Dec 12

Finding Peace All Year!

by Jenny Rollo at free images.com

One of the most cited Bible verses this time of year is Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  The verse records the message of the angels at the birth of Christ.  Our culture emphasizes peace each Christmas, but as Christians we should have peace in our hearts throughout the year.

I have discovered another verse this year from Isaiah.  It teaches us how to have peace.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

This verse hits at the heart of what our culture needs to understand about Christmas and Jesus.  Peace doesn’t just come through thinking about Jesus “as the reason for the season” or pausing to consider the reality of his birth.  But rather peace comes through us keeping our minds “stayed” on Him throughout the year.  The Christmas season is a metaphor for many of our lives.  We live busy and chaotic lives where the focus is on other things, but somewhere in the midst of the chaos we try to squeeze Jesus into the chaos.  We give him his 15 minutes of spotlight and then move right along.  That is not how you have the peace of Jesus.  This is not why he was born!  The peace that Jesus brings is not about political peace, nor even harmony in all of our human relationships, but it is the peace of harmony with our Creator.  In order to have the peace of Christ we must stay focused on Christ and have our mind settled on God.  Our hope and trust must be in God!

Paul says this “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).  Right after this verse he goes on to talk about what we are meditating and thinking about as we live our lives.  We need to think on things that are honorable, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).  Our peace is directly connected with what we think about daily.

As you think about peace this Christmas season, let me encourage you to seek to have it all year around.  But remember, you obtain it by focusing on Him everyday!

 

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Dec 07

Win Championships By Having Good Practices!

I am not a New England Patriots fan.  I have always cheered against them in the big games.  But I must admit they have been extremely successful.  While Belichick has his flaws and detractors, I really appreciated the attitude behind this answer yesterday (12-6-17).

Question from reporter: “With all you have accomplished in your coaching career, what is left that you still want to accomplish?”

Belichick’s answer: “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be at the top of the list right now.”

Belichick’s answer is not what most people expect.  In fact, it is likely not what most people would have said.  It was an opportunity for the experienced coach to reflect on his past and toot his own horn about his past championships.  It was an opportunity to talk about his current dreams and goals.  He could have spoken about winning the Super Bowl this year and what that would mean to him.  Instead, he stayed in the present.  He focused on the short-term need at the moment to winning another championship.  He was not distracted with the past or the distant future.  For him at this moment, he wanted to have a good practice.
  There is a great leadership lesson in his answer.  Great leaders don’t rest on the accomplishments of the past, nor completely live on the dreams of the future, but they focus on doing what needs to be done well today.
   Churches need this message.  We can focus on what we used to be and the glorious works that have been done.  We can focus on the dreams and goals for the distant future.  But most of our energy needs to be on making this day, this coming Sunday, this next worship, this next ministry the best it can be.
   I need this reminder as a preacher.  I have to focus on what needs to be done today in order for us to accomplish great things in the future.  It may just be a good practice today, that has little fan fair, but it can lead to a Super Bowl in a couple of months!

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Dec 05

Dealing with Slow Walkers This Christmas

from pxhere.com

A Mastercard survey found that 80% of shoppers say “slow walkers” is their biggest annoyance while shopping.  In response to this annoyance, one large mall in the UK released a “fast lane” which is a strip marked on the floor of the mall for fast walkers.¹

The survey also showed that the average walking speed slowed down 21% during the holiday season, as more shoppers window browse.  The holiday season brings further annoyances like increased traffic, congested parking, and longer check out lines.

The real answer to the many annoyances of the holiday season is found, not in some new gimmick like a fast walking lane, but in demonstrating grace and love to others.  As a shopper, go out expecting there to be slow walkers, crowded parking lots, and even rude people.  But you choose to give each and every person you see grace.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.  You don’t know what they are dealing with this holiday season.  To the clerk behind the counter, give them a genuine smile and courtesy.  To the person who snatches your good parking space that you saw from two lanes over, give a genuine smile and wave.  To the slow walker, slow down your pace and courteously pass by when you can.

This is a season where people think and celebrate Christ.  Let our actions give the greatest glory and honor to Him.  Paul gave us this admonition that applies all year, but I would encourage you to intentionally follow it this year when you get caught behind a slow walker!

“Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).

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¹ http://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/2017/12/05/uk-mall-introduces-fast-lane-to-ease-rage-over-slow-walkers.html

 

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Dec 01

How the Preacher Identifies with the Same Aims as Christ

I was running one recent morning listening to the gospel of John.  The readings was from John 17, which is the text about Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.  Our Lord is very transparent in the prayer about his work on earth and his goals for HIs disciples.  He prays for his 12 disciples that he has trained to continue his mission, but he goes on to pray for “those who will believe in me through their word” (John 1:20).  As I was listening, I was struck with how I identified so much with Christ in my prayer and work for the Seven Oaks Church of Christ.  While, I certainly am not saying I am anywhere close to Christ in his attitude and work, I feel that most preachers have some of the same goals and aims for their congregation that Christ prayed for His disciples.

