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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

One Bite at a Time

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

One of my favorite foods is steak. OOo, I tell ya, there's nothing much like a tender, juicy, well-seasoned, perfectly cooked steak. Because I love steak so much, I have had all kinds from many restaurants. I've had the juicy and the dry; the tender and the tough; I've eaten sirloin and short loin, rib-eye and round steak, t-bone and tenderloin, flank steak and filet mignon. I've eaten in a restaurant where they bring raw cuts of meat out on a platter for your to select. I've been in one where you pick your own and cook it yourself on a huge, open-hearth grill in the middle of the restaurant (there you leave with a full belly and a slight tan). I've even mastered cooking a decent one myself either fried in a pan, broiled in the oven or on the grill over charcoal. And of all the places I have had a steak, probably my favorite is the sirloin my father-in-law cooks on his backyard grill, and strangely enough the second is the cheap strip steak you find at the Waffle House. Go figure.

I have loved steak from as young as I can remember, though we didn't eat it that often. But in the times we did, I had to learn a hard, but life-saving lesson. See, I would relish the flavor of a steak so much that I would lop off a pretty huge piece and stuff it in my mouth. Then I would be sitting there trying to decide if I was going to chew on that thing for another 10 minutes, or was I going to take my chances and try to swallow it. Though it may seem fitting since I love it so much that I would leave this world with a wedge of steak stuck in my throat, but I didn't want to go out like that...not that soon any way. So I learned that no matter if it was a juicy, delicious steak, or a dry and not so delicious one, I had to slow it down, cut smaller pieces, and eat it one bite at a time.

You know I have come to appreciate that God can teach me using any and everything in life as an example, and He has shown me that life can be a lot like eating steak. Sometimes it can be savory and tender, other times tough and dry. Sometimes our situations may be the cuts we have chosen or those that are forced upon us.  But either way, we have to learn how to play the hand we've been dealt, or should I say, to eat the steak we have been served. And the best way to do that bite at a time.

In Matthew 6, not only was Jesus speaking to His disciples, but He was also speaking to us when He said: "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today". That is helpful to me because sometimes whether life at the moment is good or bad, easy or hard, I tend to want to look way down the road to figure out what's going to happen. I approach it with the idea that I'm just doing the sensible, and adult duty of planning ahead. But what ends up happening is that in the multiple scenarios that I imagine tomorrow will bring, I start to worry about them. Then I find myself trying to eat what's on my plate today, and to chew on what I think will be there tomorrow, and I start to choke on it. And so did His disciples. They had Jesus right beside them, and I have Him right inside me, yet we have both fallen weary under the weight of worry.  And the Lord's instruction to them and to me, and to you if you need it, Me! He said for us to not worry about our life; the birds of the air and the lilies of the valley don't, and neither should we. He has promised that He will never put more on us than we can bear, so we should stop trying to take more on us than we can bear. We should enjoy the blessings of every moment; we should savor the flavor of every day, and we do that by taking one bite at a time.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Turn Your Wheel the Way You Want Your Life to Go

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to
follow your laws. Psalm 119:59 (New Living Translation)

  The snow, sleet and ice we got yesterday turned my usual 45 minute commute home into 2 hours. But that's ok. I'd rather spend an extra hour or so making it home safely, than hours sitting on the side of the road, or worse. See, in my 25 years of driving, it only took one time of waiting on the side of the road over an hour for a tow truck after skidding in the snow to learn my lesson and slow down.

But yesterday, the roads were much worse than I expected when I left work early, and I saw so many cars off the side of the road. I wasn't even sure if driving slowly was enough to keep me from sliding. So I started thinking about the advice that I have heard on what to do when your car starts sliding. I'm sure most of you have heard it too, and maybe some of you have tried it, so you know that you're supposed to...say it with me now..."turn your wheel in the direction of the skid". Riiiight! In the few times I've been in that situation, whether in rain or ice or snow, I honestly don't know what I did. I'm not sure what I did with the wheel, or how I kept it in the road (except for that one time when I didn't).

But wait....does that really work? As I looked out my windows this morning at the roads still covered with ice, I was wondering how is that supposed to help. So I did what every question-laden, knowledge-seeking scholar would do...I googled it. Turns out from what I read, that advice is incorrect, or at least incomplete. The things is, if you start skidding, turning in the direction of the skid is supposed to keep you from going into a tail-spin. Makes sense. But the problem is, once your tires regain their traction, they are going to then just send you headed in the direction your wheels are then turned, which would be either in oncoming traffic, or off the side of the road. Makes sense too. So, the other half of the advice should be, once your tires regain traction, you are then to turn your wheel back toward the direction you want to go, ie, away from the skid.

Well, all of that is a lot for my brain to process just sitting here typing about it, so I know I won't have the presence of mind to think about that, much less do it, if I find myself skidding again. So, I'll do what I've been doing. Slow down, and trust in the Lord. Buuuut, that driving technique does awaken a thought in my heart about something spiritual.

Think about your life like driving down the road. We face some straight paths  and some curvy roads; some roads up mountains that test our power, and others down mountains that test our brakes. Some days seem like life is so good we can just coast on cruise control, and other days we're gripping the wheel and holding on for dear life. And every once in a while, we drive into something that sends our life into a skid. Could be bad news, an unexpected bill, a broken relationship, sickness or death, or many other things. And whether it comes suddenly or gradually, the skid is always scary.

So what do you do? Our natural reaction sometimes is to go with the skid; we think things like: 'oh the marriage is failing, let me just end it'; 'the job is too hard, I'll just quit'; 'my weight is so out of control, I might as well give up exercising, and eat to make myself  feel better';  'my grades are just too bad now, no need to keep going to school';  'I can't live since the death of my loved one, I may as well just die too', or 'my sin is unforgiveable, there's no need to stop doing it now'.

