Oct 25

Wearing Masks!

It is Halloween time!  Halloween is the time when we put on costumes and pretend to be something we are not.  Kids enjoy this holiday and many adults still dress up.  While it is fun to put on a costume and pretend, do we put on masks throughout the rest of the year spiritually and emotionally?  When we try to hide our true selves we resort back to the actions of our original parents; Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed before sin entered the world.  They were in complete harmony and fellowship with God.  They had nothing to hide.  But after Satan deceived them, their eyes were opened knowing good and evil.  They had sinned.  They sought to cover their nakedness with fig leaves and hide themselves from the presence of God (Genesis 2-3).

Why do people pretend to be someone they are not?

Four reasons come to my mind of why we hide ourselves today.  Some hide themselves because they are seeking protection and safety.  Adam and Eve were afraid, so they hid.  We are often afraid of judgement and rejection.  We are afraid of what others may think, so we pretend.  A second reason we wear masks is because we want to deceive others.  Our lies come from our desire to wear a mask to fool others.  We are afraid of being exposed for what we really are in an area, so we lie and try to deceive others.  We try to bluff our way through life.  Sometimes it is only half-truths we tell, but they are still whole lies!  A third reason people wear masks is because of the expectations of others.  There was a country song a few years back by Chris Young called “Voices.”  It was about the expectation we hear from previous generations who still influence us.  While this is often very good, if the expectations are harmful or unrealistic it causes us to wear a mask.  People can try to be who they are not in order to please the expectation of another.  A fourth reason many wear a mask is they desire to practice sin.  Masks are worn by selfish people.  Jesus tells about the Laodiceans who were consumed with their wealth and pleasure.  They were hiding their true selves in the money and pleasure of their city, but Jesus said they were really naked and miserable (Rev. 3:17-18).  This is why some folks who look like they have it all, wear a fake smile and laugh, but inwardly they are hurting and empty.

 Being Who We Are and Meant to Be!

This Halloween determine to take off your emotional and spiritual masks as well!  Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”  We need to realize that joy, peace, and contentment come, not through hiding, but through being open and transparent.  We have to be real with our struggles.  We have to confess our sins and shortcomings. We have to turn to God for help and strength.  Being who we truly are is not about selfishness, but rather surrender.  It is the refusal to hide and pretend.  It is being humble.  It is only then that we can become truly who we were meant to be in the power of Christ.  It is at the point of our humility and transparency that Christ is able to be formed in us and our identity no longer is fake but is real in Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18).

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Oct 24

The Holy Spirit’s Purpose was to Glorify Jesus

dove by nzmu at freeimages.com

It seems that some churches major in the Spirit.  Their worship services focus on manifestations of the Spirit.  They claim to speak in tongues and seek for the Spirit to come into their services in a powerful and miraculous way.  Faith-healers claim they can heal the sick and give sight to the blind through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the Church of Christ over the last 20 years there has been an increase in the focus on the Holy Spirit.  Some talk about the Spirit often in their worship and teaching.  Sadly this has often led to some accepting and promoting charismatic beliefs contrary to Scripture.

The point of this little post is not to focus on modern day workings of the Holy Spirit or to give a theological treatise on the Holy Spirit, but to point out that the Holy Spirit’s work was to glorify Jesus.  The Spirit’s work is to point people to Jesus.  When Jesus was telling about the Spirit’s coming to the Apostles, he says, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).

The Spirit’s purpose was to glorify and promote the life and work of Jesus.  He inspired the Apostles to write four gospels and the rest of the New Testament which extols the redemptive work of Jesus.  The church is to focus on Jesus.  The Spirit is equal in divinity with Christ and the Father.  The Spirit has a great purpose today to indwell Christians and help in our weaknesses.  But the Spirit’s primary work in the past and today is to glorify Christ.  This is where our focus should be too–on Jesus!

While it is helpful to study the Spirit and understand His work, we should not focus on His work to the neglect of Christ.  Our preaching and teaching should extol the glory of Christ.  We don’t want the proverbial tail to wag the dog!  We must keep the focus on Jesus, that is what the Spirit did through inspiriting the Holy Scriptures.

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Oct 19

Keeping Demons Out!

