Meanderings of a Minister


Why Is It That Some Seem So Hardened to the Gospel?

Agnry

Many Christian parents are broken when their son or daughter come home from public schools or university and begin to doubt or deny the faith that they have grown up with.  What causes this to happen?  What is it that these prodigals are saying to us with their doubts?  How are we to react to them?  What do we do to help?  If you have a prodigal, you understand these questions.  The first step to addressing your prodigal is understanding what they are saying to you when they say that they doubt or deny their faith.  Are they saying that they have gone to school and have been taught that there is no God?  Perhaps they have been challenged with their faith and have not been able to provide a response, so they feel like they have to doubt or deny their faith in order to be intellectually honest.  They have been taught that evolution is a fact (while it is only a theory).  They have been taught that there is no such thing as a miracle because science demands that something be witnessed and reproducible in order to be true.  This also causes doubt for the resurrection.  If this is what your prodigal is telling you, then what do you do?  Pray.  Explain your reasons for believing.  Challenge them to read works of scientists like William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Norm Geisler and others that have dealt with these issues.

Perhaps you prodigal is not struggling with any of the empirical data.  Perhaps they are disillusioned by what they see around them.  They see “Christians” that are mean, abusive, and controlling.  Maybe they see hypocrites that live one way at church and another way at home.  Maybe they struggle with all of the devastation in our world and this all swirls around to make them struggle with the concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving God.  What can you do for them?  Pray.  Live an example of compassion and faithfulness before them so that they can understand that not all people or fakes or hypocrites.  Be quick to ask forgiveness when you struggle and make sure that they know you care for them.

Maybe they are doubting because believing in God would mean that they need to forgive others that have done them wrong and for which they are holding a grudge.  Since they feel justified in their unforgiveness, they want no part of coming to a God that would require them to forgive.  Perhaps you are the reason for their resistance as you have not treated them with the care and concern a parent should.  Perhaps it was someone at church that wronged them and they are holding on to the pain because to forgive would mean putting himself or herself in to the environment that caused the pain.  What can you do to help them?  Pray.  Apologize for any part you have had in their hurt or disappointment with the church.  Show them a changed life and heart.  Show they the change that God is making in your life.

Yet another reason that they may be denying or doubting their faith is because the sin they are involved in is more “fun” than repentance.  The longer you and I are believers, the more we forget about the lure of sin.  The more we forget that we sinned because it was fun.  Sex outside of Biblically defined marriage may be fun and it may feel fulfilling.  We forget that.  Alcohol and the feelings that come with being under its influence is freeing.  The high of the drugs we used to take really was high.  Only in coming to Christ did we realize this was short lived and left us with a much larger hole it ever filled.  Your prodigal might have gotten involved in a sin that they know they would have to give up if they allowed themselves to believe there is a God with a moral standard.  What can you do to help them?  Pray.  Look for teachable moments to help them understand their error in thinking.  Be careful not to cushion the anvil blows God might want to send their way in order to get them back in line and draw them back to Himself.  Sometimes, the joy of the sin has to be overwhelmed with pain to create change.  Pray, but don’t interfere with what God is doing.  It is hard, but it is best.

Remember, there is hope.  The prodigal came home and yours may as well.  Be ready.  Be praying.  Be ready to celebrate.  Be ready to forgive.  Be ready to explain.  Be ready to love.



Crash the Chatterbox before The Chatterbox Crashes Your Christianity

Crash the Chatterbox

Steven Furtick, known for such books as Greater and Sun Stand Still, has brought us another helpful book, Crash the Chatterbox:  Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others.

In this book, Furtick, in his normal, open style, shares his struggles as a believer and provides us with some helpful guidance taken from various episodes throughout the Bible.  Defining the thoughts that undermine our walk with Christ as “The Chatterbox”, Furtick exposes the purpose of these thoughts as well as how to counter their discouraging, distracting, and defeating effects on our lives and hearts.

He begins with reminding us that we are who God says we are and not who our past, our present, or our patterns say we are.  Many people spend a good portion of their lives trying to please others and trying to measure up to the standard others set for them as believers, but Furtick suggests that we would be better off listening to who God says we are from places like Ephesians 1 and others.  If we would realize that God not only loves the world, but that He likes us as well, we could skip a lot of the stress and exhaustion plaguing many as they try to earn what they already possess in Christ.  We are who God says we are.