That might feel like the natural thing to do, but it will certainly end up with a crash. Instead, we should do what the writer in Psalm 119 said. "I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws." So when our life starts spinning out of control, we should think about where God wants us to be, and steer in that direction. A pastor whose podcasts I listen to a lot, named Craig Groeschel said "Where you will end up in your life is not determined by your intentions but by your direction." Not only is it a law of physics, but also a law of faith, that you will only end up in the places you are headed towards. So if you want to change your destination, you must change your direction. If you want to end up somewhere different, you've got to turn your wheel.

Where are you headed? Has something in your life sent you sliding into oncoming traffic or off  the side of your road? You don't really want things to end the way it looks like it's going to end do you? I know you don't. So turn your wheel. In fact, surrender the wheel to Jesus, and He will turn it for you. Then He will turn your wheel the way you want your life to go.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Treating Money Like Marbles

"But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal." 1 Timothy 6: 9,10
 One of my favorite games as a kid was marbles. In fact, it didn't seem like a game to us; it was more like a sport, and we took it as serious business.  I guess there are a hundred ways you can play marbles, but we mainly played it in two. One way was the players would put their marbles in the middle of some make-shift circle. Then you had to knock your opponents marbles out of the circle, and for everyone that you did, you got to keep it. The other way was we would dig a small hole in the dirt, usually starting it with the heel of our shoe, and then rounding it out with our hands. Then from some agreed upon starting point, you try to roll your marble into the hole first, all the while knocking others away from the hole. The one who made it to the hole first won their opponent's marbles. And of the many other ways the game can be played, the ultimate reward of any of them was to be able to take other people's marbles. 

So it was the thing to be able to come back into the classroom after recess, or to go home after after playing with your buddies and to brag about the bag full of marbles you won from everyone else. You would shake the bag in their faces, let them hear the marbles clicking; wave around that prized cat-eye marble your opponent vowed he'd never lose. Boy did it feel good to be the one holding all the marbles.

You know, I have noticed that a lot of people never grow up from that game of marbles. Its just that now the marbles are more expensive. Sure, we try to do it in more subtle ways; and try to have a little more adult-like dignity about ourselves. Though we may feel like it, we try to refrain from giving people the "na na na boo boo" treatment. But we still like waving around our bag of marbles. We like showing off the house (we even put spot lights on them now in case you can't get a good look at it in the dark). We like showing off our cars. We make sure that if we spend a lot of money on clothes that it has a very visible emblem on it so people will know we spent a lot of money on it. We do that and many other things because we get some sense of satisfaction and self-worth if we are seen as being rich, wealthy, well-to-do...the one with all the marbles.

There are some things in God's word that are somewhat fuzzy, and some that are down-right confusing. But there are also somethings where the Lord makes Himself perfectly clear, and His warning against a desire for riches is clear. The Apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy to warn the people then and now that we have to be careful about wanting to be rich. He did not label money as bad. Money is an inanimate object and can be nothing other than what people make it. But he gives a very strong word of warning to those to dedicate their lives in the pursuit of money. Here in the Common English Bible version, he uses words like temptation, trapped, stupid, harmful and destruction. The King James uses words like snare, hurtful lust, perdition, and sorrows. But we want those marbles so badly that even many bible-reading Christians will string together bits and pieces of scripture to weave a false truth to make themselves feel ok about putting money and material possessions first; or they just simply ignore it all together. 

If you find yourself caught in that snare, and you're living your life by treating money like marbles, let me break it down for you like this. No matter how many marbles you may accumulate in life, and no matter how shiny and pretty those marbles might be, when it comes to the end of your life or the end of this world, you will sadly realize that...they're just marbles.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Surrendered All

"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." Matthew 26:39
   It's funny how some symbols are understood pretty much no matter where you are in the world or what language the people may speak. One of those such signs is that of the white flag.  From as far back in history as the Han dynasty in China, first century AD, it has been the universally accepted symbol of ceasefire and surrender. Even now, there are international rules that make it a war crime to attack or fire upon someone waving the white flag.

You know I'm such a curious person that I just have to know why white? Why not black (which happens to be my favorite color)? Or how about orange? Ok, why not pink? I'm pretty sure I couldn't bring myself to shoot at someone waving a pink flag. Well, as I understand it, white was used for several reasons, most of a practical nature. First of all, in ancient times, if there was cotton or wool or linen cloth, it was probably white if no other color. Dye was expensive and hard to come by. Second of all, white is generally visible against most natural backgrounds. Also, and probably the main reason, all other flags bore the family crest or the national emblem along with the associated colors. To carry those types flags meant that you stood for, and would likely die for, the interests of that family, clan, dynasty, or nation. So then to wave a white flag showed that you gave up all affiliation, allegiance and alliance. In other words, you surrendered.

You like waving your flag don't you? No, I don't mean the American flag. I'm talking about your flag. The flag that says "this is my life, and I own it". The flag bearing your initials and favorite colors which says "I'm grown and I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it". The standard that proclaims "I'm my own man and I make my own plans". Yeaaahhh, that flag! You fly it high for all to see, and dare anyone to even think about taking it down. Yeah, I've been flying that one too. That is until Jesus showed me that I was wrong.

See, Jesus never showed that He had any desires other than to do what God the Father had sent Him here to do. Even when He was a boy, and Mary and Joseph were looking for Him, and found Him teaching in the temple, He said "...I must be about my Father's business". But though there may not have been an ounce of disobedience in Him against God's purpose for His life, we do know that He felt dread for what He knew he faced at the Cross. In fact the bible says that Jesus was so greatly distressed that He went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. There He was so overwhelmed by sorrow that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground, and God had to send an angel down to strengthen Him (Luke 22:39-46). So perhaps there was some part of Him who wanted to fly a flag bearing His name and say to God, no, the cross will be too much; let someone else do this; let's find another way!...But He didn't.  Instead, He waved His white flag...He cried out to God "...not as I will, but as thou wilt"....and He surrendered.

