Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Miracle of the Virgin Birth

The center piece of the Christmas season is the birth of Jesus. Popular Christmas songs, various figurine displays and holiday sermons all make it prominent. But what about Jesus’ birth specifically, makes Christmas, Christmas? His virgin birth.

The virgin birth became the method through which Jesus came from heaven to earth. It was how God became a man and humbly lived among us. Often Jesus referred to Himself as being sent by His Father in heaven. The virgin birth is how that happened.

Jesus eternally existed in heaven until one marvelous day. It was then He left His Father and the angels in His celestial home, to become a seed planted inside of a young virgin’s womb. I cannot imagine what heaven must have been like, seeing Him go. And Mary became God’s chosen instrument to bring His Son into the world. She was a woman in her teenage years when she and her fiancĂ©, Joseph, were preparing to wed. It was during this time Mary had an encounter that would change her life and the world, forever. An angel appeared to her and communicated a message from the Lord God. "…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (Luke 1:31). Thinking logically, Mary could not understand. She replied to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34). The angel explained, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy—the Son of God . . . For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:35, 38).

The virgin birth was necessary because of who Jesus was, a holy, perfect, and sinless Being. And God the Father chose Mary to bring Him into the world. Mary was faithful to the Lord and a virgin. One who was pure and had never lain with a man. Though Mary was not sinless herself, God made her holy, which prepared her to receive the Son of God.

The virgin birth was also necessary because of the cross. Only Jesus could have died on the cross and provide forgiveness for the sins of the world. In all the universe there was no one so good, so right as was He. There would be no resurrection, no cross if there was no virgin birth.

The virgin birth was no myth, legend or allegory. It is a historical fact, albeit, a miraculous one. No scientist can explain or fully understand it. It is a complete miracle in how a virgin can give birth to a child. Do you believe in the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus came from heaven to earth for you and your household. For it is only through His birth and resurrection, both miracles, that you can have the hope of forgiveness and be spared from the judgment of God.

A prayer for you - "Lord God, I pray you will help us to believe in the virgin birth of your Son. It is a miracle. It defies human reasoning and logic. How could this be? Help us to believe and to yield our lives fully to you. For you are the God of the impossible. Do the impossible within me. Change my heart. Change my life today. In Jesus’ name.  Amen."

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What Happens When We Refuse to Thank God?

The Bible is my favorite book.  I love to read it and hear it read.  It is filled with compelling stories.  One in particular is about a man who had been born with a disability and was unable to walk.  Friends would carry him from home to the entrance of a local religious temple where he would spend the day begging.  In a single moment though, his whole life changed when he met two men walking into the temple.  He asked them for money, like everyone else.  But these two, Peter and John, responded differently.  Peter stared deep into the eyes of this beggar, seemingly looking right through him, then boldly spoke, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” (Acts 3:6)  And so he did!  For the first time he stood up on his own power.  He was so excited he not only walked but jumped, hopped, skipped and ran all over the place. 

That story has impacted millions of lives.  Notice the part which described his reaction.  He was “walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8).  In a word the man was “thankful.”  More like two words, “extremely thankful.” 

Notice how he acknowledged the true source of his miraculous healing.  Was it the two men, Peter and John?  No.  It does not seem as if he was much of a religious man, but he knew enough to realize God was behind it all. 

It is normal to thank a person who does something nice for us, because we can see them.  But do we ever pause to honor the one who is truly behind it all?  We may attribute the positive report of cancer going into remission to early detection and excellent treatment.  We may consider it good timing that the 12-point buck finished crossing the road just as we zoomed by.  But our conscience knew there was the unseen, humble presence of a divine being behind it all.  Our conscience knew it was God’s kindness.  

What happens when we sing the praises of medicine, technology, skill, education, determination, or good karma, instead of acknowledging the invisible hand of Almighty God?  When we give thanks to another source and dismiss our Creator it has a very real effect. 

It is plain to all who God is, because He has revealed Himself to everyone.  And because of that, people are without excuse.  As a result, not honoring Him has a negative impact.  When a person forgets God, the Scriptures say they become “futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts [become] darkened” (Romans 1:21). 

