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2 Cor 5:17 (NIV)  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Richard was an interesting character to say the least. I met him in 1998 while ministering in England when he wandered into our church, sat down, never looked up, didn’t speak to anybody and left. We tried to communicate with him but it was obvious he was not interested. I simply chalked it up to another odd incident in ministry and thought I would never see him again. If anybody was not attracted to our church and its people it was this man. To my surprise he came back the next Sunday and repeated this odd behavior. This would carry on for weeks, no interaction, nothing but a blank look and downcast eyes.

Then one day Richard looked up and Richard smiled and Richard talked and talked and talked. We discovered he had been suffering from clinical depression and on that day had been delivered through the preaching of the Gospel. God had swooped down into his personal darkness and had turned on the light and Richard was beaming.

Richard epitomized 2 Corinthians 5:17. He was truly a new creation in Christ, the old had gone, the new had come and it was glorious to watch. He started attending everything we did; he volunteered to help and was one of the most faithful servants in our church. Every aspect of Richard blossomed in Christ including his sense of humor; to our surprise he was hilarious!

This is why we do what we do as a church. Why we continue to proclaim the message of Christ service after service. It alone has the power to take a man who barely existed, who was just keeping his head above the water and give him his life back. The gospel gave Richard his smile back, it gave him his laughter back, it gave him a family that loved and cared for him and most importantly it gave him heaven by bringing him into an intimate relationship with the living God.

No wonder the gospel is called the Good News.

John 10:10 (NIV)  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Richard was living proof of how true that scripture is.

Also see: How the gospel saved a hero.

Any comments?

What about your testimony? What has God done for you?

Had an interesting day today. I grabbed a handful of tracts and headed to the dog park to walk my dog, as I was leaving I asked my wife to pray God would use me. Within minutes I was in a conversation about Christianity with three men. Here are three interesting aspects of our conversation. The last one I have left open for conversation.

One man argued that all religions are basically the same. I replied that Christianity is completely unique because it’s the only religion that has an answer for man’s sin. God Himself was willing to leave glory and go to a cross as our substitute; He allowed our sins to be poured out on Him and to be judged in our place. Therefore any who place their faith in His saving work will have their record of sin wiped completely clean.

He followed up by saying he believed God would forgive everybody anyway. After all his mother forgave him for everything he had done so why wouldn’t God, isn’t God more loving than his mother? I took him to Revelation 20 and the great white throne judgment where the books will be opened and each man is judged according to his deeds. This gave me the opportunity to reiterate that in the case of a believer there will be no sins listed in those books because of the work of Christ. If God has already judged those sins on Jesus He will not judge them again on the believer.

He had obviously had enough of this and became a bit more aggressive. He said he really didn’t believe in God anyway and couldn’t understand the concept of a God who supposedly knows everything before it happens yet would continue on with creation. If He understood man was going to fall and must be punished with hell why would He continue on with His plans? He used the example of an ant hill. If you were creating an ant hill and knew they would rebel, forcing you to pour lighter fluid over them and burn them why wouldn’t you stop before that happens? He piled on one more thought. If you knew a man was going to be a rapist and murderer would you still create him? Right at that moment the conversation unfortunately had an abrupt interruption and we were unable to continue.

I think this is a great opportunity to sharpen our evangelism skills by discussing this.

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE SAID?

Prayers for sale

Hey boys and girls, it is now possible to buy a prayer and have somebody petition God for you at only $9.99 a pop. I guess we need a Paypal account now to communicate with God.

EXCERPT: We at Prayer Helpers wanted to find a way to make it possible for ordinary Christians to have the assistance of dedicated prayer warriors to help ensure that God hears their plea. That is why we are now making it possible for you to buy prayer from the most devout Christians around the world.

