Month: January 2017

Firsthand Faith 04

So what do we do with “leftover” sin? You know, the sins that we have accumulated like last night’s dinner leftovers or the junk we hide in our closets so no one can see them? The sins we don’t want to deal with, don’t want to confess, but yet we keep them “hanging around.”

Sin, like leftover food, has to be disposed of or the process of decay begins to take a toll. We wouldn’t leave food rotting in our refrigerator. Why do we leave sin “rotting” in our souls?

What do we do with it then? Ignore it? Close the door on it one more time and walk away? The counsel of 1 John 1:9 is that we “confess it.” We release it. We give our “junk” to God to clean up and dispose of for us. The blood of Jesus Christ is the only cleansing agent that can scrub away the stains of yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s pile of sin.

Confession does not necessarily require going to a person. Though some church traditions have taught this, the Bible seems very clear that this transaction is between you and God. While there are benefits to confessing our faults to a faithful friend to help us deal with avoiding this in the future, it is only necessary to confess our sins to God.

To ‘confess’ does not mean we tell God something He doesn’t know. He’s well aware of what is “rotting” inside of us. He knows this sin has pushed us away from our intimacy with Him. We simply need to admit the same. First, that what God calls sin is, in fact, sin. That it is for this that Christ died. It is for this that atonement was necessary. It is for this that some will spend eternity in Hell.

Admitting we have sinned is a powerful assault against our flesh and pride. We cannot “clean out” this rot without God’s assistance. Only the blood shed by His Son at the cross can do this. And only our confession of that sin… as specific as possible… to God can open the door for the cleansing to take place.

While our salvation and eternal life is never in jeopardy in this understanding, our fellowship (nearness, intimacy, joy) is at stake. We can live in a relationship with someone while not feeling at all close to them. Such is the state of the Christian who will not confess sins committed. And, as one old writer used to put it,

…keep short accounts.


FOR MEDITATION: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

FOR REFLECTION: “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Firsthand Faith 03

I was asked recently by a young person not familiar with the faith, if God heals relationships. It was my delight to get to tell her the following:

  1. God exists in relationship (the Trinity) and we have come into existence because God is a God of relationship. He has created human beings to long for a relationship with Him and as Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
  2. Our sin has broken that relationship with God and God sent His Son to restore our relationship with God by paying our sin debt.
  3. God wants our relationship with Him to be the foundation of every other relationship in our lives.

He wants “our joy to be complete” as we walk in fellowship with Him. The question is: Do you know that fullness of joy that comes only from knowing fellowship with God?

So yes, God is about relationships. And if you don’t know Him, you can come to Him by faith today!


FOR MEDITATION: …and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3

FOR REFLECTION: God desires to share this fellowship with anyone who will draw near to Him by faith. Do you know Him?

Firsthand Faith 02

How do we know that our faith, our belief system about who God is, is the right one? One way is through trusting the reports of eyewitnesses. Even today in courts of law, the power of an eyewitness testimony, a person giving testimony to twelve people that have never met before, can bring a conviction or an acquittal.

The power of an eyewitness, of firsthand testimony is so powerful that one of the Ten Commandments is given to make sure this powerful tool is not misused. “Do not bear false witness (testimony) against your neighbor.” Why is this warning important? Because our words have power to move people to decisions that affect people’s lives. This is not just a prohibition against lying. This is a warning not to devastate a person’s life by saying something untrue about them.

Everything we know about history we know from the reports of eyewitnesses. I never met Lincoln or Washington or Winston Churchill. I take the word of eyewitnesses, their testimony written down in history books.

The entire record of Scripture is based on eyewitness testimony, and proclaimed historically through thousands of pages of written words we call “The Holy Bible.” We never met Moses, but we trust the word and writings of those who did.

But we also interact with that testimony and bear witness to it in our own lives. My life would not and did not change direction because I learned about George Washington defeating the British army in the Revolutionary War. But it did change when I learned about Jesus, and came to understand that He really lived, really died sacrificially and really rose from the dead. My life bears witness to the truth of that.

When the words of Scripture say something and I believe them and then act on that belief, the things that happen are exactly what Scripture said would happen. It doesn’t fail. The witnesses to the life of Jesus didn’t lie.

So it leaves us with a question. What is your testimony to the life and power of Jesus? To some, it is no more than learning the facts about our first president. To others there was a transformation that took place at some point that changed the trajectory of life.

