:23 says "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people". So, if you are a Christian, God is your real boss and He is worthy of your best work. And if you are going to be a Christian, you are one everywhere you go, including work. So make sure when you show up to work today, you allow God to show up with you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Seeing What God Sees

Genesis 22:4 "Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off."
__________________________________

Can you imagine what it looked like from Abraham's perspective on top of Mt. Moriah? His precious son with hands and feet tied, lying on an altar he had made; wood stacked up all around the base of the altar ready to burn; the bewildered look that perhaps peered through the tear-filled eyes of Isaac; knife raised in the air with its sharp tip pointed at the heart of his own son. That is what Abraham was looking at; but that is not what He saw. No, I believe Abraham had the faith-filled gift to see what God sees. God saw a man who loved Him enough to be willing to sacrifice his own son; and God saw a great nation birthed from one man who dared to love Him enough to obey Him, and through which He would reach out to the whole world.

No matter what you are looking at right now, let your faith help you to see what God sees. And no matter how big your problem, remember that: your problems can't stop God's plan; your problems can't break God's promises; and your problems are never greater than God's power.

Maybe in stead of taking our problems to God, we should take our eyes so He can change how we see the things we face. Take it from me, your outlook on life will be so much better when you learn how to see what God sees.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Naked and Not Ashamed!

Genesis 3:7 "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."

Since today is my birthday, I thought it would be fitting to talk about birthday suits.  So here's what I need you to do. Get naked and go look at yourself in the mirror. ( I thought that would get your attention). But for real...get naked and get in front of a full length mirror and take a good look at yourself. What? Can't bring yourself to do that? Just the thought of it makes you feel uncomfortable? Yeah, me too. So scratch that idea.
 
But now that we are thinking about it, you are probably realizing that you pretty much keep yourself covered up, not only from the eyes of others, but also from your own eyes. Sure you get naked every day to take a bath or shower (or at least I hope you do), but how much time do you spend really looking at yourself. Maybe a brief glimpse in the mirror as you are jumping off the side of your tub through your bath towel and right into your underclothes. I would dare to guess that you have a mole on your body somewhere that you have never seen. 

So what's my point you ask (and yes I do have one).  Well I believe that we rarely if ever take a long, examining look at our bodies because we don't want to face our flaws. The truth is, we wear clothes not only to hide ourselves from others, but also to hide ourselves from...ourselves. Some of you probably rarely look at yourself in a picture or allow yourself to even be photographed because you don't want to be confronted by your own physical imperfections. I can't say that's too unnatural to feel that way.

But here is the even deeper point I am trying to make (and yeees, I do have one). Most of us don't want to have to see ourselves spiritually naked either. Having all of our sins, failures and bad habits laid to bare before our shameful eyes is too much to take. We don't just hide our sins from others, we hide them from ourselves too. That's why when we catch a glimpse of who we really are, we quickly throw on a towel of self-denial, or we cover our eyes with that hand that points out the flaws of others.  And to think, it all started with Adam and Eve. After they disobeyed God, their eyes were opened and they realized there were naked, and they were ashamed and they scuffled to try cover themselves. And we've been following their lead ever since.

But here's the thing. If we want to be freed from our sin, we have to be forgiven of our sin. And to be forgiven of our sin, we have to confess our sin. And to confess our sin we have to expose our sin. Not necessarily to other people, but definitely to God and to ourselves. And that is about as comfortable of a process as standing in front of one of those 3-section mirrors buck-naked. I know, I shudder at the thought too.

Look I want to share two things with you that I hope will help you cross your valley of shame to make it to the mountain of your deliverance. The first thing is this. Whatever you are hiding, you are only hiding it from yourself. God already knows. He can see past your church clothes and your cloak of self righteousness. He's not shocked by anything about you, and He loves you anyway. The second thing is this. When Jesus went to the cross for you, He not only took your sin with Him, but He also took the shame that accompanies your sin. Remember, before they crucified Jesus, they stripped Him of His clothes. And He allowed them to do that. Hebrews 12:2 says "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.". Jesus had nothing to hide, yet He got naked for you and me and bore our shame upon the cross to crucify it. 

So even if  you can't muster of the nerve to get naked and stand before a mirror, at least strive in your life to shed your clothes of pretense and self righteousness so that God can apply His grace to your places of shame. Then you will be able to fully know what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said "Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy." (Isa. 61:7). Then you can be naked and not ashamed. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Have You Answered Your Call?

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." Isaiah 6:8
____________________________________
Sharing a thought from our bible study last night on the People Profile Series - "Isaiah: Here am I, Send Me"

Isaiah answered his call. Have you answered yours? Do you know what your calling is? Well if you are not sure, here are a few things to think about:

1) All Christians have the call to tell the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8). So start doing that right where you are.

2) Your specific calling, your particular place of work in the kingdom, may or may not come out of something that you are good at or like to do (just ask Moses). But usually your calling will start with a burden in your heart. Maybe you have a burden for the homeless, or broken marriages, or teenagers, or the poor and oppressed in foreign lands..or whatever it might be. Let your Christ-filled heart be your guide.

