2018: What Will It Be?

As we are finishing out 2017 and getting ready to launch into 2018, have you given any thought to what 2018 will be like for you?  How will it be the same?  How will it be different?  When January 1st rolls around many people will make New Year’s Resolutions which usually end up being just good suggestions and not really resolutions.  They are good for a month or two and then they are shelved and forgotten.  But what will 2018 look like for you?

For me it will be trying to grasp the truth that my life as a Christian is not about being good.  If life was really about being good, then the Pharisees would have had it all figured out.  They memorized the first five books of the Bible which contains so many laws.  They were rigid when it came to those laws.  But according to Jesus they didn’t get it at all.  Being  a Christian is all about relationship, grace and Jesus.  Jesus is the entire point of my existence.  Jesus said, 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40).  

I want 2018 to be a time of awareness that life is all about Jesus.  I want to live in such a way that I know my life is not about being good.  I don’t want to focus on my behavior but focus on my relationship with Jesus.  And when I focus on my relationship with Jesus, everything else will fall into place.  I want to know Him and trust Him in a way I never have before.

In Matthew 11 Jesus said, 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19).  Jesus was called many things but I think the one that He really resonated with was being called a “friend of sinners.”  What they meant as a derogatory statement He received as a compliment.  When people in the culture and society threw a party, Jesus was on their guest list.  Although Jesus was fully God, fully man and never sinned a day in His life,  people outside the church wanted to be with Jesus and He wanted to be with them.  When the world throws a party and puts out their guest list, I want to be on their list.  I want to be with them.

I want 2018 to be a time to be a real friend of sinners.  Jesus hung out with the “sinners” of His day.  He went to their parties, He hung out at their houses, He ate dinner with them, He met them at places like the well (Coffee Shops, Restaurants, Bars).  Okay, yes I said it . . . Bars!  Jesus gave us the example and those places are exactly where He would be.  I want to be where they are, let them know I am a real person doing real life just like them and most importantly that Jesus is real!   I want to do life-on-life with them so Jesus can be seen in me and through me.

I want 2018 to be a time to focus on living the Bible.  It is so easy for me to get focused on studying the Bible for knowledge and miss studying for wisdom and application.  Paul challenged Timothy when he told him, 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   I want to know God’s Word so I can flesh it out.  I want to study His Word so I can grow to be more like Him and be more effective in sharing it with others.  

I want 2018 to be a time when I show people that Jesus is the most important person in my life.  One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis.  Several years after he died some essays were found that he had written but never got published.  These writings were published years later in book called God in the Dock.   In one of those essays he said, “One must keep pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance.  The one things it cannot be is moderately important.” (God in the Dock, p. 101).  I want to live in such a way that I know that Jesus and Christianity is of infinite importance and others will see that in me as well.  

2018 . . . may it be a year of becoming more like Christ to be more of Christ to those around me!     


The Good Life

When you ask people if they want to live the good life, they look at you like, “Well, that is a stupid question. Of course I want to live the good life. But for most people livin’ the good life is directly connected to what is commonly called “the American Dream.” Their version of livin’ the good life involves upward mobility and always wanting newer, bigger and better.

It’s climbing the corporate ladder, having more things, getting into certain circles the pursuit of “bigger and better”, more money, bigger house, nicer car, that certain social circle, etc. But ultimately if you pursue this thinking it is the good life you will only end up in frustrated, unfulfilled and everything but happy. The reason is livin’ this false version of the “good life” is really a diversion from the real thing and a very destructive and deceptive lie!

Jesus explained and illustrated for about livin’ the good life in The Sermon on the Mount.  We all probably know from experience that Life isn’t easy and life isn’t perfect.  We would all have to admit that this is true. Life definitely isn’t easy and many times life is simply difficult. Life definitely isn’t perfect and many times it just doesn’t seem fair. Jesus’ definition of the good life and the world’s definition of the good life are opposite of each other.  When you live according to the world’s way, life is not good at all.  But when you live life like Jesus says to live it according to His ways and from His point of view . . . Life isn’t easy, Life isn’t perfect but Life is good!  As Jesus said “Blessed” or “Happy” are you if you live like I am telling you.


Sleeping With The Lions

Every setback is a setup for a comeback!  When things are not going well in our lives we face a huge dilemma and temptation. The dilemma is do you trust God or do you not trust God. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; (Proverbs 3:5-7). When we are in a tight spot, totally discouraged and feel like we are going to lose we panic and sometimes by taking control of the situation we do things we know we shouldn’t do.

The most difficult part of practicing the principles of Proverbs 3 is to stay on that path. There are times in life when you get off the path because you made some wrong choices. Then there are those times when life just took a turn you never expected and never saw coming. Daniel never saw coming what happened to him.

How many of you would like to be taken captive by your national enemies and forced to live in their land and their culture. How many of you would prefer to move away from all the people and culture you have ever known to live the rest of your life away from your home and family? As part of the entire nation of Israel Daniel and some of his friends were taken as prisoners and slaves by the Babylonians.

Babylon was the very personification of evil in that day. So much so that if something was considered evil in Biblical days, they would say it is “Babylon like.” Babylon was the word picture for evil. Their ruler, Nebuchadnezzar raided God’s temple and put the holy things on display in his demonic temple. When it came to culture, astrology and the occult were the government sponsored religion and core curriculum in the schools.

