Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Oh what a weariness!"

Mal 1:13 Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.

The book of Malachi challenges both the priests and the laymen. In typical fashion, the prophet (Malachi's name means "my messenger") calls the people to personal responsibility. The LORD has some hard things to say to these people (the priests in particular for starters). But before He rebukes them for their iniquities, He reminds them of His love.

Mal 1:2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob (KJV)

Israel could look to their preservation and election as a nation as proof that God loved them. We can look to an even greater demonstration of God's love for us. It can be found in the book of Romans. For many of us, love is an abstract concept. When the modern mind thinks of love, it often thinks of emotion. Certainly love involves emotion, but the biblical concept of love also is defined by action. One of the most frequently quoted passages of scripture in weddings comes from I Corinthians chapter 13. What I find interesting is that Paul describes love (the biblical kind of love) in terms of demonstration. What does love look like? It is kind, patient, not insisting on its own way, etc. etc. It should come as no surprise, that when Paul describes God's love to the Roman church he also speaks in terms of action:

Rom 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)


Now, back to Malachi for a moment. As we read further into the first chapter, we learn that the priests had become disillusioned with working for God and ministering on behalf of the people. They decided that God's standards were too high, and they had no intentions of honoring them. (ref Mal 1:7,8). They were content with giving God a type of sub-standard service that they would never dream of giving to a mere earthly ruler (Mal 1:8b).

Apparently this didn't happen overnight. As is the case with many of us, it probably happened by degrees. When they are called into account, they sincerely ask the question "How have we despised your name?" (Mal 1:6b). I believe at times we suffer from the same spiritual apathy and lethargy that they experienced. How do we go from being passionate about our walk with Christ to the attitude of "oh what a weariness"? Probably easier, than one might expect!


Religion is not a dirty word. As a matter of fact, James says that we must have a "pure religion" (James 1:27) that is more than simply lip-service. Having said that though, there is an inherent danger that we must guard against. Our religious duties can become so routine and ritual, that we simply go lifelessly through the motions. For many, Christianity has become nothing more than "attending church", singing a few choruses, hearing a sermon (often with little scriptural content) and then punching out until the next time we "clock in" for duty. After a while, even these disciplines will become a weariness to us. Instead of earnest prayer, we will say "what a weariness!". Instead of gathering to fellowship with other believers we will respond "I'm just too tired".

So what is the solution? I believe the prophet Malachi's method of delivering the message from God was intentional. How do we go from frustration, discontentment, and apathy, to passionate worship and service again? I believe the answer is love. Now here is where a little honesty will go a long way. Do you know what the Israelites said when God told them He loved them? In case you didn't know, I'll show you:


Mal 1:2 "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob (ESV)


Now before you jump all over their case and say "how could they say such a thing?"....take an inventory of how we handle disappointment(s). There are times in life when our present circumstances do not appear to line up with our ideas of love. There are times when situational outcomes do not meet our expectations. Often there are periods of long waiting in -between prayers and answers (or manifestations of the answers). Perhaps this is why Paul cautioned us not to be "weary in well-doing" (Gal 6:9).

This is when we have to go back to the beginning and warm ourselves in the fires of God's love. God reminded them about how He had preserved them as a nation (leading them out of Egyptian bondage, meeting them on Mt. Sinai & giving them the law, bringing them back from Babylonian captivity and allowing them to rebuild the temple, etc, etc.). We have to remember too, that God loved us when we were terribly unlovable (Romans 5:8). Furthermore, God (through Paul) reminds us that we must NEVER gauge His love for us based on present circumstances (which are always subject to change!!!!).



Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Rom 8:36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.


Maybe you are at that place of weariness today. Consider this your friendly reminder that God loves you! And consider it an exhortation to give God your very best. Not just because He's worthy (which He certainly is!) but because you love Him so much and He loves you with an everlasting love!

Until next time.....




Monday, September 21, 2009

Snapshots in Time

Col 4:10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) Col 4:11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me. Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Col 4:13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Col 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. (KJV)

We recently finished a study of the book of Colossians. Sections like this one often prove difficult from a teaching standpoint. After all, it's just a collection of final greetings and salutations right? Or maybe....a snapshot in time. Have you ever looked at an older photo of yourself and wished you could go back in time? Or maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum, and you're thankful for the changes in appearance the years have provided. Regardless of your personal preferences, one thing remains the same- life is filled with change!

There are several names listed above, but I'm just going to deal with two of them- Mark (Marcus/John-Mark) and Demas. In order to fill in the gaps with their stories, it will require us to go outside of the book of Colossians. First, we'll look at the story of Mark. Now Paul singles out Mark (Col 4:10) and instructs the church people to "receive him". What could possibly require this extra emphasis on John Mark? We get a glimpse into Mark's story from the book of Acts. We'll begin there.

In Acts 12:25, we find that John Mark became a companion to Paul and his cousin Barnabas. In Acts 13:13, we see that Mark abandons Paul and Barnabas and returns to Jerusalem (obviously many of the details in this story do not appear in this blog and I'm giving you a very very brief survey of what happened). Acts 15 records a split that occurs between Paul and Barnabas. And, as you might have guessed, Mark is the major point of contention. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin Mark along on their mission, but Paul felt like it was a bad idea, probably in light of Mark's earlier desertion (Acts 15:36-39).

When we read the closing remarks of Paul in Colossians, obviously the two of them had been able to overcome their obstacles. Paul instructs/commands the Colossians to receive Mark in the event of his arrival. Paul's second letter to Timothy also reinforces the idea that Mark became a valuable member of Paul's ministry team:

2Ti 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (KJV)

Now, as a contrast- let's look at Demas and his story. We have even fewer details about Demas, but we have enough to see that something had changed for Demas as well. Again, we'll go outside of the book of Colossians and look at two other mentions of Demas. First, we'll look at Philemon.

Phm 1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
Phm 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

We see some names familiar to the benediction in Colossians- Aristarchus, Mark, and Dr. Luke (as I affectionately call him). Demas is referred to as one of Paul's "fellow-laborers" (in the Greek, the word is sunergos- probably where we derive our English word "Synergy"). The idea is a companion, helper, or work-fellow. The word is used in I Cor 3:9 to describe our partnership with God in the labor of the Gospel. The point is that Demas was an important component of Paul's ministry team.

Unlike Mark however, Demas's story (at least as it is recorded in Scripture) does not have nearly the happy ending. In some of Paul's last penned words, we find this description of Demas:

2Ti 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

Colossians is what I call the "happy snapshot" for Mark and Demas. Acts records Mark's failure, and II Timothy records Demas's failure. Somewhere in between those two is a benediction in a letter to a group of believers in Colosse. Mark appears to finish well, and Demas appears to finish poorly (this blog is not an attempt to judge Demas, merely to evaluate what is written in the texts- only God knows what happened to Demas and this writer is content to leave those details up to the Just Judge of all).