EXCERPT: When you “buy prayer’ from us, each prayer request is first reviewed by our staff to determine which of our Christian Prayer Helpers is best suited to petition God on your behalf. The chosen Christian Prayer Helper will then do everything in their power to get your prayer heard by God. Of course God’s will is unknowable, and we cannot promise that his plan has room for your prayer, but we do guarantee that our Prayer Helper will pray with all of their heart, asking Him to hear your prayer.

CLICK HERE to visit site

This site has some very interesting reading. I’d love to hear your comments on what you think of something like this.

God and Nacho Libre

If you’ve seen the movie Nacho Libre you are aware that Nacho (a Catholic Priest) has an interesting take on serving God. We get a view into his thinking during a scene where he breaks up a group of wrestling orphans. Hint: Put on your best Nacho accent while reading the following.

Nacho: Ok. Orphans! Listen to Ignacio. I know it is fun to wrestle. A nice piledrive to the face… or a punch to the face… but you cannot do it. Because, it is in the Bible not to wrestle your neighbor.
Chancho: So you’ve never wrestled?
Nacho: Me? No. Come on. Don’t be crazy. I know the wrestlers get all the fancy ladies, and the clothes, and the fancy creams and lotions. But my life is good! Really good! I get to wake up every morning, at 5AM, and make some soup! It’s the best. I love it. I get to lay in a bed, all by myself, all of my life! That’s fantastic! Go. Go away! Read some books!

I have a hunch that is how many in our world view God. He is a cosmic killjoy who wants to reduce life down to a bunch of rules and regulations that strip the fun out of everything. He is not the God who said to Adam and Eve “I’ve given you all these trees to enjoy. You have the freedom to eat from any of them except just one.” Instead, He is the God who said “I’ve put all these beautiful trees in the garden but you can’t eat from any of them except for one, it’s that scraggly old, shriveled up thing in the corner. You know, the one with the bitter tasting fruit that you hate.” The conclusion is, serve God and that’s what you get. You get Nacho’s God, the one who condenses life down to making soup every morning at 5AM and gives you a lonely bed for the rest of your life. So go away and read some books!

But is that really what God is like? The Scriptures paint a very different picture. Search the NKJV concordance for various forms of the word “joy” and you’ll find 120 verses in the New Testament alone. He is the God who commands us to have joy and tells us He has given us all things to enjoy. If I’m reading my Bible correctly, God is not a killjoy He is the ultimate joy giver.

The Biblical God is not Nacho’s God, He is a loving Father who enjoys the laughter of His children. What an important message for a world that is being overwhelmed with bad news. There is some good news, joy is still available. You receive it as a by-product when you draw near to God through faith in His Son.

Rom 15:13 (NIV)  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John 16:24 (NIV)  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 15:11 (NIV)  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Phil 4:4 (NKJV)  Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

The Death of a Dream

My devotions lately have taken me to the account of Abraham in Genesis. This time I saw something I’d never seen before.

Let’s trace the story of his life. In chapter twelve God calls Abraham away from his home and family. He leaves dreaming of the incredible promises he had just received. God would bless him, make his name great and make him and his descendants into a mighty nation. Thrilling stuff! Don’t you love it when God excites you with wonderful possibilities?

In Chapter fifteen God assures Abraham that he would have a son of his own and directs Abraham’s gaze into the night sky. “See how many stars there are Abraham. Try to count them if you can, that’s what your offspring will be like.” Talk about joy and elation, can’t you imagine Abraham rushing home shouting with excitement “Sarah, you won’t believe what God just told me! We’re going to have a son! We need to be ready, we need to get you some maternity clothes and let’s start construction on the baby’s room right away. God said it; I believe it, and that settles it!”

Then the years begin to pass but there is no baby. The promise from God becomes harder and harder to believe. “Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe that promise was for somebody else. I do blow it a lot, would God really want to bless somebody like me?” Faith begins to fade and Abraham and Sarah become vulnerable. They want a son and a family and God promised that would happen, but then God waited too long. Eventually the solution becomes obvious. We need to take matters into our own hands. Sarah suggests Abraham sleeps with her servant Hagar; if she becomes pregnant Sarah will raise the child. Obviously not the best solution but it’s better than nothing. Right? Wrong! It was a plan filled with compromise, a work of the flesh that was destined for failure from the start. This only introduces tension and trouble into the home that lasts for years and Sarah never did end up raising the child. The lesson is clear, when we trade God’s plan and His timing for our plan and our timing it never works out.