Your testimony, your witness to Jesus is not just part of your story; it’s also a part of His as the Holy Spirit continues to bear witness to the truth of this in our life and spirit.

And it’s too good to keep to yourself!


FOR MEDITATION: And they overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony and they loved not their lives to the death. Revelation 12:11

Firsthand Faith 01

“So how do we know our faith is the real one?” This very serious and thoughtful question was asked me by one of our middle-school students at a class fellowship recently. “What if we have been serving the wrong God?” Her question took me back for a few moments, but she brought me face-to-face with real-time questions being asked today by some of our younger church members. It was a question I never remember thinking too much about until I was much older. But we have passed the day when our answers are received without some question… maybe even skepticism bordering on doubt.

I also know this: our students aren’t the only ones thinking about this issue. While some in our midst may be too shy to voice out loud their questions, many have them. Some have asked, “Why is our Bible the right one? I have friends who follow the Koran. Or what about the Book of Mormon?” We haven’t done a very good job in the church of addressing this bedrock issue. Nor are we the first generation to ask the questions.

The church, by the end of the first century AD, was wrestling with the same question. “How do we know that our faith is the right one?” They, like us, lived in a pluralistic society steeped in pagan worship and idolatry. There were a lot of options to choose from, some which seemed customized to accommodate the lifestyle of the day… and most of which were far more culturally acceptable than following this crucified teacher from Galilee.

And so John, the beloved apostle, probably the last living person on earth who knew Jesus “firsthand,” wrote a brief letter to his flock to address these questions. We know it as “First John.” Many have read it, studied it, and in doing so found a bedrock assurance for their faith: a “firsthand” faith.

Perhaps, like the young lady I mentioned above, you have genuine questions about the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” Or maybe you feel like you once had this faith and assurance, but somehow you’ve lost it. I want to personally invite you to join us as we journey together as a church family into this brief, New Testament letter and hopefully, by the end of our time together, you will know that the Jesus you serve and the faith you hold are indeed the real ones. I really encourage you, not only to hear each of the messages, but to take them to “lunch” with you and discuss some of the ideas with your family or friends. Each week in the blog, I will announce the portions of the book we will be covering in the service. Please try to read and pray through the text before coming to worship on Sunday. This will bring the maximum opportunity for God to speak to you through His Word.

My personal prayer is that you will find an unshakeable assurance in your relationship to God through Jesus that cannot and will not ever fail.


FOR MEDITATION: These things are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

FOR REFLECTION: How unshakeable is your faith? Do you know more than the facts the Bible presents about Jesus? Do you know that you know eternal life belongs to you as His gift? These important questions deserve real answers. Search your heart… and search His Word. The answers will be there.

Your Master, Your Money & You 06

Are you entrusted or entitled? That is the question that determines whether you are obedient or disobedient, right or wrong in your view of possessions and stewardship.

An entrusted person is grateful for every “good and perfect gift” that comes down from the Father. Every nickel and dime we have in our possession is a loan from God. Truly He is the owner of it all. An entrusted person understands that “the cattle on a thousand hills” have God’s brand on them. An entrusted person understands that God’s ownership extends from the greatest to the least; from the inconsequential to the most impactful of our gifts. It all belongs to Him. The entrusted person knows this, and responds gladly and cheerfully to requirements to give, to share, to release resources that were never theirs to begin with. They are stewards, managers, not owners.

An entitled person is secretly comforted by the belief that what they have is owed to them simply by virtue of their being born. They are seldom grateful and then only symbolically so. They keep, they hoard up, they share stingily, if at all. Their hands firmly grasp their possessions, and they release them with the joy of donating a bodily organ. It’s a characteristic of the last days that we are seldom grateful to God or anyone. This lack of gratitude is a telling symptom of an entitled age. When we are entitled, we trust what we have… not the Giver of all gifts. IT all belongs to us, we believe, and we alone are to benefit from that which is “ours.”

We are one or the other. Entrusted or entitled. The diagnostic method that is most accurate is how we respond to God’s call of stewardship… to manage resources… to give faithfully… to honor the Lord with the first fruits of the belongings entrusted to us.

We trust the Lord or we don’t. We are entitled or we are entrusted. Our giving tells the tale.

Which one of these are you?

FOR MEDITATION: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

FOR REFLECTION: Do you live an entitled life? How much does generosity mark your living and giving? If you really believe it all belongs to God, what are you doing with it?

