Monday, July 21, 2014

Thanks for Asking!

Have you ever had this passing conversation: "Hello, how are you today?" "I am doing fine, how about you?' "Doing well, thanks for asking!" We appreciate certain questions, especially when they are sincere and concern our personal well-being.

But other questions come to us that hardly have us so excited; questions that challenge our character, our knowledge, or our activity. Farm Bureau Insurance Company has a television commercial that illustrates the frustration some parents experience when their children ask them difficult questions. They present the idea that their representative has all of the answers. It is a clever piece of propaganda. But we all know the truth. Some questions are just too tough for any of us to handle well.

As a preacher, I get asked a great deal of questions. People call me, facebook message me, email me, text me, catch me after class, after worship, at the store, in the parking lot, you name it - I may get a Bible question anytime from anyone in anyplace. All I can say is 1 Pet. 3:15 is intimidating!

But from the bottom of my heart I want people to know it is an absolute honor to be asked. I am not afraid of any question. I may not know the answer, and I am not afraid to tell people I do not know the answer. But I might know it. And when I don't know it, I will promise to study and get back to them and point them to the Scriptures. Being asked questions is a privilege and I look forward to every question I receive. Here's why:

1. I am going to learn something.
2. Someone actually thinks I have something valuable to offer.
3. It keeps me on task with my responsibility of study.
4. It gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned.
5. It may lead to the saving of a soul.
6. If my attitude is right and my study diligent, God will be glorified.

If anyone ever asks you a spiritually driven question, be thankful. When this occurs, you have one task - deliver only what the Bible truly teaches. Human opinions are plentiful, but the Word of God is true and living and powerful and it saves and it will abide forever. It contains the only answers that matter eternally.

And if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask (Matt. 5:6). Something wonderful is potentially going to happen because of the question. God is looking for people who are looking for Him. Thanks for asking!

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." ~ 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A People for the House of God

God's intention for the church was in existence before the world began. In His infinite wisdom He provided for its establishment with the sacrifice of the blood of His Son. As I age in His kingdom and experience kingdom life, I learn more and more about the superior foreknowledge and design God has for His family.

In my mind today is how God has set each of the members of His body into the church just as He pleased (1 Cor. 12:18). From the widow struggling to get to worship because of health concerns, to the lawyer or doctor in his suit and tie, to the family of lesser means who needs the church to provide groceries from time to time, God has made each of us essential to the kingdom. He knows we need Him. He knows we need each other. He knows we all have something to offer to the church and that the something we each have is very special.

To illustrate, I would like to share a few thoughts that have come to me through study and conversations with other Christians this week.

1. God is interested in workers for His house. Last night I was reading 1 Kings 5 to my children before bed as a part of Bible Bowl preparation. This chapter discusses Solomon seeking out King Hiram to help him with the construction of the temple. There were 30,000 laborers summoned for the house of the Lord. There were 70,000 who carried burdens. There were 80,000 who quarried stone. There were 3,300 who supervised. All essential jobs, all essential people. All different types of work. All contributing to a house that would glorify the Lord. God wants people. God wants different people. God understands and it is by design that we are all doing something meaningful to build His house.

2. God is interested in the lesser even more than the greater. Paul said to the Corinthians in his description of the church, "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor..." (1 Cor. 12:23). We overemphasize the preachers, the teachers, the elders, and the deacons. They get a great deal of praise and are the subject of many public prayers. Certainly we are thankful for their work and the prayers are much needed. But the backbone of the church is comprised of the people who do all of the things we call "little things" that in God's mind are not little at all. A friend of mine said to me this week that we are probably teaching the wrong idea to our young people sometimes. We have made them think that unless they go to Africa and do mission work they cannot be spiritual giants. The fact is that there is something to be said for a person who wants to get married, become a part of a local community with a regular job, and raise a Christian family. This type of dream made the America of the past a beacon and it is what has made the church the last great hope on earth.