Daniel is probably about 16 years old when he is kidnapped and enslaved in a foreign and pagan country. He gets to Babylon and they even change his name. The name Daniel means “God is my judge” but the name they gave him, Belteshazzar means “Baal’s prince.” In one name change they have attempted to change him from a young man who honors and worships God to someone who honors and worships satan. But that didn’t work. Daniel was like, “You can change my name if you want to and I will even study these books if you would like for me to. But I can’t eat this food you are wanting to give me from the king.”

Daniel stood strong and remained faithful to God and His calling on his life. Daniel was able to thrive in a godless society. Daniel was able to maintain his godliness and integrity the entire time. How was he able to stand strong, remain faithful, thrive and maintain godliness and integrity.  Daniel stayed optimistic being a slave in a pagan country. Given his situation and circumstances you might be wondering how he could do that? The answer is, he knew who wins! He knew that with God He was on the winning team. He knew that in the end we win! Daniel knew from the prophecies that God gave about bringing them back that he would win. Daniel being a godly guy in the midst of a nation that didn’t honor God held onto his optimism in the middle of all that. For us today, if you are fretting about what is happening in the culture, remember . . . we win!

It’s like watching your favorite sports team being really behind in the last few minutes. You are so passionate about your team and you get really worked up, worried, angry, upset, etc. You are beside yourself. Then they begin this miraculous comeback and win the game. You have gone from extreme anger and anxiety to extreme exhilaration in a matter of seconds. Let’s say you have DVR’d that game and you go back and watch it later. You get to the last few minutes where they are so far behind. Do you still worry or anxious? No and why? You know who wins. When you read the end of the story, you know that in the end Christ-followers win!

Fast forward to when he is thrown into the lion’s den. At the time of the lion story Daniel was most likely in his 80’s or 90’s – without much hope that he would ever get to return to his homeland. Still, in the midst of these less than ideal circumstances he shines.

Daniel has lived through a couple different kings in this foreign land and he continued throughout each king’s reign to prove himself and give strong testimony to God. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (Daniel 6:3). This excellent spirit within Daniel was nothing more, nothing less than God shining through him. Daniel was faithful and God was honored by that.

Here he was a foreigner and the king was going to put him over the entire kingdom. The locals didn’t like that one little bit. They despised the fact that a foreigner would rule over them. They were so jealous and hated him so much they would do whatever it took to get rid of him. Do you see a common thread between all of our people in this series. David, Joseph and now Daniel did nothing to earn this. Jealousy and hatred caused all of it! It wasn’t on his “bucket list” and it wasn’t in his job description. He was just living the way he knew he was supposed to live. When you are an underdog and even before you find yourself as an underdog it is important to . . . Stay faithful to God. This brought both a blessing and a curse.

Has this ever happened to you? Daniel always gave the kingdom its allotted time. Even when you do the right thing the right way and live the way you are supposed to, people get jealous and start pushing you out. They scheme against you, gossip about you, leave you out, etc. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. (Daniel 6:4). What a life Daniel lived!

They searched hard and they did everything they could to dig up some dirt on him but they found nothing. The only fault they could find with him was with his relationship with God! When people search my life and search your life, is God the only thing they can hold against us? 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5). Daniel didn’t know when but he knew things could get really bad for him. Things were going to get really bad for him really soon.  When you find yourself as an underdog in need of a comeback . . . Don’t forsake what you know for what you don’t know.

Look at Daniel’s response. 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10). Daniel knew the consequences but kept doing what he had been doing all his life.

Notice what Daniel didn’t do when he found out the document had been signed. He didn’t go out and start a picket line in front of the palace. He didn’t get into an argument or debate with them about it. He didn’t start a campaign to shut them down or attack them. He simply did 10 as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10). He continued to live out truth . . . He continued to be faithful in his relationship with God . . . He continued to worship God . . . He continued to pray.

Daniel did exactly what he had been doing for all his life . . . he worshipped God, he trusted God and he prayed! When you are an underdog and need a comeback . . . Pray! He offended them by loving God, revealing what they needed and praying! When we pray things happen! Prayer causes a collision in the heavens between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of Light, between Satan and God. Prayer starts a war and prayer changes things! Our words won’t change things, our plans won’t change things . . . only prayer changes things!

Daniel knew that the document had been signed. He knew what it meant if he was caught. He did what he had always done in the way he had always done it. When you are an underdog and need a comeback . . . Keep doing the right thing the right way. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. (Daniel 6:11).

When you are on the verge of being an underdog and needing a comeback, don’t run and hide. Don’t let fear change what you do or how you do it. Daniel kept doing the right thing the right way like he had done all his life. And it did get him thrown into the lions den. Daniel had experienced God’s blessing and His faithfulness even in a pagan nation among pagan people. His desire was to worship God and that was not going to change regardless of the threat that was before him. God had been faithful to him and he was going to be faithful to God.

Sometimes we have the thought that if we do the right thing the right way and honor God with our life, we will never have trouble or difficulty. That is so not true! Sometimes even when you do the right thing the right way you have trouble. Sometimes even when you honor and worship God with your life you will face difficulty because you honor and worship God. Daniel’s example is a very vivid example of that. The very thing that got Daniel thrown into the lions den was the very thing that got him out of the lions den.