So what may appear to be simply a random collection of hello's and goodbyes might actually teach us a valuable theological truth. Every day provides an opportunity for choices to be made. The failures of the past are exactly that- the past. We cannot change them, but we can learn from them, and hopefully not repeat them. God is willing to give us (just like John Mark) another chance at getting things right. Conversely, a good start doesn't guarantee a good finish. We cannot rest on the accomplishments of the past as proof positive that we will end well. But we can be certain that God will be faithful to us no matter what. So take a look at your spiritual "yearbook" today. In what ways have you grown since your conversion? In what ways have you progressed, or perhaps regressed?

Php 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Putting Off, Putting On, and Putting Up

Col 3:12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, Col 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (ESV)

In my last blog entry, I discussed some of the practical implications of a new life in Christ. There is a dynamic tension that exists with so many biblical truths. For instance, we are admonished to "put off" those things that are incompatible with new life in Jesus. But positively, we are to "put on" those qualities that are consistent with our new nature in Christ. There are a few things I want to discuss about the passage of scripture listed above today.

First of all, notice that these qualities or attributes that we are to "put on" are identical to the nature of God. Humility, kindness, compassion, forgiveness- these are all Divine attributes. Perhaps it could be said that we are most like Him, when we display these lovely characteristics. It goes without saying, that these attributes do not seem to come about naturally for us. In fact, they are quite a struggle without the help of the Holy Spirit (especially that stuff about "bearing with one another"). Thankfully, we are not left on our own to develop these attributes, but rather we are encouraged to put them on. They are available to us based on our relationship with Christ. They are His attributes- and ours....because we are...."in Christ" and Christ is "in us" (Colossians 1:27).

There is certainly a theme that should be obvious from Colossians 3:12-14. Having a relationship with God, involves interacting with other people! Some of the greatest challenges to our sanctification will arise from our ability (or inability) to relate well to others within the community of faith. I encourage you to read and meditate on this small passage of scripture in the coming days. After reading verses 12-14, you should come away with this conclusion; there is no personal conflict that the church faces that it cannot overcome!!!

Sadly, many of us tend to paint the church with a brush of idealism. Paul is a realist, but he's also an optimist. Not blind optimism, based simply on some notion of luck that magically all will simply "work out in the end". But rather an optimism based on the ability of God's grace to intervene and heal any given situation. Look at the scenarios Paul presents- putting up with each other's attitudes- dealing with complaints and quarrels with one another. Does it happen in the church? You betcha!

So how do we overcome these things individually and corporately? We must constantly remind ourselves that we are the beneficiaries of longsuffering, gentleness, humility, kindness, forbearance, and (thank God!) forgiveness. Paul reminded the Colossians that Christ had forgiven them, and thus they have a command to forgive one another.

I don't know about you, but I've been sufficiently challenged by all of this. Until next time....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Walking Where You Live

I recently completed an online survey which claims to find the perfect city to match your lifestyle. I was somewhat surprised by the results (which I won't share here), but I understand how the website calculated the results. Based on a series of questions about your personality and preferences, the program is able to generate a response with some degree of accuracy. For example, people who enjoy mountain climbing are less likely to be a perfect fit for a beachfront condo. Likewise, those who love watersports probably wouldn't pick the Great Plains as their ideal dwelling place. So what does any of this have to do with theology you ask?

I mentioned in my last blog that we're studying the book of Colossians. I thought it would be proper to pick up where we left off last week. The Colossians were given a nice theology lesson about the supremacy of Christ (and consequently the futility of angelic worship and asceticism). Now, as is often the case, Paul shifts from the doctrinal to the ethical. That's not to say there is a huge dichotomy between the two- really there isn't. What you believe will determine how you behave. Now that the Colossians are fully versed in Christology, they will also be introduced into the ethical demands of that theology. Again, doctrine and praxis are closely linked in the bible. Paul will go on to use a clothing metaphor to describe the contrast between the old man and the new man. Hence, he says there are things we must "put off", and subsequently things we must "put on".

But today, I want to draw your attention to a phrase found in the 7th verse of the 3rd chapter:

Col 3:7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

Paul has just described some things which are incompatible with new life in Christ ; sexual immorality, lust, covetousness (which is linked with idolatry). And lest we think God winks at those things, Paul reminds us that they bring about the wrath of God (Col 3:6). Now before we start pointing fingers and constructing soapboxes, let's not forget that Paul says that's the way we used to be. The major difference is that we no longer "live" there anymore. One of the reasons people find it so difficult to live the ethical demands of the bible is because they don't "live" there. And we are going to "walk" where we "live". Let me further illustrate:

Gal 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

In Galatians chapter 5, Paul contrasts the "works of the flesh" with the "fruit of the Spirit". Admittedly, the fruit of the Spirit listed there, sets the bar pretty high. And the only way we can "walk in the Spirit" is if we "live" in the Spirit. It's about having a new nature-not one that is incapable of sinning or falling short of the mark- but one that has been radically transformed from above. I'm convinced we have many people who come to our churches week after week, and seemingly never are able to "walk" straight. Instead, their walk is a continual reflection of the works of the flesh. It could be (and I'm speculating here) that they are simply walking where they live.

It would be natural to see a man or woman with a surfboard at the beach. But a man with ice skates on at the beach would likely be laughed to scorn. Romans 7 is a depiction of what life is like without the Spirit. And sadly, this is the place so many are at; trying desperately to live a life of victory, but feeling hopeless. But the clouds part in chapter 8, and Paul describes life in the Spirit. He begins with these words:

Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

So how then, do these individuals walk after the Spirit? It is precisely because they "live" in the Spirit.

Rom 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Rom 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)

So I want to ask you this question today: where do you live? Because where you live, will determine where (and how) you walk. Maybe next time we'll get more into the clothing metaphor of Colossians 3. But this is enough for me to chew on for now. In case you haven't figured this out yet- this blog is less about me pontificating from a soapbox, and more about allowing you to read over my shoulder as I ponder the truths of scripture. I hope that you're blessed along the way.

Until next time....

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not"

Col 2:21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;) (KJV)

We're studying the book of Colossians at LWC. This book reminds us that we are complete in Christ. He is all we really need, and the source of all wisdom. Apparently some false teachers had gained some traction in the church there, and were introducing some erroneous ideas. And it appears one of their mantras was "touch not, taste not, handle not". They had a unique brand of asceticism that they wanted everyone else to adopt in order to be a "real" disciple. Asceticism (in case you are not familiar with this term), is basically defined as rigorous self-denial or abstinence from certain things. In a theological sense, it usually carries with it the idea that a person can become a "better" Christian by adopting these disciplines.

It is important that we have balance in our theology. We have a tendency to polarize certain issues that we are passionate about. When we use or hear the phrase "doctrines of devils"- we typically think of doctrines of excessive indulgence and liberty. To that end, Jude warns that we must not "change the grace of God into a license for immorality"(Jude 4 NKJV). And Paul also was quick to point out that the appearance of grace didn't mean the end of holy living:

Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. (KJV)

However, when the bible speaks of doctrines of devils, it can also refer to doctrines of abstinence. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he warned him about these dangerous teachings that would infiltrate the church, and attempt to take the focus off of Christ, and put it on rules of rigid abstinence that God didn't command.