Are you still flying your own flag? Still determined that this is your life and you will do with it as you please? Still making decisions for yourself based on what you want, regardless of what God's word says or how His Spirit leads? So was I up until a few years ago. Even after I had accepted Christ as my savior and told the world I was a Christian, I found I was still mostly flying my own flag. I will still living my life, my way. But I realized that as long as I was flying my own flag, all I had to rely on was myself...and that wasn't enough. So you know what I did? I gave up...I gave the symbol that's not only recognized here on earth, but also in heaven...I waved my white flag...I surrendered! And though the results of my submission haven't been as history-making as when Jesus did it in the garden of Gethsemane, it has been the best thing I have ever done. And you know what?; I believe the best is yet to come. My life now is no longer under my authority. I gave up all of my rights in exchange for all of God's benefits. I belong to God now, and I know...He will never fail. And I never knew that until I surrendered all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

He Chose You!

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17

  When I first went to work for Edgecombe County, I served as the Flood Recovery Officer. My job was to run a group of programs that provided housing assistance for people who had been affected by Hurricane Floyd of Sept. 1999. I lived in Rocky Mount at the time of the Hurricane, so I had seen the affects of it long before I took that job. But it was after I started working there that I was able to feel the affects by talking to people whose homes were destroyed.

In particular there was one man who told me about the day after the storm. He lived downstream from where a dam on the Tar River had broken, but he didn't know it had broken. He said he could see that the water in a creek near his home was rising, and figured his yard would get flooded. But as the waters quickly rose, he knew it would probably reach his house, so he decided to make plans to leave. He began making a mental list of all the things he was going to pack in his truck. Little did he know he would barely have time to fill his pockets, much less his truck.

The waters entered and started filling his house so quickly that he knew he couldn't make it out. He waded through the water and into his kitchen. He looked around to see what he thought he should try to save. He grabbed a family picture that he felt like he couldn't live without. Then, (he said he was lucky to think of it, I think he was blessed) but he also grabbed a hammer from under the sink, a pack of crackers and a couple cans of potted meat. Seeing that his home was filling up with water, he climbed into his attack hoping the water would stop rising before that attic became his water-filled coffin. Thank the Lord it did. He said the water stopped only inches short of coming up into that small attic space. But there he was, stuck. Though in his story, he never gave God credit for the small things that saved him, but I know it was God who led him to grab the few things he did. See, those crackers and potted meat sustained him the two days he was stuck in the attic, and that hammer allowed him to knock out the gable-end vent so he could wave out for help. Rescuers saw him, and he lived to tell me and many others that story.

That made me think about, what if that were me? What would I have decided to save? What would you have saved? If you only had moments to save the most precious thing to you, what would you grab? Would it be pictures? Your wallet or purse? Your cell phone? Your family bible? That would be a hard decision, wouldn't it?

Well, it wouldn't be a hard decision for God. In fact, there would be no question at all what He would save. Of all of His marvelous creations; the most majestic mountains, the most beautiful birds, the rarest of gems, or the brightest of stars, none of them are more valuable than His greatest and me. In fact that decision has already been made. God realized that when He gave us freedom to choose, we would often choose to sin; Adam proved that. And now that sin has filled this world and the flood gates are breached. The warnings have been ignored too long, and there is no saving to this life now. This world will come to and end. So the Lord had to decide what He would save...and He chose you. So He sent His own Son to save what is most precious to Him. The Apostle John wrote "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn it [it was already condemned; already flooding with sin], but that the world through him might be saved". He came back to save you!

If you ever start to feel down like you are nothing, stop thinking about what others say about you, and stop thinking about what you say about yourself. Think about how God feels about you. Just remember that when time started to run out, and He had to make the decision on what to save, He chose you!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wanna Be Set Free?

"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." John 8:36____________________________________
There's a story of a man who survived the troubled life of an orphaned, street child only to become a hardened criminal. He had spent about as many years of his adult life in prison as he had on the streets. He entered into what he thought would be his last trip to the slammer, because he was getting on up in age and was sure that his life would not outlast his sentence. But it did.

After 20 years behind bars, the time finally came that his time was finally up. The day he had only dreamed about for probably the first 15 years of that sentence; the day he actually started to hope for in the last 5, had finally arrived. He was so ready to leave everything in prison behind that he hated so much. The violence, the isolation, the despair, the hopelessness; he was ready walk away from all of that, and so he did. Or so he thought.

But it was only a matter of about 6 months before he was right back behind bars. Different charges and different bars, but the same old routine for the man who would never be set free. See, he was there again, not because some old stuff that was waiting for him on the outside caught up with him; and he wasn't in there because he just wasn't smart enough to not know he'd get caught. He was back in there because...he wanted to be. Sure the other prisoners were mean and the food was crappy; sure the chances to inhale fresh air into his lungs and to feel the sun shine on his face were rationed everyday like beans during a famine. But life behind bars was about all that he had known, and he found that life on the outside was too much to get used to. He was not ready to trade familiar for freedom; familiar felt safe even though it was in prison. So he made his way back in.

I'm sure that story describes a lot of people sitting in prison right now. But even more so, I believe it describes a lot people still sitting in the prison of their sin. I'm not talking about the people who are far from God, or who have rejected Jesus, or who simply know nothing about salvation. No, I'm talking about those who know Him, who have heard the Gospel message, and who know that receiving Christ will start a process of setting them free from the sin that binds them. And they want that but are scared to try that. All they have known is their sinful lifestyle, and even though it brings heart ache and pain to them and people around them, for now it's familiar and they are not willing to trade that in for freedom.

So they may read the bible every now and then, or they may go to church from time to time, and they get glimpse of what life could be like for them outside of that sin. And it looks promising. Looks like it would have more joy, more blessings, the family of God waiting to love them and support them, and of course the hope of salvation which is eternal life with God through Jesus. And all of that sounds great, but they know they would have to repent and turn from that sin, and that is just too scary to bear. So what do they do? They walk back into that prison and slam the door behind them.