Light In by Sesseelia at www.freeimages.com

When we are motivated we can accomplish a tremendous amount.  The old saying is true, “When there is a why, there is a way.”  I have seen it many times in my ministry.  Someone has a strong reason for getting their life in order; it may be to save their marriage, or avoid trouble with the law,  or to keep from losing their job.  They are very motivated.  The person proceeds to make real changes, they cast their demon out and get their house in order.

Jesus tells a parable along a similar thought.  It is about a demon who has gone out from a person.  The person gets his life all clean and in order.  But the demon returns and finds the house all empty and put in order.  The demon basically says this is a better place to live now, it is clean and empty.  So he goes and gets seven more demons who are worse than himself to live in the man with him.  Jesus concludes his parable by stating, “the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Mat. 12:43-45).

Do you see the parallel with the motivated person and Jesus’ parable?  How many times have you seen people get their life in order for a period, but then open themselves up to even greater dangers and misery in the future.  They get comfortable.  Life has returned to “normal.”  But they haven’t really changed their heart.  They aren’t committed to Jesus, they seldom read the Word of God or pray.  Thus, they slowly slip back into old patterns, but this time they go deeper and farther down.  Their is less motivation for recovery and pretty soon they are dealing with, not just one, but multiple demons in their life.

Jesus parable contains an important insight for us.  It is not enough to just make an empty, orderly life.  If we leave our lives empty, Satan will take opportunities through our evil world to fill up our lives.  Jesus is saying we must cast out the demon and invite the spirit of God to indwell within us.  We have to fill up our lives with the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).  We must focus on the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  We have to constantly seek to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).  We have to keep the demons out!  A clean, empty, orderly life may feel good, but it means there is abundant space to be filled.  What we allow to fill the clean space will determine our future!

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Oct 18

Our Church’s Day of Prayer and Fasting

copyrighted Photo – purchased from istock

Today, Wednesday, October 18th is Seven Oak’s day of prayer and fasting.  We have done this several times over my 14 years with this congregation.  It was first started when we were involved in a new building project.back in 2005.  We did it every year for a number of years.  Then we stopped it for several years and decided to do it again this fall.

Why we are praying and fasting. 

Our congregation is going through a difficult, but opportunistic season.  We have had so many of our church family dealing with cancer.  We have had some deaths of our number.  Several of our families are currently undergoing chemo treatments and fighing cancer.  We are in the process of hiring a new youth minister.  Plus our education program needs a resurgence.  You add these concerns in with the status of our nation and the need to spread the gospel, and we felt compelled to have another day of prayer and fasting.  But we also have many reasons to be thankful.  We recently completed a $90,000 upgrade to our outside facilities which included a large pavilion and bus garage which was paid for completely.

How we pray and fast as a church. 

Our goal is to have 12 uninterrupted hours of prayer.  We make a sign-up sheet from 6 am – 6 p.m.  We put blocks for folks to sign-up for a 15 minute time slot.  We make sure every slot is filled and many have two or more names.  We make a comprehensive prayer guide for people to use as a tool in their prayer time.  This helps everyone to focus on some of the same ideas throughout the day.  I talk about the upcoming day in sermons leading up to the event.  This past Sunday, I explained the purpose and biblical guidelines for fasting.  Regarding fasting, we remind people that fasting is a personal choice each one makes.  It is not done to be seen of men or to draw attention to oneself (Mat. 6).  We encourage people to do the typical fast of going without food for the 12 hour period.  But we also say that each person can choose how they fast.  If they do not or cannot go without food we ask them to give up something throughout the day as a way of helping them focus on God and prayer.  We  break-the-fast with a congregational breakfast at 6:00.  We have the final 15 minute slot of praying together, then we eat a breakfast meal before our Bible study at 7.

Your congregation should consider doing a day of prayer and fasting.  If you have questions or anyway I can help just let me know.