None of that was new to me, I’ve taught it many times. What stood out this time was two scriptures in chapter seventeen. Abraham is now ninety-nine years old and God once again appears to him guaranteeing that he would be fruitful, that his descendants would become nations and some would be kings. God promises that the land of Canaan would become an everlasting possession for Abraham and the generations of descendants that would come after him. Now here is what struck me, this time there is no excitement, no joy and no faith. Abraham’s response is underwhelming to say the least.

Gen 17:17-18 (NIV)  Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (18) And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

What happened here? Is this the result of a dream being obliterated by the passing of time? At one time Abraham believed all that God was saying and it was counted to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6) Now God gives him these same promises and Abraham can only laugh in unbelief. “Yeah, right! I tried believing all that and it really didn’t work out so well. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, what a joke!” Notice what he says in verse eighteen. “Can’t you just bless Ishmael instead?” Bless my plan God, yours wasn’t all that great. God is still promising great things but Abraham is no longer willing to trust Him for them. He has come to a place of deadness where he doesn’t anticipate much from God any longer. He was now willing to settle for mediocrity.

Can any of you relate? You used to be so excited about the possibilities of walking with God and watching His plan unfold in your life. You clung to the promises and your faith couldn’t be shaken. Now it’s been so long and so little has happened and you’ve grown weary. God seems a million miles away and His promises no longer excite you like they used to.  It seems the dream of God’s blessing in your life is dying.

Dear brother and sister in Christ hold on, God is merciful and gracious. He is a loving Father whose affection for you dwarfs your love for your own children. Realize that the wilderness is necessary for your development. Moses is called to be Israel’s deliverer but first must spend time in the desert to develop character. David is promised that he would become king but first must be harassed by Saul to become the kind of man that could be God’s king. Peter is made an Apostle but must be allowed to fail and weep bitterly to fashion humility so he could become the Apostle God desired him to be. There are times when the good Shepherd must lead us through the valley of the shadow of death to take us to the green pastures (Ps 23).

You must believe that even in those times the promises remain. Psalm 23:4 tells us that God is with us when it seems we are walking in the darkness. Psalm 23:6 assures us that God’s goodness and loving kindness relentlessly pursue us all the days of our life, chasing us even into the wilderness. God will never leave us nor forsake us and His actions and motives towards us are always good and loving. I know it doesn’t feel that way all the time but that is the truth. Abraham and Sarah’s dream died and their faith faded until there was barely anything remaining. Yet God is good, He still blessed in His timing and in His way.

Right now you are faced with a couple of choices. You can waste your life worrying about what hasn’t turned out like you thought it would. The other option is to commit your life afresh to God right now, right where you’re at and ask Him to use you for His glory in whatever way He desires. You might just see what an almighty, loving God can do with shattered dreams. Abraham and Sarah did.

I don’t know if our house is tilted a bit but we have an upstairs bedroom where the door will shut by itself. You push it open but it won’t stay open, it slowly returns to a closed position. For some reason my dog loves that room. He will nudge the door open with his nose, go in and find himself trapped as the door closes behind him. Eventually I hear the whining and trudge up the stairs to rescue him.  There is a solution though; I have to remember to close the door fully until it latches so he can’t push it open in the first place.

Today I was thinking that I have a room like that in my mind. A place where I push open the door, walk in, and find myself trapped. It is a room we could call worry, another good name would be “The room of what ifs”. You know what a “what if” is don’t you? What if this happens or what if that happens. I’ve also discovered this room has a strange ability to grab onto those “what ifs” and magnify them until they are giants in my life that loom over any possibility of peace and joy. There is a solution; I must do the same thing I do to keep my dog out of that upstairs bedroom. I must shut that door so tightly that I can’t nudge it open easily.