A refusal to see and praise the King of the Universe is dangerous.  It adversely affects our lives in practical ways.  Thanksgiving toward God is not about an American holiday.  It is necessary for the sake of our eternal soul.  Jesus came from heaven to earth, died and rose again to reveal His Father to the world, that all might know and worship Him.  If you do not praise Him now, then on judgment day you will be forced to.  You know it is the right thing to do.  Praise Him today!  See Jesus in laughter and in sorrow.  See Him in the gains and losses.  See Him in the times of peace and chaos.       

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray you will open our eyes to see your invisible hand in our lives.  Let us see we are mere mortals at your mercy.  Humble us.  For we are not as wise and able as we think.  We turn from our independent and selfish ways.  Forgive us.  Cleanse us by the work of Jesus on His cross.  Draw us close that we might know you afresh and anew this hour.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Where to Find Happiness

Have you ever said to a friend or family member, “I just want you to be happy”, as they were considering marriage, a new job or some other major decision? 

Recently I watched a documentary on a highly accomplished NBA basketball player from the 1980s and 90s.  The program ended with the camera on him as he said, “I have five NBA Championships and I’m world famous.  Is that supposed to make me happy?”  Then he bowed his head and began to weep. 

Happiness is that inner experience some label as a state of contentment and well-being.  How many of us want that for ourselves or wish it for those whom we love?  It often seems the inner experience of happiness is tied to something external.  Like if we find marriage or love externally, that will provide us happiness internally.  If we find success externally, that will provide happiness internally.  As a result, we search the world over for something that will provide us that inner happiness. 

I firmly believe we were all created to want this happiness for ourselves.  This is the common human experience.  Rich or poor.  No matter our race or religion, we hunger to be happy. 

Jesus once made a startling claim to a crowd about Himself, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  These words of Jesus show His understanding of the human heart.  He knew people were searching outwardly for what they longed for inwardly.  Sometime after these words were spoken, Jesus went on to suffer, die, then rise again.  After He arose and ascended back to His home in heaven, He sent His Spirit to live on the earth.  His Spirit indwells anyone who turns from their evil ways and trusts in Jesus alone for complete forgiveness for all they have ever done wrong.  When this happens, the Spirit brings the life of Jesus into that individual which gives, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Right there, that is what every human truly longs for.  It is something deeper and more profound than superficial happiness.   

What we are looking for is not found in marriage, success or any other earthly human experience we can control or create for ourselves.

The contentment, joy and meaning in life we seek is found in Jesus and nowhere else.  And it is not something He dispenses outside of Himself.  He embodies it all.  When we come to our senses and realize we have been going after the wrong things and receive the Spirit of Jesus within us, we receive all of who He is.

Are you ready to stop going here and there looking for temporary happiness?  Are you ready to surrender all to Christ?  

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray you will lead those who are searching for contentment and inner well-being to Christ.  Open their spiritual eyes to see that Jesus is all they are looking for, that in Him all their desires and longings will be met.  Bring them to surrender all, to turn from their ways and trust in You with all their heart.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

When Only A Miracle Will Do

For nearly 10 years I served inmates in our small rural county jail as a minister, and saw over 100 of them come through our Bible studies and annual Christmas outreaches.  They were there because of drugs, alcohol, theft, sexual violations and more.  Men and women.  Young and old.  While they sat with me in their white and orange jail issued clothes, I would often say, “When you were young and thought about the future, none of you set out to be in jail.  You are here because something went wrong.”  

Have you ever known someone, where at some point, something went terribly wrong and one bad decision seemed to pile on another?  And maybe you thought, “If they continue down this path, outside of a miracle of God, they are going to wind up in either jail, the hospital, on the street or dead?   

Jesus told a story about a young man like this.  One day he came to his father in a spirit of anger and hate and demanded his inheritance while his father still lived.  His dad amazingly and graciously complied and gave his younger son what he wanted.  Then his son packed up his belongings and abruptly left home and family.  He travelled far away to a large and bustling city, where bad decisions began to mount.  Jesus said he, “squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13) and eventually he spent everything he had been given.  And things got worse when a famine hit the region.  He became penniless, friendless, jobless, foodless and homeless.  At this point in his life, his dad described him dead and lost.  Something had gone wrong and he was speeding head-first down a path of destruction and ruin.  His only hope was a miracle.