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Oct 11

Embracing a New Season

autumn-3-by Aki_fukaki from freeimages.com

Fall is the season of football games, pumpkins, and hayrides.  What fall activities do you enjoy the most?  Aren’t you thankful for the changing of the seasons?  Each season contains its own unique characteristics and activities.  It helps provide a rhythm to your years and new adventures to anticipate.  While I hope you are enjoying fall now, I bet you are also anticipating the coming of winter.  Winter involves being home earlier, fireplaces, hot cocoa, and the holidays.  We make it through blustery days of winter by anticipating the coming spring.  Spring involves the warming of the temperatures which bring our flowers, trees, and grasses back to life.  New life resurrects again and the browns of winter give way to the many colors of spring.  Spring yields to the increased heat of summer.  Though some may complain about the heat of summer, what would our year be like if there wasn’t the heat of summer?  Hot evenings at a ball field or fun days at the pool fill our lives.  I love late summer evenings and fresh garden produce.

Notice how we anticipate and embrace the highlights and changes of the next season.  We understand with our yearly calendar the truth of the famous verse from Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (3:1).  But let’s apply this same principle to our lives.  Our lives pass through seasons as well.  These are not as short as a calendar season, but they still go by quickly.  You can break down the seasons of your life into small segments of years or in large chucks.  For example, you can talk about the youth season, which really is divided into preschool, elementary, middle-school, and high-school seasons.  Then you move into your young adult season of life.  For many the next season involves marriage and then children.  Then you enjoy the season of raising your children.  Then comes a time when your children leave your home and you experience empty-nest.  You may be going through a season of extended care-giving for your parents.  We often look at retirement and being a grand-parent as seasons of our life.

We understand the calendar seasons and the life seasons, but do we handle the life seasons like we do the calendar ones?  Do we anticipate the coming of a new season of our life?  Do we consider the new opportunities and possibilities it will provide?  Sadly, many times we fear the new season of life.  We fail to embrace the changes that come with the new.  We tend to cling to the old season, focusing on the happiness and comfort we have found with it.  Let’s realize that “for everything there is a season.”  Let’s enjoy the present season, let it go when it passes, and move forward to the new opportunities and possibilities of the new season.  We will be much better off for it!  So go enjoy fall, but anticipate winter.  Both will have their blessings and challenges.  But you will get through them both much better if you live in the present!

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Oct 04

The “Why” is Answered in the Absurdity of Evil!

Are you shaking your head in disbelief?  Mass shootings seem to be a weekly news item.  On September 24th, peaceful worshippers of Christ were assaulted as they were ending their service at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee.  One lady was killed and six others were injured.  The carnage would have been worse, had it not of been for an heroic usher.  One week later, we are shocked as a nation to hear of the Las Vegas shooting.  The news is calling this massacre the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

All of the focus has been around the question, “Why?”  What could cause someone to do such horrible deeds?  What was their motive and rationale?  Investigators identify patterns in mass shooters, traits such as mental illness, disenfranchised, religiously-motivated, or hatred.  But the answers, still leave us confused.

I was speaking to a wise, older gentleman.  I made the remark that I just can’t understand why someone would do such a terrible act.  He said, “You will never understand, because it doesn’t make sense to the rational mind.”  I think he is spot-on!  But, after reflecting on these mass-shootings, I think I know the answer our culture needs to give for these acts.  We need to call them what they are, “pure evil.”

I believe one of the primary root causes of these heinous acts is our culture’s lack of moral integrity.  We have removed the moral absolutes from our country’s DNA.  Albert Mohler writes, “College professors tell us that moral relativism has produced a generation of Americans who resist calling anything evil, and even deny the existence of moral facts.”¹  We have removed moral truths that condemn certain actions as evil and wrong.  Everything has become relative. Even basic truths like the sanctity of human life.  As Terry Pratchett wrote, “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”  Most Americans are living independent lives unrestrained from the moral confines of a Biblical worldview.  They don’t recognize their moral accountability to others and ultimately to God.  We have dismissed the thought of eternal judgment and reaping the consequences of our moral choices in eternity.  We have, in essence, thrown out the idea of evil!

The label “evil” has been reserved to the Star Wars movies or WW2 tyrants like Hitler and Stalin.  What we need to realize is that evil is abounding today!  The ultimate “why” of these acts is found in the concept of evil!  Evil is absurd.  It makes no sense!  It is motivated by Satan who wishes to create evil, chaos, and deception upon the earth (John 8:44).  Jesus said it best when he said, “the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Mat. 12:35).  When we as a culture feed our people a treasury of evil (just look at the filth on our TVs), yet don’t even call it evil, we will get evil harvests!