3. The senders are as important as those who are sent. As a preacher, I want to personally thank every individual who contributes to the spread of the gospel. If you participate in the public offering each week for the work of the local church, you are contributing to the greatest work that is going on in the world. Paul reminded the church at Rome, "...And how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14b-15a). Not every person will publicly proclaim the gospel of Christ. But every person has ownership in gospel preaching who supports it by hearing, seeking, learning, doing, giving, and sending. Those who preach will be forever indebted to those who support preaching. Those who are saved by the message preached can give glory to God for every person who had a part in the name of Christ and the plan of salvation coming to their ears.

Church, let me tell you - you matter! Every single one of us matters. God sent His Son to die for us both collectively and individually. He created a house for His people and a people for His house. If you have become one of those people, praise His name. Do your part and be thankful. He is preparing an eternal city for you.

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where the Heart Is

 
David Livingstone was born in England in 1813. He spent most of his life exploring Africa and bringing his knowledge of Christ to the people of that country. In 1873, Livingstone died among the people he had grown to love. His body was shipped back to Great Britain for burial, but not his heart. The villagers dug a hole at the base of a mvula tree in Africa. They buried David Livingstone's heart in its rightful place. His heart, his life, and his every desire remained in the country and among the people to which he had given himself completely.

The Bible tells us a great deal about the desires of the heart. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7). "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:18-20a). "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

One cannot hide the treasures of the heart. Sooner or later, given time and opportunity, the truth about the desires of the heart will be known. We will go wherever our heart leads us. Thus we must shape our individual human heart to conform to the heart of God. God's heart is in our salvation and our sanctification. His desire is our spiritual transformation to His superior will in everything, which will demand all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

This leads to a revealing question, a question that demands honesty and humility and self-examination. If you were to die, where would your heart be buried? Would it be located at some place where you work, since you spent all of your waking hours and overtime in that place? Would it be buried at the bank? Would it be buried in the couch next to the remote control? Would it be buried at the field where all those sporting events took place? Would it be buried at the lake, at the store, or some vacation spot? Would it be buried in a place where your family could think of you and give thanks because you had lived an unselfish, honorable, and godly life?

At our very essence we are whatever our heart is. God knows us completely. He looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He searches the heart (Jer. 17:10). He weighs the heart (Prov. 21:2). He knows the desires of our heart.

"Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way." - Proverbs 23:19
"O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways." - Proverbs 23:26
"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Land of No "Goodbyes."

 
Being a member of the Lord's church is sometimes bitter sweet. There are no people on earth that compare to the people in God's spiritual family. The closest relationships we will ever know in this life will be found with the Lord's people. We share our deepest anxieties and feelings. We work alongside each other. We spend our social time together in friendships. We travel around the world together, staying in intimate settings, spreading the gospel of Christ. We laugh together. We cry together. We even disagree and have hurt feelings and fight and make up. We dream together. We do life together.

And then, in a moment, someone we've gotten so close to has to leave. They have to go somewhere else and do the Lord's work. The kingdom of God is bigger than any of us individually. When I decided to work full-time for the Lord I knew it would mean living in different cities and having no permanent, life-long hometown. But I am completely alright with that. The new Jerusalem is supposed to be my hometown anyway (Heb. 11:13-16; Phil. 3:20).

Christians who know agape love - "God love" - the altruistic (your needs are above my needs) love, experience a supreme fondness for others which brings a sense of loss upon separation, and at the same time they can cheer for those who leave them behind for the sake of the kingdom. That is what is so bitter sweet. You can learn to love someone completely, as family, and at the same time you can root for them when they leave home, though they are most likely never to return.

There is an inexpressible yearning of the heart that longs to be communicated with those we love who leave. No words can be spoken to explain the level of our thanksgiving to the people who have loved us and made our lives better by their presence and their sacrifice. There is rarely enough time to express it anyway, because we blink and they are gone. We have all had loved ones leave us. They have taken their last earthly breath and have stepped into eternity. How we long from time to time to tell them they are loved and they are missed! Oh, how we want them to know they remain so close to us inside our thoughts and within our hearts!

