Friday, December 30, 2005

Putting this year behind me

Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (KJV)

In my last installment of resolution blogs, I want to talk briefly about putting the past behind me. The passage of scripture I posted above is often cited as a text in New Year's sermons. There's even a good chance your pastor may preach on it this very I hope this won't be a spoiler for you. This has been a difficult year for me in many respects. I have been through some pretty intense trials, illness, and financial difficulties. But I can honestly stand here at the end of the year and praise God that He has brought me through them all! I don't think it's wise to forget everything about the fact God often calls us to remembrance of His mighty works. However, there are some things I want to put to rest this year- I hope this will inspire you to do the same.

I want to put the failures of the past year behind me. I believe that confession is good for the soul and that we experience a cleansing when we confess our faults one to another. I also don't believe this is the place for me to do such an excercise (sorry for all you inquiring minds out there). But I can honestly say that there are areas in which I have clearly missed God's mark in the year 2005. There are things I'm ashamed of and wish that I had handled differently. Most of us wear different hats and I can say that for each hat that I wear (a husband, father, pastor, friend, child of God, I have regrets over the ways I have failed others. I'm sure there are some ways that I have disappointed others that I'm not even aware (many times, we have no idea how we have offended and wounded others).

I also want to put behind me the temptation to rest on past successes. In Philippians, Paul reviews his pedigree as a Pharisee (of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew among Hebrews, touching the law...blameless, etc. etc.) but then goes on to say that he counts all of his Pharisaical accomplishments as dung that he may "win Christ." Many of us in the body of Christ have a "used to" testimony. We love to talk of how we used to praise we used to hunger and thirst after His we used to consider His Word more necessary than natural food. In my own case, I've seen some great things happen this year. As a church we've broken attendance records, giving records, and seen breakthroughs in numerous lives. But I cannot stop there and be content with that success- I want to see God do even more and bigger and better things this coming year. Notice I said "God" and not me. It would be very foolish for me to try and take credit for any of the wonderful things happening at our church or for that matter any other arena of life. I am what I am by the grace of God. As Apostle Paul so plainly tells us "we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (the NIV calls us "jars of clay") so that God's power may be glorified and not our own (2 Cor 4:7) . His (God's) strength is made perfect through weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)

Finally, I want to leave behind everything not tied to my future. I heard another minister say that no one who ever leaves you behind is tied to your future. This is very true! The apostle John (in his first epistle) says something like this:

I John. 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us

I refuse to spend any more time pining away for things that "might have been" or those who have abandoned me. This doesn't mean that I don't love them anymore, or that I won't accept them if they come back into my life. It simply means that they won't see what I'm going to see. I'm convinced that we spend far too much time wondering what might have been "if only...."-whether it be a relationship, an opportunity that we perceive has passed us by, or so on. I want to be careful not to demonize anyone who goes separate ways from me either- I posted something on my blog about Barnabas and Paul parting ways in previous blog. There's a sermon I'd like to preach sometime but just haven't had a chance to yet entitled "if you can see what I can have what I have" based on the account of Elisha catching Elijah's mantle as he's carried in a chariot into heaven. Being a person who experiences God's destiny requires that sometimes people must be left behind. Remember this road that we travel is strait and narrow and few there be that find it. The road less traveled can be lonely at times, but we know there are treasures that abound for those who can endure it joyfully and finish the course.

I hope that you will join me as we endeavour to leave the negative things of the past behind us and press towards the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I'm convinced that He has great things in store for those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose in 2006. He is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we can ask or I ask you today to set the bar high in the coming year and believe God for the extraordinary- He will amaze you each and every time that you have faith in His promises.

May God richly bless you in the coming year is my prayer!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Giving God My Best

In my third installment of New Year's resolutions and goals, I wanted to post a snippet from the book of Malachi. Let's look at the scriptures:

Malachi 1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? 1:7 Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible. 1:8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts (KJV)

This was a scathing indictment against the priests of Malachi's day. Of course in the new testament, every believer functions in the role of a priest (The Apostle Peter calls believers a "royal priesthood"). They had grown so comfortable in their service to God, that they offered second-rate offerings without fear of reprisal or judgment from the Almighty. I fear that too often we have grown too comfortable with the things of God. Jude warns of those who feast and feed themselves without fear in the community of faith. The LORD gave Malachi an earthly example from which to illustrate the point. Often the bible writers use the teaching method of "from the lesser to the greater" as a means of communicating biblical truth. In this instance God refers to fathers, employers (masters), and governors.

Most of us would never think of treating our parents, our bosses, or government officials with the slothfulness and disrespect we sometimes treat our Heavenly Father, Master, and Lord with. Most of us would never dream of disrespecting our earthly parents, regardless of their failures and shortcomings. Most of us wouldn't conceive stealing from our employer, laying out of work, or sleeping on the job (like I said..."most of us"...I realize there are some exceptions to every rule). If a government official invited us to dinner, I can almost guarantee that we would be on our best behavior, look our best, and present him with some type of gift of honor. When it comes time to pay our taxes, we are not allowed to arbitrarily decide what we will give Caesar...and yet we feel such liberty when it comes to One who is greater than Caesar. All these we are willing to do for fallible, imperfect men and women.

And yet, our Heavenly Father (who is perfect) often receives a meager offering from His children. How often do we reserve the best for ourselves, and offer him the lame, the sick, and the blind? Do others get the very best from us....meanwhile the great God of the universe receives a second-rate offering? The bible says we are to seek "first" the Kingdom of God (and His righteousness) and THEN all the other things will fall into place. This year, I want to give God my best....not the leftovers. I am a firm believer that we can never outgive God. This is not only a financial principle, I believe it applies to every aspect of life. When we honor God, He makes sure that we are taken care of.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Resolutions/Goals (Part Deux):

I can't remember who said this (perhaps someone in the comments section could provide the exact quote) but there is a saying that goes something like "I have finally discovered the enemy...and the enemy is me." Of all the temptations I face on any given day, usually the greatest ones don't come from without...they come from within. Granted, I don't want to diminish the fact that spiritual warfare goes on daily..and yes, I'm one of those fanatical Christians who really believe there is a created being called satan, whose chief job is to wreak havoc in the universe and take as many people to hell (yes, I believe it's real and yes I believe there are millions there and more headed that way every day) as he possibly can. There is no doubt that we have a very real and formidable adversary who seeks our destruction. But I want to talk about another enemy today....ourselves. Yet another goal I have this year is to exercise more self-control than ever before. I realize that's a pretty vague goal, and it has a broad application, but I'm going to stay generic here for blogging purposes. Truly we are in a battle with the devil and his hosts....but we are also in a battle with our flesh. In numerous places in scripture, we are admonished to "put to death" the deeds of the body, "mortify our members upon the earth", "take up our cross daily", "deny ourselves", "present our bodies as a living sacrifice." I could list many more such verses from scripture....

One of the reasons most New Year's resolutions fail is because they are simply an effort of the flesh. Any effort undertaken by the flesh is destined to fail....especially if the goal is spiritual. Paul warned the Galatians who had begun life in the Spirit, that perfection could not be reached by human/fleshly efforts (Gal 3:3). In Romans chapter 8, Paul instructed us with these words:

Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live

It is only through the Spirit that we can overcome the constant cravings of self. One of the often overlooked, but critical aspects of life in the Spirit is the fruit of self-control (the KJV calls it "temperance" Gal 5:23). Love, joy, and peace receive their fair praise, and it goes without saying that the gifts of the Spirit receive due attention. For some reason temperance (or self-control) seems to get little fanfare. Perhaps it is because it's the one virtue that we need the most. Second Timothy chapter 3 (verse 3) indicates that a lack of self-control is one of the indicators that we live in the last days. It seems that our society is bent toward a lifestyle of little or no self-restraint. It is very easy to get out of balance in this area of life. It seems like the Christmas holiday season lends itself very easily to a slippery-slope of self-indulgence. We tend to spend more money on ourselves (and others) than we normally do....we tend to eat more (and more...and more....and more...ok- you get the picture), we tend to be more amusement/entertainment-oriented, and generally less disciplined during the holidays.