1 Tim 4:1-3
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (KJV)

I think most of us are familiar with the concept that it is dangerous to take away from what God says. But equally dangerous, is the notion that we can add to what God has said, and make rules and regulations where there are none. (Prov 30:5-6, Rev 22:18)

The irony of this discussion, is that this rigid asceticism actually provides no lasting benefits to resisting the urges of the flesh. Look at what Paul says to the Colossians regarding their "touch not, taste not, handle not" approach to denying the flesh:

Col 2:23
23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (NKJ)

There are things the bible says we should abstain from. Abstinence in and of itself is not a bad thing. The error we must guard against however, is the idea that a rigid self-denial can somehow supplement or supplant the sufficiency of Christ (I didn't mean to use such alliteration in that phrase, but it flowed nicely). If we follow Christ and obey the Word of God, we will have enough to keep us busy without having to add anything else. Let me leave you with Paul's statement of Christ's sufficiency.

Col 2:9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (NKJ)

Until next time....

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Gourd of the Lord

Jonah 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
(KJV)

Today, we're going to take a final look at the book of Jonah. We opened this series of blogs by talking about 3 things the Lord did. And guess what.....that's how we're going to end it too! When we last left Jonah, he had preached his message of destruction, and the people of Nineveh responded by turning to God in repentance. Subsequently, God turned from His intentions and pardoned the people of Nineveh. Jonah should be happy now, right? Not exactly.

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. (KJV)

I won't spend much time dealing with Jonah's shallow and selfish response. But I will say this; there are times when our expectations and God's will don't converge. Yes, there are some who say if you simply have enough faith, you can make anything happen by saying the magic words or following the right formula(s). This too, is a shallow expression of faith. From our vantage point, it is often difficult to understand the "big picture". Jonah had just experienced the "altar call" of a lifetime. He saw more converts in one day than many of us will see in a lifetime. But he wasn't happy. He obviously didn't "get it".

At this point, we might expect the ground to open up and swallow Jonah alive. How dare he take such an attitude, after God went to such great lengths to preserve him for this very mission. But, as is always the case- God is much more merciful than we give Him credit for. Even in the midst of Jonah's pity party, God is doing a redemptive work and teaching a lesson. So let's look quickly at 3 things that the Lord did.

#1- God prepared a gourd (4:6)- This gourd provided shade from the intense heat of the day. Psalm 145:9a says "The Lord is good to all". Jesus says that God sends sun and rain on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). God is good to everyone! When we see injustice, we often ask the question "why do bad things happen to good people?". Such questioning ignores the fact that God allows good things to happen to everyone- regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

#2- God prepares a worm (4:7)- The worm reminds us not to hold too tightly to the things of this world. Paul told the Corinthians that all that we see in the material world is temporary (2 Cor 4:18). Life is filled with change and various seasons. Our lives can easily be devoted to the temporal. I recently had a laptop failure which reminded me how quickly years worth of work can be lost forever (here's a friendly reminder to always back up your data!). Ask yourself this question- how much of your time do you devote to issues of no eternal value? Obviously, I'm not suggesting that we spend every waking moment teaching or preaching. It is my opinion that God wants us to enjoy life- not simply endure it. But where are our priorities?

#3- God prepared a wind (4:8)- The wind reminds us that our only defense is faith in God. Our security does not rest in the amount of possessions we can amass in this life. We can do our best to insulate ourselves from disaster, but truly our lives are in God's hands. The gourd of yesterday, can be destroyed by the worm of today- offering no protection from the winds of tomorrow.

All of this makes Jonah wish for death. Again, at this point, we might expect the Lord to simply grant his request. At the very least, we might expect Divine silence. Instead, the Lord engages Jonah in dialogue (4:9). He explains to Jonah that the gourd was an object lesson. Jonah's priorities were totally askew. He had no concern for the thousands of innocent children living in Nineveh. He seemed only concerned about his reputation, the "unfortunate" repentance of the people of Nineveh, and of course- the withering of the gourd.

We are a culture of stress and anxiety. Some of our fears may be legitimate. Some of our anxieties may well be warranted. I would be lying if I said I never experienced either of them, so I don't stand in judgment of you today. But I want us to take an inventory today, and see where our priorities stand. How much of our time is spent in frustration and anger because our expectations and God's will don't seem to be on parallel tracks? Could it be that God is using us in a way that we despise and yet it's for the greater good?

The book of Jonah has always left me a little uneasy because of the ending. We don't end this book with a benediction, a hymn, or an Amen. The book ends with a question. Just as Jonah was left with the question, so are we. In light of God's love for all mankind, what are we going to do about it?

Until next time...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick update & random remarks


I apologize for the hiatus since my last post. A few weeks ago, I took a much-needed vacation to beautiful Longboat Key Florida. I've always been fond of sunsets, and this trip provided a few great photo opportunities. This one was taken with my cell phone, which isn't exactly the best quality, but still conveys the great scenery there. Truly one of the most beautiful places on the Gulf coast!

I want to blog about other things, but feel like I need to wrap up the series on Jonah. So look for that next, and then we'll look at some other topics in the coming days. I had to move my sermon podcast, because my previous host decided to vanish from the web without notice. The new podcast site is http://libertywc.podbean.com and the feed is http://libertywc.podbean.com/feed if you decide to subscribe that way. I lost all of the episodes on the previous podcast, so right now there's only one message uploaded....but more to come! Thanks for your patience. The podcast should have iTunes subscription capability within the next week or so.

I've been working on a lot of things this summer, including recording my first instrumental CD of original music I've written on the guitar. I've met some wonderful people during this process, and I appreciate all of the feedback and support I've received during this time. And it's always neat to hear from people who are familiar with my ministry. If you interact on the social networks on the web, feel free to add me as a friend on myspace http://myspace.com/henryhaneyjr , or Facebook http://facebook.com/henryhaney . I'm not a robust 'tweeter', but I do occasionally update on Twitter, so you can follow me there at http://twitter.com/henryhaney if you want to as well.

Well, that about wraps up my random thoughts early on this Saturday morning. I hope to hear from you soon. As always, I appreciate your prayerful support. I sincerely covet your prayers as Pam and I endeavor to do the work of the Lord in these last days. God bless you!

Until next time....

Friday, July 03, 2009

Who can tell what God will do?

Jonah 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

We will continue today in our installment of blogs regarding Jonah. The story of Jonah is truly remarkable on so many levels. The mercy and grace of God often gets overshadowed in discussions about Jonah's ride in the big fish. When Jonah was finally released from the belly of the fish, a revival of biblical proportions took place. Jesus says that Jonah's arrival in Nineveh was a "sign" to the people (Luke 11:30). This prophet of God arrived in the city with a message of destruction; "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown". Jonah's message was not of the "repent or else" variety. It was merely a pronouncement of impending calamity.

