Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Note from Peru

My wife and I have been on a mission trip in Lima, Peru for the past week...The other day, during a visit to a blind man, he mentioned that Jesus Loves me was his favorite song as a child.  My wife, who's never been asked to sing in the church choir, for the same good reason as I, immediately sang to him in Spanish, Jesus Loves Me.  Did I mention, Teri also doesn't speak Spanish?  I looked over at her in stunned amazement while she sang.  She had learned the lyrics from teaching years of VBS...later that evening, at the invitation during the worship service, the blind man was led up the aisle, wanting to give his heart to Jesus....  

Cristo me ama,
Cristo me ama,
Cristo me ama,
La Biblia dice así


Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Plate

Whether it’s a super seafood buffet, an all-you-can-eat pizza restaurant, or a good ol’ dinner on the grounds Baptist Sunday, we love us some eating. One of my major downfalls is Shoney’s breakfast buffets...just can’t be around all that unguarded bacon. All those settings are similar in that there’s usually a stack of plates, and silverware at the head of the serving table. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve anxiously grabbed a plate(or two), filled it up, and hurried to sit down and devour my overfilled plate, only to find that I’d completely forgotten any spoon, knife, or fork, so eager was I to fill my plate. Another aspect about the smorgasbord settings is small children have to have their plates filled for them. Conscientious parents lead their little ones through the process, making sure some semblance of nutrition is attained. Otherwise they’d probably head straight to the dessert offerings!

Christians, when asked to serve in this capacity or that, like to use the phrase, "my plate’s pretty full already," in an effort to avoid the requested servitude. The question we need to ask ourselves periodically is this: who filled your plate? Who put all those items on your schedule, now limiting how you think you can serve God? Were you like me at the buffet line, piling on everything that looked delicious, while avoiding things that I perceived I wouldn’t like? There are certainly some areas of service that I enjoy more than others, so those are what I’d like on my plate...

In Luke 18:17, Jesus says:
"Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"

While we usually think of this passage in terms of turning our lives over to Christ, being childlike in what service we involve ourselves in should also be in order. We need to be like the child at the buffet line, allowing the Father to fill our plates with what He’d want us to have. Along with filling our plates ourselves with the things we’d like to do, oftentimes we allow others to fill our plates. We accept responsibilities for the wrong reasons: peer pressure, guilt, or trying to prove our worth as Christians. God’s desire is for us to have a loving relationship with Him. As such, we should hand Him our plates, let him both place on it what He desires for our lives, and remove from it what’s cluttering up our ability to serve Him completely.

So, the next time you’re thinking or saying "my plate’s full," assess the situation completely... who filled your plate?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Ball!

I was 8 years old and I suddenly found the weight of the world on my shoulders. The bases were loaded with two outs and I was the batter, facing a 10 year old pitcher that had struck me out every time I’d batted against him. I’d hit 34 home runs the year before in the 6 and 7 year old Midget League, but when facing the 10 year old pitchers, I was pretty mediocre. My brother was yelling at me to not strike out "again," while my mother was rooting me on from her lawn chair directly behind home plate. The self-perceived huge crowd was on the edge of their seats. I tell you, Mickey Mantle never faced the pressure in Yankee Stadium that I felt that day dragging my bat to the plate. Then above all the commotion going on inside and outside my head, I heard the voice of my father coming from the third base coach’s box, telling me to do something that I’d been told to do since I was old enough to pick up a ball bat. "Keep your eye on the ball," he instructed, and right then and there it dawned on me. I’d forgotten that simple concept. I’d been swinging and hoping the bat would somehow make contact with the ball. Thus, I’d been striking out regularly all year. "Keep your eye on the ball." Baseball at its very core! But when forgotten, or ignored, the results can be futile.

Christianity is like that. Sometimes we forget what we’re really here for or who we’re really serving. I heard a speaker once say that the "work of the church around me began to kill the work of God within me." Sometimes we can become so busy we forget the Christian basics. Things like the pure wonderment of John 3:16:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

It’s easy to lose focus on how amazing God’s love for us is because we tend to humanize God, limiting Him, by seeing Him with our capabilities, not His. Like Job states in Job 42: 1-5, we can sometimes lose focus on who exactly God is:
1 Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."