Here are eight aims I identify with Christ in as a preacher of a local church from John 17.

  1. Glorifying the Father and the Son (v. 1).  Jesus prays that God will glorify Him, so he can glorify the Father.  Preachers get “glory” sometimes for a lesson or a good work they have done.  While we need lots of encouragement, a preacher should not be focused on his own glory.  I pray my aim is to be a reflector!  I pray my aim is to give glory to Christ for any good that I accomplish.  My aim is for the Father and the Son to get the glory!
  2. Giving eternal life (v. 2).  God gave the authority to give eternal life to all who are in Him.  Preachers have the greatest gift to offer everyone–eternal life.  We don’t give this on our authority, but we can offer the gospel which gives eternal life.
  3. Accomplishing the work God sent me to do (v. 4).  Jesus says that He glorified the Father while on earth and accomplished the work which God gave him to do.  I love this succinct statement of a Christian’s purpose.  A preacher doesn’t always know why he has the ministry he does.  He may want it to be in a different place, for a bigger church, or in a different field of ministry.  But wherever we find ourselves, we need to seek to accomplish the work God has sent us there to do.
  4. To proclaim Jesus to the people God has given us (v. 6).  Jesus says he has manifested the name of God to his disciples.  Our aim is to manifest the name of God to the people in our circle of influence.  We are to proclaim Jesus.
  5. Giving the Words that God gave to the listeners (v. 8).  Jesus says that He gave his disciples the words that God gave him.  As a preacher, my aim is to not preach my own words, but the Word of God.  It is not about my soapboxes or favorites self-help topics, but rather to proclaim in an unadulterated fashion the simple Word of God.
  6. For there to be unity and oneness in the church (v. 11).  Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one.  One of my aims is to always work for the unity of the church.  The church is greater than any one person and that includes the preacher.  We must “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
  7. To keep them from the evil one, while they are in the world (v. 15).  Each week the preacher stands before people, who like himself, are struggling with the world.  They are entangled in the world.  The tempter is attacking them daily.  We pray that God will keep them from the evil one!
  8. To sanctify them in the truth (v. 17).  Closely connected to protection from Satan is the need to become sanctified, set apart, or holy in the world.  I preach each week trying to help people become closer to God, through His word.  The aim is for them to grow in their sanctification!

 

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Nov 27

The World’s Inconsistent Message on Sex

Our culture is sending so many mixed messages. Each day contains a story about sexual misconduct. Another high profile leader is accused of inappropriate actions toward a woman.  In worse stories, extra-marital affairs or tales involving prostitutes are sadly all too common.  The politically correct view is to condemn these  inappropriate acts. The world demands apologies, resignations, and the truth.

While, we should condemn these acts, I find our culture’s righteous indignation and moral high horse a bit confusing.  You see, when it comes to the issue of sex, which is what this is all about, our culture has been promoting and selling it as loosely as possible for years.

The culture is inconsistent on its view of sex when it says . . .

  • a grab of a buttock is wrong, but the thong bikini is acceptable.
  • prostitution is wrong, but one night stands are thrilling.
  • men should see woman as more than “hot flesh”, but little girls are taught to be sexy.
  • teens should not have unprotected sex, but prom dresses that mirror the latest street-walker are the new style.
  • rape of women and naked pictures of children are crimes, but pornography which fuels those acts is perfectly acceptable adult entertainment.
  • a man not paying child support means garnished wages, but a woman’s choice to abort a child which came from a night’s mistake is worth tax-payers support.
  • violence and sexual abuse of women is outrageous, but songs, movies, and books filled with violence and sexual abuse of women are art that tantalizes us.
  • men are dangerous and creepy when they look lustfully at a women, but women dress immodestly and sexually provocative so men will look.

We could go on to proclaim our culture’s inconsistency with sex.  We will continue to see the proliferation of sexual sins in our culture as long as we send such mixed messages.  The Creator God, who made us sexual beings, calls us to view sex consistently and soberly.

God’s consistent view of sex says . . .

  • We are created as sexual beings who have a desire for sex, but this desire must be kept in check (Gen. 1; 1 Thess. 4:3-8).
  • Sex was placed within the marriage bond to draw husband and wife together intimately and for the procreation of children (Gen. 1:18-25; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Heb. 13:4).  God intended for there to be the commitment of marriage, before there was the privilege of sex.
  • God decrees both lust of the flesh and immodesty as sinful (Mat. 5:28; 1 Tim. 2:9-10).  Every person has a responsibility to dress modestly as well as discipline their eyes and heart.  Sexual sin begins in the heart!
  • Sex is a fire that will harm and burn you when it is abused in any way outside of the marriage boundary God has established (Prov. 5-7).