Well, that's all for today- pray for me that the fruit of self-control will abound through the power of the Spirit in 2006. My prayer is that you will experience a similar harvest in your own life. More to come (Lord willing)....

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Years Resolutions...(Part I)

Well, it's that time of year again.....time to take inventory of the year that was...and the year that was to come. One of my blogging friends, Pastor Jeff Richard, recently shared his love of video games with all of us in the blogosphere. He also was careful to warn of the importance of keeping balance in our lives when it comes to our hobbies and recreation. This brings me to my first resolution for the coming year. Now granted, I'm not a big fan of making resolutions, per se, but I do think it's healthy to evaluate where you are .....and where you're going. As the old adage goes "no one plans to fail...they only fail to plan."

Since Pastor Jeff came clean...I suppose I should too- I enjoy playing my Playstation2 as well. I only have a handful of games (mostly sports games-none of that blood and guts gory stuff) but I got the first version of Star Wars Battlefront for Christmas this year. In addition to playing Playstation (which I seldom have time to do), I enjoy listening to music as well- mostly instrumental stuff- I am a musician and I enjoy playing the guitar and keyboards. I find that sometimes that greatest temptations in life don't end up being what we would call "huge compromises"...but giving up ground to the enemy little by little. My first resolution (or goal if you prefer that terminology) is to devote more time to the Lord. In Ephesians 5 we have God's design for "time management"...let's have a look:

Ephesians 5: 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. (NASB)

The Lord wants me to make the most of my time. This is easy to make mental assent to...but sometimes very difficult to walk out in real life (I suppose we theologians might muddy things up and call it a "hermeneutical difficulty"). It's easy for me to sit back and say "Amen" when I read or hear that the Lord wants me to make the most of my time...but I believe it's much more difficult to put into practice. A few years ago my father in law challenged his Sunday school class to keep a journal of their activities and time management- hour by hour for a week. Most people were absolutely amazed, astounded...and discouraged to learn how much time is actually wasted during a typical week either watching television, involved in some form of recreation, or talking on the phone with friends. I realize that some of you reading this may be working 60-70 hours a week and the only "down time" you have is when you're sleeping....I'm not talking to you today :) - I'm talking to those (myself included) who do have a few hours to spare during the week (whether we admit it or not) when we're not actively working for our employer (or church if you are in full-time ministry). Paul told the Ephesians "the days are evil." If that was true in Paul's day...can it be any less true in ours?

A temptation for me is to believe that devoting more time to the church or to church work is devoting more time to the Lord. While it's certainly wise to be about the Father's business as it pertains to church work- we must not forget the importance of sitting at His feet and worshipping Him. This reminds me of a story of two women- Mary and Martha- I encourage you to read about them Here- I want more quality time with Him. This is my first installment of my New Year's resolution series of blogs....stay tuned...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas!!!!

I probably won't be online for the next few days, so I wanted to take just a moment to send greetings and blessings to all who read, contribute, or partner together with this blog. I love each and every one of you, and I appreciate your readership, friendship, and contributions.

May God richly bless you this Christmas and may the peace of God rule in your hearts!

Love in Him
Henry Haney

Friday, December 16, 2005

It's a Wonderful Life

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the plethora of traditions. We (especially in the Pentecostal churches) often complain and preach vehemently against anything that smacks of tradition. Some of this is certainly justified (after all Jesus warned that the "traditions of men" make God's word of none effect), but not all tradition is bad. There is something special, and I think important for children in particular, about establishing traditions. They form lasting memories and help give a sense of identity and purpose. Many people in today's world have no idea of their value from God's perspective, or the importance of their role in the world. People are seeking relevance for their existance and many ask the question "what was I created for?" For all the controversy that surrounds the whole "purpose driven" culture, I must commend Rick Warren for taking the opportunity to broach this all-imporant question from a biblical perspective. The fact remains that we are here for a reason....things happen for a reason....and God does have a purpose for every soul that comes to this earth.

This past Saturday night I sat down with the family and watched the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart. Just in case you happened to miss it this year, or perhaps you've been hiding under a rock somewhere let me just hit the high points. The story is about a man who (after a series of calamities) reaches the end of his proverbial rope and decides to end his life. An angel is dispatched on the scene (believe me when I say I'm giving you the "condensed version" of the story....after all this is a blog...not a novella) and gives the lead character an opportunity to see what life would be like if he had never existed. As you might expect, he sees that the world is much different without his influence. His friends all look sad....his neighborhood is under the oppression of an evil and bitter man who practically owns the whole town.....his beautiful wife ends up an old maid.....and his brother dies in an accident (because he's not there to save gotta watch the movie to fully appreciate this). In the movie, he is given a second chance and returns home to find that his life is very rich indeed- despite all of the difficulties that have overtaken him and his family.

Today, you and I might look around at the myriad of trials and temptations we face and question whether it truly is "a wonderful life" or not. Why does it seem that the wicked prosper and that those who mock the Creator of the universe seem to coast through life without difficulty? I suppose this is a question that mankind has wrestled with as long as he has been able to reason cognitively. The psalmist captures the essense of the age-old question and gives us the proper perspective on the meaning of life and the sufferings of the righteous. Let's have a look at some excerpts from Psalm 73 from the New International Version.

Psalm 73:1 A psalm of Asaph. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever "slipped" and lost your spiritual footing when you saw the wicked prosper? Or how about their lack of struggles? It seems like I spend so much time on my knees laying my burdens down in earnest prayer... while others have little adversity and enjoy the best of health and strength. They do seem to be "immune" to the problems that seem so commonplace to the saints don't they? So how do we regain our footing? We must have the proper perspective. Let's see how the psalmist Asaph regained his focus:

Psalm 73:16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

It can be "oppressive" to try and make sense of everything through the lens of the carnal eye. That's why we must look at the events of life through the lens of God's holy Word. When he entered "the sanctuary of God"....then it all began to make sense. The pleasures of sin are only for a season. The wages of sin is still death....but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord! For those who have placed their hope, their faith, and their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ- they have a better a matter of fact- THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!! Far be it from me to end on a sour note- so let's begin to rejoice with Asaph and end on a high note.

Psalm 73: 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

What shall we say to these things? Hallelujah to God!!!!

If you know truly is a wondeful life! If you don't know Him....why not give your life to Him today? Tomorrow may be too late....Jesus is coming soon!
God bless you this weekend!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What's in a Name?

This past Sunday in our church, I decided to read through some of the genealogy of Christ from Matthew's gospel. As a rule, genealogies (or lists of "begats" as we often quip) are not among my favorite devotional readings. We typically think of passages from Ephesians or Phillipians when we sit down to read something inspirational. Or maybe if we're feeling really adventurous, we might pick one of the characters from an Old Testament narrative and examine their walk with God (1st and 2nd Samuel seem to be among the favorites for most). Or you might even be one of those who thoroughly enjoy a good reading of Leviticus before work in the morning. But I'd be willing to bet that most of us conveniently skip over the genealogies of scripture (well maybe except for all of those faithfully praying the prayer of Jabez each day....sorry I couldn't resist).