As James and Whitney Lane leave us here for the next chapter in their lives, I cannot help but admit that I am sad they are going. But it is a good kind of sad. It means they have done well here. It means they have loved and are loved. It means they have made a difference. It means they have done what God would have wanted them to do in His church. And what makes this acceptable is the place God is preparing for us that will be beyond our comprehension. It is God's prescribed location for the eternal family reunion, at the banquet table of our Lord, for all of the children of God. It is a land without sorrow, death, pain, or tears. It is a land of love and joy and peace. It is a land of "hello" and "welcome home forever." It is a land of no goodbyes.

"...in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." ~ Ephesians 2:22

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Winning by Losing

Phil Wilson was a man of integrity. He was most of all kind and generous. He was soft-spoken and respectable. In business he was not only visionary, but he worked hard, always multitasked, and he treated his employees with respect and consideration. In fact, he treated them in such a way as to always tip the scales in their favor. If there was ever a need he would go the extra mile. Phil Wilson graduated this past week from this earthly life into eternity. I will always have fond memories of his genuine compassion and sincerity as well as his kindness and friendship and support which he expressed to me directly.

Phil used to say that if he were to ever write a book about his life it would be entitled, “Winning by Losing.” When those close to him were trying to understand why he sacrificed so much and often took losses to bless others, they were prone to wondering why Phil would be willing to go to such lengths. But Phil Wilson had discovered the key to living a life free from guilt and regret. He made sure to not leave any room for doubt concerning his love for the Lord and for people. He was the perfect example of what it meant to be an honorable businessman.

It occurs to me that when our Savior walked the earth he perfected the art of winning by losing. From His humble birth to his persecution and death, and every minute in between, His life was a constant series of losses. His family mocked him and thought he was crazy when he began His ministry. He traveled long dusty roads and depended on others for his sustenance. He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) He chose the prime years of his life to teach 12 men how to win by losing. He was ridiculed, reviled, and rebutted every day. Eventually he was friendless, rejected by His people, and hanging on the cross as the scourge of all humanity.

When others would have taken vengeance, He forgave. When others would have accepted praise, He retreated to seclusion. When others would have used such power to become famous, he said, “Tell no one.” When others would have used such wisdom to promote their greatness, He simply responded with questions to cause people to grow. The little that He had in the physical realm He shared or gave away. He was even willing to remain on the cross when those who were killing Him challenged Him to prove Himself by coming down.

If we are truly disciples of Christ, our lives will be models of how we can win by losing. We will think of the needs of others above our own. We will love people according to their best interest. We will deny ourselves to supply others. We will take pleasure in our losses when it results in somebody else’s gain.

Phil’s son-in-law remarked about this book that never had been put to paper, that had it been written it would have been a best seller. He is probably correct. But in a sense it has been written. It was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But it was not about the life of Phil Wilson. It was about the physical life of the one and only Son of God. Jesus gave it all. All to Him I owe. He won by losing. So will I.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Must Do's for Dads

Happy Father's Day! If you are a father you are blessed. If you have or have had a godly father you are beyond blessed. Unfortunately, many children are growing up today without a positive spiritual influence from their father. Some do not have any kind of relationship with their physical father at all. Still some fathers, though present in their children's lives are too busy spending time in the world to spend time with their families. But I know some GREAT men who deeply love the Lord and who are strong spiritual leaders. These men all have several things in common - things they practice that qualify them as good fathers and teach others what being a man of God is all about.

So here are some "Must Do's" for dads:

1. Be your family's "worship leader." I always think it is interesting anymore to hear about churches hiring and paying "worship leaders." Really? I don't see that anywhere in the New Testament. What is needed is a father in every household who is a worship leader. Job was. Abraham was. Cornelius was. It worked out pretty well for their families spiritually speaking. A father who loves the Lord and the church above all else will likely produce children of the same persuasion.