And that is what began to happen!  God’s invisible hand was mysteriously working on the young man’s heart, where in a moment of wise reflection he said to himself, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!”  (Luke 15:17)  This led to a key turning point where he stood up and began a long and discouraging walk back home.

 While still a long way out, his father saw him and immediately ran to meet him.  After the father’s compassionate embrace, his son began his humble confession, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).  Wow!  That was all his dad needed to hear, when he said, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’  And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:24). 

That miracle caused the young man’s life to go from death to life and ruin to overflowing joy.  What everyone else thought was impossible; God knew was possible. 

This is what Jesus was sent from heaven to earth for.  This is why he died and rose again.  To do miracles just like this.  When people are living for themselves and leaving a wake of heartache and pain wherever they go, it is easy to get frustrated and angry with them, to look down at them and write them off.  But God is merciful and patient.  He does not treat any of us as we deserve.  Instead, in His kindness, He keeps drawing us to Himself until we humble ourselves and surrender all to Him.                   

 A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray for those who are living destructive lives.  God, you are their only hope.  Intervene, I pray.  Save their physical lives and their eternal souls from destruction.  Open their spiritual eyes to see the danger they are facing, then mercifully bring them to repentance that they might live again.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What’s Happening with My Adult Kids?

“Pastor Miller, thanks for coming over on short notice.  My wife and I appreciate it.  We are at a loss and don’t know what to do with our son, Tom.  We just can’t handle it anymore.  He’s an adult and has been out on his own for a while.  For years we’ve dealt with his unpredictable behavior and have tried everything.  He wasn’t raised this way.  Pastor, what else can we do?  Where did we go wrong?”

Maybe you are a parent with teenagers or adult children that are living destructive lives.  Can you identify with this dad and mom? 

Long ago there was a great King who had a wayward adult son who brought waves of grief to his heart.  The life of King David’s son, Absalom, was filled with selfishness, arrogance and cruelty.  The story that symbolizes his lawless life is when, in a patient, premeditated and vengeful fashion, he murdered his brother.  In cold blood he took his life, then turned and fled his father’s Kingdom.  The tragic event was the beginning of David’s downhill relationship with Absalom.  Things never improved, but eventually ended with even more tragedy when Absalom was murdered in cold blood as well.  In response to learning of his wayward son’s early and needless death, David grieved as any parent can understand, crying out, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”  (2 Samuel 19:4)

David was considered “a man after God’s own heart” yet, had a son who lived a lawless life.  If it can happen to him, it can happen to any parent.  Let me share six prayers you can consider praying over your difficult relationship with your adult son or daughter. 

1)    Pray and ask God to show you any parts of your life that may have influenced your child’s behavior toward the harmful choices they are making.  No doubt, at some point, David realized that his adulterous affair with Bathsheba was a negative influence on Absalom’s life. 

2)    Pray and ask God for forgiveness for the things you may have allowed in your life that was harmful to your child.  Then by faith, release any feelings of guilt to Him and receive His joy and peace.

3)    Pray and ask God to help you accept that no matter what happened in the past, between you and your child, they are ultimately an adult and are solely responsible before God for their behavior.        

4)    Pray and ask God to help you release your child into His hands, stepping away from constantly rescuing him or her and trying to make up for the failures in the past.

5)    Pray and ask God to help you forgive your child for the pain he or she has caused, and to show sincere love and undeserved kindness, just as God has shown you.

6)    Pray and ask God to transform your life that you might be the parent or grandparent that you never were in your earlier years.  Ask God to restore what was lost and change your family tree.        

There is hope for any family in crisis and it begins with Jesus.  The greatest enemy of the family is sin.  Jesus suffered, died and rose again to defeat sin.  When you turn to Christ, His Spirit will come to dwell within you and give you the power, day by day, to live victoriously and overcome hell’s vicious onslaughts against your family. 

Victory for your wayward son or daughter begins with Christ in you, then Christ in them.  Jesus is greater than drugs, alcohol, mental illness, criminal behavior or any other form of recklessness.   

May the words spoken to a dad and his family centuries ago, by the Lord Jesus Himself, be spoken to you in the days ahead, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).     