But a careful examination of the names of scripture will often reveal some wonderful nuggets of theological truth. The Holy Spirit moved upon the men who wrote the pages of scripture. So that means that He superintended over even the name lists in the book. This alone is reason enough for us to have a reverence for the genealogies of scripture (despite my feeble attempts at humor earlier). I picked Matthew's gospel in particular because of 4 women that are mentioned early on in his "list." They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. I could spend lots of room here talking about the "generation" of Jesus Christ, or the fact that He is son of David, son of Abraham, etc. etc., but that's not my focus today. We could also talk about the reverse order of the genealogy- instead of working our way backward from Jesus, Matthew starts at the beginning, and shows the fact that these ancestors are dependant on Him who created all things and is the focal figure of human history. By Him were all things created and by Him all things consist (or hold together). One can quickly see the Sovereignty, or Providence, of God in the history of the Israeli nation and the lineage of the Messiah Jesus. Many genealogies of the day would include primarily male ancestors. The fact that Matthew (through the inspiration of the Spirit) includes these women is indeed a unique feature to the account.

Some commentators have noted that one would expect to see such female figures as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, (the matriarchs of the nation) but instead we find these 4 women of Gentile descent. First we have Tamar, who is remembered as one who disguised herself as a prostitute and had relations with her father-in-law. I encourage you to read the account in Genesis 38 because there are some other notable characters in her story, but time and space will not allow me to discuss the whole scenario here. Then we have Rahab "the harlot" (as she is referred to in scripture) as a name in this account. She is famous (not only because of her vocation) because she hid the spies sent by Joshua (chapter 2). Because of her act of kindness (and as we will later see it was an act of faith) she was spared when the Israelites invaded Jericho. She went on to become the mother of Boaz. Rahab, gets wonderful mention in the New Testament as well. The book of Hebrews tell us that it was Rahab's faith (Heb 11:31) that enabled her to courageously welcome the spies from Joshua's army. The book of James also records Rahab as an example of one who had a living faith accompanied by works (2:25).

Next, we come to Ruth who came from the land of Moab. She is probably best remembered for her response to her mother-in-law Naomi "your people will be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16). She is a picture of uncommon faith and loyalty- willing to leave her own familiar land and people to embrace the God of Israel. She ended up marrying Boaz (through an act of Providence once again and it is indeed a beautiful story of love and faith) and was the great-grandmother of King David. Finally we come to Bathsheba. Her role in one of the great "scandals" of the Old Testament can never be forgotten. We are almost all familiar with David's act of infidelity- he sees Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop (at the time when kings should be in battle no less) and desires her for himself. Only one problem- she is married to another man...Uriah the Hittite-a faithful soldier in David's army. The man "after God's own heart" a moment of weakness- takes Bathsheba for himself and becomes an accessory to Uriah's murder in an attempt to cover his guilt. This act brought the Divine judgment of God upon the house of David, and the love-child of David and Bathsheba died because of their disobedience. Nevertheless, she (Bathsheba) went on to become the mother of King Solomon, the wisest king until the time Christ walked the earth.

What can we learn from all of this? Well, I'm sure you've probably come up with your own conclusions, but I'd like to share just a few. First we see that the Gentiles have always been on the mind of God. In Galatians we read that the "gospel was preached unto Abraham" (Gal 3:8). We also see the important role that women have always played in scripture and in history. Many are tempted to believe that women are inferior to men in every way, but the bible shows that God values women every bit as much as man. Finally (and again this is not an exhaustive exegesis of Matthew's genealogy by any means), we see that even those with checkered-pasts and questionable backgrounds can be greatly used for God's purposes. We all too often forget that before God found us, we were all "dead in trespasses in sins" and as Ezekiel records "polluted in our own blood" (quite a graphic picture from Ezek. 16:6 isn't it?).

It would be a mistake to look at all the past failures and sins of these individuals as being endorsed by the Almighty. God never condones sin, nor does He wink at it. We are warned in Galatians that God is not mocked "whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." The point is not that God condoned all of their actions, but rather that He was able to take them, cleanse them from their iniquities, and give them a future- and a prominent role in the genealogy of the greatest figure in the history of mankind- Jesus Christ! Probably most of us struggle with some issue from our past. Perhaps it was a lifestyle of sin, maybe the way we were raised, the family that reared us, or some huge mistake that we have made due to error in judgment. We cannot do anything about the past- it is gone. What we can do is learn from our mistakes, ask God to cleanse us from the unrighteousness we have committed, and fully expect and trust that He will make something beautiful with the tapestry of our lives. God is all about redemption and reconciliation. Taking what seems to be a hopeless situation and making it beautiful. I suppose this is what Paul had in mind when he penned that famous line in Romans 8:28 " And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. "

I hope that you will be encouraged today as you realize that God has a plan for your life. Today can be a day of new beginning for you if you will only "make room" for Him during this holiday season.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Spiritual lessons from everyday life:

I realize that in my last blog (regrettably over a week ago since my last entry- sorry guys...a very busy time) I mentioned that I would like to blog a little about my studies in II Peter and Jude. Well, I still intend to come back to those themes, but I wanted to share something on a personal level with you. Last week (Friday in particular) is one of the biggest shopping events of the year. The local newspapers are crammed full of flyers which advertise super-bargains for the faithful who will brave the dark and cold and rain to stand outside for hours in line to get an elusive $200 laptop or perhaps a $100 iPod. (Never mind that most of the stores who advertise such specials typically only have a handful of the items in their retail the other 5000 people waiting in line don't get the "great deal")

Even though I'm usually a pretty content kind-a-guy, I even found myself salivating over some of the "marked-down" techo-gadgets in the sales papers. I almost had convinced my wife (and even tougher feat) to wake up with the roosters and go stand in line for the potential deal-of-a-lifetime. Well, Friday morning came...and my desire for sleep conquered my desire to get up and go stand in an eternal line at the local Best Buy. But the story doesn't end there......

Monday evening as I was driving home from work, I began to meditate on the whole Christmas shopping frenzy that we are now in the midst of. Without sounding super-spiritual, I must admit that I believe the Lord spoke to my spirit on the ride home. I began to think of my willingness (and that of doubtless thousands of others on that fateful Friday morning) to wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in line for an item that may or may not have even been in stock by the time you get in the door of the store. The wheels of my mind began to turn, and then I thought of the spiritual neglect and apathy that seems to engulf our culture. I'm always amused (and yet disgusted at the same time) at the myriad of excuses people give why they cannot serve God or at the very least attend the house of God. I often hear how busy people are, or how Sunday is the only day that they can get their rest (I'm a bi-vocational pastor who works 40 hours a week in addition to my pastoral that argument doesn't get very far with me...but I digress). I hear how family time is at a premium and so there just isn't enough space to do service on behalf of the Lord. And yet......

People are willing to sacrifice their sleep (some malls opened at 1 a.m on Friday morning to accomadate anxious shoppers) in order to do what they felt compelled to do. This post is not intended as a blast against anyone who participated in midnight madness (the retail version...not the college basketball phenomenon). I am readily admitting that I found myself caught up in the whole materialistic aspect of the Christmas season. But how willing am I to wake up before the break of day and enter my personal prayer closet? I was willing to go in search of something with uncertain promises and yet all of the promises of God are "yea and Amen." In the gospels, Jesus makes the statement "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I've come to the conclusion that .....we do what we want to do. So instead of all the excuses as to why we're not serving God in the manner that He has required...why don't we just admit that our desire for His presence is not on par with our desire for the things of this world? In James it is written "draw nigh to God...He will draw nigh to you." I'm convinced that we have as much or as little of His presence in our lives as we desire. I don't believe that God is witholding His blessing from us (unless we're in willful disobedience of course), but rather that our hunger and thirst for righteousness is not at a place to receive from Him. It seems from my reading of scripture that "hungering" and "thirsting" are prerequisites for receiving the power from on high.

