Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My bat Problems and Where We Are Going for the Fall

Yes I have had bats in our house. I have learned I would much rather deal with mice, snakes, bugs vs bats. I am not sure if God created their look or if they were especially cursed in the fall, but my encounters with them have not been favorable. The reality is, though, I failed to address several problems in my house that opened the door (no pun intended)for my eerey encounters with them. I knew there was a problem but I wasn’t doing anything to fix the problem (can you relate?).

This was the problem Nehemiah faced thousands of years ago. The walls and gates of protection around Jerusalem were down and unless something was done “bats” were going to get into Jerusalem. Everyone knew there was a problem but no one was taking initiative or responsibility for the problem.

We live in a day like Nehemiah. Huge challenges are before our nation (war, economy, poverty, etc). The church is in many ways asleep, statistics show very little difference between church goers and non church goers in regards to divorce, morality, areas of character, etc. For many churches the hot debate is whether to ordain homosexual clergy. Lastly families are struggling and marriages are teetering even to stay together.

There are two things we need to learn from Nehemiah.
1) He had a Holy ambition-Holy in the sense that he wanted God to be honored, and ambition in the sense of a passionate desire for long lasting fruit. If you had to rank your spiritual ambition level where would it be? 1- I solely care about myself and what is going on in my own little world that consists of three people: Me, Myself, and I… or…a 10-I passionately want to serve God and His agenda in this world.

2) He had a Dislocated heart. Here was Nehemiah hundreds of miles away with an executive job making big bucks, all the perks (our dream right?), and a busy schedule. Scripture says when he heard that the walls were down and the people of God weren’t doing well he sat down and wept (Neh. 1:3). Then he began to pray and fast. Why would a guy with such opulence and financial blessing care? He had a dislocated heart, he might have had a lot but his heart was somewhere else.

Jesus had a dislocated heart when it said that He being in the very nature God (worshipped, adored, served) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…humbled himself, became obedient even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). His love for us drove him to lay aside all the riches that He might gain us.

It is my prayer that we might take the same ownership of God’s agenda that Nehemiah did. We have an opportunity to help rebuild the walls of people and give hope to the hurting this fall. But it is going to take initiative or a Holy Ambition, and a heart that is dislocated that moves us out of our comfort zone.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is faith safe or risky?

Is faith just this safe, religious practice for you? A safety net in your life like the old hymn says “safe and secure from all alarm?” Is that faith?

Perhaps faith is more about risk then the elimination of it. I remember when I did a youth internship in 1994. I was still quite fearful of the whole “pasturing” thing, especially the thought of conducting funerals. The pastor I worked for worked with the funeral homes to conduct services for people not a part of a church. He would get a paper that would give information about the person and he used that to put the service together. The one I went to was for a guy who owned a strip club and liked to play pool and the family picked two songs: “Come Undone” by Duran Duran, and “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues Brothers. At the time I couldn’t imagine how to do that funeral, I was nervous for him. I will always remember the words he challenged me with after the service…”Look for opportunities to be uncomfortable, to be stretched.”

Isn’t that what faith is all about? You don’t need faith if you can see everything visible and everything is covered. It’s about believing God not just believing in God. Hearing and doing. What faith risks is God asking you to take?

Friday, June 11, 2010

What if I lived dead to self?

Jesus said “if a believer loses his life for me he will find it” (Matthew 16:25). If I understand what Jesus is saying, He’s saying when I come to that place of death in myself that is when I will truly find the life He longs to give us.

So just think if we died to ourselves (like physical death):

-That thing called offense, resentment, or grudges it doesn’t affect someone who is dead to self.

-The selfish bug that bites us so often and causes much of the conflict in relationships. When you are dead, you find yourself thinking more of others (your dead).

-The embarrassment we feel to step out for God, that fear of speaking up or stepping out in faith, the self consciousness of looking different; guess what when you are dead to self you think a whole lot more about what God wants and less about your comfort. (you are dead to self….right?)

Think about how liberating it would be to truly be dead to self. I am blown away by the amount of life, freedom, joy, and God moments that could be experienced where fear and self consciousness was put to rest. Apparently it became a way of life for Paul, he declared “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;” (Galatians 2:20). Can’t say I am there yet but striving to do the same.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I feel lead but not sure if it is God...

Have you ever felt led to do something but you wanted to make sure it was God and not you? I have had that happen to me more times than I can count; whether it was sharing my faith, offering encouragement or rebuke, going a certain direction. I think God wants me to do it but I am not sure (and scared). Can you relate?

In Matthew 14 when Jesus walked out on the water the disciples were like frightened children. They thought it might be Jesus but they didn’t rule out it being a ghost. After they settled down Peter says “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” Peter ended up taking a small step out of the boat and a giant leap toward Jesus. He is the only person (beside Jesus) to have literally walked on water. We learn, though, that when you step out in faith it doesn’t take long to start second guessing yourself. Peter saw the wind and waves and wonders “did I make a mistake getting out of the boat?” And when you do that spiritually you start to sink because you stop focusing on Jesus and start focusing on the wind and waves.