If this is speaking to you, and you are the one who wants out, but you're too scared not to be in, let me share something with you that's even scarier. The truth is that you may feel comfortable and familiar with that sin even though it is a prison right now, will only get worse. And not only will it get worse, but spiritually speaking, it will last for ever. At least the man in the story would one day lie down on his prison cot and never wake again, and all of that was over for him. But your sin prison never goes away, not even when you die. It goes on forever in a place the Hebrews called Sheol and the Greeks called Hades, and we call hell. And to me that is the scariest thought of all.

Look, God wants you to be free because He loves you. In fact He loved you enough to provide your key to freedom, His Son Jesus. And I know taking that step towards Him and away from the life that you know is scary, but focus on the fact that God loves you. The bible says that, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18 NIV) So let God love you, and love Him back. Then all of your fear about the unknown will slowly fade away, and you will allow God to set you free.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Me?

"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him..." Job 13:15
You ever notice that some of the smallest words are some of the heaviest to carry. Words like "if" and "how" and "when". Then when you pair some of them together, life really gets heavy then. Like, have you ever asked yourself "why me?". I know I have. I have to say that is a mighty heavy question to be such small words.

Though he didn't quite phrase it that way, Job was basically asking the same question "why me". See in just a matter of days if not moments, he lost everything that mattered to him. He lost all of his livestock, his crops, his home, his children, and his health. He was so sick and weary at one point, he thought he might die. In fact his wife told him he should just go ahead and curse God so he would die and get it over with.

I'm sure that the main reasons the little words of "why me?" carried even more weight for Job was because none of those things were brought on as a result of anything he had done. His friends kept telling him that he must have done something wrong to deserve all of that, but he hadn't. God Himself described Job as being blameless. So why all of this death and devastation in his life then?

I'm sure you have been in those kinds of places in your life like Job and I have too. I mean, I know sometimes because of my own poor decisions and my own sinful ways, I bring trouble in my own life. And when I am going through those times, as hard as it may be, I have to admit that I brought that on myself. But what about those other times, the times like Job faced, when you find yourself drowning when you never even intended to go swimming, and your looking around trying to figure out who pushed you in. People treating you bad, and you did nothing to them. Financial problems when you've tried to be smart with your money. Health problems when you been trying to live right for the Lord. Or whatever the case may be. It's in those times that you almost as a reflex cry out to God from the deepest place in your heart ..."WHY ME?!".

If you are reading this, and this is speaking to you, I want you to listen closely. Now, don't get your hopes up. I didn't come to bring an answer to your "Why Me?". There are some things that may not get answered for you, me or Job until we get to heaven. But I did come to bring you two different words that I want you to trade for those two. The words are..."Trust God!". Job and I both have tried trading out those two words and it helped us to get through it. Job said it like this "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him". Wow, that is powerful. For a man who barely had time to grieve for the loss of all of his children in one tragic event before he fell sick to the point of death to be able to say that. For him to feel like he had no one here on earth to turn to because those left closest to him, his wife and friends, did not understand and were giving him terrible advice, yet he could even utter those words. He had faith enough in his God, who he could not see and at that time could not understand, to say 'Lord, I trust You'.

I know you didn't ask for this, neither did I, but if you have given your heart to Christ, then God is your Father, and He is a really good one.  Even though it doesn't look like it, He has your best in mind, and He will make sure that all things work out for your good. You'll see. But for now, to grab on to "Trust God!", you have to let go of "Why Me?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Don't Worry, Just Wait!

"And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai." Genesis 16:2
You know I was just thinking...if the pages of the bible saw as many eye balls as the faces of a clock, this world would be a better place. You think about how much we as people worry about the time, especially us here in America where we live such busy, goal-chasing lives. And things like microwave meals and high speed internet have caused us to grow accustomed to not having to wait.

If you hate waiting too, don't feel bad. You're in pretty good company in your impatience. Even Abraham and Sarah, whose names are forever written in God's holy word, got tired of waiting too. See God made a covenant [or a very serious promise] with Abraham that if he would have the faith the obey Him and uproot his family and leave his home and go to an unknown place through an unknown way, then God would bless him with more land than he'd ever see and more ancestors than he could ever count. The thing about it that called for Abraham's faith was that he had to just leave before God would tell him where he was going, and he had to believe that God would create a great nation out of him though he was old and childless. But Abraham obviously had faith in his heart and in his feet because he started walking.

The problem came when Abraham and his wife Sarah had to wait. And when I say wait, I mean wait. From the time when Abraham left his home to the time his son Isaac was born was about 25 years. that right?...25 YEARS?! I get bent out of shape sometimes if I have to wait 25 minutes. 

Well, though Abraham and Sarah are like the first family of faith in the bible, they reacted like we sometimes do when we have to wait. After some time, they got tired of waiting and decided to try to speed up God's process and take matters into their own hands. Long story short, Sarah told her husband to go and sleep with their maid Hagar and produce a son for them through her; like a good, obedient husband he said "yes mam"; she got pregnant...Sarah got jealous...after the son is born Sarah said they both had to go. 

So what are you waiting for? Hey, how about take your eyes of the clock for a moment so you can learn a lesson from this story. You'll see that Abraham and Sarah will remind us to be careful not to let our waiting to turn into impatience and our impatience to lead to desperation. Because desperation often leads to bad decisions. Yes I know, waiting will test your patience. But if you trust God, it will also strengthen your faith. If God has you waiting for something, He's doing it for a reason, and it's a really good one. Let God use this time to prepare you for what you're waiting for. It's not about Him getting it ready for you, He's getting you ready for it.  So stop staring at your watch...Don't Worry! Just wait!

Monday, January 14, 2013

If it Tastes Good, Spit it Out!