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray for peace in homes where children have headed down a path of destruction.  Give hope to parents who feel at a loss and do not know where to go and what to do.  Show yourself as a rock of refuge and a shelter in a time of trouble.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Lay Your Burden Down

There are millions of people carrying such heavy burdens all across our world.  They cannot sleep at night and wake up tired.  They have regular appointments with their counselors.  Their attempts at hobbies and exercise are strategies to find relief.  What burden are you carrying?  If you want to find the peace you have been searching for, it is found in a person – Jesus.   

Once He was invited to dinner at a religious leader’s home.  Other religious leaders also came, and together they sat down at the table and began visiting.  Jesus’ fame as a preacher rose quickly, so word continually spread where He was.  A certain prostitute who was impacted by Jesus and His ministry learned of His whereabouts.  She made her way into the house and found herself standing before Jesus and the other guests.  She stood without saying a word, then began weeping.  So much, that her tears fell on Jesus’ feet.  Seeing that, she bent down and began wiping the tears off with her hair. 

During the whole process, the religious leaders were incensed at the woman and Jesus.  Noticing this, Jesus spoke to the dinner host, addressing the host’s attitude toward her, then eventually turned back to the woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).  That incensed the leaders even more.  Then He spoke one final word before she humbly slipped out, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.” (Luke 7:50). 

This prostitute was looking for something, just like all those preachers in that room, all the people in her city, and like you and me.  Her search took her into prostitution, for others it is different. 

But when she heard of Jesus, something awakened in her that no doubt said, “This is it!”  And she overcame the barriers before her to get to Jesus and when she got there, He did not disappoint her. 

She found forgiveness for all the wrong she had done!  The guilt and shame she had been trying to outrun was finally washed away.  How did that happen?  Faith.  Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” 

Wow!  It was her faith that provided forgiveness.  It is interesting to note, what Jesus did not say.  He did not say anything about religion, morality, goodness or education.  Just faith.  He did not refer to anything about personal will power, having a positive attitude, perseverance or working hard.  Just faith.  And what is faith?  It was her belief, trust and confidence in Jesus.

We are all naturally wired to be independent and achieve.  We want to earn what we have.  Our culture is set up that way from our parents and high school coaches, to our professors and bosses.  Work hard and succeed.  It is up to you.  Faith in Jesus is opposite.  This woman simply had faith and her life was instantly transformed.  She believed Jesus was the Son of God.  She believed she had done wrong and needed forgiveness.  She trusted that Jesus had the power to forgive.  She was confident Jesus was sufficient for all she needed.     

Then Jesus said, “go in peace.”  No doubt the immoral life she led weighed on her.  She not only needed forgiveness, but peace.  Often the foolish things we do cause great amounts of stress and anxiousness.  In one moment, her simple faith brought forgiveness and peace.  Lay your burden down at the feet of Jesus.  Have faith in Him. 

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray you will help the readers to end their search.  Bring them to take off their burden and find forgiveness and peace in Christ through simple faith. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Four Marks of a True Man

Esquire magazine published the article, “How to be a Man.” The author wrote a series of proverbs on manliness.  One stated, “A man knows how to lose an afternoon. Drinking, playing Grand Theft Auto, driving aimlessly, shooting pool.”  Please, do not follow their advice!  Unfortunately, too many already do.   

Like most men, I learned what a man was primarily from my father, other men in my community and on TV.  My favorite TV character growing up was the Six Million Dollar Man.  When I was 20 years old though, my life changed when I came to know the supreme model of manhood – Jesus.  He taught me what it was to be a real man.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Truth refers to reality, what is not hidden.  The life of Jesus was lived openly.  He showed the world how to live a perfect life, no matter if someone is a man, woman, or child.  In Jesus, I see what kind of man I am to be. 

1.    A real man has purpose.  Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  Jesus had a purpose for His life and work.  What about you?  When you follow Christ with all your heart, He will show you your purpose.  Read His Word.  Ask Him, then patiently wait, and He will reveal it to you.    

2.    A real man has love.  Jesus said, “. . . just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  Jesus loved a small group of men He mentored.  He loved by telling them directly and showing them through acts of service.  Jesus’ greatest demonstration of love was when He died and rose again for the sins of the world.  He modeled love through sacrifice, by putting the needs of others above Himself, even to the point of death.  Men, love your wife, family members, friends and even your enemies, the way Jesus did.      