Daniel did the right thing the right way his entire life and look where he ended up . . . but that is not the end of the story. What you do and how you live might not be an indicator of what’s going to come your way but how you live and what you do will determine how and if you come out of it. 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. (Daniel 6:22-23).

Daniel did the right thing the right way his entire life and look where he ended up . . . but that is still not the end of the story. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Daniel 6:26-28).

Daniel had learned a very powerful lesson which is a powerful lesson for all of us as well. You can be nothing publicly for God that you are not first privately! Who are you when nobody else is looking? When you look in the mirror what do you really see?

 


Caterpillar Thinking

Have you ever wondered what a caterpillar might think?  For most of us probably not, but if we actually took the time to think how it might think it would be very interesting.  At the beginning of its life, the caterpillar just crawls around a small patch of ground and eating plants.  Until one day that caterpillar takes a nap, a very long nap.  When it wakes up its world has totally changed.  What used to be a little slender plump body has now become a lightweight, slender body.  And on the sides are these beautiful, colorful and delicate things that he can flap and take off up into the air.  Where all he used to be able to do was crawl and eat, he can now fly over that same ground and go wherever he wants to go.   He is not limited anymore; he has been set free!

He will never be content anymore with just crawling around because now he can fly!  That should be how it should be with us when the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us.  Once we have experienced the freedom and the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit, we can never be the same again.  The Spirit-empowered life enables us to live differently.  Where we used to just exist, we now thrive.  Where we used to be without purpose, we now have a purpose.  Where life used to have no meaning, we now have meaning and experience fulfillment.  If the Holy Spirit truly inhabits us, we should not be satisfied to live any longer like people who do not have the Holy Spirit within them.  We should want to be different.

We should desire to live in such a way that we are constantly submitting to the Holy Spirit and experiencing all that He has for us.  We should live in a constant awareness of His strength, His enabling, His vision, His plan and His purpose.  Why should we crawl when we can fly?  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly!  (Adapted from Forgotten God by: Francis Chan).


Generosity

When you sit down in a restaurant there will be a waiter or waitress who will serve you. At the end of the meal you will get your check and you will pull out your phone or “tip estimator” and figure out how much tip to leave the person for waiting on you. You will leave them a tip them based on how well you feel like you were served and taken care of during your meal. Many of us just stick with the standard 15% or we will include a little extra because we received excellent care and service. Think about this with me. If you see your life as God serving you and taking care of you, how much would you give Him?

Your life is a total gift from God to be used in a way that glorifies God. Like we say in our purpose statement, “We exist to glorify God by Reaching UP, Reaching IN and Reaching OUT!” All of your time, talents and treasures are given to you that you might use them in a way that brings glory to God. We glorify God by how we invest our time, talents and treasures and how we give back to Him and His Kingdom. If we are going to glorify God in our giving it all comes down to a question of control and identifying what we are controlled by. Is it God or is it something or someone else that controls you?

What are you controlled by? It could be one of many or even several things. Some people are controlled by relationships . . . approval . . . status . . . money . . . possessions . . . pleasure . . . etc. This question is by far one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself and honestly answer when it comes to living an abundant life on this side of eternity. Because what you are controlled by will determined what you live for and how you live your life. How you handle and how you respond to everything and every situation that comes at you is influenced by that all important question . . . What is controlling me?

This question is not a “one-time” ask and then you are good to go. It is a question that must be consistently asked everyday because all of us are tempted by those things I just mentioned and many more. This question is the most important question you will ever ask yourself because what controls you determines how you live, why you live like you do and your attitudes. This one question helps us understand the attitudes that are driving our actions. What controls you determines how you respond and your level of generosity in giving. If someone or something else other than God is controlling you, your response to giving will be a “have to” kind of thinking. But if God is really the One controlling you, your response to giving will be a very generous “get to” kind of thinking.

Paul answered that question for himself when he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth. Paul was a guy who really never got over what Jesus did in his life. When Paul did something he was an “all in” kind of guy. He gave it everything he tried everything he had. Before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he did everything he could possibly do to get rid of Jesus and this movement called Christianity or “the Way.” He was persecuted Christians, put Christians in prison, approved of their executions, etc. But when he met Jesus all of that changed. From that moment on, he was consumed with Jesus and controlled with promoting Jesus every time he had an opportunity.

From the moment Paul came to know Christ, he was totally consumed with Jesus. He was controlled by Jesus, making Him known to everyone he met and making sure his life counted. So much so, that some people thought he was crazy. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. (2 Corinthians 5:13). When was the last time you were so on fire for God that people really wondered whether or not you had lost your mind? Or has that ever happened to you. Paul’s awareness of what Jesus had done for him was so strong that the way he lived his life caused people to think he was out of his mind.

When you dig into this passage you begin to see what caused Paul to be this way. He says in the next verse he was controlled by the love of Christ. Christ’s Love Controlled Him. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, (2 Corinthians 5:14). The love of Christ had become the guiding and motivating principle in his life. Everything he did was visualize and passed through the lens of Christ’s love. When you think about that statement, what does it mean to be “controlled” by the love of Christ?