God says that when we seek for Him with all of our hearts....we will find Him. Now I would much rather prefer a sure thing wouldn't you?

Blessings today!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Learning from the past

I've been conducting a study on the second epistle of Peter and the epistle of Jude. These books are extremely similar and they both have a very serious and apocalyptic tone to them. I hope to post some entries based on these two books in the coming days and weeks (good Lord willing). Today, I want to talk about learning from past examples. There are many Christians who hold a negative view towards the Old Testament. They feel that since we are under the New Covenant, we have no obligation to read/study the Old Testament scriptures. While it is true that we must read the Old Testament with the understanding of Christ's fulfillment of the law, it is a gross error to believe that somehow the Old Testament scriptures have lost their inspiration. For instance, we read in Hebrews that the Holy Ghost is still speaking (today) through the psalms (ref: Hebrews 3:7 & 15).

With that in mind, I'll jump into my subject matter for today. In the epistle of II Peter, he confronts the false teachers who are denying the coming of the Lord (the Parousia). In denying the reality of the second coming, they have also given themselves over to a lifestyle without restraint. As I have often mentioned- what we believe will ultimately work itself out in how we behave. Those who do not believe Christ will come again to judge the world will obviously be tempted to have a lax attitude towards the need for personal holiness and obedience to the commands of God. Peter gives his audience a brief history lesson to show how God has intervened in the past to bring judgement upon sinful rebellion. This is where we pick up in our text today:

II Peter 2: 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;
5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;

First, Peter reminds of the angelic rebellion led by Lucifer. Most Christians believe that a third of the angels fell with Lucifer. There are various theories that discuss the actual sinful behavior of the false angels (most surround an account in Genesis 6 but I'm not touching that one with a ten-foot pole today). We don't have a lot of the details of their rebellion, but we can accept that God did judge it nonetheless. He then shifts gears and brings us to the flood of Noah's day. The wickedness of man had reached epic porportions, but Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord". Finally, Peter cites the example of Sodom and Gomorrah as proof that God will judge the exceeding sinfulness of mankind. There are some who believe that Sodom was judged for a lack of hospitality, but I believe that this text (as well as Jude 7) reveal that they were judged for their immorality (primarily sexual in nature). We know that a spiritual principle is that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established", and here we have just that. Peter gives three examples in which God has judged the rebellion of both angels and men. We would do well to believe that He again is going to judge the world in righteousness.

Lest we should end on a bad note though, we should also remember that God rescued both Noah and Lot. Peter tells us that Lot (a righteous man) was delivered and that God knows indeed how to deliver the godly, and reserve the unjust for punishment.

II Peter 2:7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (NASB)

If we only go by the Genesis account, we can sometimes get the impression that Lot was a "man of the world." After all, he was in Sodom by his own choice and we find him in the gates of that wicked city. This text in Peter however, reveals that Lot's soul was tormented by the evil deeds of the men and women of his day. Although you and I have not arrived at a state of moral perfection, we are made righteous by the blood of Christ and a living relationship with Him. If you are a true Christian, then you must of necessity be tormented and vexed by the unlawful and immoral deeds of human beings in our day. We also have the great hope that Jesus will come again, and rescue us from this evil world before He pours out His wrath on them that know not God and those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.

May we learn today from history-learning that sin and disobedience bring judgment- and also that faithful obedience to Christ will bring deliverance from the wrath to come.

God bless you today!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (NKJV)

I apologize for the lack of activity in this blog lately. In my personal devotions, I feel as if the Lord has been speaking to me about this scripture I posted above. Of course I knew this was in the bible and have read it many times. For some reason the Lord really seemed to "quicken" this verse to me last week. I must admit that it brought about a solemn feeling of conviction to my own heart. I began to examine my own motivations for ministry as well as evaluate the way I am conducting the work of ministry.

Paul told Timothy to "make full proof of thy ministry." Another translation renders it "discharge all the duties of your ministry." Honestly and admittedly, there are certain aspects of ministry that I find more appealing than others. I don't particularly enjoy long counseling sessions, hospital visits, or administrative meetings. They are however, a necessary component to the work of ministry. On the other hand, I love to teach, to write, and to preach. These are also necessary aspects of ministerial work. But what about prayer? The disciples appointed 7 men full of the Holy Ghost to "serve tables" in the book of Acts so that they could dedicate themselves to ministry of the Word and to prayer. I believe that out of all the necessary disciplines of ministry- prayer is perhaps the most important. The one common denominator in both the apostles' and Jesus' ministry was prayer. We see that God did many miraculous wonderful things by the hands of the apostles, but we would be dishonest if we didn't see the obvious link between the power of God and the consistency and fervency of their prayer life.

James warns that those of us who enter the teaching and ministry put ourselves under a stricter category of judgement. Of course we realize that this calling must come from a Divine mandate. The scriptures declare "how shall they preach except they be sent." Paul says that necessity was laid upon him and "woe be unto him" if he preached not the gospel. There is no doubt that there must first be a calling from God-then and only then can we say "here am I Lord send me." But we should never enter and embrace this calling without understanding the accountability that comes along with it. We read in Matthew 7 that there are a group of individuals who will stand before the Lord and say "we have done many wonderful works in your name" and yet Christ will say to them "depart from me worker of iniquity....I never knew you." One thing that has always startled me about this passage is that these individuals seem genuinely surprised that they had failed the test!

Christ says that there will be a stricter judgement for those who know their Lord's will but do not do it. Merely hearing the Word isn't enough.....teaching the Word isn't enough....preaching the Word isn't enough...we must DO it! Paul told Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine carefully, for in doing so he would save both himself and his hearers! It is easier to keep a watch on one's public life. Most of us have mastered the ability to look holy in public. But I wonder how many of us can say with the Psalmist "I will walk within my house with a perfect heart, I will set no evil thing before my eyes." I often wonder how many gospel preachers can "bring the house down" with a fiery exegesis and homiletic style- only to go home to his family and let his temper run rampant in a house filled with clamor and evil speaking?

There are no easy answers, and I'm not writing today as one who has arrived. But one thing I can say for sure is that I'm thinking about my accountability factor a lot more lately. There will come a day when that which is whispered in the closet will be proclaimed upon the rooftops. At that day the "first will be last and the last will be first." Some will hear "well done thou good and faithful servant"....others "depart from me...I never knew you." My denomination has a program called the MAP which stands for Ministerial Affirmation Program. This program is designed to help men affirm their calling to the ministry. Ideally, it will weed out those who only have the desire to sign their paperwork with "Rev." in front of their names (yes, as silly as it sounds- there are some who have such a trifling view of ministry). Perhaps we should include a course on the stricter judgement awaiting those who do the work of ministry (especially teaching and preaching).

These are my random thoughts today- feel free to add your own.

God bless,

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Conflict Among Godly People

Acts 15:39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus

I'm very glad that we have this narrative account recorded in scripture. I know it may sound cliche' but I believe that everything in the bible is there for a reason. Luke (a masterful historian as well as a follower of Jesus Christ) was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record this for all Christians to read throughout the church age. I'm sure there are many opinions as to why this was included in the canon of scripture, but I think one important reason is that we see that godly, Spirit-filled leaders sometimes disagree (even to the point of separation). If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you have experienced conflict. Most ministers (unfortunately) spend much of their time on conflict resolution. We read books, attend seminars, and listen to sermons designed to help in "conflict management" (almost an oxymoron of a term if you ask me-anyone in the midst of a conflict will admit that it's anything but "manageable"...but I digress). Hopefully through this brief message, we will come to understand that sometimes conflict is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be destructive.