3) Your calling might not be to a place or a work that puts your name before people, or brings you any kind of recognition. Just like the clock on your wall, the face and the hands are all that you see, but the real work is being done by all the wheels and gears and springs that few ever see. Remember, the work is about God's glory, not yours.

So if you are saved (that comes first) and really want to know what your calling is, keep praying to God, and soon you will lift up your eyes from your prayer and find yourself right in the middle of it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Talking to Myself

My Morning Prayer: Good morning Lord. Thank You for the blessing of another day. I am grateful for another day to live, another day to love and another day to serve.

Lord, on the way home from work yesterday, I was having a conversation with myself about..well the people I have conversations with. I was thinking about how I have to talk to people pretty much all day every day. I talk to my wife, I talk to my daughters. I talk to people at work, I talk to people at church. I talk to people I know very well, I talk to people I barely know at all. I talk to people I have been knowing my whole life, and sometimes like in the grocery store or some other place, I talk to people I've met for the first time. And in all of that talking with all of those people, I realized that the person I talk to the most is....me.

Father, I don't know if to others that might be a silly revelation to have, but for me it was quite profound. And the reason it was an epiphany is because I realized that this person inside of me who I talk with all the time, who is..me (ok I will call him "Lil E") ..ok so I realized that because I am always talking with Lil E, then Lil E has to be the person in my life who has the most influence over me, aside from You of course. I mean, as soon as I wake up, the first person I hear from in the morning is Lil E. He is either telling me things like, "Eric, you should have gone to bed earlier last night", or he may ask me a question like "what day is it?". Then after I get up and..well go to my 'meditation closet', I may have my iPad with me for reading, and he sometimes says "hey, let's see who posted on FB while we were sleep", or he might say "no, no we should read our daily devotional on the bible app first...then we can check FB!". And I could go on and on about the conversations I have with Lil E throughout the day, but I won't drag out our prayer time together Lord with details that You already know. But my point is, more than I talk to anyone else, I talk with Lil E.

And so today God, I am interceding for Lil E. I pray that You make sure that when he talks to me, that he will say what You want him to say. Because frankly Father, Lil E sometimes speaks negativity and doubt and fear and all kinds of other stuff into our life. I can be approaching some situation or challenge, and Lil E will just go on and on about how terrible it will be, how likely I will fail, or you know just going through the list of the worst possible scenarios. Don't get me wrong, without a doubt Lil E is my own best friend, but sometimes he can be my own worst enemy too. That troubles me because from the rest of my enemies I can hide or flee, but from Lil E will always be with me. So Lord, I pray that You will continue to change and sanctify me and Lil E, and use him to speak life and faith and hope and strength into our life.

Lord, I know Your spirit lives with in me, so continue to change me from the inside out. To borrow from the psalmist I say "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer." I love You. In Jesus name. Amen!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Morning Prayer

Good morning Lord. Thank You for the blessings of this day. I don't know what this day will hold, but I know You are in it and that's good enough for me.

Lord, I have to thank You for all the things that You give me to say. You have called me to a ministry that includes church and work where I have to have a lot of things to say, both in spoken and written word. Whether it's the meetings I run, the documents I write, or the people I lead at work; or whether it be the sermons I preach, the lessons I teach, or the online ministry things I post. Those are an awful lots of words, especially considering that You have chosen me, a quiet person by nature. Lord, You know better than anyone else that I much prefer quiet over noise, solitude over social, and silence over talking. But true to the pattern You established in Your word, You have chosen the most unlikely candidate to do Your work, so that when it is done it is not me but You who gets all the glory, and You deserve it. So I have to thank You for all the things that You give me to say.

But Father, I also have to thank You for holding back the words when its necessary too. You have been teaching me that just because I have something to say, or I feel like saying something, doesn't mean that I should. We in this country hold dear our freedom of speech, which we should; but Lord You are trying to show us all that the right to say something doesn't always make it right to say it. So just as You through Your Holy Spirit give me words to say, You also sometimes hold back the words I already have. And for that I am grateful.

Father, I am reminded of an  illustration You led me to which I shared in a sermon some time back. It was about a little boy whose father caught Him saying a bad word in a very negative way about another kid. The little boy was terrified that his father was going to spank him. But instead the father explained to the him about how hurtful words can be and how serious we need to take the words we use. He told the boy that every time he said a bad word or a negative comment about someone, he should go down to the fence around the pasture, and drive a nail in the corner post. This would be a reminder of what he said every time he walked past it to school. So he did. Just a few days later, the boy came back in tears to the father, and through his sobbing explained that he was so ashamed of himself because that fence post was full of nails. The father told him all he needed to do was for each thing he said, to ask the person and God for forgiveness, and when he did, he could use the hammer and pull the nail out. So he did. After a few days, all the nails were gone. But...the boy came back crying again, explaining to his father that even though the nails were gone, he could still see all the nail holes that were left, which was still a reminder of all the bad things he had said. The father explained to the son the valuable, biblical lesson of being slow to speak and quick to listen, because the marks they leave can last forever. The boy left still sad, although wiser from the truth he learned.