It means Jesus has taken over first place in your life. Everything else in your life aligns under and is shaped by Christ’s love. Paul never “got over” Jesus’ love for him and what Jesus did when He saved him. Jesus’ love at the moment of salvation consumed his every thought and action. He didn’t think or do anything that was not influenced by Jesus’ love for him. 14 because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

When Paul stepped back and looked at the sacrifice and price Jesus paid for Him he quickly realized he could never give enough or do enough to pay that back. But he also realized he needed to sacrifice and show God that he trusted him because of what Jesus had done for him and how Jesus had proven to be faithful. When you look at your life and how you give of your resources and your life what does it say about your value of Jesus?

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

He was letting us know that because of what Jesus had done for Him it changed the way he lived. Christ’s love controlling you will change how you live. That raises a question for us . . . Are you living differently with the love of Jesus than you would live without the love of Jesus? When Jesus’ love controls you, you are a conduit of His love to other people. Jesus love flows in you and through you to other people.

It’s like the old song that says, “Make me a channel of blessing.” That is what we mean when we say, “We are blessed to be a blessing.” When Christ’s love is controlling you realize your life is not really yours. 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20). Your life becomes about what God wants and not what you want. Your life becomes what is best for others and not for you.

When Christ’s love controls you, your focus is totally on the price Jesus paid for sin and how much that means to you. Christ’s love controlling you causes you to see people differently. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). When you look through the lens of Christ’s love at other people you will always see them totally different.

Paul was letting us know that with the love of Christ controlling him, he didn’t see people the same anymore. He only saw two types of people . . . saved and lost! He didn’t see black, white, hispanic, asian, etc. He only saw . . . saved and lost! He didn’t see rich, poor, republican, democrat, educated or uneducated. He only saw saved and lost! When you see people what do you see? Is your first thought what is limited here to this world? Or do you look at them through the lens of Jesus’ love and see only . . . saved and lost!

When the Titanic sank there were many people who went down with that ship. As you can imagine there were many relatives and friends of those people who were desperate to know if their friends and loved ones had survived or not and there was obviously panic. The story is told that some officials in London set up a gigantic chalkboard in the downtown area with two columns: Saved and Lost. There were people on that ship from many places around the world from all different classes of society.

But at that moment only two things mattered . . . Saved or Lost! That is how Paul saw the world . . . just saved and lost! How do you see the world? Does the love of Jesus have control of you? Are you looking at the world from the perspective of what Jesus’ love is and has done for you? Do you see just saved and lost or do you see everything else?

When you view people from an eternal perspective and all you see is saved and lost, that will change your view of giving. It will make you a generous giver. You will not ask, “How much do I have to give?” But you will say, “God, what are you asking me to give and how much do I get to give?” When you see people as just “saved and lost” you become so concerned about their eternal destiny that you are not content with average giving.

When the question is raised of “how much” there is a “measuring stick” we can use to measure what we give and how we give against. Christ’s controlling love illustrates how and how much you are to give. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21). Giving is all a part of loving. How we give shows people know how much you love and believe in Jesus and how much you love them. When you think about how Jesus gave the most logical place to go is the most familiar verse in the Bible. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). We give because Jesus gave for us. Out of gratitude we should have a generous attitude!

I don’t have to give and I don’t give to get but I get to give. Did Jesus have to do what He did for us? Did He choose to do what He did? Jesus paid a price that wasn’t His to pay for people who didn’t deserve it all because He loves us. We need redemption and He was determined to give all He had, His very life to make that possible. He bought back what was already His to begin with! There is a song that goes, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sin away. And now I sing a brand new song; Amazing grace all day long. Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

When you truly realize what Jesus has done for you in love and that love controls you, there is no way you can hold back. We will never look at our time, talents, possessions and money the same any longer. When we measure what we give against what Jesus did for us there is no way we can ever be anything but a generous giver. Everything is His already and it’s not that we just give back 10%. We give as much as we can in a way that shows how much we value what He has done for us and how much we truly trust Him!

See what Jesus has done for us and seeing people around us who have not experienced that for themselves should motivate us. When Christ’s love controls us we are compelled to give and share. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14-NIV Translation). When come to the point of repentance and asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, Jesus “passes the baton” for us to then be His witnesses which is called the ministry of reconciliation.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). The way you and I share in the ministry of reconciliation is by sharing our testimony and giving of our money and our time.

On December 7, 1941 something happened to us that had never happened before that time. We were bombed at Pearl Harbor and brought into World War II. Many people during that time have stated that it impacted them so much that they never got over it and felt obligated to do something about it. One of those people was Desmond Doss.

Desmond enlisted in the army and reported to Fort Campbell for his Basic Training. He had a conviction about guns due to an altercation with his alcoholic father where he almost killed him. He swore he would never touch a gun ever again and he didn’t. After a lot of ridicule and abuse for not carrying a gun, his commanding officer asked him what he would do on the battlefield. He told him he would give his very life for his men.

Their first deployment was to Okinawa where the Japanese were making progress. They were sent to fight on what came to be known as Hacksaw Ridge. It was a huge ridge where they had to climb up a rope ladder to even get on top to engage the Japanese who were hidden underground in a series of tunnels. After a long, hard battle the company retreat back down the ridge with the exception of Desmond. He stayed on the ridge all night rescuing his fallen comrades.