And yet something remarkable happened. This city known for its wickedness and opposition towards the people of God had a great awakening. The king of Nineveh proclaimed a fast and instructed the people to "cry mightily unto God". When we fast-forward to the end of the chapter (3), we see that God changed his intentions based on their response. The book of Jonah sometimes presents a problem for those of us who demand that every ounce of theology be systematic. In this book, a prophet's message of doom does not come to pass. In this book, God changes his course of action based on human response. Did this take God by surprise? Of course not. But this shows that a relationship with God is dynamic- not static!

For me, one of the highlights of chapter 3 is this example of the king of Nineveh taking a chance on God's mercy. Remember that the people of Nineveh had no guarantee that anything would change their outcome. At this point, they could have simply mocked Jonah, or taken the attitude of "let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (I Cor 15:32b). But instead, they risk everything and cast their hopes upon the mercy of God. And they were not disappointed! Now contrast the people of Nineveh (those who had no promises or guarantees) with believers in Jesus Christ (those who have been given "exceeding great and precious promises" -2 Peter 1:4).

You cannot go wrong with God. Among our greatest fears, is the fear of rejection. But we have some wonderful and comforting promises from scripture that I want to share with you in closing.

Joh 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Jam 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Salvation Is Of The Lord

Jon 2:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.

Last week we talked about 3 things that the Lord did on Jonah's behalf. This week we're going to look at Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish. Jonah's prayer reads like a survey of the Psalms. If you have a reference bible, you will see that the prayer in Jonah chapter 2 contains many quotations from the Psalms. I won't bore you with providing all of the references- check them out for yourself! I do want to bring a few things to your attention however, and here they are:
Jon 2:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.

Remember how we emphasized the great lengths God went to in order to deal with this one reluctant prophet last week? Here, Jonah acknowledged that it was truly the LORD who threw him overboard (He just used the men on the boat as His hands and feet). So often we fail to see God's redemptive hand print on our lives. Jonah had some time to reflect on his situation, and acknowledged that God has a way of bringing us where He wants us to be.
Jon 2:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

Jonah's current situation is dark, uncertain, and probably smelly! But in his prayer, he demonstrates faith that things will work out in the end. Jesus instructs us that when we pray, we should indeed believe that we will receive those petitions that we desire (Mark 11:24). Jonah probably had no verbal guarantees that he was going to worship in the temple again, but he had a confidence in the abilities of God. Many of us have a "wait-and-see" attitude towards faith, but the true order of faith is believe-then-see .
Jon 2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

This is the tragedy of a life lived independent of God's will. One of my favorite teachers on prayer is Douglas Small. I once heard Mr. Small say (regarding prayer and the lack thereof) that often God is more disappointed for us, than He is "in us". Jonah's statement about those who observe or regard false ideologies is revealing. Those who do so, forfeit what could be theirs, if they would only receive it by faith. I'm reminded of how Jesus wept over Jerusalem and lamented their rejection of His offer of peace (Luke 19:41-42).
Jon 2:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.

Jonah praised God for his deliverance, and is ready to fulfill his obligations. He also confesses that salvation is all God's idea. This is Good News for each one of us. The bible declares that while we were yet sinners, alienated from God, unable to do anything about our plight- Jesus died for our sins! (please see Romans 5:6-8). We love Him today, because He first loved us! (I John 4:19). God took the initiative to save Jonah, even though Jonah ran as far as he could in the opposite direction.

In the dark confinement of the belly of a fish, Jonah reflected on some pretty deep theological concepts. No matter how dark or lonely your situation is, please don't stop praying. We too, will realize (through prayer) that God is always at work in our lives redemptively, even through the most painful of processes.

Until next time....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jonah and 3 Things the Lord Did

Jon 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Even if you're not a theologian, you are probably somewhat familiar with the story of Jonah and the big fish. I guess it's only natural that the idea of a man living inside of a fish for several days captivates us. Now before you relegate this story as merely an allegory, understand that Jesus (the Son of God) interpreted the story of Jonah as being historically accurate and literal.

Mat 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.

So not only does Jesus validate the preaching and repentance that took place in Nineveh, but He also confirms the account of Jonah in the belly of the whale. Ok- now that I've gotten that out of the way....let's proceed!

The story of Jonah and the big fish is typically applied as simply a man running from God, and God getting him to do His will. There are many preachers who can relate to the story of Jonah because they wanted to do everything else but preach the Gospel, until God finally arrested them. But I have grown to appreciate the story of Jonah beyond the obvious implications of a man running from God. To me, it's a story about a God far more Sovereign than we could ever imagine- far more merciful than we could ever deserve, and far more loving than our finite minds could ever try to comprehend (try as we might)! I'm not going to address Jonah's "vacation" to Tarshish today. Instead, I'm going to focus on 3 things the Lord did in chapter 1 of Jonah.

#1- God sent a storm

Jon 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

This was no ordinary storm. This was not a result of atmospheric conditions being optimal for storm-production. This was a "Sovereign Storm". Now the beautiful thing about this storm, is that God designed the storm to save Jonah. Jonah has run as far as he can in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to be. But instead of allowing Jonah to "do his own thing", God pursues him. I don't enjoy the storms of life any more than you do. But I'm learning (ever so slowly) that God uses the difficulties of life to bring us closer to Him- not to destroy us!

#2- God caused the lot to fall on Jonah

Jon 1:7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

These pagan men on the boat with Jonah were crying out to their gods and decided to use the method of lot-casting to discern who was the troublemaker. God intends for Jonah to go overboard, so the lot falls on Jonah. There is an interesting scripture in Proverbs that illustrates this point:

Pro 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

Sometimes what seems like such a random occurrence, is not a coincidence at all! God orchestrates the events of our lives and uses whatever methods He deems necessary to get us where He wants us to be. (disclaimer: this should not be used as a proof-text for the divine approval of casting lots for decision making....it probably goes without saying but just in case.)

#3- The Lord prepares the fish

Jon 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Instead of leaving Jonah in the sea to drown, the Lord prepares a fish to accommodate him (probably not Jonah's first choice). There are so many things I could say about all of this, but I simply want to point out the great lengths that God went to, in order to deal with this one man who disobeyed His voice.

We probably would have eliminated Jonah as a viable candidate, and selected a more suitable (and willing) vessel to carry out the assignment. But God pursues Jonah, orchestrates the events in and around his life, and gives him another opportunity to do what is right. Today, I want to remind you that God is more powerful and Sovereign than we give Him credit for. He is much more merciful than any of us deserve. And He loves us more than any of us can truly comprehend.

So whether you are in a storm, a seemingly random series of events, or in the belly of your fish- remember that God has your best interests at heart!

Until next time....

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What Does the Bible Say About Friendship?

