The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!

 

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Don’t Eat Each Other!

-Not All Cannibals Are Alike!

Did you know that not all cannibals are alike? An “Exo-Cannibal” eats only those outside his immediate social circle (i.e. his “enemies”). While an “Endo-Cannibal” will eat those within his immediate social circle (i.e. his “friends”). But, a “Pan-Cannibal” is indiscriminate & will eat anyone! Bet you didn’t know that! You probably thought that all cannibals were alike! Let me share a true story with you! The world’s most infamous cannibal was the legendary Fijian Chieftain, Ratu Udre Udre.

-A Guinness World Record!

Listen to this— he actually holds the Guinness World Record for eating the most people! I was surprised, personally, to discover that Guinness actually kept such a record! Ratu Udre Udre ate between 872 and 999 people.  According to his son— whom he did not eat! Guess that made him a “good father”— Ratu Udre Udre kept a stone for each body he ate! Now, unfortunately, many Christians have more in common with Udre Udre than you might think because many Christians “eat” their own! You might say they’re “church cannibals” & Paul’s letter to the Church of Galatia bears that out. His 5th chapter begins like this:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1. That’s the “good news” of the Gospel! We’re born into this world with a yoke of slavery around our necks! And, we can try with all our might to get out from under our sin; but, we’re incapable! But, Jesus liberates us by His atonement, for sin, on the cross! He liberates us from the penalty & power of sin over our lives!

-Don’t Devour One Another!

So, “stand firm,” Paul says, “don’t submit to that old yoke of slavery” again! And, continuing in that context, he speaks to the Gospel’s power to affect our relationships with people! We’re no longer enslaved to the world’s way of “devouring” one another; or, hating one another & holding grudges! That’s what Paul says a little later in the same chapter:  “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.” Gal. 5:13-15

-Are You Drinking Poison?

Someone has accurately stated that “unforgiveness is the poison you drink, hoping it will kill someone else!” And, in this scripture, Paul is reminding this local church that the Gospel sets us FREE from those kind of toxic relationships. The Gospel of Christ frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet! When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves us— by the power of His Holy Spirit— and, RADICALLY begins to transform us in every way including our relationships! When humanity sinned, in Adam, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to “image” God, the Father & our Creator! We’re BROKEN! We’re all born into this world with an inability to love, like God loves, because of our inherited  fallen nature! Only a conversion to Christ can change us! We’ll pick it up there @ our next post!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!

The Prayer Of Repentance!

-Once Upon A Time!

The Parable Of The Ducks”— Once upon a time there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses & down Main Street to their Duck Church. They waddled in & squatted down in their proper seats. The Duck Choir would waddle in & take their place. And, the Duck Pastor would waddle forward & open his Duck Bible. And, he’d read to them:  “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up & soar like Eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hem you in! You have wings, so FLY!” All the ducks would shout, “Amen!” And, then they would all waddle home!

-When Sin Invades!

The moral to the story? Once sin invades our life it cripples our ability to live the Christian life the way God intended for us to it; and, until we repent of our sin, we’ll “waddle” through this life though God has ENABLED us to “FLY” IN CHRIST! Before his ascension, to the throne of Israel— and, for much of his early reign—  King David was a man of moral integrity. But, some where he began to take himself too seriously; and, pride began to crowd out the voice of God’s Spirit, in his life; and, he began to lose his way spiritually. The tragic events leading up to King David’s most memorable sinful gaffe are found in 2 Samuel ch. 11.

-David’s Tragic Gaffe!

It began “..in the spring,” v.1 says, “when kings march out to war.” It was customary for kings to march out to war, with their soldiers, to inspire them! But, David decides to indulge himself at home while his soldiers set up camp in an open field. “…David sent Joab,” the text says, “with his officers and all Israel.  They destroyed the Ammonites & besieged Rabbah, but David remained in Jerusalem.” That decision proved to be a dreadful mistake for David! One evening, while out for a stroll on the roof of his palace, he sees something he never would have been exposed to if he had marched to war with his men. A woman was cleansing herself. She was a beautiful woman, according to v.2; and, David decides he wants her. So, he sends messengers to find out who she was—she was the WIFE of one of his soldiers, Uriah & that should have ended it! She was another man’s wife! But David sent for her & slept with her!

-The Big Cover-Up!

It would just be a 1-night fling for the king; but, she got pregnant! And, then he orchestrated a cover-up that ended in her husband Uriah’s death! But God was displeased with what David had done; so, He sent Nathan, the Prophet, to expose King David’s sin & to inform him that the son, that Uriah’s wife would give birth to, would die. It’s at that point that the Scriptures allow us to peer in on King David to see what a “Prayer of Repentance” looks like! What we learn is that repentant prayer re-opens communication with God that sin had closed! I’m pretty confident that David’s sin didn’t begin here with Uriah’s wife. When the big sin shows up, there’s always a trail of little sins leading up to it. And, David repented of all of it!

 

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?

A Mother’s Effective Prayer!

-You Don’t Have To Be Superman!

Why is it our human tendency to think that good Christians must not have any problems? Maybe it’s because we come to church and we see all the smiling faces & we assume they must have it all together Or, maybe we’ve heard too many sermons on the abundant Christian life; and, we assume there’s some secret formula we have yet to discover! And, if we can just find it that the Christian life will become effortless; and, temptations will just bounce off us like bullets off of Superman!

-What About Pain & Suffering?

I have a well-intended Christian friend who called me several times over the 3-year period when I dealt with cancer & surgeries & chemo. He told me it wasn’t God’s will that I had cancer because I was a Pastor & a “good man”; and, “yet,” I told him, “I have cancer.” None of us are immune to pain, suffering, sickness, heartache or loss! Job is the poster child for pain & suffering; and, yet, scripture’s testimony of Job was that, “…He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil…” Job 1:1,8.  He was a righteous man who endured some of the worst pain & suffering in the history of mankind.  Job’s commentary, on pain & suffering, was that, “…mankind is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” Job 5:7.  And, so, it ought not surprise us that trouble afflicts the righteous as well as the ungodly.

-Look It Up In Your Bible!

If you have doubts about that, check it out for yourself! Research the Bible, starting at the very beginning; and, see how many of God’s faithful followers endured significant pain & loss in this life. Eventually, you’ll come to Hannah’s story in 1st Samuel ch.1. Her story is intertwined with that of her husband & his 2nd wife.  “There was a man from Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. His name was Elkanah… He had two wives, the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless” 1 Samuel 1:1-2.  So, there was the rub— she was childless! But, to make matters worse, her husband’s other wife had children & taunted her because of it. The next few verses point out her pain— she wept; she wouldn’t eat; she was hurt deeply!

-How To Deal With Your Pain!

Look at this: “…the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving. Whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way every year.” So, Hannah wept, the test says, “…and she would not eat… deeply hurt… Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…’” 1 Samuel 1:5-11.  Notice, she didn’t take matters into her own hands! She PRAYED! We all have more in common with Hannah’s childlessness than we may think. And, we need to respond, like Hannah, by taking all our pain to the only One who can fix it!

 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!