Job had to come to that realization that we all sometimes have to: You’re God and I’m not. I oftentimes find myself needing to step back and let God. Let God work, let God lead, let God use me in His way. Let God.

That’s Christianity at its very core. When we forget or ignore these concepts though, we can swing and miss in our worship, and on our real purpose in life, to share Jesus with the world around us. Staying focused gives our lives "grand slam" meaning...even bigger than the grand slam I hit that memorable day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's So Easy

2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

This familiar passage from John 8 speaks volumes about ourselves. This poor woman, dragged from her adulterous affair, thrown down in the midst of what was essentially a church service with Jesus preaching the sermon...Can you imagine? It would be like being in church one Sunday morning and up on the screen where music lyrics usually are projected, suddenly appears a secret video of you in your worst behavior...EVER....for the whole world to watch. The humiliation of this woman is incomprehensible. Yet, it is in this setting that Jesus teaches us some of our greatest lessons about ourselves.

First, it’s so easy to be critical of other people.  Criticism of others is almost a natural instinct. We thrive on it, probably in an effort to bring others down to our level, or to elevate ourselves above the level we’re at. "I might be bad, but at least I’m not as bad as so and so." Criticism can be our weak attempt to justify ourselves. In this case, the woman was easily condemned by the crowd. She was caught in sin, they were found in church. It also reminds us that it’s so easy to forget our own sins. In order to be so adamant about stoning the woman for her sin, the would-be rock throwers had to forget their own shortcomings. They had be "holier than thou." A New England businessman well known for his self-righteousness once told Mark Twain, "Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top." Twain replied, "I have a better idea. You could stay in Boston and just try keeping them." But oftentimes it’s so easy to forget from whence we came - our lives before God got a hold of us.

The Pharisees were like religious bullies, slinging this woman down and saying essentially, "Watcha gonna do about it, Jesus??" Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say so little and elicit such a powerful response. He starts by completely ignoring them. But bullies are persistent: " So when they continued asking Him..." I know from personal childhood experience, that bullies have to be stood up to. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."

As He so often does, Jesus cuts quickly to the heart of the matter...the real wickedness is not this poor sinner laying on the ground before him, but rather, the wickedness in these men’s hearts. Isaiah 57:21 says:  "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."

And Numbers 32:23 reminds us  "... you may be sure that your sin will find you out."

These men’s sins had indeed found them out and the clinched grips they held on their rocks were quickly loosened.  Suddenly, the shame they had thrown upon this woman was thrust upon them. They had no right condemning anyone...and neither do we.  Ironically, the only one qualified to throw the first stone was the one setting the standard...Jesus. He was without sin, but you don’t see Him reaching for a rock. Instead, He reaches out to the woman.

10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

In this short conversation with her, Jesus does three things for this woman and He does the same three things for us:

First, He redeemed her. Notice what He calls her: "woman" - a term of endearment, honor - like calling someone today "a lady." Jesus used the same term while hanging on the cross, as he addressed His mother. No doubt, no one had referred to this woman with honor for sometime. But that’s exactly what Jesus has done for our lives. He’s redeemed us from the "filthy rags" that we once were.
Secondly, Jesus offered her forgiveness. He lifts her up from the dirt and says "neither do I condemn you."  He’s opening the door to forgiveness - just like He’s opened the door to forgiveness to you and I.  Through His death on the cross, Jesus has paved the way for our forgiveness, that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:)

And finally Jesus held her accountable. While payment for our sin cost Jesus the ultimate price, He reminds us that with forgiveness comes responsibility: He told the woman, "Go and sin, no more." Leave behind the life you once led, and follow me.

It’s the same pattern that He offers us:
1. He redeems us
2. He offers us forgiveness.
3. He holds us accountable.

Won’t you take Jesus up on His offer today? It’s so easy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Still Snoozing?