Another area that believers struggle with comes from the fear of doubting God will come through in difficulty.  We are not convinced he likes us, so we doubt whether or not we can really count on Him.  Our inner Chatterbox tells us not to risk stepping out in faith because we might fall through the cracks.  Because God does not always act the way we think He should, we doubt if He will act at all.  Furtick combats that with promises of scripture taken from examples like Elijah on the side of the mountain asking God to take his life because he could not see all God was up to.  God will do what He says He will.

Next, Furtick reminds us that we are to be set free by the reminder that God says we are forgiven and all that entails.  Again, taking his examples from scripture, he reminds readers that Satan’s main job is to accuse.  He uses temptations to draw us into sin, but then he uses accusations to whisper to us that we could never be forgiven.  He brings up the pornographic image from our memory and tells us we can’t forget so we are not forgiven.  He uses the disease our sin brought on us as an accusation God has not forgiven.  He uses everything he can to get our Chatterbox going to obscure the fact that we already have the victory.

Lastly, Furtick wraps up his work with a reminder that we are more than conquerors in Christ.  This does not mean that we can do anything we want to do, but that we can do anything God wants us to do.  As we rely on His power, His plan, and His position in our lives, we surrender and accomplish more than standing on our own.  This crashes the Chatterbox of discouragement that keeps us back from trusting God to work in our lives.

Overall, Steven Furtick has written a book that is much more than just the power of positive thinking.  He uses solid Biblical examples to back up each point and does not take any liberties with interpretation or context.  He has produced a very helpful book for those who have struggled with believing they matter to God and can be used for His Kingdom.  It would also be helpful for those who are trying to encourage such people.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.



Go Get the Wanderer

Come Home

James MacDonald, in his book, Come Home:  A Call Back to Faith[1], reminds us that the book of James ends with a command instead of a salutation:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [2]

 What does it mean that someone has wandered from the faith?  Well, put plainly, they used to be in the pew or on the row with you, but are not anymore.  They used to sing the songs of the faith, but now their voices are silent and they are not there.  They once helped take up the offering, teach Sunday school, work in the nursery, or even be on the church board, but now they are missing in action.  How does this happen?  A number of ways.

First, there are some that simply did not want to be corrected or listen to scripture tell them what to do, so they walked away.  They had a pet sin they did not want to get rid of, so they walked away.  They chose the sin over the Son.  They were not going to let some preacher, fellow Christian, or family member tell them they can’t do what they like or enjoy, so they walked away.

Second, there are those that simply are too selfish to remain in church or walking with the Lord.  They only get a couple of days a week to sleep in, spend time at the lake, or ride their motorcycles, jet skis, or ATV’s, so they give up on church.  They give up on those they once called brother and sister, but more importantly, they give up on the One they once called Savior and Lord.  They would tell you they are followers of Christ, but they aren’t following anything but their own selfish ambitions and desires.

Third, there are those that have been wounded by the church, so they walked away.  Someone in spiritual authority said the wrong thing, or did not say the right thing when they were going through a tough time, so they checked out.  Now, they equate that leader’s actions with the whole church or with Jesus Himself, so they are no longer counted among the saints.

Fourth, there is the ashamed.  They have fallen and can’t believe anyone even cares if they get up.  They can’t accept forgiveness and insist that they have to earn their forgiveness and restoration before God.  Since they cannot, they stay away convinced that the rest of the holy people in church would never accept them and that everyone knows what they have done.

Lastly, there is the distracted.  They simply have taken their eyes off of Jesus and are sinking in the mire of life.  It is not that they are against church or against Jesus, they just don’t think of Him anymore.  They just don’t seem to have a radar for Him to be one anymore.

MacDonald reminds us that there are many wanderers out there and they are not all wandering for the same reasons, but that we have a responsibility not to condemn them for wandering, but to leave the 99 and go get the one.  He calls on the church to care about those we once called family.  He encourages us to get uncomfortable so that others might be comforted.  I guess the only question left is whether or not we will hear the Father’s heart and do what He is doing and love who He loves.  I wonder if we will listen to the Father and His will for the wanderer.