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." 
Romans 6:23
One of the of the funniest pieces of advice on dieting I have ever heard, and possibly the truest, is 'If it tastes good...spit it out!'. You ever heard that before? Not only is that statement somewhat amusing and pretty accurate, its also slightly sad. I mean it does seem to be the case that the foods that taste the best are possibly the worst for you. I mean come goes on and on. But as harsh of a fact that may be, the truth is we either accept the fact and live healthy, or reject the truth and live unhealthy. 

For decades, probably some of our smartest scientists have been grinding away in labs all over the world; not the ones trying to find a cure for cancer, or the ones developing the latest vaccine; I'm talking about the ones who have been trying to get around the truth that a lot of what tastes good to us and what we crave is bad for our health. So they have been working on artificial sweeteners and low-fat alternatives so we can have all the taste and less the calories. I will leave it up to someone else's blog site to argue whether what they have come up with is effective or safe. Nevertheless, we as people are always looking for a way to enjoy our indulgences without paying the price, because if it tastes good, we don't want to spit it out.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, we pretty much want the same thing. There are things that our sinful flesh wants, craves and enjoys doing, though they are not good for us or the people around us. And since the Lord knows that we might now have the sense to know the difference, He instructs us in His word on those things that are good for us and those that are bad for us. When we go against what God tells us, that's called sin. And those of us who know anything of God and anything about the Bible, we know what sin is. But some of it we crave so bad, that we try to figure out how we can enjoy some of our sin with little to no consequences. So we try to do one of two things. Sometimes we try to make out our sin to not really be bad at all. Like if instead of paying your bills and honoring God with your tithe, you blow a good chunk of your check on lottery tickets. But you justify it by saying, 'if I win, I'm gonna give a tenth to the church'.  Or the other thing we do is, we indulge in that sin, knowing that it's wrong, then come and ask the Lord for forgiveness, but not really having any intention of turning away from that sin.

The truth is a lot of the foods that taste really good are high in calories and fats and cholesterol and salt and whatever else that's not good for us. And if we want to avoid things like diabetes and high blood pressure and heart disease and all the other bad consequences, we have to accept that those good foods are bad for us. Likewise, we have to accept that the thoughts, talk and actions that we sometimes enjoy very much have bad consequences. The bible says that "The wages of sin is death...". That means spiritual death which is to be separated from God and tormented in the lake of fire forever. 

So, I'll leave it up to you to decide if that advice regarding your diet is good advice or not. But when it comes to the sin in your life, I hope you will consider, If it tastes good, spit it out!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Do I Know What I Want?

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

Do you know the 4 second rule? No, not the one about how far you have to stay back when driving behind another car. The other 4 second rule. You know, where if you are eating something, and you drop it, you have 4 seconds to pick it up before it becomes contaminated and germy. Yeah...that 4 second rule.

I first heard that when I was a kid, and I have to admit that not only did I believe it, but I lived by it. I mean I could be eating just about anything, and could drop it just about any where, and I felt like as long as I grabbed it up within 4 seconds, all was cool and safe. But I had to get it before the 4 seconds were up. (Oh, yeah also..don't forget the other part too. You had to kiss it and hold it up in the air for God to bless it...then it was all good to eat.)

I think about it now and realize how foolishly amazing it was that someone came up with this rule; and even more so that I and others believed it and practiced it (there are others of you who did this right?....). I mean I'm not sure why exactly we thought that rule would hold true. Did we think it took 5 seconds for the oil in hair to activate before the one on the floor would stick to our food? Or had it been tested that germs are pretty hard sleepers and it takes a while for them to wake up and crawl on our spilled meal? No I think that is yet one of many cases in life where our knowledge follows our desires. See I wanted that ice cream or that lollipop or whatever it was so badly that I allowed my mind to believe in such a crazy rule. I let what I wanted shape what I knew.

Spiritually speaking, we do that all the time. We have desires that can come just as natural to us as breathing, and whether or not they are wrong or sinful, we tend to shape our thinking around what we want. For example, you may really like to drink; and I don't mean sip, I mean "drank". You like to party and get drunk and have fun. (Don't feel bad; I used to too) But you also want to go to church and have a relationship with God. So how do you reconcile that? Well, you take scripture from the bible about Jesus turning water into wine, or where it says a little wine is was recommended for stomach ailments, and you use that to twist what you know around what you want. In spite of God's word telling us to "be not drunk with wine wherein in excess.." (Ephesians 5:18), you feel completely ok with your drunken tendencies.

The writer of Psalm 37:4 is telling us that we should first "delight [ourselves] in the Lord...". That means when we place our lives in His hands, we must put our desires at His feet. Then as we grow in Him by studying His word every day, what we want starts to line up with what He wants. In a true Christian life that follows Jesus, we seek to know God's word, and then what we know will shape what we want. What we pray for will be changed because as we get to know God, we will start to want what He wants for us.

So the next time you are staring down at the flooring and counting to 4, ask yourself the question, "Do I know what I want?".

Friday, January 11, 2013

Order My Steps!

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way." Psalm 37:23
When I was in high school, I went to a two-week academic summer camp at Appalachian State University. Not only was it intended to make us smarter, but also to help us build character. So we would often do some pretty fun and creative activities with that goal in mind. One of those activities started off fun but ended up being kind of scary.

What had happened was..our counselors took our whole group (about 30) up on this hill near the school. For those who may not know, this school is already in the mountains, so we just went up higher up into the woods behind our dorm. We sort of set up camp up there and ate and did some other fun stuff. But the fun stuff slowly faded along with the light of day. As it started to get dark, the counselors explained that we were going to wait until it got totally dark, then make our way back down the hill. Immediately all of those "why did I ever come to this stinking camp" thoughts started rushing through my mind. Then to make the matter more nerve-wrecking, they said that only two people in the whole group had flash lights. So we were going to have to walk back down the mountain single-file, holding hands, with one flash light at the front of the line and one at the back. So as we walked, the person in the front with a light had to give the person immediately behind him instructions on how to take the next steps, and then that person to the next one behind him, and so on down the line. Instructions like "step left, go forward, step down, watch the root, etc". I guess the person in the back with the light was supposed to make sure no bears were on our trial or something; I'm not sure. I figured bears were probably like state troopers and pulled the one in the front or the back of the line first, so I got somewhere in the middle.