We recently celebrated "Friend Day" at Liberty Worship Center. As part of my message that day, I shared 10 "FriendFacts"- basically, 10 Proverbs that deal with the subject of friendship. I thought I would share a condensed version of the Top Ten list for you today. These are not listed in order of importance- purely random.

1. In order to have friends, you must be friendly.

Pro 18:24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

2. Choose your friends wisely!

Pro 13:20 He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

3. Don't be a "fair-weather" friend.

Pro 17:17 A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

4. Friends tell each other the truth (even when it hurts)

Pro 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

5. Friends don't use flowery words

Pro 27:14 He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.

6. Friends don't betray confidences

Pro 17:9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.

7. Friends are committed to making you a better person

Pro 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

8. Friends give good, godly advice.

Pro 27:9 Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel.

9. Money issues can ruin friendships.

Pro 6:1 My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, Pro 6:2 Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.

10. One of the greatest values in a friend is faithfulness.

Pro 27:10 Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother's house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

2Co 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (KJV)

Many of you are familiar with the myth of Narcissus. He's the young man who sees his own reflection for the first time and falls madly in love with himself (so much so, that he never leaves the pool of water where he sees his reflection and dies there). The Christian life calls for self-examination. We're going to talk about that briefly today.

Self-examination can be challenging because we are not always qualified to evaluate our own hearts. Here are just a few scriptures which indicate that: Font size
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Pro 16:2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.

The bible says that we really don't know our hearts. This is ironic, because I often hear the phrase "God knows my heart". This is typically a spiritual way of saying that we aren't going to do the right thing, but our intentions are good. We often judge others by their actions, but judge ourselves based on intention. The truth is that many times we are not aware of "why" we do things. The Lord is able to show us the purity of our motivations (or the lack thereof).

There is also the challenge of what I call "the comparison trap". We like to measure ourselves by looking at others (typically those who are not meeting the bare minimum requirements) and comparing ourselves to them. Sometimes we are like the Pharisee who prayed "I thank thee that I am not as other men are......extortioners, unjust, adulterers, .....or even as this publican." (Luke 18:11). We can always find someone who is doing a little worse than we are. Paul says that using others (even other Christians) as a means of comparison is not wise (II Cor 10:12).

So how do we undertake such a daunting task? Prayerfully, and with holy awe (Psalm 4:4. Psalm 26:2, Psalm 139:23-24)- with diligent search (Lam 3:40)- and an attitude to obey (Psalm 119:59). The Word of God will reveal our heart and its intentions (Heb 4:12). So take a moment today and look at the man in the mirror. You may or may not like what you see. But you owe it to yourself to see if you are truly "in the faith". Very few people would buy a new home without an inspection. And who among us would purchase a new car without taking a test drive? Should we be any less diligent in eternal matters?

There are benefits to self-examination. Paul said that self-examination can help us to avoid temporal judgment (I Cor 11:31). We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, but many of us face needless chastisement in this life because we fail to "judge ourselves". John says that our prayer lives will flourish when our hearts are free from condemnation (I John 3:20-22).

Until next time....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's special about 24?

You thought this post was going to be about Jack Bauer right? Sorry to disappoint you my friends. The number 24 is significant to today's entry because it signifies a special year. The story of Abraham in the bible is one that inspires faith. As a matter of fact, his story personifies what it means to be justified by faith. Abram's (who would later be named Abraham) story begins at the young old age of 75 (Gen 12:4). God appears to him and makes him a promise that he will be the beginnings of a great nation. Abram's great desire was to have a child of his own (Gen 15:2). God promises him that he will have a child, and Abraham believes! (Gen 15:6).

But like all of us, Abram also has his questions about how the promise of God will actually come about. There's a lot of story I'm leaving out (huge understatement here), but for sake of time, I'm going to pick up 24 years after Abram/Abraham's initial encounter with the Lord. By this time, Abraham and Sarah have come up with what I affectionately call "plan B". Using their own deductive reasoning skills, they figure that they will help things along, and thus Ishmael is born. I wonder how many times we have tried to "help things along" in our own lives, and out of our impatience we have birthed an Ishmael of sorts.

Now Abraham is 99 yrs old, and the Lord appears to him again (Gen 17:1). God reaffirms his initial promise to Abraham, talks about the covenant of circumcision, and changes Sarai's name to Sarah (I would love to blog some time about the Lord's habit of changing names, but we'll keep moving for now). Then God speaks those words to Abraham which he had longed to hear:

Gen 17:21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

From God's perspective, 24 years are just a vapor. From man's perspective, 24 years can feel like an eternity. Even though Abraham laughed when he received this good news (Gen 17:17), it was most certainly a laugh of joy and awe, because Paul tells us in Romans that Abraham did not stagger at the promise of God (Romans 4:20). But I wonder how often Abraham was mocked during those 24 years. How many times was he the object of ridicule and scorn?

Waiting for the promise(s) of God can be so difficult. As the days, weeks, months, and even years go by- we are often tempted to lose heart. Many of us have settled for a "second best" alternative, because what God has promised us seems just too good to be true. The longer we have to wait, the more weary in well-doing we can become. One thing I want to point to your attention is this phrase "at this set time" in Gen 17:21 that I posted above. We are usually willing to theologically agree that God knows the end from the beginning. But I find that on a practical level, we feel that the same logic does not apply. When God appeared to Abram at age 75, I believe that he knew that the process was going to take roughly 25 years. I'm not so sure that Abram knew that though.

Many of us are waiting today. We're waiting for our lives to take a turn for the better; for health to improve, finances to recover, marriages to be restored, fractured relationships to be mended. Maybe we don't have a "thus saith the Lord" promise like Abraham to fall back on, but we do have the promises contained in His Word. They are promises of peace, of joy, of restoration and wholeness. God came to Abraham in year 24 and told him that He was still going to do exactly what He promised He would do in the first place. I don't know how long you've been waiting, but I wanted to tell you that the same is true for you and I.

Gal 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (ESV)

Until next time...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Direct Your Heart Into the Love of God

2Th 3:5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. (KJV)

We recently concluded our study of Paul's letters to the Thessalonian church. Paul encouraged the believers, corrected their theology, gave them practical commitments, and prayed for them. One of Paul's desires was that their hearts would be directed into the love of God. Why is this so important?

I believe one of the fundamental temptations we will face is to doubt God's love for us in any given set of circumstances. Jude says we are to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21). This is not so much trying to earn God's favor as it is meditating upon what God has already done for us in Christ and abiding in Him. After all, John says that we love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19). Paul reminds the Roman believers that Christ loved us even when we were opposed to Him (Romans 5:8-10).

The Thessalonian church was under persecution (2 Thess 1:4-5). Adding to the problem was that they had received some misinformation concerning the end times and the coming of the Lord. So much so, that some had become shaken out of their wits (2 Thess 2:2). Paul corrected their misunderstanding(s) of eschatology and reminded them of his prior teachings to them (both in person and by epistle/letter). He requests their prayers for God's Word to continue to flourish (run swiftly). He then expresses his desire that their hearts would be directed into the love of God.