I think a little background might be in order here. We are introduced to Barnabas in the fourth chapter of Acts, where we read that he was called "son of encouragement" by the other Apostles. Without a doubt, this was a man who evidenced a Spirit-filled life. Interestingly enough, we find that Barnabas was one of the first guys among the Apostles who (for lack of a better term) "stuck out his neck" for Paul. I'm going to take for granted that most of us are familiar with Paul's background. Formerly a persecutor of the church, Jesus met him on the Damascus road and Saul of Tarsus had a dramatic conversion experience. Understandably, some of the others at Jerusalem were reluctant to trust that Paul truly was born-again and that this wasn't just some ploy to infiltrate their ranks and persecute them further. But we read that Barnabas was willing to embrace Paul and confirm that God's hand truly was upon him.

Acts 11: 22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch

It is evident that God's blessing was upon this ministerial alliance between Saul (Paul) and Barnabas because we read the the Holy Spirit commissioned them:

Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

So far so good....but a point of contention comes about due to another young minister named John Mark. (who just happens to be a cousin of Barnabas ref: Col 4:10).

We read that early on, Mark was a companion of these two great men.

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Acts 13:5 When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper (NASB).

For whatever reason, John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas in the mission and returned home. Perhaps the sea journey was too perilous or perhaps the threat of persecution or fear of the unknown was too much for Mark. In any event, we read that he abandoned them and went back home.

Acts 13:13 Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. (NASB)

Now that we have looked at some background information, let's fast-forward to Paul and Barnabas' disagreement. It can be found in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. Let's look at the narrative:

Acts 15:35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how they do. 37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

I think if we can look honestly at the text, we can see that both men might have had godly intentions where John Mark is concerned. Let's look from the perspective of Barnabas first. First of all, John Mark is a family member, and we all know that blood is thicker than water (usually). It is obvious from the name "son of encouragement" given to Barnabas, that he was a minister of great we all should be! It is not outlandish then to believe that Barnabas would have been willing to give Mark another chance at ministry. We can only speculate as to the shame and condemnation Mark might have felt after failing these two great giants of the faith (I know how I would have felt...about 2 feet tall!). Perhaps Barnabas felt like this would be a good opportunity to strengthen, encourage, and restore Mark to the ministry. I commend Barnabas for his willingness, because many are very unforgiving of those in the ministry when they fail. We must remember that the scripture says we should all take heed "lest we fall" when it comes to temptation- and restoration must be undertaken in "the spirit of meekness" considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted. But we can also see that Paul has legitimate concern(s) also.

Paul knows that suffering awaits him at every corner. He realizes that perils of robbers, countrymen, dictators, soldiers, Judaizers, etc. etc. await him at every turn. He has seen that Mark has already abandoned them once. For some of us, that's all it would take- we have the attitude of "I'll forgive but I won't forget!" (sound familiar?) And lest we be too hard on Paul, we must remember that Paul knows that we must "through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God." Apostolic missionary journeys were anything but pleasure trips (contrary to the luxury cruises that most televangelists advertise on their programs). Paul realizes that endurance and perserverance are absolutely essential to doing God's work. Paul had every right to be cautious and leery of Mark's participation in this ministry endeavour. What if he comes with them, gets frightened, and abandons them again? The results to both of them could be devastating!

We almost get the inference that the rest of the Apostles were siding with Paul on this one. Silas was chosen to accompany Paul and was "recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God." Furthermore, we read very little about Barnabas from this point on in the scriptures. However, we must be careful to note that Luke does not make derogatory remarks about Barnabas or Mark either. We have a tendency to demonize those who disagree with us in the church. Any work that we do for the Lord carries with it a great deal of emotional involvement. Faith in God is a deeply personal thing and I think that most true Christians seek to be led by God. When we feel like others do not share our particular leading or leaning, there is a tendency to recoil in anger and consider others to be "unChristian."

We all like happy endings (well most of us anyway), and apparently this story has a happy ending too. We next read about Mark in Paul's second letter to Timothy. We can all smile and have deep appreciation from what we read from the Apostle Paul at the end of his life.

II Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. (NASB)

We're kind of forced to fill in the blanks here. We're not completely certain what we can attribute Paul's change of heart to. One thing we can infer for certain is that Paul counted Mark as someone of value to his ministry in the final days of his life. At a point when apparently many had abandoned him (Demas comes to mind in particular), it's ironic that now Mark is useful to him.

In summary, we can see that sometimes even godly, Spirit-filled, called, anointed men and women can and do disagree. We need to allow the grace of God to operate in our lives to such a degree that we don't become bitter-we become better. Though we don't always understand why things happen as they do (for now we all see in a mirror dimly), we can trust that God works all things together for good to those that love Him and are the called according to His purpose. It is entirely plausible that in this particular situation, many more souls were reached as a result of Paul and Barnabas going in opposite directions. Sometimes even greater work can be accomplished when we spread out as opposed to sailing all on the same course. Jesus rebuked His disciples when they wanted to forbid others from casting out demons in His name. He quickly reminded them that there are only two sides in the great eternal conflict- light and darkness. We should all take heed in how we treat those who are in the army of the Lord. If you are facing a difficult conflict with another member of the body of Christ- I urge you today to allow the grace of God to release forgiveness in your heart. I could be wrong, but I fully expect to see both Paul and Barnabas rejoicing together on streets of gold one Day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ready to Give an Answer:

I Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (NASB)

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of doctrine-in addition to the emphasis which should be placed on obedience. This post will somewhat overlap my prior comments. The first epistle of Peter deals a good bit about the sufferings we are likely to experience as a Christian. Any true minister of the gospel will give you the good news along with the bad. We expect as much from our doctors don't we? If there is something gravely wrong that needs correction ,we wouldn't want them to sugarcoat the issue and ignore what otherwise might be a fixable problem. In many cases, the key to medical treatment for illness lies in the arena of early detection. Very few of us would prefer that our physician (after detecting an abnormality that could be treated and eradicated) lie to us and say "there's nothing wrong with you-you're the picture of health"....only to die of that condition months later. For some perhaps this type of ignorance is blissful, but I dare say the majority of us would opt for gentle honesty. Conversely, most people expect the exact opposite from pastors. Although death is certain... "it is appointed unto man once to die...after this the judgement"...many would much rather ignore this fact and go on and die in willful ignorance.

In light of the sufferings of this Christian life, Peter instructs his readers (including us) how we ought to respond to them. I won't go into all of the instructions on dealing with suffering (I would encourage you to read chapter 2 of this epistle which speaks of walking "in His steps") , but I do want to address the notion of giving a "defense" of the gospel. The greek word translated as defense here (in the KJV it is translated "answer") is "Apologia" from which we get our theological term "apologetic(s)". We should not think of this in terms of saying "I'm sorry" but rather giving a sound, reasonable, defense for why we believe as we do. The scripture says we are to do this with gentleness and reverence as opposed to a haughty, confrontational method. I can almost guarantee you that if you confront an agnostic/atheist with a "just the facts ma'am" approach then you are destined to fail. Paul says that the truth must be preached in love (Ephesians 4:15). Also keep in mind that people are rarely convinced by mere human argument (in fact, many are very adept at arguing their own positions and some know the bible better than many Christians unfortunately). Jesus said that it takes a new birth in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). He also very clearly says that "no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.." (John 6:44).

Any effort to make a defense without the help of the Holy Spirit is severely limited (at best). If you will remember when Jesus instructed His disciples as to how they should respond when brought before rulers, He did not tell them to get out a Greek lexicon but rather He gave these instructions:

Mark 13:11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

Of course this is no substitute for being prepared by rightly dividing the word of truth and by careful study of scripture. The Holy Spirit will often bring to our remembrance the things which we have heard and studied from God's word. Being a pastor gives me a unique perspective on these types of things, but I'm often astounded that people in my own church have no idea what they believe and why they believe it (despite hearing numerous sermons and participating in bible studies). In light of the suffering that we are destined and called to receive, being able to think through and intelligently explain the great truths of the faith will bring us (and others) great comfort in times of trouble. As I wrote in earlier articles "do you understand what you're reading?" and "the importance of doctrine", I ask you the question today- are you able to give a defense for your faith with gentleness and reverance?