Andy Stanley in his book “The Next Generation Leader" writes “generally speaking, you are probably never going to be more than 80% certain. Waiting for great certainty may cause you to miss an opportunity.”

Most want absolute certainty before stepping out in faith. We love 100% money back guarantees but the problem with that reasoning in life is that it takes faith out of the equation. Maybe we are not suppose to be absolutely certain before we step out. As Mark Batterson says “there is no such thing as risk free faith….and you can’t experience success without risking failure.”

What steps of faith do I need to take today? (Thoughts inspired by the book “In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day” p. 114)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Are you a person of grace?

Can you imagine if God extended conditional grace like insurance companies handle high risk people? Imagine Heaven sending a note like this…

Dear So and So
I’m writing in response to this morning’s request for forgiveness. I’m sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed, and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance. Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20% and you have excessive tendencies to gossip. Because of your sins you are a high risk candidate for heaven. You understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends his regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage. (Max Lucado-Grip of Grace)

How about you, are you a person of grace?

Last week we looked at the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Really the story isn’t so much about the lost son who returned to the Father, it’s about the elder son that was with the Father the whole time. The shock of the story is that despite being with the Father, hardworking, and responsible, he had no qualities like his father.

His problem is ours, too often we can’t see sin in the mirror. While the father is able to forgive, love, and restore one who was lost. He is blinded by his own pride, self righteousness, and hate.
It's a Christianity that is not about helping others experience God's authentic grace that changes lives, it has an exclusive focus on three people...me, myself, and I. Grace can only change lives of people that know they need it.

Think about going to “The Church of the Elder Brother.” Can you feel the love, grace, restoring qualities of the Father?

Joseph Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute, has said that the American Church is “long on mad, and short on grace.” We’re mad at politicians, we’re mad at the media, we’re mad at the President. We’re also mad at those who live their lives differently than we do. Lost people are going to sin because they’re lost. Christians are going to sin because they’re not perfect. We need grace so­ let’s refuse to be angry with people who sin differently than we do.

Worst of all the elder brother couldn’t enjoy God or his blessings. The father says to him “All I have is yours, you can enjoy it anytime”(Luke 15:31-32). Notice how it ends, everyone is celebrating in the home, thanking God over a changed life and the older brother is outside isolated, angry, and alone.

Hoping we strive to be people of grace.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Did You Miss First?

I recently read a story that makes a great point. (sorry I don't have the source)

Jacksonville Jaquers center Kevin Long, who played under Coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State University, said his college coach inspired the team with parables. Long recounted a favorite story:

"[Bowden] was playing college baseball, and he had never hit a home run. Finally he hit one down the right-field line, into the comer. He rounded first without touching the base and looked to the third base coach. He turned at second, was halfway to third and the coach was still waving him on. He got to home, and he hit the plate. He had his first home run, he was so excited and everybody was slapping him high fives. Then the pitcher took the ball, threw it to the first baseman, and the umpire called him out.

[Coach Bowden] said, "If you don't take care of first base, it doesn't matter what else you do.”

It is easy to let the urgent distract from the most important things. Life is so short, let’s remember we are not here to just pay bills, be busy, and survive but to live for God and His Kingdom priorities.

This year’s theme has been “God’s mission, My mission.” Let’s not talk about what is important to God, let’s DO what is important.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Breaking the 2 steps forward 3 steps back cycle

Do you ever feel like you are taking 2 steps forward financially then 3 steps back? You got money back from your taxes and finally a little cushion and then bam! The furnace quit, the car broke down, a bill came due and there you are again in an even worse condition. Perhaps you could find some help from the book of Haggai chapter 1.

The people had returned from being exiled in Babylon (a place of bondage). They experienced new freedom. They were given a new purpose to go and build the house of God. They began to do that, successfully laying the foundation, building an altar and were even offering sacrifices. They are on the right road but then struggle and problems and the work of God stalled. Soon they got distracted and lost their priorities. People had gradually turned from the doing the will of God to doing their own will.

Haggai comes and basically says let’s finish rebuilding God’s house.

The people say what we might when it comes to money… “It is not a good time to build, there is recession, drought, crop failure, and high inflation (doesn’t that sound like us).

Check out Haggai 1:4 he says “Is it then time for you to build your own paneled houses?” It could have the idea of luxury and ornamentation but the point he is making is that this economy thing "didn’t stop you finishing your stuff but somehow it has stopped you from doing God’s stuff."

v. 5 he tells them to consider their ways. Great word for us in regards to the money we are given. So often we are not slowed down funding our lifestyle but we make all kinds of excuses why we slack on what is important to God. Like them we get our priorities backwards.
Haggai says “you have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm, and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes” (v. 6).

Is that happening to your finances, working harder and seeing it fly away…consider your ways. What are you doing with what God has given you? Don’t make the mistake they did in assuming they were responsible for their growth and prosperity, and so they did it their own way. They were being disciplined by God (v. 9-11) so that they could get on the right track. If you are struggling financially, I am not saying you are being disciplined by God…but you might. Let’s get our heart set on things that are important to God and see if God will help us with the rest.