One of the oldest texts of the bible (Job) reveals one of Satan's chief strategies. We have the gift of hindsight, but Job had no such luxury. He is left with all sorts of unanswered questions about the nature of his sufferings, meanwhile he receives little support from his "friends". Looking back, we can see that the devil wanted Job to question and curse the integrity of God. I could be wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his strategy has changed very little. We too, must resist the temptation to doubt God's love in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I'm so glad that Paul penned Romans chapter 8 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for a variety of reasons. But in light of today's blog, I'm particularly glad that Paul reminds us that nothing we face in this life separates us from God's love. Paul goes through a number of worst-case scenarios (tribulation, distress, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, etc.) that we might possibly face and asks a question: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?". I like that Paul personifies these things (by saying "Who" not "what"). Trials are personal. They hurt!!!

And then Paul gives us the answer we're all longing to hear:

Rom 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (KJV)

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is that they would "comprehend with all the saints" (notice the element of community here- no Christian is the Lone Ranger) the length, width, depth, and height of the unfathomable love of God! (Eph 3:18-19). Perhaps you are in a difficult place right now, just like Job. You look to the left, to the right, but there seems to be no answers (Job 23:8-9). Sometimes there are no easy answers. Sometimes we feel as if we are groping through the dark, trying to make sense of it all. But one thing I know for certain- none of these things separate us from the love of God!

Direct your heart into the love of God and your perspective will begin to change; even if your circumstances don't immediately change.

Until next time....be encouraged!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Taking the Dog By the Ears

Prov 26:17 He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (NKJ)

I thought since it was Friday, I would take a break from the normal way of doing things and post something a little more lighthearted. Here are my two dogs (Toby on the left, Callie on the right) waking up from an afternoon nap. I have always been a dog lover. The first years of my marriage were the only times that I didn't own a dog. Our place of residence was not exactly conducive to owning a pet. Not long after we moved to our current location (a more rural area), we adopted a few pups. The kids absolutely love them, and they love the kids.

My Jack Russell Terrier mix (Toby) was the first one to be adopted. The kids instantly fell in love with him because he was small, cute, and extremely playful. But I quickly warned them that even though he was a small dog, they needed to handle him gently. You don't have to be an expert in animal behaviors to know that dogs typically don't like to be pulled by the ears. If you do, you're just asking for trouble! Today's verse from the bible paints a word picture for all who would attempt to meddle in other people's affairs. Sometimes people will invite you into their lives and allow you into their stories- this is not what I'm talking about today.

To become a busybody in other people's matters and plunge into their affairs uninvited, is to invite trouble. And pulling the ears of a dog is ill-advised too! Give him a treat instead!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

When My Spirit Was Overwhelmed Within Me

Psa 142:1 (Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave). I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication. Psa 142:2 I poured out my complaint before him; I showed before him my trouble.
Psa 142:3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. Psa 142:4 I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. Psa 142:5 I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.
Psa 142:6 Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Psa 142:7 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

I love the brutal honesty of the Psalms. Yes, the Psalms are quoted many times in the New Testament. Yes, they contain Messianic prophecies. Yes, they contain beautiful hymns of praise and anthems of thanksgiving. But I also appreciate the candor of the Psalms. We get to read along as the writer pours out his complaint to his Creator. We get to peer over his shoulder as he tries to make sense of life's deepest trials and probing questions. The Psalms remind us that walking with God is not always a stroll through a stained-glass cathedral. Sometimes life gets messy!

I really don't know why it is- but it seems the cliche' is true "when it rains, it pours". Our spirits are also overwhelmed at times because of all the curve balls life seems to throw our way. It is at this point that we decide if we will be refined, or descend into bitterness. The latter is always easier, but the first is always better (I resisted the temptation to say "you can get bitter or better".....or did I really?). This process of refinement begins by acknowledging that God knows our path (vs. 3). This is crucial because at this point of being overwhelmed, true friends can often be in short supply (vs.4). But because God knows exactly where we are, and cares for us so intimately- we can come to Him with great confidence.

We too, must "pour out our complaints" before God and cry out to Him for deliverance. Pride will only hinder the process (vs. 6). It's ok to admit that you can't handle it all by yourself. God has promised to resist the proud, but He has also promised to give grace to the humble (James 4:6). From my own perspective, it is often humbling to admit I have difficulties coping with the challenges of life. It is much easier to project a facade which gives the impression that I am always in total control. Truthfully, there are times when my heart is overwhelmed within me. There are times when there are no simple answers, and when the choice(s) set before you can be filled with uncertainty.

Our relationship with God is not static, it is dynamic. Subsequently, life is all about change. Some good; some bad. To avoid becoming a casualty in this great spiritual conflict we call life, we must lean wholly on God and trust His integrity. If your heart is overwhelmed right now, I know there is someone who would like to hear from you. And He's only a prayer away!

Until next time.....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Walking on Water

Several Gospel writers record the account of Jesus walking on water. Matthew includes a unique perspective which shows that Peter also walked on the water to Jesus. I hope you will be blessed, inspired, and encouraged as you listen to last Sunday's sermon entitled "Walking on Water".

You can listen to the sermon in mp3 format here (if you have any difficulty with the link, you can also click the blue icon to the right which says "Listen Now")

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Repetition is good. And again I say, repetition is good.

(The following is a typical exchange at the Haney house)
Mom: "Dinner's ready!"
Dad/Kids: "**sound of crickets chirping outside**"
Mom: "I said...Dinner's ready!!"
Dad/Kids: "**still faint sound of crickets chirping**"
Mom (this time with feeling): "This is the LAST TIME I'm going to call you to dinner- get in here!!!"
Dad/Kids: "**the sound of small herd of elephants running toward the kitchen**"
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Paul used repetition in his teaching. We recently concluded a study at Liberty Worship Center on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. It was only after we finished up the series that I realized Paul repeated himself quite a bit. We can usually count on Paul for some repetition. It's not uncommon for him to open a letter with a familiar greeting like "Grace and peace to you" or some equivalent. And we're also familiar with Paul bidding us farewell with a "grace to you" as well.

Paul took it a step further with the Thessalonians though. He touched on several important topics with them (persecution, holiness, brotherly love), but it seems he appealed to one topic over and over again- the second coming of Jesus Christ. I realize the chapter and verse divisions were not in the original autographs (they were added later) but the chapter divisions seem to come at appropriate places and times. Notice how Paul wraps up each chapter (even though not all of these are the exact final verses in each chapter, they seem to be concluding remarks in each one):

1Th 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1Th 2:19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

1Th 3:13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1Th 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

1Th 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This particular church (Thessalonica) was facing some tough times in the form of persecution. In the West, we really know nothing of the sort. But we have our own share of hard times, disappointments, faith trials, etc. I believe (among other things), Paul was helping them to keep a perspective. It's very easy to adopt a myopic view in the midst of difficult circumstances. I remember when I was 15 years old, and it seemed it would take a lifetime for me to turn 16 and actually obtain my driver's license. But now, it seems just yesterday that I was 16.