Blessings in Him,

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"The Importance of Doctrine"

I Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (KJV)
I Timothy 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (NASB)
I Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of parallel reading of the scriptures. Sometimes things come out more clearly when you read a verse in several English translations. Each of these effectively capture the importance of keeping our doctrine straight (as well as our lives). Notice first that we are to "take heed" "pay close attention", or "watch" both of these areas closely. I'm always amazed and appalled at the careless attitude many Christians (and ministers I might add) take towards doctrine. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone in the church say "it's only doctrine- belief in Christ is the main thing." While the point is duly noted that without Christ there is no access to God, I think it is a tremendous insult to say that God's word to the church is of little or no value. Whether we like it or not- doctrine is in the bible- and it is for our edification, exhortation, and instruction!

Paul says we are to continue (or perservere) in the doctrines of scripture. We live in an hour of tremendous deception within the ranks of Christendom. Unity is placed at a premium, sensitivity to those who don't know Christ, and positive affirmation. All of those things have their place, but doctrine and behavior should be placed at a premium. After all, what we believe about Christ determines where we will spend eternity. Many believe that a man named Christ walked the earth, but not everyone believes that He is who He says He is (the Way, the Truth, the Life). Whether we would admit it or not, our doctrinal beliefs will affect how we behave. There is always an intrinsic link between belief and behavior (remember James says "faith without works is dead"). Paul speaks twice in Romans about the "obedience of faith" (interestingly enough they are found in the first and last chapters of a book dealing with the issue of justification by faith-I find it fascinating that Paul framed this book between these two sayings). Those who believe Christ could come at any moment will live their lives differently from those who have no expectation of His return (just count some time how many references there are to "watch" for His appearance). Those who believe in a rigid determinism will be tempted to pray less or put forth less effort from a practical standpoint because after all "everything's foreordained...therefore no need to pray."

We live in an hour of great doctrinal apostacy. Jesus Himself (when speaking about the signs of His return) said in the Olivet discourse "take heed that no man deceive you." Paul warned Timothy that the last days would be marked by "seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." Peter warned of false teachers who would "promise liberty, but they themselves are the servants of corruption." Jude warned of men ordained for the last days who would creep in and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. But we also live in a day of great personal apostacy. Paul warned the Thessalonians about a "great falling away" in the last days and that many would "depart from the faith" (I Timothy 4-both doctrinal AND moral apostacy). That's why Paul told Timothy not only to watch his doctrine...but his life! Paul told the Corinthians that he must "keep under his body" lest that by any means-after he had preached to others -he HIMSELF would be a castaway!

We have become so conditioned to never question anything that we often neglect careful examination of our lives and doctrine. I realize this is somewhat of a heavy post today, but I think we would do well to take an inventory of what we believe, what we are teaching others, and how we are behaving. Eternal souls hang in the balance- Paul said that by watching our lives and doctrine closely that we will both save ourselves and those who hear us. A sobering truth- but truth indeed. I'll leave you with a famous writing by Matthew Simpson called "the preacher":

"His throne is the pulpit; he stands in Christ's stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Saviour, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations, and what vast responsibility! "

Monday, October 17, 2005

"All things are yours"

I Corinthians 3:21 So then let no one boast in men For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (NASB)

All things are mine? What an interesting statement! I don't consider myself an authority on the letters to the Corinthians but I have always been fascinated with them. Although these guys seemed to have more problems than the average church, Paul spends a lot of time teaching them theological concepts. Thanks to them, we have a wonderful resource on spiritual gifts, marital relations, resurrection, love, and matters of conscience...just to name a few. Today I want to focus on this phrase "all things are yours." Chapter 3 deals largely with the partisan attitude displayed at Corinth. Some were "opposed to one" and "for another." (not unlike what we see today in our denominational circles). It seems Paul was always trying to stretch their narrow thinking (remember in another place he asked them "know ye not that we shall judge angels?"). Just like the Corinthians, it seems that we are forever missing the forest for the trees.

The devil loves to isolate us emotionally, and make us believe that we are out on an island somewhere (spiritually speaking). The truth however, is that we are citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, we are ambassadors for Christ, we are heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus! Regardless of denominational affiliation, geography, or demographics, we are all (if we're born again) members of the body of Christ. I believe one reason many ministers and Christians struggle is because they don't view themselves as being part of a much bigger picture. Some never think beyond their local church, or their neighborhood. Envy and strife are almost always the result of small thinking. We have been conditioned to believe that another person's success means our failure. We find it difficult to rejoice in the victories of others, and we feel isolated in our struggles.

Regardless of who you are or where you came from, all men and women struggle with the common temptations of man. None of us are exempt, and there is "no new thing under the sun." The Corinthians obviously didn't get the big picture that "all things" belonged to them. There was no need so shun Paul and embrace Cephas (Peter) ...or vice-versa. All of Christ's ministers and children are brethren and God uses us all in different ways. Wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same? To use an analogy from the sports world...there's no "I" in "T.E.A.M." We face a common enemy and we are soldiers in the same army. The ministry of Paul complimented the ministries of Peter and Apollos. So the next time you feel like opportunity has passed you by or that your life would be so much better "if only....". Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that all things are yours if you belong to Christ!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Honeycombs and Bitter things

Proverbs 27:7 A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. (NKJV)

I just finished eating lunch at one my favorite fast-food spots (yes, I know fast food is bad for you...but I'm cutting back....I promise!). As I sat down to my meal and blessed the food, I pondered upon this verse from the Proverbs. As I often do in public places, I found myself looking around at different people and wondering where they stand as far as eternity is concerned. It seems like everyone is going at a break-neck pace, rushing around, talking on cellphones, and in a hurry to go nowhere (of course I was eating rather quickly too so I could make it back to work before my lunch hour expired- so I hope that doesn't make me a hypocrite).

I remembered the years before I was saved. It seemed like there was always something out there that glittered brightly- always some promise of fulfillment from the next big "thing." Then sadly, dissapointment would settle in as I accomplished the goal or acquired the toy- only to find out that it really only brought temporary pleasure. Jesus said that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." How right He is! Even Christians find themselves with insatiable appetites. I always know that I'm in trouble when I become obsessive about material things or personal ambitions. The satisfied soul can say (with Paul) "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content" (Phillipians 4:11).

But to the hungry soul.....every bitter thing is sweet. Isn't it amazing how the devil can make even the filthiest things seem appealing when our soul is starved from the presence of God? I'm convinced that many men (and women) find themselves in places of compromise-not because they are vile and wicked people-but because they have failed to keep their souls fed with the manna from heaven. As the old hymn beautifully illustrates...when we "turn our eyes upon Jesus" the things of this world will grow "strangely dim." I ask you today- Are you full spiritually? Are you allowing Christ to fill your vessel with the oil of gladness and wells of living water? Or do you find yourself looking at every bitter thing as a potential delight.