[1] MacDonald, James, Come Home:  A Call Back to Faith.  Chicago:  Moody Press, 2013.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.



Comfort or Character?
March 27, 2014, 3:01 pm
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comfortable

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

As I have read this scripture over the years, and talked with many people about it, I have often been puzzled about just what James is telling his readers, and us today.  As you think about this, the dawning of understanding arrives.  James is saying that God uses trials to prove us as believers.  He uses trials to teach us to lean on Him, trust in Him, follow Him, and show that this is really the life we have chosen and our faith is genuine.  He says the only way we can REALLY know we have surrendered our lives to Christ is when we face situations that tempt us to want to take matters into our own hands.

As this reality sets in, we are left with a series of questions. First, if God is so interested in developing our character, why are we so focused on Him delivering our comfort?  Second, if it is the trials that develop our faith, what are we doing to ourselves when we are praying for God to take away that development?  Third, do we eschew trials because we are afraid that our faith might not be genuine?  Fourth, do we have such a worldly list of values that we don’t want to submit to heavenly ones?

By trials God develops our character.  The verses plainly state this.  How did we get to the point that we became so focused on our comfort that we would consider trials as a reason to question God’s goodness instead of a reason to glorify Him?  What hold has this world on us that we would value a lack of development of our character simply because it is easier?  Is this what God has called us to?  Comfort?  Ease?  How does that interface with Jesus’ life and instructions?

We pray that God would grow our faith, but in the same prayer, we pray that He would take away the means whereby he would answer that very prayer.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think anyone should be praying for more difficulty, but maybe our prayer should be for God to help us see His purpose in trials instead of just praying that they go away without us learning the lessons for which they were allowed.

We go to church and present a façade of having great faith.  We tell people we are blessed when asked.  We never allow anyone to see us sweat, struggle, or fail.  When a trials comes our way, do we attempt to avoid it because we are not sure that our faith is as rock solid as we would like for others, and maybe even ourselves, to think.  We get really nervous when trials come because we are not really sure we can hang on.  We think of death as the ultimate threat and are afraid that this might lead us to separation from God instead of eternity with Him.  Could this be a reason we so want trials to go away quickly?

Perhaps the reason that we prefer not to have trials is because we only value what we can touch, taste, see, smell, and hear.  Although we would deny being existentialists, maybe we show ourselves to be in that we do not value anything we cannot see.  Trials tend to take away, damage, or shrink the things we tend to lean on, so we do not want to have to deal with them because that is truly what we value and God, heaven, holiness, just don’t measure up.

While I cannot answer these questions for anyone other than myself, I am afraid that I stand accused by these scriptures way too often.  God, help me to value what you value and to love you so intensely that anything you allow into my life is seen as an opportunity to worship and glorify you.  When I fail, help me to follow.  When I endure, let me give you the glory.  Continue to make me more like You.



Five Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life: Week Five: Fake It Until You Make It
March 21, 2014, 2:04 pm
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Courtesy of PowerpointSermons.com

This is the fifth and final installment of a series of articles aimed at helping us make decisions and changes in life that will draw us closer to God and to His will for our lives.  In the last four articles, we have looked at Matthew 23 and Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees and, through analyzing what He was critical about, have seen things to avoid in our own lives as we strive to live for and love Him.

In the first week, we said an easy way to wreck your life was to change for the sake of change and without any kind of goal or aim in mind.  The second way was just as “wreckful”:  change inconsistently.  Go one direction and then another and never persevere or complete anything.  Just go with the flow and let the wind blow you where it may.  Last week was related to this week in that we said you could easily wreck your life by changing things that don’t matter.  Just deal with trivial matters that no one cares about and you can spin your wheels and wreck into the snowbank of expectations.  Last week, we said it would be equally destructive if only looked at the outside to make changes.  The Pharisees were described as concerned with the outer cleanliness demanded of the law while ignoring the inside.  We would do well to address both/and and not either/or.

Lastly, we read Matthew 23:29-33 and see that the Pharisees were basically fakes.  Jesus had called them hypocrites throughout this chapter.  The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from a Greek word, which means playacting.  It means to act one way while really feeling and intending another.  They thought that if they faked being concerned about people, it counted.  They thought that if they acted as though righteousness was really important to them, people would believe it and, since they were more interested in pleasing people than in pleasing God, they thought they had accomplished their lives.