3.    A real man has a pure heart.  Jesus said, “. . . everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Jesus was single, ministered to women and had women among those who followed Him, yet in all this, He never lusted.  He was pure in mind, heart and body.  Men, say no to pornography.  Say no to sex outside of marriage.  Say yes to Jesus, and invite Him to purify your mind and give you power over temptation.    

4.    A real man has right priorities.  Jesus said, “. . . what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36).Jesus was incredibly successful.  Yet, despite His celebrity, He forfeited the riches of this world for something far greater.  Men, be excellent in all you do, but do not look to your career, possessions, income or achievements for your worth or identity.  Live for more than that.  Do not forfeit your eternal soul in the pursuit of temporal things that provide momentary pleasure.  Live fully and wholly for Jesus.  In Him is found everything you need in life.    

Do you want to know what a real man is?  Look to Jesus!  Follow Him and change your family tree for generations to come.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray that the men who read this will become men like Jesus.  Help them to have purpose in life and work, to love like Jesus did, to have a pure heart and for you to be their number one priority.  Enable them to take the first step today by turning to you and away from their sin.  Bring them to call upon you in belief and for forgiveness, then transform them into new men. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Why God? Why?

I was recently visiting with some high school seniors and asked them what their classmates thought about God. "They’re sometimes confused", they said. I asked them to explain. "They see bad things happen in the world and wonder why. If God is God, then why didn’t He prevent it?" Immediately, I thought how so many adults wonder the same thing. No matter if we are a teenager or senior citizen, this is a common response to tragic situations.

We see stories of this in the Bible. This is one of many things I like about God’s Word. It shows what real life is like.

When Jesus, God’s only Son, hung on the cross and was near death, He looked toward heaven and cried out in anguish, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

When King David led the nation of Israel and was facing enemies who threatened the future of his nation he wrote, "Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1)

When Moses was struggling to lead the Hebrew people, tragedy struck and the people rebelled. Moses lamented before God, "O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?" (Exodus 5:22)

It is natural for us to question or even become angry at God when bad things happen. But when they do, how are we going to respond? It is one thing to analyze and talk about situations from a distance, but what about when your right in the middle of it? Here are four ways Jesus responded to the evil and injustice of His own circumstances.

1) Accept the reality of evil and believe it can be defeated. When Jesus faced His death, He understood the evil that exists in the human heart and the evil systems in our world. He accepted its reality, but determined to walk through it, knowing evil would not overcome Him, but He would overcome it. Do not live in denial of your painful situation. Accept it. But know that Jesus is bigger, greater and more powerful. And when you place the full weight of your trust in Him, you can overcome.

2) Turn toward God, not away from Him. As Jesus hung on the cross feeling the weight of the world on His shoulders, He cried out, "Why God?" Notice, He did not complain to the thieves crucified next to Him or to others nearby. Rather, He turned His words of sorrow toward God, pouring out His heart and remaining faithful to Him, enduring to the end. Our emotions in the moment can lead us away from God, where we complain to others, mumble to ourselves or even lift our first toward the heavens. No matter how dark things get, keep turning to God. Do not believe your circumstances have the final say. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus.

3) Face evil with a spirit of forgiveness and graciousness. Jesus faced His unjust circumstances and accusers with forgiveness and graciousness. This does not come naturally. Our tendency is to lash out at others and become bitter and isolated. Only with the Spirit of Jesus in us can we live as He lived.

4) Overcome evil with faith in God. The Scripture teaches that Jesus faced His death with joy. How did He do that? He knew that He would rise again and conquer all the evil and injustice around Him. When devastating news comes, grab hold of Jesus. Endure. Persevere. If you have trusted in Christ, your suffering will be for a season. We do not know how long it will last, but our victory is certain. This is the believer’s certain hope, as Jesus rose again and overcame, so will we.

A prayer for you to pray - "Lord God, I take my questions, frustrations and anger, and lay them at your feet. I turn from my sin of unforgiveness toward others and anger toward you. Lord, be my Savior from my sin and my Savior in this dark valley. Rescue me oh God! Change my heart today. Give me hope. Give me You. In Jesus’ name.  Amen."

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.”