Some things to muse on today.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Consider What I Say

2 Tim 2: 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. (NKJ)

This passage comes from what we commonly refer to as one of the "pastoral epistles" (I Tim, II Tim, & Titus). With that in mind, my target audience for this particular devotion are my brethren in ministry. This is NOT to say that this passage doesn't have universal application (and I hope for all the laymen reading this that you will glean from it as well)-however I want to encourage and exhort my fellow ministers. This book was written at a rather dark time in Paul's life. Not long before he would find his way to Nero's chopping block. This context makes what Paul says to young Timothy all the more powerful. How often do we face discouragement, weariness, and emotional distress, all the while soaking in our own mire of suffering? Paul could have easily found the time to feel sorry for himself (after all, you can't get much more pitiful than penning the words "all men forsook me" {II Tim 4:16} ). Nevertheless, he spent this precious time to pour into his young protege'.

He gives him 3 analogies to consider. First off, he reminds Timothy that a soldier cannot be bogged down with civilian affairs. Although we live in this world, our calling is a Divine mandate. Our business and citizenship is from above....our empowerment from the very Spirit of God! Let us never allow the affairs of this life (whether they be the everyday rituals of church business, or the anxieties and cares of this world) to interfere with the most important things in life. Sometimes we get so caught up in our "struggles" that we forget the words of Paul which state "for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (II Cor 4:17) (KJV)

The next allegory deals with an athlete striving for a crown-he will not win the prize unless he plays by the rules. There are no shortcuts to successful ministry , despite our religious impatience. Some may place personal ambition above integrity, but God is much more interested in our character than in our accomplishments. Paul said this to the Corinthian church:

1 Cor 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)

Finally, Paul uses the analogy of a farmer. Ministry is hard work.....period! Some mistakenly enter the ministry because they feel it would be easier than manual labor. Such men are merely hirelings-they are not truly called of God. Many are frustrated with the lack of results and fruit, but refuse to own up to their own laziness- the bible says that whatever we do for the Lord, we should "work at it with all your heart" (Col 3:23). God is not mocked- whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap! And we must not be weary in well-doing (I know a lot of burned-out and tired ministers and my heart goes out to them) for in due season we shall reap.....IF we faint not! To carry the lesson of the farmer one step further in closing- we must understand that ultimately the results are up to God.

1 Cor 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)

To all my ministerial colleagues (regardless of denominational affiliation)- I love you and appreciate you. I hope that you are encouraged as you read this. I hope that you will indeed take Paul's instructions and meditate upon these great truths. Hang in there Brethren- the world (and the church) desparately needs you in this hour-now more than ever.

2 Tim 2:7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.(NKJ)

Much love in Him,

† Henry

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Do you know?

I'm not sure how many sports fans out there who read this blog, but if you're familiar with the ESPN show called "Sportscenter" then you are aware of a segment on this show called "Did you know?" This segment usually contains a piece of trivia from sports history (usually something that happened on that particular date in history). I thought it might be interesting to share a parallel to this theme from the Bible. Numerous times we find the phrase "Know ye not?" or "Do you not know?" in the New Testament. The implication is that there are certain fundamental truths that we should be well aware of. I thought that it would be interesting for me to test your understanding of some of these biblical truths. Hopefully you will pass the test with flying colors! Let's begin the test by seeing if you truly know these things. I'll be quoting from the KJV because I like the way the phrase "know ye not" rolls off the tongue.

Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Jesus says that the parable of the sower is a foundational pillar of the faith. Everyone in the world fits within the categories of the 4 types of soil that Jesus described.

Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

So many Christians still don't understand that when they got saved- old things passed away, and ALL things have become new. The old man was buried with Christ and we are no longer "sinners" but saints.

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Paul uses the image of slavery to describe the bondage of sin. Christ said that "no man can serve two masters." If sin is our master.....then we are saying that Christ is not. Regardless of what popular preachers may say, sin still leads to death, and obedience leads to righteousness.

I Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Sadly, many still don't understand this truth. They think that the "temple" of God (or the "church" for that matter) is a building with stained-glass windows and a steeple. It's cliche' but I'm going to say it anyway- in the Old Testament, God had a temple for His people- in the New Testament, God has a people for His temple!

I Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

All it takes is ONE gossip to destroy a church family. All it takes is ONE act of immorality to destroy a man or woman's reputation. All it takes is a little bit of sin to destroy the annointing upon a congregation.

I Corinthians 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

Some Christians do not realize the magnitude of the authority and responsibility that will be given to us in the eternal Kingdom of God. The church at Corinth couldn't handle judgements on the smallest matters- Paul told them their thinking was too small-one day the world would be judged by them!

I Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind

Again, we have many today who still believe (and teach unfortunately) that sin is a way of life for the believer-some even go as far as to say that drunkards and sexually immoral people will be admitted into the kingdom. Paul goes on in this chapter to let them know that all things are not permissable for Kingdom heirs.

I Corinthians 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 6:16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

Did you know that if you're a Christian- wherever you go....Jesus goes! That is a sobering thought indeed. I wonder how many of us stop to think of how our behaviors affect Christ or grieve His Holy Spirit?

I Corinthians 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

Again, we are the temple of God- and furthermore...when we got saved- we gave up "our rights." Some Christians act as if they are calling the shots- the truth is that we no longer belong to ourselves!

I Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain

If we're going to win the race with patience and "endure unto the end" then we are going to have to run the race "lawfully" and within the boundaries that God has set forth, keeping our bodies in subjection just like the athletes.

James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God

Those who call for godly separation from the world are often mocked (granted, I'm not talking about withdrawing from society or becoming a Pharisee/Sadducee, monk, etc.) and ridiculed. But the fact remains that God will become the enemy of anyone who seeks to be in harmony with "the world" and all of it's various pleasures and systems. Never forget that satan is the "god of this world" (II Cor 4:4).

Well, that's the end of this part of the examination- how did you score?


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why are you laughing?

Genesis 18:12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old? 14"Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh." (NASB)

I think we can all relate (at least to some degree) to the story of Sarah and Abraham. Most of us have some issues in our prayer life that have yet to come to fulfillment. They may not be as extreme as a hundred year old man fathering a child, but they are issues that require faith and perserverance nonetheless. This incident in Genesis takes place after over 24 years have passed and the promise has yet to come to fruition. Abraham was 75 years old when the Lord first spoke to him (Gen 12:4). At age 86, Hagar bore him Ishmael (Gen 16:16). At age 99 we pick up at this story.

We look at this story and we find it humorous. But, how many of us have waited for so long for God's promises that now even the thought of our prayer ever being answered seems like a joke? If the Lord were to come to you today and tell you that you were on the brink of receiving the answer to the long-awaited promise what would you do? Honestly, you and I might be tempted to laugh....or even worse to scoff! (God forbid)

Sarah was embarrassed (not to mention scared to death) that the Lord heard her laughing (laughing to herself I might add). God knows that we get discouraged and sometimes we lose heart, but He is still asking the question "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" The answer of course, is an emphatic "NO"

Dear Brother/Sister in the Lord- don't lose heart today. What God has promised you He is more than able to perform. A day with the Lord is as a thousand years. You may have waited for days, weeks, or even 25 years but God has not forgotten His promise to you. We have assurance that in "due season" we will reap...if we faint not! Don't give up- you might be on the verge of your breakthrough.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Lessons From Bethesda

John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? (KJV)

As I studied for my sermon this past Sunday morning, I made a few observations from which (I believe) we can all glean some practical truth. First of all, we see that this group of afflicted individuals (the KJV called them "impotent folk") had enough sense to gather around a place where the miraculous frequently happened. I am always amazed at the level of spirituality the world is willing to display-meanwhile we sit in church and deny (or ignore) the possibility of God's power flowing among (and even through) us. The world will read horror-scopes, use tarot cards, carry good luck charms , and the like. They do this because they believe in an unseen "force" greater than themselves which guides the universe. Christianity is by nature, a religion of great power (no other religion can boast of resurrection power) and yet we seem either ashamed or ignorant of this truth. Thank God the folks at Bethesda knew where to go to get their needs met. Pastors and laypersons let me ask you a your church a spiritual "Bethesda"? A place where the hurting can come and find healing?