Christians should decry all the news stories about sexual misconduct in our world, but we should do it with a balanced view!  The world wants to pick and choose which types of sexual sin is okay and permissible.  Christians must cry forth the danger and direct ties between all sexual sin, even the ones like immodesty and raunchy  entertainment that the world sees as acceptable!

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Nov 17

Your Home Church Wasn’t Perfect, nor Awful!

It is Thanksgiving time and kids are coming back from college.  Good kids who have gone away to Christian schools or gotten involved in a Christian student center.  They have been exposed to other congregations.  They have experienced mission campaigns, large devotional singings, powerful preachers, and new programs.  They now look at their home congregation in a different light.  

If they loved their home church experience growing up, they may see their church as perfect and all others as inferior and needing to become like their home church.  But more often, they return and see the shortcomings of their home congregation.  The singing isn’t as good, the worship is lacking passion.  The programs are antiquated and done with low energy.  The preacher certainly isn’t as good as that recent  youth rally speaker.  And so the young person has changed in their perspective of their home church.

This process will go on while the person attends college.  Their view of their home congregation is shaped by their experiences away from it.  They return during the summers and try to get the church to adopt some new programs or practices.  This isn’t bad, congregations often get ideas from them.

Painting with a broad brush, we can see how this same concept extends through our lives.  Even now, I bet you have a certain perspective on your home church. You likely either see it as wonderful and the way other churches should be or as really needing some changes.

Let me suggest another approach, how about realizing your home church was neither perfect, nor awful.  You really already knew this!  Choose to change the way you view your home congregation.  See their positives and negatives, while choosing to be grateful for their influence upon your faith.  Learn from what they did well and did poorly.  But choose to accept who they are and be grateful for them.  Don’t judge every other church by them, nor judge them by other congregations.  Choose to be thankful for the church that taught you to know Christ.  

Have the attitude of Paul who described the Philippine brethren as “my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1).

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Nov 15

The Blessing in the Mess!

Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings.  While it is easy to number certain blessings, we often may need to look a little deeper.  Sometimes the work and frustrations of life keep us from seeing the blessings that come because of that work.

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

We understand this verse much better after having a farm.  A stall stays neat and clean if there are no animals in it.  The chicken coop doesn’t need cleaning.  The pasture can look neatly mowed with no dung to ruin your shoes.  But you will not have eggs or meat on the table!  There is a blessing that comes with the mess.  Recently, we had 10 Goldendoodle puppies.  They have been so much fun and are so precious.  They have been a blessing to our family in many ways, but they also have made lots of messes.  We don’t have a good dog pen set-up so they have been in our garage and back-yard in a make-shift pen.  10 puppies make a lot of mess!!

While this principle is easy to see with animals on the farm, it is so true of our lives as well.  We need to  look deeper than just the initial frustration or aggravation and realize the purpose and reward that comes with the work.  Most every blessing comes with a level of responsibly and work.  I think God created it this way.  If you are going to eat vegetables you have to grow them in the fields and deal with weeds and pests.  If you are going to have eggs you have to tend to messy chickens.  If you are going to have meat you have to deal with livestock.  This is how God chose to give us our food at creation.

This is true with children!  Houses stay clean and neat, when kids aren’t there, but what a blessing kids are! This is true with most jobs.  Every job has lots of frustrations and aggravating qualities, but look at the blessings that come from work.  Even the holidays themselves involve lots of work and messes, but remember the purpose and value in them.  Relationships have their share of mess and struggles, but blessings come through the work involved in a relationship.

Blessings have a cost.  They often require work, responsibility, and sacrifices.  But look at the result.  Don’t miss out on the blessing, because you don’t want to deal with the mess.  An empty stall may look pretty, but you are really going to miss that oxen when you try to pull that plow yourself!

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Nov 09

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Band-aid by Christian Svensson at freeimages.com

One day Jesus was walking by the pool of Bethesda, which was surrounded by various invalids.  He met one man who had not been able to walk for 38 years.  When Jesus saw him there by the pool, which was believed to have miraculous powers if you could be the first to get in the pool at the right moment.  Jesus asked him an unusual question.  He asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).  At first the question seems a bit startling.  Surly he wanted to be healed.  But upon deeper reflection, the question goes to the heart of all of us.  We all have our issues.  Many of them we have lived with for 38 years.  We have become so used to them, they have become a part of who we are.  We may even nurse them, feel vindicated by them, and be deeply settled in them.  Change seems impossible.