He knew that if they didn’t get help they would either die or be taken prisoner by the Japanese. He kept rescuing them one at a time and pulling them to the edge to lower them down the ridge in a harness he learned to tie as a young boy in the West Virginia mountains. At the point of exhaustion being a very strong Christian, Desmond looks up into heaven and prays, “Lord, I can’t hear you. Please speak to me.” Then he prays, “Lord, please give me the strength to get just one more!” One more turned into many more and by the end of the night he had single-handedly rescued 75 men. He was the only man who never carried a gun in the army to receive the Medal of Honor.

Do you live your life this way? Do you invest your time, treasures and talents in a way that says, “God, please let me get just one more in your Kingdom.” Is God’s love controlling you to the point that you see there is always one more? Do you say, “God, please tell me how much I get to give because there is one more we need to reach.” Our world is so far away from God and alienated from His truth. When we look out there there is always, “just one more.”

Think about how you live your life and how you invest your time and your money. Would you say that you are controlled by Christ’s love or are you controlled by something else?Looking back at your life, how has God blessed you, served you and given to you? Using our analogy about leaving a tip at lunch today, what does your “tip estimator” tell you to give when you think about how Jesus has served you, blessed you and given to you? Do you stick with the standard amount or do you give back extravagantly? Based on all this are you just an “average tipper” or are you a “generous giver”?


Don’t Be A Gomer

When you think about relationships specifically and life in general, the odds are definitely against us. We talked last week about marriage and the statistics are very discouraging at best. For example . . . When asked only three out of ten men in America make marriage a priority . . . Around 50% of all new marriages will end in divorce within about twenty years or so . . . 40% of people when surveyed said they didn’t believe marriage was important and didn’t believe that marriage even works anymore.

There has been such a poor example set by marriage even within the Church that people are skeptical of marriage and many won’t even consider marriage because they have already given up on it. Many people still want that relationship and that connection so people make the wrong choice to co-habitat and live together without being married. And statistics show that living together has a very negative effect on relationships as well. What they are saying is, “I want that connection and I desire that relationship but I don’t want the commitment of marriage.” The reason could be . . . I have never seen a healthy marriage modeled for me . . . I am afraid of the commitment.

But probably the most common reason is . . . I am scarred from my past relationship failures so I don’t want to risk it again. Whether it be a marriage relationship or a dating relationship there has been hurt from the past and we carry the scars of past failures. Usually the problem is we have never really embraced the reality that we are flawed, sinful people. In our hurt we hurt other people. It’s true that . . . Hurt people hurt people! We are hurt or we inflict hurt and we don’t deal with the past in order to move into the future. We keep bringing the hurt, pain, regrets, unresolved issues and non-forgiving spirit into our future relationships.

When it comes to marriage and relationships it is a fact you will most likely mess up. But when you mess up, you don’t give up! The key to success in any marriage or relationship is when you “mess up” you “fess up” and you “get up.” When you are scared and intimidated the real game changer in all of this is . . . The odds are against us but God is for us! When you see that the odds are over here and God is over here, given the choice, I will go with God every time. When our backs are against the wall and it seems like we are losing in our relationships we must remember . . . The odds are against us but God is for us!

If you don’t want to be a statistic and you want to beat the odds in your marriage and your relationships here is what you have to do. You have to deal with your past, to get into your present before you can ever move into your future. That happens through forgiveness. We have to forgive what has happened in the past, to get into the present to have hope of success in the future! We have to practice forgiveness and do what we have said for a long time that we cannot do . . . Forgive and forget!

How many of you have ever heard that or how many of you have ever said that in the past? I will forgive you but I just can’t forget! That’s one of those sayings that sounds good, but it just doesn’t work and simply can’t be true. Here’s why . . . if you are not willing to forget you really are not willing to forgive. I know we retain a lot of stuff although the older I get the more I do forget. But the truth is we do retain a lot of stuff and especially painful memories from our past.

What we have to realize that in order to really forgive we have to forget. Think of it like a scar from a previous injury or surgery. I have several scars on my body. When I look at those I can’t help but remember why and how I got those scars. I remember what happened and how it happened but it doesn’t hurt anymore. While I do remember the pain I have forgotten the effects of the pain. I remember the hurt as I always will but it doesn’t hurt anymore. I have moved on; I have healed my body and my mind of the pain. I have chosen to forgive, or as the song says, “Let it go” and forgot about it. In our relationships, while you will remember what happened and the pain that was there, you have to forget the effects of the pain.

God made us to be in relationship with others. Friendships, boyfriend/girlfriend dating relationships, marriage, etc. We are all made for relationships.  But the sad statistic is when surveyed 25% of people don’t feel connected to someone. They are living life alone which is not how we are made to live this life. It’s like velcro. Velcro is made in two different pieces that are made for each other so they can each fulfill their purpose. Velcro was never made to be alone; velcro was made to be used together. But when velcro is put together sometimes it is ripped apart and as long as it stays apart it is alone it’s not fulfilling it’s purpose. Life was never meant to be lived alone! We grow and find our purpose in relationships.

But in these relationships we have problems. I am convinced that number one reason we are having so many problems in our relationships today is a lack of forgiveness. We are not dealing with our past to get to the present so we are not experiencing success in our future! We keep bringing all the hurt, pain, mistakes and failures with us into all our relationships because we have not either asked for forgiveness or forgiven them much less forgotten about it.