It was a scary journey to say the least, and it seemed to take forever. With having to rely on the person in front of me and needing to be reliable for the person behind me, it turned out to be quite an exercise in trust. Needless to say the fact that I am here to today to blog about it shows that we survived it...or that I did at least. But thinking back on it now, I can see that God is using it as a story from my past to prepare me for my future.He is using that story as a personal parable God to teach me about my relationship with Him. 

I know I would much rather for God to totally lay out before me the life path He has already prepared. It would be great if I could download it and print it out like directions from Google maps; step by step and turn by turn. But I have found that God does not operate that way. I have prayed prayed for God to reveal what He has mapped out for me after reading scriptures like "For I know the plans I have for you..." Jeremiah 29:11. Yes, HE knows them, but that doesn't mean He's going to share them with me. I think it's because we probably couldn't handle it if we knew. If God even showed us as far as next year, we may either try to run towards it before we're ready or run from it because we're scared.  But even more than that, I think God doesn't show us what's at the end of the path because we would focus on that so much that we would miss what He's trying to teach us along the way. 

See, up at Appalachian State, we could have come back down to the dorm before dark. It would have been cool and we would have talked about how much fun we had up on the hill. But instead, we were all hugging each other and talking about what it took for us to have to make it down, and how we had to work together to figure it all out because it was so dark you couldn't see anything ahead of you. How when we heard a scary noise, we all squeezed each others hand a little tighter and drew in a little closer.  And that's what the Lord wants. It's not just about God getting you from one point to another in your life; He could just snap His fingers and make that happen. Its about what He can do in you and through you along the way. So instead of giving you plans, God will give you steps. It's up to you if you will take them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Make Daddy Proud!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 5:16
I try to be careful with how I use the word pride, or say that I am proud of something. The bible says right much about pride, and it's not good. I realize that pride is like the seed of a weed; it doesn't take much to grow, and once it does it's hard to get rid of. However...I can't find a better word to describe how I feel about my daughters, so in talking about them for a moment, I will carefully use that word. goes.

OH MY GOODNESS I AM SO PROUD OF MY DAUGHTERS! (was that subtle enough?). But yes I am grateful for them, thankful to God that He has blessed me with such sweet girls. They are both so wonderful in their own ways and it has been a blessing to me to watch them grow and learn and develop as little ladies. And the best of all is that they both love their daddy and their Heavenly Father.

The feeling I get when I look at them, which for now I will call pride, is not because I see them as out-doing other people's kids, or I feel a sense of "better than you" coming over me. But I think I feel that sense of pride when I see them doing whatever it is they are doing, and I can see a piece of me in them. Whether it be a skill I have taught them, some knowledge I have bestowed, a mannerism they have picked up, or something about them that looks like me. It's like I can see and feel a part of me living in and through them. Like I can see my oldest daughter Ariel singing in church with such beauty and passion, and I know that she and I share that love of music. Or I see Breanna reading a book or hear her talk about what she has learned in school, and I know that she and I share a thirst for knowledge. So the greatest compliment from them is to live their lives carrying a little part of me.

We should know that is exactly how God feels. Our Heavenly Father wants to watch us throughout our daily lives and to be able to see some of Him in how we talk, or what we say, or the things we do. Nothing glorifies God more than for Him to look at us and see Himself. And conversely, nothing breaks His heart more than to see us and notice nothing that resembles Him. To have created us, and protected us, and provided for us, then forgave us, and sent His Son to save us, and yet to see us showing nothing of Him in how we live.

The closer to God I get, the more awesome I realize that He is. And because of that, my life's desire is to not just know what He has taught me, but to show what He has taught me. Even if at the end of my life no one really knows who I am, and the only stone my name is ever written in is my tomb stone, I won't mind. Just as long as I make Daddy proud!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God Likes Me!

"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7

This past Sunday, I shared the first sermon in the series "Discovering God: Who is He to Me?". In the book of Genesis, we discovered God the Creator. From that I want to share a thought with you.

We often allow our hearts and minds to get tangled up in ideas of what others think about us. It's a natural desire to want people to like you. Even people who say "I don't care about what anybody thinks of me!", truth be told, deep down they do. But the danger in that is trying to build our self image with what we think are the bricks and mortar of the likes of other people. The reality is that most of those likes are not bricks at all, but instead straws which can be easily blown away with the first hard winds of change or challenge. 

Yet and still we often chase after the fickle likes of others by trying to say the right things, wear the right clothes, drive the right cars, get down to the right weight, or for us ministers...preach the right sermon. (ouch!..stepped on my own toe that time). Then when the time comes that we lose those likes as quickly as we got those likes, we feel down-in-the-dumps about ourselves, and think things like "what's wrong with me?!". 

But what you need to discover is that you were created and God is your Creator. You didn't just happen (in spite of the stories you may have heard from your momma and daddy). Before you were ever a blip on anyone's screen, God thought you out thoroughly, then He made you. There is no way there would have been two cells to join, if God hadn't made them. No way those cells would have grown into a blob in your mother's womb if God had not caused it to. No way that blob could have sprouted arms and legs, grew a nose to scratch and fingers to scratch it unless God had told it to. I could go on and on, but you get the picture, and I hope the picture you are getting is that God made you into what He likes. Of course there are things about you He doesn't like, your sin to be exact; in fact He hates that. But you as a person, a living, breathing, soul-filled human..His creation... He really likes you. You might hate your hair because it won't do right, or at least won't do what you see someone else's doing. But God likes it like that. You may think your nose is not how you would have made it. Well it's how God would have made it, because...well...that's how He made it. Maybe you wish for a different combination of height and weight and eyes and complexion and feet and ears than what may have been dialed up for you. But when God stands back to see how He molded you and shaped you, He doesn't stand back and say "I wish I had done this or that". No, He stands back and looks at you and says "Perfect!". 