The Thessalonians needed to be reminded that their best days were ahead of them, not behind them. Maybe you need to hear that today as well. Christ is coming again- will you be ready? So the next time your pastor sounds like a broken record player- try to smile at that joke he's already told 20 times, and for sure pay heed to the things he shares from God's word. Paul wasn't afraid of a little repetition.

Until next time....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Sunday Message: "The Man Death Could Not Hold"

On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter declared that it was not possible for death to hold Jesus. He arose from the grave after a horrific death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. You can listen to Pastor Henry's latest sermon entitled "The Man Death Could Not Hold" by clicking here.

Or you can click on the "Listen Now" icon on the right column and listen to streaming audio from Blast Podcast. (We will have an iTunes subscription option coming shortly)

Thanks and God bless!
-Henry

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Goodness of Good Friday

Rom 5:6-8
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJ)

There is always considerable debate as to the appropriateness of celebrating Christian holidays (holy days) and the manner in which they should be observed. Regardless of your particular conviction on this, it is my belief that any day is appropriate to discuss the Good News (this is what the word "Gospel" means). So what will follow is a few brief remarks about the goodness of Good Friday.

The first good thing I want to point out, is that God didn't wait for us to get our act together. Paul says that while we were "still without strength, Christ died for the ungodly". That's right- Jesus didn't die for perfect people; He died for the ungodly. This is a beautiful picture of the magnificent grace of God. No matter what you've done, or how unsavable you think you are; Jesus has paid the price for you. The first few chapters of the bible speak of the fall of man (which didn't take God by surprise by the way!). The remainder of the bible demonstrates God's attempt to redeem a fallen world.

Paul says that there are some things worth dying for. Jesus even said that one of the greatest acts of love is to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13). Paul says that perhaps some would be willing to die for a "good" man. Of course the irony here is that in this letter (Romans), Paul has already laid out a convincing case that none of us are truly as "good" as we think we are (Romans 3:9-12). Even on our best day, we still fall short of God's perfect standard.

Now for the ultimate demonstration of love. God became a man, lived among us, and allowed His own creation to crucify Him. Jesus was not a victim in all of this. The events that unfolded during the Passion week were all part of God's plan from the beginning (see Acts 2:23). Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. This is what makes His love Divine. He loves the unlovable, the unworthy, the undeserving. The events of Passion week; the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the rejection, betrayal, trials, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are all part of that grand and glorious story we know as "The Gospel".

Now that's some good news!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday Audio Sermon

Click the link below to listen to the Palm Sunday sermon I preached today, entitled "Visit from God"

http://tinyurl.com/dzx2uz

Be blessed!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Speaking of Parables

I confess that I love reading and teaching about the parables of Jesus. I became fascinated with them from the moment of my conversion. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I love a good story, and fancy myself somewhat of a storyteller. Parables can be tricky though, and we need to handle them with care. I’m not an authority on the parables of Jesus, so understand these comments are strictly “off the cuff” this morning as I think about tomorrow’s Palm Sunday sermon. Here are some random comments about parables that you may find useful in your own sermon prep and /or teaching (or personal devotions).

#1- The parables are sometimes “occasional”. In other words, there is a specific reason the parable is shared. It wasn’t simply that Jesus and his companions were weary from travel, and decided it was time for a good object lesson. In keeping with the Palm Sunday theme- let’s look at Luke chapter 19. Here, Jesus shares a parable about a nobleman who goes away into a far country to receive a kingdom for himself and then return. As with almost any portion of scripture study- context is vital. This is no different. Within the context of the parable, is found the occasion:

Luke 19:11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. (KJV)

The crowds had misconceptions about what was going to happen when Jesus finally arrived in Jerusalem. We have the gift of hindsight that tells us how everything unfolded (Jesus’ rejection, trial, crucifixion, resurrection). Jesus uses this opportunity to speak a parable unto them which had immediate as well as future application.

#2- Parables often teach one central point. Here is where the issue of parables becomes thorny. This is where we sometimes have to resist the temptation to ascribe special meaning to every symbol in a parable. Sometimes symbols and specific applications are clearly identified (by Jesus). In the case of the parable of the sower/soils, the wheat and the tares/weeds (Matt 13), the symbols are clearly identified and defined.

But- what about the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25? Early on in my ministry, I had a detailed theology of the parable of the ten virgins. I could tell you what each number and each symbol represented in the parable. (As a side note, are you aware how many different interpretations exist about the oil and the lamps in the parable?) I’m not saying that there are not layers of meaning about each symbol; God’s word is so rich. But I think Christ gives a clue about the purpose of the parable in verse 13 of the chapter:

Matt 25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (KJV)

So the purpose of the parable is a call to readiness and watchfulness. Whatever deeper meaning the symbols may have, the intent is to teach that Christ will return at an unannounced time and some will be ready, but many will not be and will be punished. Certainly there are symbols that we are familiar with (virgins, oil, lamps) and imagery that we are accustomed to (weddings, slumber, etc.). But we must use caution in being more narrow in our interpretation than scripture allows. As I mentioned earlier, many have adopted a very detailed theology about the Holy Spirit based on the references to oil in the parable. While it does not seem a stretch that the Holy Spirit would be symbolized by oil, any dogmatic attempt to systematically define the application would be subjective at best.

I had planned three points, but I’m beginning to “wax long” in my delivery, so let’s stop there for today. Hopefully this will serve you and I well, and you may have more thoughts on the subject you’d like to share in the comments section. All I ask is that you keep a respectful tone and don’t post profanity (offending posts will be deleted accordingly).

Until next time….

Monday, March 30, 2009

Transparency

1Th 3:1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;

In our Wednesday night bible study, we are currently looking at the book of First Thessalonians. One of the things that strikes me about chapter 3 is Paul's transparency. For sake of time and space, I'm not going to post the entire verses that I will reference, but you're welcome to follow along in this chapter with me as I make a few remarks.

The older I get, the less interest I have in shallow and trite expressions of faith. I believe in the power of positive speech (Proverbs 18:21), but I have come to detest the type of cliche' teaching and verbiage we use in Christian circles. What I love about Paul (among many things) is the fact that he wasn't afraid to be authentic and transparent. Yes, Paul would write to the Philippians and say "be anxious for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). But he also admitted to the Thessalonians that he had some anxieties about the state of their faith (I Thess 3:1, 5). Sometimes we must confess as the man in Mark's Gospel did; "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24b). Paul wasn't afraid that being authentic would somehow undermine his ministry.