I have two questions for you . . . Are you a Gomer? and Are you a Hosea? The reason I ask those questions is because there is a story in the Bible about the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer. As we look at this story there are many ways that all of us are a “Gomer.” There are also ways that we can make the choice not to be a “Gomer.” But we all have to choose to be a “Hosea.” If you have your Bible turn with me to the book of Hosea. Close to the end of the Old Testament there is a section of books called the Minor Prophets. They were not minor because of their message but they were minor because of the length of their book.

If you happen not to have your Bible it will be on the screen so you can follow along. 2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hosea 1:1-2).

God comes to his prophet Hosea and says, “Hosea, I want you to get married. Now I don’t want you to just marry any girl. I want you to marry a prostitute and I want you to have children with this prostitute.” And he puts in Hosea’s heart a genuine, affectionate, caring love for Gomer. This is not just him saying, “I hate this woman, but I’ll marry her because you’ve commanded me to.” God put it into Hosea’s heart to love her, pursue her, and be totally committed to Gomer even though she was a prostitute.

Despite his love, despite his romance, despite his care, despite him trying to help her flourish, Gomer repeatedly cheated on him. She willingly gave herself to other men, and at one point in the book actually becomes the property of another man. Hosea sells some of his possessions, and buys the woman who is already his wife and the mother of his children back from another man. That’s is humiliating and gut wrenching to say the least.

All of us in our sin nature are a “Gomer.” We have cheated on God. We have done sinful and unrighteous things to God that hurt Him. We have turned our backs on Him. We have run from Him to pursue other loves, desires and relationships. So in many ways we are all a “Gomer.” We cheat, we run, we turn our backs, we pursue other people and other things rather than God. But although in one way we are all a “Gomer” in another way we can all choose not to be a “Gomer.” We can choose to be faithful to God, to stay with God, to be loyal to God, to pursue only God, etc. Or we can choose to cheat, run, turn our backs on God and pursue other things and other people other than God. So make the choice . . . Don’t be a “Gomer.”

But the bigger question I want to ask today in this story is, “Are you a Hosea?” Because I believe the example of Hosea has a lot to teach us when it comes to our relationship to God and others. The first thing you see about Hosea is his willingness to trust and obey God. You saw in that first verse we looked at that God said, “Hosea, I want you to get married. But don’t just marry anybody. I want you to marry a prostitute.” Hosea doesn’t question though obviously this is not normally what somebody would recommend to someone wanting to get married. Hosea doesn’t hesitate but moves straight into action. 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim (Hosea 1:3).

When God speaks and tells you to do something how do you respond? Do you question? Do you doubt? Do you hesitate? Or, do you without any hesitation just obey. Hosea says, “Okay. If that is what you want me to do, I will go and ask Gomer to marry me.” When you look at Hosea you see a person who in any and all situations loved God, served God and was obedient to God.

Later in the story we see another situation between Hosea and Gomer where he shows us in an even much bigger way how obedient, faithful and committed he was to God’s will for his life. Hosea has been faithful to Gomer as her husband. They have had children and somewhere in the story she has gone back to a lifestyle of prostitution. But then it gets even worse than that. At some point she has actually become the property of another man. God speaks to Hosea at this point and asks him to do something that seems so unfair, so unjust and extremely humiliating.

He tells Hosea to go and buy her back! And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1). That must have been a heart wrenching process. You are looking for your wife who was a former prostitute who is now back into prostitution. Where do you go looking for her? How messy is that search? How painful is that pursuit? As you walk those streets in neighborhoods where you know you shouldn’t go.

But in these places is of all the people in the world, Hosea the man of God looking for of all people, his wife. Then what does he do? 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. (Hosea 3:2). She is his wife and she is already his but he buys her back. Imagine the scene with me. Hosea finally finds her somewhere and in some condition being sold to the highest bidder. He walks up and says, “Excuse me, sir. But that’s my wife.” This man replies back, “I don’t care who you think she is. This is her price and if you want her this is what you will have to pay.”

And the most amazing thing happens . . . He pays for what is already his and buys her back! Can you imagine what that exchange was like when Hosea looked into the eyes of his wife. She most likely hung her head in embarrassment saying, “He’s found me. I’ve abandoned him and I’ve abandoned our three kids. But yet he insists on buying me.” These other men sought to buy her to use her. Hosea is buying her to heal her because he lover her! In that moment and all moments forward he is letting her know that he genuinely loves her and he sincerely forgives her for what she has done.

As you look at this, I want you to see something about forgiveness. I want you to see . . . The power and necessity of practicing forgiveness. Think about this with me . . . Did Hosea have to do this? (No) . . . Did Hosea need to do this? (Yes) . . . Did Gomer deserve this? (Absolutely Not) . . . Was this easy? (Absolutely Not) . . . Was it necessary? (Yes). And let me explain why I say it was necessary. I know God told Him to and that makes it something that is necessary. But even beyond that there is power in practicing forgiveness.

One of the reasons I believe we have so many problems in our relationships is the lack of forgiveness. We have never really forgiven people for what they have done to us or forgiven ourselves for what we have done to them. We keep bringing the baggage and bitterness of a non forgiving spirit into all our relationships. Whether it be marriage, dating, work, family or just friendship, all of our relationships are affected by our unwillingness to forgive and forget. We have never practiced relational forgiveness in the past to get into the present so we can experience relational success in the future. We wonder why our relationships are always a mess and we can’t find joy.