A Prayer for Inauguration Day

Our Sovereign and Holy Lord,

We stand today on the precipice of a new day in our nation. It is a day of change, of hope, of transition and in many ways, of transformation. As a free nation, we are grateful for the political process in which we are invited to be a part, imperfect though it may be, of calling forth a new leader for our land.

And we have done so – hopefully by the hand of Your Sovereign guidance, we have elected a new president. Our prayer for him going forward is that he may lead out of the storehouse of Your wisdom and not man’s. That he may lean more upon Your power than the powers of the world. And that he may lead us away from paths of unrighteousness and disunity and into a day of prosperity and peace as we honor You.

Though kings and men are set up as rulers, we know they rise or fall by Your good pleasure, and not our own. We follow the command of 1st Timothy 2:1-2, as we pray for “kings and all those who are in authority over us.” We pray that our new president will find himself often looking beyond his own resources and unto You as the only True and Living God for grace to lead this country.

We pray that You will guide, through him, this United States of America into a new day as we seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways. We know that rulers can be established by You to bring blessing or punishment… good or evil… and our prayer is that we will be a people blessed by You once more.

However, we know that blessing is dependent upon our turning from ourselves once again to seeking You… as the earliest founders of our Republic did. May we turn from the overt and unrepentant idolatry and evil that we have tolerated… and once again be a people of Your divine pleasure as we fulfill the destiny You birthed when our land was in its infancy.

And our Sovereign King, we have no right to ask any of this of You unless we are willing to turn once again in repentance to You… seeking Your face… seeking Your wisdom. You have blessed us and yet we have turned from You. Forgive us, O God.

We pray on this Inauguration Day, 2017, that a new beginning will be felt in our land… that we would grow intolerant of evil… and that we would be jealous only for Your Glory.

May this prayer be spoken in a spirit of humility and brokenness and gratitude for the privilege of being Christians in America. And may the power of Your Presence and the grace of Your Presence attend Donald J. Trump throughout his term of office.

And may this prayer be the first of many we will offer for our newly-elected government and officials that they may know they lead only by Your good pleasure and only as they fulfill the counsel of Your will for our nation. May they do so faithfully.

And may God bless the United States of America once again.

In Jesus’ name, our only true King and Sovereign, we pray.

Amen

Your Master, Your Money & You 05

Where is your treasure? Usually when we hear the word “treasure” we think of a pirate’s hoard stashed below the surface of the ocean. But we all have treasures. And sometimes, the definition of that treasure changes.

When I was a teenager, I had a collection of albums I treasured. If my house had burned down, I would have wept over losing them. They were, quite literally, the focus of my life and probably my worship. I owned over 200 (now classic!) and pristine records. I had imports, bootlegs, hard-to-locate recordings that I had spent years collecting. When I became a believer, I knew that this collection occupied an inappropriate place in my heart. So I sold the collection… for $75!

Our definition of treasure can take on many forms as we get older; the security of our retirement funds, our house, a vehicle or sporting equipment. The question becomes this: If you lost it all today, what would it do to you? The reality is we will lose it all one day.

John Wesley was once invited to the property of a wealthy Christian man. Wesley and the property owner rode all day and still didn’t see the extent of the land owner’s holdings. As they sat down that evening for dinner, the man asked Wesley what he thought of all that he had seen that day. Wesley quietly looked at the man and said, “I think that you will have a very hard time leaving it all behind.”

Jesus said, “Store up treasures for yourselves in Heaven.” Jesus was not against accumulating treasure. He was counseling that we be careful not to “treasure” it up in the wrong place. There is only one security that we can have in this life; that which we have invested in eternity. Everything else will one day be dissolved by decay or burned by fire (2 Peter 3).

The location of our treasure is important. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our heart’s desire occupies our attention and affection. If that is all focused on this life and in material things, we will one day be pried away from it when death comes. But if our treasure and our hearts are in heavenly locations… then, as Paul said, “Death is gain.”

Store up heavenly treasures. Make sure you keep attention focused on the truly important, though now invisible, realities. For where your treasure is stored, your heart will be right there with it.


FOR MEDITATION: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

FOR REFLECTION: Search your heart today. Does it pursue heavenly, eternal things… or earthly? What steps could you take today to more fully invest yourself in Heaven?