Since I retired in July of 2009, the alarm clock beside my bed has gone into a state of semi-retirement of its own. Still sitting there, proudly glowing its green glow into the night, most of its functions are seldom used, thankfully. But, back when I had to utilized an alarm clock, it had a main role in my life, alerting me it was time to get up and begin my day. Romans 13:11-12 tells us that:

"...The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."

This is a call to change our lives, and change it now. Some of you no doubt are morning people, like me. My alarm clock was set for me to get up around 5:45 AM, when I was working, but honestly, I rarely needed it. I woke up on my own and turned the alarm off before its appointed time. I was showered and dressed for work usually by 6:15. Spiritual morning people jump up and are ready to meet God’s plan for their lives. They stay well rested and in tune with the Lord with a few spiritual exercises:

** They stay up on their Bible reading.
** Their prayer life is in tip top shape.
** They live the greatest commandment, loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, and minds.
** They exercise the loving their neighbors as themselves.
** In general, they have their spiritual act together!

1Thessalonians 5:6 tells us:
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

Spiritual morning people are the models we all try to emulate. Now, if this spiritual description describes you to a tee, you have my permission to skip the rest of this writing. But for the rest of us, let’s move on...

Once the alarm clock in your life goes off, besides jumping up out of bed to meet the day as the morning person does, there are a couple of other ways to react to it. First, we can roll over and hit the snooze button. When the we hit the snooze button, we’re waking up for a short period of time, and then choosing to go back to sleep. Spiritually speaking, we sometimes do the same thing. We have occasional moments, even days, of spiritual awareness, then we go back to sleep.

When Jesus went to the garden to pray the night before his crucifixion, he took three disciples, Peter, John, and James, with him. In Luke 22, the we read:

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed....45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.

 These were men who were with Jesus through miracles, transfiguration, and now had been told of His pending betrayal and death, and, having been instructed by Jesus to pray...fell asleep. Jesus had just sounded an alarm of sorts and they rolled over and hit the snooze button. The truth is we all catch ourselves spiritually snoozing sometimes. Her are some signs that we may be spiritually "snoozing":

1. Our Bible study isn’t what is should be. (Gathering dust on the coffee table)
2. Our prayer life is lacking. (Life is going pretty well, our prayer life sometimes tails off)
3. We can’t really remember the last time we shared our faith with others.
4. We need to take a spiritual step, and we lack concern.

Maybe, right this minute, you’re hearing God lead you in a certain direction, and you’re hitting that spiritual snooze button, putting it off for another day, another week, another year. A time when you’re you feel ready to respond, so you pull the covers up over your head and stay comfortable where you are...In hotels, you can hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, so that the maids will let you sleep in. Sometimes, with God, we have a "Do Not Disturb" sign around our necks, tell Him that we’d rather live life our way, and when we’re ready, He may come in and clean. On Sunday mornings, we might have our "Do Not Disturb" signs on, keeping the Holy Spirit from working in our worship, as we await the benediction so that we can leave and get on with our lives. Christian author Richard Foster writes "If worship does not change us, it has not been worship." If we leave our worship services the same way we came in, we’ve wasted our time.

The last, and most tragic way we can respond to an alarm clock sounding is not to wake up at all. If you’ve gotten to the point where you can no longer hear God’s calling, you’ve fallen into a deep spiritual slumber...but God can wake you up. The mighty Samson was guilty of being in a deep, deep spiritual slumber. Set aside by God for special service, he ignored God’s calling for his life and let his relationship with God suffer to the point that he became arrogant, self-centered...full of himself...until he ignored and disobeyed the Lord one last time. In Judges 16 we read:

18 When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, "Come back once more; he has told me everything." So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19 Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. 20 Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free. But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

 Talk about your spiritual slumber. Samson "did not know the Lord had left him." We can roll over and keep hitting that spiritual snooze button so often, that God’s calling on our lives becomes so distant, it now longer even arouses us at all. I pray that none of you are to that point in your lives...The next time you hear that still, small voice, how will you respond?