It’s because we keep repeating the same negative cycle over and over again because we have never really forgiven others or forgiven ourselves. The worst place this could ever happen is within the Body of Christ where people are “brothers and sisters in Christ” but don’t forgive or ask for forgiveness. People say, “Well, they don’t talk to me.” Ok, understood. But have you talked to them? You want to know how you can know you have truly forgiven somebody for what they have done or asked and been forgiven for what you have done? When you can see them and not “duck and hide” from them.

As hard as it is to admit to ourselves the Bible says Hosea is a picture of God and you and I are a picture of Gomer. Hosea humbles himself and buys back what is already his. Our story of redemption through the blood of Jesus is within this story. It starts in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God and chose their own pleasures over God. At that moment sin nature was birthed and passed down to all us. God sends Jesus to be the permanent fix to our sin problem.

Through His blood He pays for something that is already His and for something He didn’t do! 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10).

The Bible says the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof and mankind is the unique possession of the creator God. And yet, two thousand years ago He paid a dear price for what He already possessed. He sent His Son who spilled His blood to purchase back what was already owned. Think about this . . . Did Jesus have to do this? (No) Did Jesus need to do this? (Yes) . . . Did you and I deserve this? (Absolutely Not) . . . Was this easy? (Absolutely Not) . . . Was it necessary? (Yes).

When you forgive others you are being obedient to God and modeling for everyone what Jesus did for you! When you choose to be a “Hosea” people see Jesus in you and you find the joy and peace that has been so successfully alluding you in your relationships. Did you see what Hosea’s forgiveness was supposed to look like? We read it a minute ago and let’s look at it again. And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1).

Are you a Gomer? By your sin nature, yes you are. But in your daily life you can choose to not be a Gomer. What Gomer did was totally her choice and what you do is totally your choice! Are you a Hosea? Have you forgiven yourself for what you have done to others? Have you asked others to forgive you? Have you forgiven others for what they have done to you? Don’t be a Gomer! . . . Choose to be a Hosea!


The Wall

I have always heard that people who run marathons talk about “hitting the wall”. I have a picture of a person on staff when they “hit the wall” in a race. When I asked people who actually train and compete in marathons if “hitting the wall” is a real thing their immediate response is “Oh yes!” They say it usually happens around the 20-mile mark. They say there is hardly no way that you can not “hit the wall.” No matter how hard you train or how good of shape you are in, everybody who runs a marathon will “hit the wall.”

Researchers have looked at data from people who are what I would call “weekend warrior” and “world class” types of marathoners and it has been proven that all of them struggle with the last 10k or a marathon. But how you persevere through “the wall” is determined by how much effort you have put into your training, hydration, nutrition, etc. All of that is important when it comes to competing and finishing well. They say when you do “hit the wall” perseverance and determination is what gets you across the finish line.

The Christian life as we saw last week is often illustrated as a race. When looking back on his life and sharing with his young protege Timothy, Paul said, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7). He also told the church in Corinth, (1 Corinthians 9:24). One of the biggest ways many of us feel the odds are against us comes when we think about living this life or as Paul refers to it as, “running this race”.

We face pressures, temptations, struggles, battles, etc. We have a daily fight with our sin nature and we begin to identify with what Paul said about himself, 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15,18-19).

In the Christian life most of us struggle more with the finish more than we do the start. Our constant struggle is with perseverance, determination and faithfulness. Our biggest question is, “When it feels like I am ‘hitting the wall’ how can I persevere and stay faithful in my Christian life?” You look around and it seems like the odds are really against you staying faithful in your commitment to Christ. With all the external temptations and pressures and the battle with your own sin nature you feel that the odds are definitely against you.

When we see that the odds are not for us what we can know for sure is God is definitely for us. If I look at the odds over here and they are not so good and God is over here, I will choose God over the odds any day, every day, any time and all the time. Because I know that even though the odds are not so good, God has a plan and He is for me. The real game changer that we have to remember in all of this is . . . The odds are definitely against us but God is definitely for us! Make the decision to choose God over the odds so you can defeat the odds.

Psalm 119 is on record as the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses. What you see when you get into Psalm 119 are these internal keys to success that equip you to finish strong and persevere and push through “the wall.” If you have your Bible with you, turn over to Psalm 119. If you don’t it will be on the screen so you can follow along. If you are going to persevere you have to . . . Be determined and discerning in your life.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. 107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word! 108  Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. 111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:105-111).

There are several things the psalmist knows for sure . . . He knows there will be difficult times ahead. He knows there will be some places where he will have to go that will require some insight and direction. He knows that to make it through he will have to be determined to stick to what works and walk away from what doesn’t work. That is why he says from the beginning, 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105). Somewhere along the way he realized that God’s Word is the only thing that works. God has proven Himself and to make it he will have to trust God and stay close to God as he lives this life and runs this race.

That is why you see such conviction from him about staying faithful to God and His Word. He uses some strong words to show how determined he really is. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. (Psalm 1119:106). He has made it his conviction based on his personal experience and made it clear to the people around him that he is staying faithful to God’s rules and laws.