2. Love the mother of your children. Without a word your wife and the mother of your children should be the same woman. This is God's plan. When we think about our children's future - what are we hoping for? If we are in our right minds we would think about heaven first, and this earthly life second. When we consider their future here, we should be praying that one day they will find a Christian spouse who will love them and be committed to them for life. Real men will express love to their wives in the daily activities that will be witnessed by the whole family. Children will find comfort and rest and joy and love in a home where men love their wives as Christ loved the church. A man who loves his wife will nourish and cherish her. This will equip her with the ability to do the same for the children.

3. Let your favorite hobby be your kids. I have counseled failing marriages for years now. A common problem in these struggles is a man who has checked out on his wife and kids. He always wants to golf, be at the lake, go hunting, or engage in some other "me time." I was entrapped by this once myself - and thankfully, only for a short time. Satan was lying to me. I was miserable. The outings did not provide the happiness and solitude they had promised. A man who wants all of his hobbies to be away from his wife and kids is a selfish individual. The greatest things he has going, and the most important people he will ever influence - live between the corners of his house.

4. Take pride in what you provide. My father taught me that there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to expressing the value of those who have been entrusted to your care. The size of your house, the newness of your car, and the amount of money you have in the bank are not what make you a successful man. But working and sweating and sacrificing for what you have is honorable at all times. When you give your all every day with your wife and children as the objects of your love and sacrifice, you can rest easy on your pillow at night. In time your family will understand what you have done for them. They will love you and respect you - not for the rest of your life - but for the rest of theirs.

If you will be a spiritual leader, love your wife, spend time with your children, and provide for your family, you will fulfill your God-ordained purpose and duty as a father. The satisfaction you will receive from doing these things will far outweigh the sacrifices. You will enjoy deserved rest. You will have peace of mind and peace with God. Your life and your heart and your home will be filled with all the fullness of God.

"The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him." ~ Proverbs 23:24

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Faint Not"

2 Corinthians 4:1 - "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." 2 Corinthians 4:16 - "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." Ephesians 3:13 -"Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." The King James version delivers the expression by Paul, "faint not." The term means, "Don't lose heart," "Don't be discouraged," or, "Don't give up."

In 2 Corinthians 4:1, the idea is that we won't give up on our ministry as Christians because we have the tender mercies of God.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16, we are encouraged to not lose heart about our physical ailments and aging because we are growing spiritually and towards the perfection that will have its completion upon our transition from earth to heaven.

In Ephesians 3:13, the apostle Paul tells the church at Ephesus not to be discouraged about his sufferings because they amount to their salvation.

"Faint not" is a wonderful statement that belongs in the life of a Christian. We have eternal goals that will not be realized while we are here. We have good reason to endure whatever trials may befall us because of the things that lie ahead.

We also heed the command to "faint not" because we need to learn patience. Sometimes we give up too quickly. Abraham was impatient with the promise. Paul was impatient with John Mark. Jonah was impatient with God. We put a time frame on results over which we have no control. If we are wise we will simplify our lives into doing God's work and leave the timing and future results up to Him.

I was reminded of this just this past Sunday. A family, who I had originally contacted two years ago, visited our congregation. It didn't happen overnight, but according to the grace of God circumstances worked out for them to be with us. I love these people and I hope they will eventually become a part of our spiritual family. Clarence DeLoach was correct in the Sunday evening prayer when he mentioned it is not our responsibility to produce results, but rather we are here for the sowing.

This is a hard lesson to learn for any Christian who wants to make an impact. We want to see physical results. But how can you see what is really going on in the hearts of people with whom you have real influence? Perhaps the change they are experiencing is too beautiful and transcendent for the human mind to perceive and too glorious for the weakness of man to observe in the flesh. When we use that part of us that is made in the image of God, to touch the part of others that is made in that same image - we find ourselves in heavenly realms much too wonderful for us to know.

So let's do kingdom work until Jesus comes. And whatever the obstacles, difficulties, or discouragements - press on, Christian family. Press on and faint not!

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." ~ Galatians 6:9