Next, I observed that although there were a "great multitude" of impotent folk laying around Bethesda....Jesus took note of one man (not unlike the Samaritan woman at the well). I believe we must never underestimate the power of one. We often think of meeting the needs of the multitudes but we minimize the importance of meeting the need(s) of an individual. Consider the contribution of Ananias (no not the bad guy Ananias-husband of Saphira but another one) in the book of Acts. Jesus appeared to him and told him to go minister to one person....the apostle Paul. I don't know much else of Ananias' ministry or how many multitudes he may or may not have preached to, but I think it would be hard to top the experience of laying hands on the great Apostle to the Gentiles!

Next, I observe what seems to be an absurd question...."wilt thou be made whole?" What do you mean by that Lord? "I've been waiting on my healing for 38 years" (I'm trying to fill in some of the blanks here). It almost seems like Jesus is telling us that we've been too comfortable with our dysfunctions! There is a certain peace that comes with the familiar. Some of us have been dysfunctional so long, we can't imagine what life would be like as a "whole" person. I've heard that many people who have been institutionalized for many years (such as those incarcerated in prison) ...if they ever are released....will do something that will put them right back into prison (or the hospital)...because there is a certain safety with "the familiar." Some things God has been dealing with us for years to get rid of, but we keep holding on and we wonder why things aren't getting any's time to wake-up!

Next, I notice the excuses provided by the man...."I have no put me in the pool"...."another steps down before me." Doesn't this sound like us? We are forever making excuses as to why we never get deliverance (in saying this, I'm not promoting a health & wealth gospel that proports that no Christian will ever be sick..I'm speaking primarily from a spiritual context). Why is it we often feel we need a mediator to get us into the presence of God ("I have no man...") ? And why does it seem like someone else always gets the breakthrough before us? ("another steps down before me..") Go back and read the story of Jairus' daughter again and take special note that the woman with the "issue of blood" gets her breakthrough and the child dies while Jesus is on His way to heal her.

Christ didn't even discuss the man's perceived limitations- He merely told him to do what (must have) seemed like the impossible..."rise, take up thy bed and walk". I wonder how many times we say that we're "waiting on God"....and the truth is that He is waiting for us to take a step of faith? (probably more than we would like to admit).

Of course the man carries the thing that used to carry him (the bed) and the religious order of the day are upset. We should always expect that those who are "of the flesh" will persecute those after the Spirit. Finally, Jesus searches out the man and says these famous words "sin no more lest a worse thing come unto thee." That sounds like a good title for another sermon doesn't it? How many people do you know who are playing a dangerous game of roulette with their souls?

These are my thoughts today-may the Lord bless you as you meditate upon His Word!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Do you understand what you're reading?

Acts 8:30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

I recently had a conversation with another church member over the telephone. As we talked about spiritual things, she made a remark that made me laugh....and made me think...and inspired me to write. She said (and this isn't word-for-word, but close enough since this is an anonymous source) "Yeah, I just got through reading a lot of good stuff in Romans but I can't really tell you what any of it means."

I wonder how much of a common occurance this is for born-again believers? How many times have we read over a passage-had no idea what it meant- and then we just leap-frogged onto the next chapter...only to find that the next time we run across the's still in the bible...and we still don't have a clue what it means? I know this used to be my approach when I was a young convert. I was very concerned with memorization, but not exremely concerned with application. Consequently, I got pretty good at quoting verses (shucks even whole chapters of smaller books)...but probably had no idea what many of them actually meant (in context).

I know that as a pastor I can preach a sermon with a definite aim or focus....and yet....I can have 5 different people come up to me and they have 5 totally different takes on what I was trying to say.....many times- nowhere near the intent of the message. I think the devil delights when we don't "understand what we're reading." (ref: Acts 8:30)

Thankfully the Ethiopian eunuch wasn't content with his misunderstanding of scripture. And as always, our faithful Lord had Philip at the right place at the right time to help guide. Clarity of the scriptures brought salvation to the Ethiopian man that day. I believe that for the diligent student of scripture, God will give that individual a clear understanding of His written Word. So the next time you're confronted with a difficult passage....instead of procrastinating and skipping over it- why not dig deep, pray, and let God give you the understanding? I wrote an article about this on my website- have a look if you're interested : Do you understand what you're reading?

Monday, September 26, 2005

"The Comparison Trap"

II Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise

I love the Corinthians. (It's evident that Paul loved these guys too!)

They seem to have had almost every conceivable "church problem." Seems like a biggie was due to factions in the church....not much different than today is it? Anyways...I want to focus on the last part of II Cor 10:12..."but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." We get in trouble almost EVERY time we try to compare or measure ourselves by anything other than the Word of God. We can err on either side of the equation.

We may look at others more carnal than ourselves (at least in our estimation) and judge that we are better off or spiritually superior. It is easy to preach with fervor and zeal against the things we have no affinity for. When we use other men and women as a measuring rod....we have no true plumb line. God's Word is the standard by which we will all be judged and we would do well to look to it for a true reflection or indicator of our spirituality since the Word is a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb 4:12)

There is another error we must guard against-an inferiority complex based on the perceived success of others. The older I get, the more I realize that the grass usually isn't greener on the other side. How often do we look at the success of others and deem ourselves failures because we are on a (perceived) lower level? We rarely take into account the sacrifices these individuals have made and we rarely consider that to whom much is given "much is required" (Luke 12:48). With greater promotion comes greater responsibility. Sometimes we are not at a level of maturity to handle "greater things" and so God in His mercy allows our character to develop before we are thrust into greater responsibility. Consider the life of Joseph; had he never experienced the sufferings at the hands of others, would he have been qualified to be the "prince of Egypt?"

There is no room for jealousy/envy in the body of Christ. God has given each one of us gifts according to our abilities (Matthew 25:15). So if God has entrusted me with 5 talents...then I shouldn't get all bent out of shape comparing myself to the guy with ten. Likewise I shouldn't look at the guy with one talent and "think more highly of myself than I ought." (Romans 12:3)

Just my thoughts today...I welcome your comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

I Timothy 5:21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality

As I was reading this scripture the other day, the thought occurred to I really observe every area of my life (especially ministry) without partiality? We are warned numerous times in scripture not to be a "respector of persons." I suppose it is easy to just give a pat answer and say "I would never do that"...but I fear that like most sins....the sin of partiality may be more evident in our lives than what we would like to admit. Christ warned of things that are "within" a man's heart that would defile him. We often look at the sins which are so easily outwardly manifested and condemn them (drunkenness, adultery, murder, etc.)...but we cleverly and conveniently overlook the inward (invisible) sins of pride, envy, and partiality.

In Paul's charge to Timothy above, he says that the Father, the Son, and the angels were observing what he was about to say. This tells me that all of heaven is offended when we partake in the sin of partiality. I am a pastor, so these things take special significance for me. I must always be on guard against the sins of partiality. The individual in the church who pays the biggest tithe is no more important that the widow who casts in out of her penury. The man from a prominent family is no more important than the man who can offer me nothing in the way of political advancement.

In Paul's charge to Timothy he also says "them that sin rebuke before all that others may fear." This means that I cannot rail against the sins of those "under me" (as if we should really have a sharp clergy/laity distinction anyway) while sweeping the sins of my fellow ministers (or myself for that matter) under the rug. I wonder how many of our actions have impure motivations? Do we associate with a certain group of people, hoping to gain influence with them and others? Or do we serve unselfishly and give to those who cannot repay us (monetarily or politically?)

These are some things I'm thinking about this week....and seeing where I line up or fall short in this regard. May we all do everything "without partiality."