Before we define this further, allow me to say what I am not saying.  I am not saying that sometimes Spiritual disciplines are not going to feel like a drudgery.  I am also not saying that it will always be exciting and gratifying to serve God…in the moment.  Sometimes, we need  to push on, even though we struggle to get our hearts to come along for the ride.  This is not the same thing as Jesus was criticizing.  A heart that is desperately seeking to love God more and more, but just isn’t feeling “close to Him” is an entirely different matter than the person that is only concerned with appearing like they are living for God.

Having given the bookends for the discussion, how would a person know if they were guilty of faking it?  I am glad you asked!  The problem is that the Holy Spirit, Who knows us better than we know ourselves, will let us know, if we belong to Christ.  If not, then we probably don’t care anyway.  Perhaps some diagnostic questions might assist in searching our hearts:

  1. What is your first thought when serving at church?  Of God, others or yourself?
  2. Do you ever look at some other Christian and think you would like to be like them?
  3. Do you pursuit what they are doing or who they are?
  4. When was the last time you were broken over someone’s need?
  5. When was the last time you were excited for someone to grow in Christ?

If you want to wreck your life, just fake it.  Be loud about what you would do, if YOU ran the church.  Be bold about what you COULD do, if people would just listen.  Be vocal about what MIGHT happen, if you stepped up to serve.  Be quick to shift blame on to others when feeling convicted that you might not be living right.  Oh, and, by the way, never, never, never, never, NEVER show weakness.  Make other people think you have it all together, whether it is true or not.



5 Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life: Week 4: Focus Only On The Outside
March 13, 2014, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Articles

5-Part Series on Change

If you have followed this series of articles, I hope you have been challenged to begin to look at your life and your approach to change.  I hope it has caused you to reassess some of the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone by the wayside.  In looking hard at our lives, I hope, if you are in Christ, you have seen the work God is doing and are convinced, like Paul, that “That He Who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.“ (Philippians 1:6)

In the first week, we said an easy way to wreck your life was to change for the sake of change and without any kind of goal or aim in mind.  The second way was just as “wreckful”:  change inconsistently.  Go one direction and then another and never persevere or complete anything.  Just go with the flow and let the wind blow you where it may.  Last week was related to this week in that we said you could easily wreck your life by changing things that don’t matter.  Just deal with trivial matters that no one cares about and you can spin your wheels and wreck into the snowbank of expectations.

As I hope you have in the last few weeks, begin by reading Matthew 23:25-28.  In these verses, Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees, or “religious people”.  He is criticizing them for trying to put on their church-go-to-meetin’ clothes with their church-go-to-meetin’ attitudes and airs.  In doing so, they thought they were pretty good.  After all, they had washed their hands for the proper amount of time.  They had walked no more than the allowed number of steps.  They had stopped to kiss the mezuzah on their doorframe.  They had brought large offerings.  Sound familiar?

If we are not careful, we can be guilty of the same way of thinking.  We can think we are holy because we go to church.  We can look down on those that come to church in jeans or worse.  We can feel spiritually superior because we tithe and give offerings above that.  We can feel like we are pleasing God because we serve on three committees, teach a class and are on the board.  We are so busy with the things on the outside, we rarely take the time to check the inside.

The strange thing about this particular way to wreck our lives is that it can deaden our sense of sensing something is wrong.  Since we are so involved in the outer activities, we may not realize that our love for God and for others has waned.  We might not realize that our passion for God’s Word and God’s Wife (the Church) has petered out.  We might not realize that sinful attitudes (like pride) have crept in and filled up the spaces in our hearts where compassion should be.  If we are not careful, we even shrug off the conviction of the Holy Spirit, when He tries to tell us we are slipping away from the close fellowship with Him we once had.

So…what is the answer?  How do I keep from wrecking my life this way?  It is actually so simple that it is complicated.  We must start with the inside and trust God to change the inside and that those changes will translate to the outside.  Now, I am not suggesting that we are unconcerned about obvious sin.  Actually, when God is working on the inside, it has to work its way to the outside.  Here are some suggestions to help if you are struggling with this in various areas.