I think we all need to learn how to better appreciate God's creation, and we need to start with His creation we see in the mirror every day. We need to learn how to say what the writer in Psalms said "I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well." (Psalm 139:14) Then the next time your mind starts trippin about "no body likes me", let your heart tell your head..."God likes me!".

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Distance Between Two Mountains

"But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels." Hebrews 12:22
Doesn't life seem like one mountain climb after another?  I know for me it seems like I can be experiencing the mountain top of blessings, peace and joy one moment, and then the next find myself down in the valley of troubles, fear and sorrows. But as the french say "C'est la vie", or such is life. Right? 

But, as I have grown in the Lord and come to a better understanding of Him through His word, I realize that it's more than just the coincidental up and down cycles of life. I now see my life as a journey. And for me to get closer to God I have to climb many mountains...and to get from one mountain to the next I have to cross over many valleys. 

When God delivered Israel out of Egypt through the leadership of His servant Moses, His people had a journey of their own. They had to travel from the place of their captivity to the land of God's promise. And even with them traveling by foot and having to journey through some mountainous terrain, it should have only taken them between 11 days and two weeks. But instead it took them forty years; all because they were disobedient.

Along they way, they proved to the Lord that they were hard-headed people, but He still loved them. So He gave them some rules to follow, 10 to be exact. He didn't give them these rules just to be mean to them, but because they needed rules, and God wanted to help them. So He had them to stop at Mt. Sinai and called Moses to the top of that holy mountain to give him the 10 commandments. That mountain was so holy that if anyone else other than Moses so much as touched it, they would die. Even Moses was forever changed by His experience on the mountain. But we know that Israel in spite of having God's directions, were still disobedient. They continued on in their journey from where they were to where God wanted them to be. Though most died in the wilderness and never set foot in the promised land, Israel as a people finally made it there. They eventually would come to worship at another mountain, Mt. Zion. This mountain represented a different side of God. Whereas Mt. Sinai represented his unapproachable holiness, Zion represented His grace and redemption. And not only could Israel approach it, they even built a temple on it to worship.  So we can see that the distance for them between those two mountains was long and hard, but for those who made I am sure it was all worth it.

As I reflect on that today, I think about the mountains ahead of me. I think about the wonderful places God has planned for me; the joy and peace He has waiting for me. But as I peer with my mind's eye across to the next spiritual mountaintop, I can also look down and see a valley in between. I know that there are yet more trials, more temptations, more problems to solve and heartaches to bear. And I wonder, how far is the distance between these two mountains?  And even with all the wisdom I have gained on the road behind me, the truth is I don't know much about the one ahead of me. But two things I do know. I can make that distance shorter if I obey, and no matter how long it is, if I go with God, it will be worth the journey.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Live Like a Sequoia!

"The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:27-29 (CEB)
   Wouldn't it be great to live like a sequoia? In case you didn't know, a sequoia is one of a variety of cypress trees also known as giant redwoods.  These mammoths among trees can grow hundreds of feet tall and live hundreds of years long. Some of its most impressive specimens have amazing records like the tallest one at 311 feet, the widest at 57 feet in diameter at its base, thickest bark at 3 feet thick, and the oldest one at 3,500 years old. With those numbers its easy to understand why it is listed among the largest, if not the largest living organism ever.

But to me one of the most interesting facts about this wonder of God's creation is what it needs to grow. The sequoias need fire...yes fire. For most trees in most forests, a wildfire is an agent of destruction, but for the mighty sequoia, its an ingredient for growth. See fire burns off other vegetation closer to the forest floor that compete for water and nutrients in the soil.  The resulting ash both enriches the soil and provides a protective covering for the sequoia seeds scattered on the ground beneath. And...amazingly, the cone of the sequoia requires heat, and lots of it to open up and germinate. So if it wasn't for the fires in the life of the sequoia, not only would it not be as big and strong and mighty as it is, it simply would not survive.

What about you? You think you need some fire in your life?  Well, the way that we typically react to it, we obviously think that we don't. We go through tough times, and we complain. We face some heartache, and we throw our hands up. We lose something or someone we thought we needed, and we question God. But what about that tree? Do we think that God would have a better plan for a plant than He would for us? Of course not!

See, we are God's creation like the sequoia, but the difference is He put more time and thought in making us. He simply said "..Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself..." and the sequoia just appeared. But with us, God decided He wanted to make us after His own image, and so "..God formed us of the dust of the ground, and breathed into [our] nostrils the breath of life". we know that the Lord took time and care in making us because the Bible says 'we are fearfully and wonderfully made".

So you think that God who created us has allowed fires to come into our lives to destroy us? No! He wants to use them to help us grow. He wants to burn off the things and get rid of the people who are only sucking life out of our environment. He wants to enrich the soil of our future with the sorrow of our past. And He wants to use the heat of our trials to open up the seeds of hope in our hearts so that He can bring forth the new life that's inside of us.

We may not be able to stop or escape the fires that come in our life no more than that tree can. But we can choose how we respond to them. And personally, I choose to Live Like a Sequoia!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Which way do I Go?

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way." Psalm 37:23
   You ever been driving down the road, and a squirrel runs out in front of you? Well, if you're like me, you probably start yelling at the squirrel something like "just keep running!" or "why would you turn around and come back stupid squirrel?". I've been known to say that because it's so frustrating to me for a little creature to have to die senselessly when it could have made it across the road. Squirrels are so quick and so agile that they could dodge in and out of traffic if they wanted to. But when they see the cars coming, they get scared and can't figure out which way to go. I mean I have seen them come out from my right side and make it almost to the edge of the road on the left side, and turn around and come back. I guess that's just what fear can do to you. It can disorient you so much that you can't figure out whether to go, stay or turn around and head back.