In a culture that trumpets tolerance and acceptance, we need to adhere to this quote by Thomas Mann, “Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.”  As Americans and as Christians, we must say enough is enough.  Let’s call it what it is–evil!  Let’s return to a Biblical understanding of good versus evil; of right vs wrong.  Let’s take the fight to evil, by understanding it as the ultimate cause and choose to triumph over it through the power of God.

—————–

¹  Albert Mohler Article – An Act of Pure Evil – Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

 

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Sep 28

Thoughts from a 55 year old Bulletin

Mrs. Ruby Sanders, a sweet widow at Seven Oaks, gave me an old bulletin from 7th and College (the location and preceding name of our church).  It was dated Dec. 9, 1962 (almost 55 years ago).  I am sure she had kept it because it announced her marriage to Laddie Sanders.  I enjoyed reading it and wanted to share with you some observations I made from it.

  • They emphasized attendance!  Brother Flavil Nichol’s article challenged folks to “plan to attend” Bible classes and Sunday night meetings.  They listed a Bible Study Attendance Chart which had those present in every age from Nursery through 60 years and up.  They had these admonitions “We’ll be looking for YOU Sunday!  Help Bring Our Average UP for Dec.”  “BE RIGHT on SUNDAY NIGHT —- ATTEND CHURCH”  Maybe we don’t emphasize our attendance enough today, which is why we have such attendance problems.         
  • They emphasized the brotherhood.  In their prayer list they called members “Bro.” or “Sis.”  This was consistent throughout in the news and notes as well.  Brothers and Sisters were different than everybody else.  Have we lost some of this in the present church?  We tend to neglect the value of membership today in the church.
  • They cared about helping the hurting and seeking the lost.  The bulletin contained opportunities to help the needy and reports on evangelistic efforts.  The church of the 60s has often been portrayed as legalistic and uncommitted to community felt needs.  The Biblical church should always be about loving people and loving the lost.
  • There were less activities.  The church didn’t have a youth minister to plan lots of activities for the kids.  The church had 442 in attendance, but only one minister.  The church didn’t have lots of planned fellowship or service activities.  The church of today, is expected to keep a calendar full of good opportunities for fellowship and service.  Staff are focused on administration and service to the church in many ways.  This is good in many ways, but it is also a response to our consumer-driven culture where people are looking to a church to provide social and spiritual fellowship for them and their kids.  A full church calendar, doesn’t mean the activities are being productive in shaping disciples.  We must always keep the purpose in mind and not be driven by cultural pressures.

I also noticed that we are not the same congregation.  Most of the names are no longer with us here.  Even many of the family names are not represented.  But we are a part of the same church!  We continue their goal of being the church of Christ!   We stand upon their shoulders and we want to continue the legacy of New Testament Christianity.

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Sep 27

How Jesus Handled Offending Others

Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays?  People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs.  While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand.  “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced.  This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.

The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer).  It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”

When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.

  1. He expected that his message and actions would offend others.  When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing.  Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6).  He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial.  Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67).  He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
  2. He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone.  Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14).  He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch.  Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there.  He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
  3. When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others.  Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people.  In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them.  They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).

What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus?  Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.

  1. The Christian message will still offend people today.  If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God.  The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
  2. We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended.  We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone.  We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
  3. Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others.  We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible.  Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them.  For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.

I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.

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Sep 19

Jesus Cares When . . .

Love Message by Naama y.m. at freeimages.com

Hurricanes are destroying our cities!  Cancer is ruining our health and stressing our families.  Mental illness issues are plaguing our communities.  Churches are struggling with discord and division.  In the midst of these trials we must remember God invites us to cast all our care upon him because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

We need to be reminded that Jesus cares!  He is not unsympathetic to our plight and struggles.  He knows, loves, and cares.  In Luke chapter 7 we see Jesus interacting with humanity in four stories, each of which demonstrate how much Jesus cares.

