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Monday, April 1, 2019

Easter and the Danger of Religion

“Come on. Let’s go!” Every Sunday morning, including every Easter, since I was three years old all six of our family were rushing out the door to church. In the early years, dad was driving with us, later on he was already there because he was the pastor.

From those toddler years until I was 20, I had been to-and-through everything related to church; Sunday services, vacation Bible schools, youth group meetings, church membership, baptism, communion, and the list goes on. However, no one except my mother ever talked with me about where I stood with God, and that was one conversation. Everyone else, including me, must have assumed I was in good standing with the Lord. Boy was I wrong. If I would have died as a youth, I am not sure what I would have said if God would have asked me, “Clint. Good to see you! Tell me, why do you think I should let you into this heaven I have built? Beautiful isn’t it?” My mind would either have gone totally blank or I would have quietly mumbled my list of church achievements.

Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Notice how these people thought because they were involved in church activities and doing good, that it was okay between themselves and Jesus. However, to their surprise on Judgment Day, they learned they had it all wrong.

What was the problem? Look at Jesus’ response to them, “I never knew you.” As the people approached Jesus, He looked at them carefully and did not recognize any personal relationship with them. They were complete strangers. There was no love between them. No friendship. Nothing.


This was a picture of me. Every Sunday I was in the presence of Jesus. I read His Word. I was baptized in His name. I joined His church. I even prayed in His name. Yet, I never loved Him. I never considered Him my King, my Lord, my Savior . . . my friend. I had nothing but empty religion.


But praise God! Rather than letting me wait until Judgment Day to learn this, He opened my spiritual eyes, called me to Himself and transformed me into a new man. Today I can confidently say, “Jesus is mine and I am His.”

For over 400 years, the United States has had the name of Jesus preached across it. We have heard how He suffered, died on a cross, and three days later rose again from the dead. This Easter message is not new to us, nor does it cost us anything to be religious and go to church in America . . . but it costs you EVERYTHING to know and follow Jesus. Do not be surprised on Judgment Day. Do you love Him?

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, examine my heart. Point out if I do church and religious things out of obligation, to seek favor with you or to receive praise from others? Search me. Do I really love you Lord Jesus? Are you really my Savior and my friend? Today, I turn from religion and to You. Forgive me of my sins and help me to know you personally for the first time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Homosexuality is Dividing the American Church

I have a fellow minister friend who has an effective and growing ministry to teens and college students. One of his challenges to them is to stop yelling at each other on sensitive issues and come to the middle.  Differing views on homosexuality are one of those subjects that generate much disagreement.  According to a religious survey on same sex marriage conducted in 2017, over 60% of Christians who attend more conservative churches oppose it, while nearly 70% of Christians in more liberal churches support it.  Conclusion: we have a divided and confused church. 

Where is the middle though?  I think my friend is stating our attitude more than an actual position.  We should have a Christ-like spirit of graciousness in our discussions, but then put a Bible in the middle of our conversation and point to it. 

Denominations and local churches everywhere are being forced to wrestle with questions they probably never thought they would be facing.  “Should our denomination ordain gay or lesbian pastors?”  “What is our position on gay marriage and civil unions?”  “Should our pastor officiate over a same sex wedding?”  “Should our church welcome a homosexual who wants to become a member?”  “Should our church leave a denomination that embraces gay friendly theology?”    
God’s Word says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral . . . nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  I agree with this statement and believe God sees homosexuality as a form of sexual immorality, no matter if it is consensual or not, and declares it sinful just like adultery.  To explain further, God views any sexual activity (even lustful thoughts) outside of marriage between a man and woman, as violation of His divine law and unholy.  To believers in Christ who agree with the above statement, here are three things we can do in this climate of inclusivity and equality.   

1.    Engage in discipleship.  Discussions on homosexuality need to move from a social and political nature, to a discipleship one, especially among the younger generations.  Senior Pastors and Youth Pastors, I urge you to regularly teach what the Bible says about homosexuality.  Currently the media, school teachers and university professors are discipling them.  I know it is controversial and sometimes silence is preferred, but if the church is not going to disciple them, who will?

2.    Show kindness.  Love does not mean approval of conduct.  Jesus taught us to love one another, and love means to show kindness and compassion.  As a body of Christ, while we disagree with homosexuality, let us over flow with kindness and compassion to those in the life style and to those who advocate for it. 

3.    Lift up Jesus.  When I am listening to a Christian radio station, and I hear a church leader talking about homosexuality, I yell, “Where is Jesus?”  Too often we get quoting verses, explaining positions, or even wander into the political realm and leave Jesus knocking at the door, waiting to be brought into the conversation.  As a church, let us recommit to always make Jesus and His work on the cross, to be the center piece of any discussion on homosexuality.  I left off verse 11, in the First Corinthians passage which says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  In Jesus, there is hope for the sexually immoral.  Additionally, in Jesus, there is hope in the face of division.  Walls that divide us can come down as we mutually submit to His holy Word and love one other.
A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, I pray for the church in America and the great division among us over homosexuality.  Come Lord, unite Your church around Your Word.  Let us humble ourselves before you and one another.  Revive us, oh Lord!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Choosing to Love and Forgive My Dad


This is not a February valentine column about a love between a man and woman.  Rather, it is about a complex love between a father and son.