The next day after school, the boy ran into the house smiling and happy, because he saw that all of the nail holes were gone, and he felt totally forgiven for all the bad things he had said. What he didn't realize was that his father, with strength in his arms and love in his heart, when out while the boy was at school, pulled up the old fence post and put in a new one.

Lord, thank You for giving me the words to say, and sometimes holding back the words I already have. I believe You when You taught in Proverbs 18:21 that life and death are in the power of the tongue. Thank You for forgiving me of bad and hurtful things I have said in the past, and thank You for changing out my fence post so that  I can live a life without shame and regret. You are awesome, and I love You. In Jesus name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Morning Prayer

Good morning Lord. Thank You for another day. Strengthen my legs under the weight of my responsibilities so that I can carry what You have given me in a way that glorifies You.

Lord I thank You for a changing life. Not a changed life, though there has been a lot about me and around me that has changed, but changing because I know You're not through with me yet. I'm still living in this flesh, so I still have that same inner struggle that other Christians have, if they are honest. But now I can see that the win record for my spirit man is now over .500 and improving all the time, thanks be to You. I often think about that really cool illustration I heard years ago describing that inner struggle that we have; that struggle of a heart that wants to do right but lives in a body that wants to do wrong. The illustration was that it's like two dogs living inside; a good dog and a bad dog constantly fighting. The lesson was that the way you determine which dog will win is to make sure you feed the good dog and starve the bad dog. The meaning I took was that I need to read Your word, pray, be obedient, and serve You, hence feeding my good dog. As well I had to make sure I wasn't looking at, listening to, meditating on, or doing evil things so as not to feed my bad dog. Though Your word frames it as 'crucifying the flesh', I have always thought that was an effective way to get the point across.

Father, I have noticed that my bad dog has changed over the years. It used to be more like a one of those...what are those dogs called...English Mastiff I think. Really big, mean and hard to hide. Before I got saved, my sins used to be noticeable; and if I walked into a church with that big dog on a leash, I wouldn't be allowed in the choir stand, much less the pulpit. But over the years, through the power of the blood of Your sacrificed Son and the work of the Holy Spirit, I have changed...and my dog has changed. Now, its more like a lap-dog. I can carry around and it goes mostly unnoticed. It's small enough now that I can hide it. I can even dress it up with a doggie sweater and carry it like a baby, so that what is actually pride will look like self-esteem; or what is greed will look like ambition; or what is gossip looks like a prayer request.

But...I know its there. Like a lot of little dogs, it likes to bark and its got attitude. Even though I can keep him hidden from most people around me, that joker can still reek havoc and chew up the slippers in my life. And I realize that he's only able to do that because sometimes...I feed him.

Lord, I want to go to the next level for You and with You, but its hard to do with that little dog biting my ankles. Though I have changed, I know I need more changing. Show me how to feed the good dog and starve the bad one. You are worth my sacrifice, and I'm glad I was worth Yours. I love You. In Jesus name. Amen.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Morning Prayer

Good morning Lord. Thank You for another day. I feel blessed to be able to work, and I feel blessed to be able to rest. Thank You for both.

Lord, this morning I took notice of something that I walk past every day, several times a day, but pay little attention to. It's the little red rocking chair that sits in the den. Of course You know it's not just any red rocking chair. Its the one that my youngest daughter had when she was little. And...its the one that my oldest daughter had when she was little. Aaaand....it's the one I had when I was little. Yep, that's the little red rocking chair I used to sit in at the end of our coffee table and watch cartoons on Saturday mornings while eating fruit loops. It still bears the scratches and scars from when I "worked" on it with a play tool set I got for Christmas one year. Now that I think about it, other than pictures, it's probably the oldest memento I still have of my childhood. Everything else...the bikes, bee-bee guns, tonka trucks, and GI Joe dolls, I guess I left hose behind.

Lord, I realize that You caused me to take notice of that chair this morning when I normally ignore it unless I stump my toe on it. I think You are using it to share with me a truth. And the truth is this...I chose to bring that chair along with me from my past. It meant something to me, so I made a conscious decision to ask my mom if I could have it when I left home. I chose to pack it up and bring it with me the multiple times I have moved. I chose to set it here in my den where it is now. Likewise, all of the other things from my past that I could have brought along with me, for whatever reason, I chose to leave behind. And I see Lord that Your instruction to me this morning is less about the rocking chairs and relics I have in my home, and more about the thoughts and feelings I carry in my heart.

Father, right now, I could easily rummage through probably half a dozen thoughts that I have carried around for years, that do me absolutely no good. I could quote verbatim a few comments made to me even as far back as my childhood that hurt my feelings.  There is clutter in my head and my heart, and I need You to help me clear it out. You have shown me with that rocking chair that I have a choice about what I bring along and what I leave behind. And right now Father, by the power of Your Holy Spirit who lives in me, I choose to only bring with me the things that matter to me. And everything else....I...Let...Go!

I love You Lord, so I am making more room for You in my life. In Jesus name, Amen!