1.  Jesus cares when sickness invades our homes (Luke 7:1-9).  A Centurion’s servant is sick and at the point of death.  He sends elders of the Jews to Jesus asking him to come and heal his servant.  Jesus responses to his request and admires his faith as he has great respect for Jesus’ power and authority.  The servant is healed!  Sickness can bring tremendous stress and anxiety upon us.  Jesus doesn’t want us to go through sickness alone.  He knows and cares for our pain.

2.  Jesus cares when death breaks our hearts (Luke 7:11-17).  In the next story Jesus enters the village of Nain.  He sees a widow who has lost her only son.  Jesus interrupts the funeral procession to bring the boy back to life.  Jesus’ heart went out to this widow.  He showed his love of her and his power over death.  Remember the shortest verse in the English Bible;  “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  He wept out of compassion for humanity as we deal with death. Jesus cares when we lose our loved ones to death.

3.  Jesus cares when doubt clouds our minds (Luke 7:18-23).  The third story involves the famous preacher John the Baptist.  John was the forerunner for Jesus preparing people for his coming.  But he begins to doubt if his life mission has been correct.  He begins to doubt the Messiahship of Jesus.  He sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is really the Christ. Jesus answers by pointing to his miraculous signs.  He then will compliment John as being “more than a prophet” and a great man.  Jesus didn’t belittle John’s doubt.  He gave him evidence.  Jesus cares when we struggle with doubt.  He offers us proof and encouragement to keep on keeping on!

4.  Jesus cares when sin overwhelms our lives (Luke 7:36-50).  The final story of Luke 7 involves a sinful woman who has been overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the forgiveness Christ offered her.  She comes while Jesus is eating a meal.  She washes his feet with her tears and hair, while anointing his feet.  Christ tells her she is forgiven.  He says she loved much, because she was forgiven much.  Jesus cares when sin ruins our lives.  When we feel  guilt-ridden and unworthy, Jesus cares.  He offers us grace, love, and forgiveness.

So whatever you are going through today, be reminded that Jesus cares.  This should give you hope, strength, and perseverance.

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Sep 09

Our Outdoor Sink

I enjoy cooking outside and have long wanted a sink to help in the preparation.  Also with four kids and all of our outdoor activities a fully-functioning sink would come in handy.  So while it never worked out in our old house, we planned to put one in our new house.  I planned it for the back porch right beside a smoker, grill, and two-burner outdoor gas cooker.  Amanda came up with the design idea of having it directly in line with the main kitchen sink.  So we can easily pass things through and talk as need be.  Also this worked out well with the plumbing.

Like a few other things this did not get done when we were building the house in 2015.  The plumber plumbed it with two outdoor water faucets and a drain.  It has stayed like that since 2015.  We just haven’t made the time to do the project.  Well we were able to tackle it over the last couple of weeks.  Thanks to a donated counter-top and sink from Wes and Ashley (Amanda’s sister) who took it out for their remodel, we saved a lot of money and had a ready to go sink and countertop.

Enjoy the pictures of this project as I take you through our building of it.

We started with a countertop!

We began by building the frame out of 2x4s.

Austin was my sidekick through the whole project. He was a great helper.

Caleb like to hammer!! He is pretty good for a 4 year old!

 

 

I bought the stainless-steel door back in 2015.

 

We covered it in 1/4 inch cement board.

We bought this weathered-barn wood plywood at Lowe’s.

 

We bought this faux stone back in 2014 before we ever started building the house on clearance at Lowe’s for this outdoor sink. We got it at 1/6th of the current price.

Austin loved laying the stones.

We used a glue to attach the stones to the        cement board.

 

I cut them on a wet saw.

Amanda was the chief designer and block-layer. She did great!  She also painted the inside wood grey.

The mostly finished product. I put on the faucet and plumbed the sink.  We have to buy a medal stool to complete it!

The top view!! I also made a cover for the sink with some extra countertop. This helps it not get as dirty and allows it to serve as a larger countertop.

 

 

We are proud of the way it turned out.  The stone looks great.  We love the Corian CounterTop and sink.  We are looking forward to using it for years to come.  I love it when a dream becomes a reality.  We dreamed about it and planned it for years and finally brought it into fruition.

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