Your Master, Your Money & You 04

A seventeenth-century, Puritan minister wrote, “If we think of our soul as a house, there are idols set up in every room.” That is a stark thought. We as 21st Century Christians could easily convince ourselves that idol worship is a thing of our distant and dark past. Obviously, if I visited your home today, I would be hard pressed to find images or altars where worship of false gods takes place. As we inventory the Ten Commandments and ask ourselves how we are doing, the command to “have no other gods before Me” would receive an A+. “I may get many things wrong,” we think, “but I don’t worship false gods.”

But… we do.IDOL

Our idols are not always obvious to us or to others. There are, what author and pastor, Tim Keller has called “deep idols.” We have not self-diagnosed enough if we simply think that money may be an idol in our life. That is the “surface idol;” the idol that is obvious. Your bank account calls that out for you. But money can be an idol even if you don’t have any. The surface idol is “mammon” or “riches.” The deep idol is your reliance upon money for an understanding of who you are. The deep idol may be your need for control, for success, for approval of others, for comfort, for security. If we are leaning on having money (surface idol) for the sake of achieving these other goals (deep idol), then we are idolaters. Our “golden calf” may not be an object we bow before as the ancient Israelites did in the Book of Exodus. It may, however, be an object we bow before on payday as we wrestle with who gets the firstfruits in our life.

This is something we must rigorously self-diagnose. Idols hide from us. They become so entrenched in our lives that we don’t even notice them, like paint peeling on a wall we pass by every day.

But what we must understand is that the “God who sees” everything, sees the idol. He sees the struggle in our hearts as our worship that should be for Him alone is divided… sometimes many times over. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus warned us.

And yet… how often we try.

FOR MEDITATION: So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” Colossians 3:5 NLT

FOR REFLECTION: What are the “deep idols” that hinder your worship of the One True God?

Your Master, Your Money & You 03

The little boy built his castle diligently… quickly. For the time, it was an all-consuming task. His craftsmanship was honed by doing the same thing over and over again. He shaped the wall… the parapets of the castle’s tower. He struggled to get the placement just right. Adding cup of sand onto cup of sand, he erected a magnificent castle…. patted the last bit of wet sand into place…. wiped off his hands and stepped back to admire his work. Just then, the first wave came ashore, surrounding his masterpiece. Then another came. The wall cracked. The parapets began to lean. And with the swelling of two more waves, his castle of sand disappeared into the sea.

And the little boy picked up his bucket and cups… and went hosandme.

The man built his kingdom and career diligently… never a moment wasted. For him, amassing a fortune and building his empire was all-consuming. Family didn’t matter. His health didn’t matter. All that mattered was more… more… more. He was skilled at his work, and struggled to get everything just right. Adding another business to the puzzle here and another acquisition there… he patted himself on the back for his success. And then, he stepped back… wiped off his hands… and stood with hand on hips to admire his work. Just then, the first wave came ashore. Accounts failed. The stock market shifted and corrected. Then another wave. His health failed. His heart gave way to years of neglect. Another wave came, and his family said good-bye; they too the victims of years of neglect. And with the swelling of another wave, his castle of sand also disappeared into the sea… just like the little boy’s.


For Meditation: And the Lord said, “You fool. This night your soul will be required of you. Then whose will all these things be?'” So shall it be for anyone who lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God. Luke 12:20-21

For Reflection: Whose kingdom are you really striving to build?

Your Master, Your Money & You 02

Last year saw several significant deaths of well-known individuals in America… entertainers, politicians and musicians. Among that number was a beloved member of the Christian community, George Beverly Shea. “Bev,” as Billy Graham and his closest associates referred to him, had walked with Billy as a classmate, accountability partner, friend, advisor and worship leader.

His voice through the years literally enthralled stadiums worldwide as he sang his signature “How Great Thou Art” and slightly lesser known, a song titled, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Though Shea did not write the words to the song, he sang it as though he had.

It’s an awesome thing to see a man so greatly used by God come to the end of his race and end well. Shea lived the words of this song that has been used to bring many to tears and a renewed commitment to knowing, serving and following Jesus.

And though his voice has been silenced for a season on earth, I am confident it still resonates among the angels in the courts of Heaven and before the throne of God.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Today, I am more confident than ever that Bev Shea is glad he lived his life on earth with a clear and singular purpose:

To seek Jesus most of all.

For Meditation: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.   Philippians 3:8

For Reflection: As you inventory your life, what is more important to you than Jesus?

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