You ever feel "disoriented" in your walk with Christ? Not sure what to do next? Cautious about jumping out too far, going too fast, waiting too late or staying too long? If you are a Christian and care about being in God's will for your life, it's natural to want to be sure what you do is what God wants you to do. But sometimes He's just doesn't give clear signs. Then especially in fearful times and times of trouble, we really get thrown off and figuring it out is much harder. We get scared or anxious or sometimes impatient, and we're not sure which way to go. You ever felt like that? Which way to go in your career, your relationships, or your life in general?

I am reminding myself that God is faithful and true, and not just to me, but to His purpose and His will.  What He has planned for me is in motion, even if I can't see it. So I have to remember that if there is uncertainty,  it's in me and not in God. Though I can't see down the road, He can and He always knows exactly what He is doing....and it is always for my good. So in times of fear and panic and disorientation, we can always do what the squirrel cannot, and that's look up to heaven and ask God "Which way do I go?". 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Will You Turn Around Before It's Too Late?

"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:1-2

What if you were driving down the road and saw a scraggly-dressed, homeless-looking guy standing on the side of the road yelling "turn around, there's danger at the bridge ahead!". You might be tempted think or say, "that's weird for a scraggly-dressed, homeless-looking guy to be yelling on the side of the road", and just ignore it and keep on going. Or you may wonder if he is right and perhaps at least slow your car down before you approached the bridge ahead. But you got there, and the bridge looked fine. So you crossed it. And then you thought for certain that guy was just crazy. And every day you passed by the same guy, saying the same thing, and yet you were still able to cross over the same bridge. As the days went on, you became more and more convinced that he really was just crazy.

That's pretty much how a lot of people felt about John the Baptist. He was a one-sermon preacher, and his message was always "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". He probably looked about like the guy standing on the side of the road in our story. The bible says that he lived in the wilderness, ate locust and wild honey (that means right out of the bee hive) and wore garments made of camel's hair and leather. Day after day he told every one he saw that they needed to repent, or turn around from the sinful life path they were on, because danger in the form of judgment was soon coming. But as the days passed, and nothing seemed to change in the lives of the people that heard him, most during his time just wrote him off as being crazy and ignored him.

Now back to our story. What if you knew that the seemingly homeless man yelling on the side of the road was actually a well-educated civil engineer, and he knew a lot about bridges; and what if you knew he had inspected that bridge, and though on the surface it looked fine, underneath its concrete supports were slowly crumbling, and the weight every car that passed over it was bringing it closer and closer to its destruction. And though it might be hours, or it might be days, or it might be years before it happened; but one day that bridge was going to fall. If you knew that, would you be the one to listen to his warning and turn around? I would. 

John the Baptist knew something about the bridges of life. People ignored him because of how he looked, when they should have been paying attention to what he said. He knew that the weight of the sin in this world is causing it to crumble. He didn't know whether it would take hours, days, years or centuries; but he knew sooner or later it was all going to end. And so out of love for God's people, he stood out there and took all the scornful looks, all the hurtful insults, and all the cold shoulders and warned people to turn around. Eventually he even lost his life, all because he wanted to help some to turn around. 

As I read God's word, I hear John's voice still crying out in the wilderness. Even though the world keeps on turning, I know that bridge is still crumbling. The Kingdom of Heaven is already at hand; God's authority is already here. And right now there is the chance to turn-around. If you are reading this, and you still haven't given your heart to Christ, will you turn around before it's too late?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Are You Willing to Stand in the Gap?

Ezekiel 22:30 "And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none."

 If you lived during the time of Ezekiel, chances are your town would have had a wall around it. It would be made of stone; too tall to climb without some help. There would be well-built and heavily-guarded gates at strategic places. There would also be towers at key points atop the wall where watchmen could stand guard, waiting to blow the horn or ring the alarm at the first sign of attackers. If you were moving from one town to the next, one of the main things you'd be asking before you moved would be, 'how thick is your wall?'.

For centuries the main and most effective means of defense was a wall. The higher, the thicker, the better. During that time families, tribes and nations were constantly attacking one another, whether it be for political, financial or religious reasons. So a city without a wall was defenseless, and so was one with a hole in it. Think about this.. the Great Wall of China, one of the greatest feats of human construction, the only man-made object that can be seen from outer space; was over 13,000 miles long when first built. Yet an enemy only needed a gap just a few feet wide to attack. And once the enemy makes it behind the wall, its hard to get him out.

God spoke to Israel through Ezekiel to let them know they had a hole in their wall; a gap the prophet called it. None of the stones were missing, and the gates around the city were functioning just fine. No, this was a spiritual gap he was talking about. See, Israel as a nation believed in God, the one true and living God. Their faith in the Lord was like a wall around them that protected them from spiritual foes. And that wall has stood around God's people ever since father Abraham said yes to God and laid the first stones of faith.  Yet, their wall had gaps in it. It had holes that came from chasing after false gods, disobeying the Lord's commands, treating the sacred things of God as common and unclean, and oppressing the poor and needy. And it was these gaps that made them vulnerable to spiritual attacks.

I would guess that probably most of the people reading this post if asked the question "do you believe in God?' would answer yes. And that's great.  It's good to have that wall of faith in our all-powerful, all-loving God around us, especially in these trying times in which we live. But I would also dare to guess that you likely have some gaps in your wall. Sure you probably go to church, maybe even on a regular basis; you probably read the Bible, hopefully everyday; and you have been known to pray from time to time. And you feel secure in that. You feel that where you are and what you are doing is enough. But what about your gaps? What about that habit? What about those thoughts? What about those things you do that you know are not right? Your gaps not only open you up to spiritual attacks, but they also expose your marriage, your children, your business, your church, and even your community to threats.

The bible says that God was looking for someone who was willing to stand in the gap for Israel. At the time, Ezekiel records that He found no one. Now he's looking for someone to stand in the gap for your spouse, for your children, for your family, for your community. Will He find someone? Are you willing to stand in the gap?