The first question we must answer anytime we are dealing with a problem is “Do we want to be made well?”  The drug addict, the troubled marriage, the porn addict, the greedy businessman, the deceitful church leader, or the deeply indebted family all have to get to the point where they want to be made well.  Sometimes we get comfortable with our sin.  We allow our sin to define who we are and we feel the pain and cost to change is greater than the ease of staying in our sin.

The invalid answered Jesus the way we often answer others when they challenge us to change.  He blamed other people.  He said that he had no one to put him in the water.  We play the role of the victim.  We blame others for our predicament.  We blame circumstances.  We blame our family, friends, society, and even God.  In truth most of these are just excuses.  He said what we too often say, “It’s not my fault.”  Jesus didn’t ask him why he was an invalid, he said, “Do you want to be made well?”

The powerful Lord of creation, after realizing his desire, told him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8).  The man was healed.  He was able to throw off a 38 year bondage through the power of Christ. Christ healed him.  Likewise, we can be healed through the power of Christ.  We have to desire it.  We have to quit blaming others.  We have to take responsibility for our situation.  We must recognize our sin and sickness.  We must choose faith and obedience in Christ.  Later Jesus found the man and said, “See, you are well!  Sin no more” (John 5:14).  Jesus instructed him to live a holy and righteous life.

So Jesus’ question must ring in our ears when we deal with the same issue over and over;  “Do we want to be made well?”. Are we willing to change our habits and decisions that keep putting us in this situation?  Will we quit blaming others and make better choices.  We can be made well through the power of Jesus (Phil. 4:13).   Do you want to be made well?

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Nov 05

Missing the Lord for the Crowd

by Brenton Nicholls at freeimages.com

Zaccheus, a man small in stature, knew the Lord was passing by him this day in Jericho.  But he was small in stature and could not see him because of the bustling crowd.  So he famously climbed up in a Sycamore tree, and the Lord noticed him and chose to dine at his home (Luke 19:1-10).

As I reflect upon this story, I wonder how many times the Lord is passing by us in our day, but we are so busy and distracted with the crowd that we don’t see him.  If we are going to notice God and the workings of Jesus throughout our day we have to climb up in a Sycamore tree and look for them. We have to be intentional about looking for opportunities to see the work of Jesus before us.  If we keep our head down in the crowd of life, we miss out on a meal with Jesus.

So today as you go about your life, lift your thoughts from the crowd of life and look for when Jesus walks by.  You may see him in a child, the beauty of the sunset, the heart of a caring brother, or in the meditation upon Scripture.  You may see the opportunity to share his story with a lost soul or remember to talk to him in prayer about a hurting friend.  Yes, Jesus is passing by us today, but will we see him?

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Nov 02

The Difference in Duty and Joy

Sunset Joy by Shirley B at freeimages.com

Why do you worship God?  Do you worship from a sense of duty?  We should feel a duty to worship God, after all Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Mat. 4:10).  It should eat away at our conscience when we fail at our obligation to worship, but shouldn’t there be more?

Consider the analogy of a married couple having an anniversary.  Suppose the man shows up with a bouquet of beautiful roses.  She greets him at the door and says, “Oh honey, what beautiful flowers, thank you for them!  You are so sweet!”  To which the man responds, “No problem, I am only doing my duty.”  The same couple goes out to a nice restaurant to celebrate their anniversary,  while eating their meal, the wife says, “It is so special to have this time together, I appreciate you taking me out on this date.”  The man in a rather straight face replies, “Well, it is our anniversary, so I felt it was my duty to take you out tonight.”  What wife is going to be happy with such expressions of duty?  Is she truly honored and shown affection by such deeds?  The wife wants to be cherished!  She wants to receive roses, not because he “has to” buy them, but because he wants to make her happy.  She wants him to enjoy her presence and relish in being on a date with her, rather than doing it out of duty.  She wants him to say, “It’s my joy!” rather than “It’s my duty!”

The heart of worship is about our love for God.  We worship because we love.  The greatest command is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mat. 22:37).  Psalm 37:4 says to “Delight yourself in the Lord!”  Worship should be joyful!  We want to worship because we are grateful, joyful, humbled, and in love with God.  Yes, we need a mature level of duty that disciplines us to worship when our heart is cold and the distractions of life interfere, but it should not be our primary motivation.

God is honored when we worship out of love, joy, and gratefulness, rather than a ritualistic, cold dutiful heart.  The real question is how does God feel when He views your worship?  Does He see a dutiful heart, solely in worship because of obligation, or does He see the overflowing joy and affection of your heart bursting forth in praise and adoration.  There is a difference.  You know it and so does God!

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Credit for much of the thoughts of the post come from p. 108-109 of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney

 

 

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