 Recently, my wife and I watched Ragamuffin, a movie about the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy, and the difficult relationship he had with his verbally and emotionally abusive father.  It reminded us of another movie, I Can Only Imagine, about the life of singer, Bart Millard, and the difficulties he too had with his father, who physically abused him. 

The movies connected with audiences because, unfortunately, so many have stories of broken relationships with their dads.  I had a difficult one with my father.  He was a pastor and my parents had four children, of which I am the youngest.  He was a complicated man who had a strained relationship with nearly every member of our immediate and extended family.  On one occasion, when I shared with him that God had called me into the ministry, I mistakenly assumed his support.  Instead he stated, “You’re going to need to go to college and you weren’t a very good student.  I don’t know how you’re going to make it.”  From that moment until I left for college, a year and a half later, my dad was the greatest challenge I faced in leaving to prepare for a career in ministry. The day I left home was one of the darkest days of my life.  I was so angry.  I cried, screamed and pounded my steering wheel from Colorado to Kansas.  

But that day of despair turned to hope by the providence of God.  One of my first classes was Pastoral Counseling.  Every day, it seemed as if Dr. Larry Fine was talking directly to me about my hurt, anger and unforgiveness toward my dad.  That semester started me on a 26-year journey toward learning to love my father.  That journey reached a milestone in my 30s.  As my dad and I talked on the phone and came near the end, it became quiet.  Silence.  Then I realized my dad was still there, but he was unable to speak.  He was weeping.  Eventually, he gathered himself and whispered, “I love you son.”  Then I heard a click.  It became the first memory of my father telling me he loved me on his own.  It was a powerful moment.

On November 13, 2017, my father suddenly died of pancreatic cancer. When he passed away, I had no regrets. There was nothing but peace in my heart. Years earlier, I had forgiven him and accepted him as he was, not as I wanted him to be. My father did not make it easy. Even so, the Scripture says, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11). By God’s grace, He continually enabled me (though sometimes I failed) to be slow to anger and quick to show love by overlooking his faults.
 
There are too many who are living with anger, unforgiveness or even hate toward their dads.  If that is you, you do not need to live that way anymore.  You have no control over your father.  He will face God for what he has done, but you – you have a choice.  Your anger and unforgiveness is a terrible sin against God and is destroying you.  Stop it!  Lay down your pride and defiance.  Humble yourself and ask God for His divine help to love and forgive.  Break the chains! 

 A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, I pray for the readers that are angry toward their dad.  The things their father has done has caused great pain and division.  Enable them to forgive, to release their father to you.  To accept and love him just as he is.  Do for them, what they cannot do for themselves.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Where is God in Your New Year?

A long time ago there was a King named David.  His Kingdom had grown, and he became great in the eyes of his people and surrounding nations.  One day he decided to take a census to see how large a Kingdom he had.  He was highly regarded as a godly man, but in this case, he neglected God.  David’s military general questioned the wisdom of the order, but David persisted so the census was carried out.  Eventually, David received his numbers and was pleased.  However, God was angry and severely disciplined David’s neglect and pride.

This ancient story from the Bible reminds me of our day.  The mainstream of thought being broadcast to hundreds of millions is to enter a new year without any consideration of God.  Through a casual survey of radio stations, articles, news items, podcasts and videos about the upcoming year, most of the content is godless. 

The Scriptures give us advice on this saying, “Come now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  (James 4:13-14)

Neglecting to seek out God’s counsel in our decisions, is like not checking the weather conditions before heading out on a trip through the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter.  Logically, it does not make sense.  God is our Creator and being so, it seems logical that we should go to Him for help.  He is all-knowing.  He knows about our problems and the burdens we bear more than we do.  He can see them in complete detail, knowing all the facts and solutions.  God is all-powerful.  No matter the challenges we will face in 2019, they are not too big for God.  He is the God of the impossible.  The God of miracles.  The God of the supernatural.  Nothing is a challenge for Him.  Additionally, God is mysterious.  No one can see Him.  He is an unseen Spirit that fills the universe.  However, He has sent us a Messenger to communicate to us what He is like – Jesus.  Do you wonder, “Who is this God I should be involving in my decisions?  What is He like?”  You can discover first-hand by learning about Jesus, His only Son, through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible.  There you will learn about Him through the stories and teachings of Jesus.     

What you will discover is the main reason why we neglect to invite God into our plans, hopes and dreams.  It is us.  The pride and spirit of independence in our hearts resist yielding to the wisdom of God.  The writers and talkers all around us refer to believing in yourself and achieving your hopes and dreams.  They encourage this pride and independence.  But to receive all that God has for you, you must willingly lay down your life.

Jesus illustrated this, when He suffered and died on the cross.  He laid down His life, not for His own interests, but for the interests of God His Father and the multitudes of others, like you and me.  As a result, three days later, He rose again from the dead.  When we lay down what we want and choose to follow God’s ways, admittedly, there’s a high cost to pay, but if we remain faithful, there is also a great blessing.

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, as I begin a new year, I apologize for not always putting you first in 2018.  I often put my desires and plans ahead of you.  I am sorry for neglecting you.  Today, I begin a new year by choosing to turn from my ways and put my trust in Jesus and follow Him with all my heart, no matter the cost.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”