Paul was also transparent about the ramifications of answering God's call. He doesn't seek to portray a life of faith as a bed of ease, or a means of being more successful by worldly standards. Yes, he reminds us that God is a God of hope, peace, and joy. But he also reminds us that trials and suffering are equally a component of the Gospel (I Thess 3:3-4). We demand accountability and transparency from worldly institutions. Should those who teach and preach the Gospel have any less stringent requirements? I think not. Those who promise others that a life with Jesus is nothing but a picnic of prosperity are no better than financial advisors who promise outrageous rates of return on tanking stocks. In fact, they're worse; because you can lose your money and make a comeback. What happens to those who lose their faith? (Luke 8:13)

Paul was transparent in his expressions of joy (I Thess 3:7-9). He wasn't afraid to let his converts know that he celebrated victories. Some of us are pretty transparent in our efforts to be negative, but are we secure enough to let others see us rejoice? Truly, there is something about rejoicing that makes us feel vulnerable. Ironically, it takes a measure of humility to allow others see you celebrate your victories in Jesus. But it's worth the risk!

Finally, Paul is transparent about the need for holiness in the Christian life. There are a myriad of reasons why Christians should strive for holiness (not the least of which is that God commands it). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that one day, Jesus will return (I Thess 3:13). To many in our modern world, this may seem like a fairy tale reserved for gullible people. But as surely as the prophecies concerning Christ's first advent are true and were fulfilled precisely, so shall it be with His return. The question is not whether or not He will return, but will you and I be ready? (I John 2:28)

These are some random thoughts on transparency. I hope they challenge you as much as they have challenged me in recent days.

Until next time....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

God Tries Our Hearts

1Thes 2:4
4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (KJV)


Admittedly, I Thessalonians is one of the earlier writings we have from Paul (some commentators believe it to be his earliest letter). Nevertheless, Paul had enough experience under his belt to speak with authority to the Thessalonian believers. Earlier in this chapter (just two verses prior), Paul refers to his sufferings at Philippi.

To make a long story (very) short, Paul's ministry seemed to have been cut short in Philippi. He casts a demon out of a woman, ends up in prison as his reward, and God supernaturally delivers him (the account is found in Acts 16 if anyone wants to read the back-story). They were kindly asked to leave the city shortly thereafter (Acts 16:39).

When Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers, he assures them that his motives in preaching the Gospel were pure. His purity of motives could be trusted, because he affirmed that God continually tried his heart. The word translated as "trieth" (in the KJV) is the Greek word 'dokimazo'. It means: to test, discern, examine, prove, etc.

Without a doubt, Paul's life was filled with difficulties. You will rarely hear a sermon about this, but when Jesus called Paul to the ministry, He remarked about the "great things" Paul would have to suffer (Acts 9:16). Doubtless, the trials Paul endured (read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for a brief summary of what life was like for Paul), helped to purify his motives.

There are times, when I am confident that my motives for ministry are 100% pure. Rarely do I sense or feel the need for God to try me and see if that's the case. But the Word of God tells me that He will try my heart, to make sure my motives are pure. More often than not, He will use adversity as a tool of refinement. Just when I think that I've been tested enough, I'm reminded that I'm no better than Paul. Scripture would seem to indicate that Paul was continually on trial from the devil, from his critics, and from those who sought to undermine his efforts.

So the next time you are going through a difficult season of life, try to take a positive approach to it all. I know it's much easier said than done, but try to remember that God loves us enough to help us keep our motives pure. Jesus gave an example in the famous "sermon on the mount" that illustrates this point. He said it's possible to do "the right thing" for the wrong reasons (praying, giving, and fasting). Let's not forget that why we do what we do is as important as what we do.

Until next time...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lessons from Haggai (part one)

Hag 1:4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? (KJV)

I really enjoy reading the Old Testament prophets. There was a time when this wasn't the case. It was probably due to my whole concept of Old Testament prophecy. I used to think that the message of the prophets was primarily a foretelling of future events. Certainly this is a component of the message of the OT prophets. Sometimes they foretold events in the distant future, and other times they would bring forth a message that would be fulfilled within the lifetime of the hearers. But it would be a mistake to think of the prophets as merely predicting apocalyptic events. Often their messages were very practical. Such is the case with today's message.

The book of Haggai records a series of messages (4) that the Lord gave Haggai to convey to Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest). The time frame for these messages takes place just after the Jewish people had experienced Babylonian captivity. Nebudchadnezzer and his army destroyed Solomon's magnificent temple and carried away the Israelites as captives. Now some have begun to return to their homeland, and started the rebuilding effort. An important part of rebuilding was reconstruction of the temple. The temple project began, and great enthusiasm filled the air. Soon, the foundation was laid, and work on the altar had commenced.

But something happened. Through opposition of neighboring peoples, and frustrations and discouragement, work on the temple project came to an abrupt halt. It stopped for nearly 14 years. Then, enters Haggai the prophet with a message from the Lord. His first message to the people (in particular Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest) was "consider your ways". They had left off building God's house (i.e. the temple) and were busy building their own houses. God was grieved that the people had lost a sense of eternal perspective and were feverishly minding the temporal things of this world. During this period of spiritual sloth, the Israelites reaped a harvest, but it was not the type of harvest they wanted to gather. We will look at that in the coming days.

I'll begin this series of blogs by asking a rhetorical question: "Have we left off building God's house in favor of working on our own?" The church, and the nation of America faces difficult challenges in the days ahead. We too, will have to decide whether we are going to trust God and continue working His work, or whether we will be consumed with the cares of this life (see Luke 21:34). I look forward to sharing insights from this prophetic book with you.

Until next time....

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Power of Resolution

Rom 7:18
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (NKJ)

I titled today's entry "The Power of Resolution", but I'm actually going to talk about the inability of human resolution. In 2008, I started a regular exercise program. I spoke with one of the trainers at the gym a few weeks back and they told me that soon the place would be crawling with "the Resolutionists". This was the name all of the gym employees have given to this wonderful group of individuals. They join the gym after the holidays and resolve that this is the year they're going to get in shape! The statistics (and the fitness center trainers) say that the "resolutionists" usually vanish within a few months; if they make it that far!

Obviously God created human beings with incredible possibilities. Think of an athlete like Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordan. Or look at the advancements in modern medicine, technology, and other forms of research. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he wasn't talking about merely achieving earthly goals. He was talking about the inability of human effort to produce lasting practical holiness.

Hopefully along with the physical goals you've set for the new year, you've set some spiritual goals as well. I believe the only way we're going to meet those goals, is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans chapter 7 is a rather depressing chapter in many ways. Sadly, many Christians view Romans 7 as being normative of the Christian life. While true Christians can identify with Paul's words in Romans 7, I don't believe it's intended to be a prescription for the daily life of the Christian. I believe God's ideal for the believer is found in Romans chapter 8 (often referred to as "the Holy Spirit" chapter of the bible because of all the references to the Spirit). Romans 8 declares that what was not possible "in the flesh" is now possible through the Spirit.

May you have a greater dependency on the Holy Spirit in 2009 than you've ever had! And may it be true for me as well.

God bless and Happy New Year!

Until next time....