How do I do that? Through the truth of the Scriptures. I must learn the art of quickly taking those thoughts captive that lead me into places of worry and fear and I must force my mind to think on truth instead. I replace the lie with the promise.

I start to push on the door of anxiety and the Scriptures have an answer to that. I tell myself the truth instead of dwelling on those anxious thoughts.

Phil 4:6-7 (NIV)  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I start to turn the handle that leads to fear and God’s Word stands guard not allowing me to enter. In my thinking I replace the lie with the promise.

Isa 41:10 (NIV)  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I start to worry about the necessities of life and again the Bible comes to block the way.

Mat 6:25-26 (NIV)  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (26) Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

The Bible is filled with promises like this that are meant to be used in our fight for peace and joy.  When I stand on God’s word I can stay out of that room, but when I allow my emotions to control me and my mind go anywhere it desires I live in that room quite a lot. I end up worrying when I’d rather be rejoicing.

2 Cor 10:5 (NIV)  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Any thoughts? How do you stay out of that room in your life? Your comments could help a struggling believer.

The lack of moral outrage and the judgment of God

The other day I was in my car listening to the radio when the topic turned to Tiger Woods. The analyst began to wax eloquent in his pleading with Tiger to come out of hiding. The argument went something like this. “Tiger, this is America. Play golf; win a tournament, that’s all you have to do. The people will forget about what has happened. After all, why all the seclusion? You really didn’t do anything that wrong. You didn’t break any laws.” I was stunned but also realized I had just been given a glimpse into the heart of many in modern America. (My thoughts on Tiger Woods have been updated in the addendum below)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about second chances. I rejoice in the fact that God (and my wife) is willing to forgive seventy times seven. I need every bit of that grace in my life. I am simply reflecting on a country where so many seem to be unable to feel moral outrage any longer.

How did we get to this place in America? Where sin is not only accepted but in so many cases even applauded? Where stars on talk shows can openly parade their latest sinful endeavors while the audience not only responds with laughter but also with applause? Romans 1:18-32 gives the answer to how we can come to such a state. These verses tell us there is a tremendous cost in pushing God away. He will eventually remove His gracious, restraining hand and begin to give man over to their own base desires. The natural result is an unleashing of sin on that God rejecting people. This is why we are seeing a frightening escalation of every kind of sin imaginable, from sexual perversion to ruthless brutality. It’s all there in Romans 1 where God has outlined what it will look like when He begins to judge a society that has rejected Him.

Now back to my original question, why does moral outrage seem to be missing. How could a society slip so far that it would approve of sin rather than being shocked by it? The answer to that is in the last verse of Romans chapter 1.

Romans 1:32 (ESV)  Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

One result of God giving man over to their own desires is not only greater personal sin, but also greater delight in the sins of others. Next time you see sin taken so lightly, even applauded don’t be shocked. Romans 1:32 explains why that is happening. When God begins to judge a nation one of the victims is moral outrage. It begins to die.

I was going to write about what the Christian response should be, but I thought it would be much more interesting to discuss it. Feel free to leave a comment. You don’t have to be a pastor or a theologian, you’re opinion is appreciated.

Bill

ADDENDUM: Since I first wrote this there has been a growing backlash against Tiger Woods and his actions. I believe that is only because of the extent of his moral indiscretions. Last I heard he was up to eighteen women he had been committing adultery with. When I first wrote this the number was 3 or 4 and that didn’t seem to be bothering people all that much. Even the sponsors had decided not to drop him. Instead of moral outrage I heard jokes about the situation, I heard people telling Tiger to come out and play golf, entertain us and we will forget. I heard people excuse his actions away by stating such things as “He’s only a man. What would you do if you had all those beautiful women wanting you?” So, I’m glad there is still a threshold that will cause a reaction when it is crossed  but saddened on how high that line has been set.