  1. Pray and give yourself to God anew each and every time you enter church and ask Him to not allow you to leave without communicating with you about what is in your heart.
  2. Think about the words of the songs you are asked to sing.  If you can’t sing them with an honest conscience, don’t sing them.  Pray instead and get your heart right so you can.
  3. Before you give your offering, picture in your mind the souls that will be touched through the ministry of your church.
  4. Before teaching your class, pray as John the Baptist, “He must increase.  I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
  5. When the invitation starts, pray for those that need to respond and ask God if you need to set the example by going to recommit yourself to Him so others will feel it is acceptable to seek the help they need.
  6. You fill in the blank.

Let’s not wreck our lives by looking only on the outside.  Instead, let’s build a heart and life that will matter eternally by exposing our hearts to God and others, so we can learn what is in there and it can be changed.  That will take care of the outside.



5 Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life: Week Three: Change Things That Don’t Matter
March 6, 2014, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Articles
Courtesy of Twitter.com

Courtesy of Twitter.com

For the last two weeks, we have been looking at Matthew 23:13-33 and Five Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life.  In the first week, we looked at Matthew 23:13-15 and we saw that that Pharisees were wrecking their lives in that they did not allow God to aim their lives and the changes they thought were needed.  Since God did not direct that change, they actually moved AWAY from God instead of towards Him.  Jesus criticized them and will us if we do the same thing.  Last week, we looked at Matthew 23:16-22 and saw how the Pharisees changed, but always wanted to leave themselves an out, so they could decide if the change was too hard or not.  We saw that changing inconsistently can actually be worse that not changing at all because we already feel as though we have been there and done that, but have actually not moved towards God or His will for our lives and we end up paralyzed.

This week, we should begin by reading Matthew 23:23-24.  In these passages, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for changing things that don’t matter so that they can feel like they are righteous.  They were tithing (or giving ten percent) of everything that they owned, all the way down to what grew on their plants for spices.  While there is certainly nothing inherently evil about tithing, as a matter of fact, Abram tithed all the way back in Genesis 14, Jacob does so in Genesis 28, it is commanded in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and is even expanded upon in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians.  It is certainly proper for a believer to want to return to God, according to how he or she has been prospered.  This is good stewardship.  This is proper worship.  This is submission to God’s sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship over one’s life; however, the Pharisees, like many people today, thought that was all that was required.  They thought that they could just “write the check” and consider their “debt” to God paid and they were free to live the rest of their lives however they wanted.

The problem Jesus brought up with the Pharisees, about this practice, is that the Christian life is not about some checklist of works to be performed in order to earn or remain in God’s good graces.  Ephesians 2 tells us that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works.  It is not about going to church, prayer, Bible study, baptism, confirmation, tithing, avoiding alcohol, obeying the government or how many people you lead to Christ.  All of these things may be an outworking of our faith, but they are not the means to it.

So, what IS important?  Simply what Jesus said the Pharisees lacked.  They had not had a change of heart, so they substituted other changes in its place and thought they should “count”.  Many of are like that about change in our lives.  We think we should just pray more.  Forget the fact that I have a hurt in my heart that I am not willing to forgive.  I just need to pray more.  Or I need to read the Bible more.  Forget that I have not stopped to figure out how to obey what I have read.  I am changing.  Isn’t that enough?  I need to invite more people to church.  That’s it.  That will take care of making me acceptable to God.  My pastor will be happy.  Forget the fact that I don’t serve or give to my church, if I invite people, I am giving my time.  That’s enough for God to be pleased, right?

Wrong.  Jesus wants us to do these things, but because we have been changed.  He wants us to WANT to spend time with Him because we are filled up with love for Him.  He wants us to WANT to pray because we are so committed to Him that we cannot go on without it.  He wants us to WANT tithe because we are so involved in what He is doing in our church that we see this as an extension of worship and as a natural part of gratitude from what we are so filled up with.  As He said, we should not neglect the heart for the hands, but neither should we neglect the hands for the heart.

Want to wreck your life?  Spend all your time changing things that don’t matter and you will run out of gas and all that effort will turn into a hypocrisy that drives you further from God than you started.  Instead, let’s draw near to God and simply change the things He directs and let’s stick with Him and it for the long haul.




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