Life is put before us with choices of where are we going to go and what are we going to do. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. (Psalm 119:109-110). Anytime you “hold something in your hand” that means you have multiple options about what to say, what to do, where to go, etc. It’s like an option play in football. The quarterback has the ball and once he takes the snap, he has the option of running with it or pitching it to the running back who is supposed to be in position beside him. In that small amount of time what is going through their minds is, “Based on what I see coming at me, what is the best thing to do?”

What the psalmist says is, “I’ve got all these choices, but I DO NOT forget your law.” “There are these very alluring and tempting traps laid out there in front of me, but I DO NOT stray from your precepts.” You must always know what God’s Word says so you can remember what God’s Word says so you can always do what you are supposed to do!

If you are going to persevere you have to know that . . . Change is a heart issue before it can ever become a habit. Another way to put that is that for something to become a behavior it has to first become a belief. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Psalm 119:112). The belief that drives the behavior has to change otherwise the change won’t stay.

If you incline something that means it wasn’t naturally in that position. If you incline your heart that means your heart was not naturally in that position. If something is inclined that means it was declined before you inclined it. The Latin root of the word incline is “inclinare”, and it means “to lean”. “Incline” means, “to bend the head or body forward; to bow; to lean, tend, or become drawn toward an opinion or course of conduct: to deviate from a line, direction, or course; specifically; to deviate from the vertical or horizontal.

Your heart is naturally declined and turned away from God. To “incline your heart” is a willful, determined act to orient it in another direction. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Psalm 119:112). When you incline you are putting yourself in a different position than what you were previous in. He is telling God, “I have put my heart in a position to always obey You.”

When you incline you are telling the person you are inclining to, everybody around you and yourself that this is what you want more than anything in the world. “Inclining” towards something is a bold statement about your desires, beliefs and convictions. By your actions you are saying, “I know for sure this is what I need and this is what I have been looking for.” Inclining your heart is such a bold statement of faith and strong commitment it becomes obvious to you and everybody around you that you want change in your life. At the point where you say, “I want to incline”, you have finally realized you want your new life to be a habit and you know it is a heart issue that has to be settled first.

When change has become a habit then and only then are you able to see what naturally comes next. You are finally able to truly . . . Hate the bad and love the good. 113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. (Psalm 119:113). Paul referenced this same thought when he said in Romans, 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9). The only way you can ever truly hate the bad and love the good is to “incline” or “lean in” towards God and let Him know He is all you want and you love only Him and you want to serve and please only Him! If you attempt to hate all the sin in your life and love God without truly inclining towards Him, you will fail every time.

I see people all the time that say, “Well, I was doing really good for the first few months and I just don’t know what happened.” . . . “I made a commitment at camp to live for Jesus but then I got to school and I don’t know what happened to me.” . . . “I made a decision to walk away from the drugs but I just can’t stay away from them.” . . . “I know I need to separate myself from the people that are a negative influence on me but I just keep hanging around them.” . . . Or, people trust Jesus as their Savior and get really involved for two or three months and they disappear.

You want to know why these scenarios and many others like them keep playing out in people’s lives every day? Because what they are doing never became a heart issue. They didn’t really make what they were doing a belief before they tried to change their behavior. If you focus on the outside before you really deal with the inside, you will not see any lasting change! The only way you can really hate something is to love something even more. The more you really love something, the more hate you will have for everything that draws you away that.

So the more love you have for God the more hate you will have for sinful habits, desires and pleasures that pull you away from God. I am convinced the only reason people do not break free from their habits or toxic relationships is because they have just had a “crush” on God or an “infatuation” with God and not a true love for God. The psalmist says he hates the double minded. “Double minded” means you are never fully into anything. You are always bouncing between many things and never really settling on what is the main thing. This is what he says he hates and the only way to hate this is to truly love something opposite of those things.

Don’t be so naive to think that temptations will never come even after you have made a bold declaration of love for God and hatred for what is not of God. Satan will attack and hurl temptations at you. So when they come you have to be ready for the attacks. So the Battle Plan to keep hating the bad and loving God is . . . Hide and hope. 114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:114). Hiding is finding a refuge in God; a safe place to retreat to. Hope is not a “I hope this will work out” kind of hope. It is a hope that says, “I know this works and the only hope I have is in your word.”

This hiding place is not somewhere you run to find when you are under attack. You have a plan and you know where you are going. It is a predetermined, pre-planned place that is all a part of your strategy when you feel an attack on your heart and soul. You establish that hiding place, safe place, and refuge before trouble is ever a thought. You know when it happens this is where I am going because I know that is safe. You also know God will protect you as a “shield” at that time and in that place.

It’s like when you used to play “hide-n-seek” as a kid and you found the perfect hiding place where you never were found. When you found that place that gave you a sure win in the game, did you ever let anybody else know where it was? Not unless you were not a smart player because once you did that is where they would come to find you the very next time.

All of this gives you what it takes to persevere in your Christian life. When you feel like you have “hit the wall” and you can’t take another step you will “push through” and win. All of this give you everything you need to look your Enemy (Satan) in the eye and tell him you will not do what he is tempting you to do. It will give you the strength and the boldness to look at all your habits, negative attitudes, addictions and negative influences in the face and tell them you are finished with them and to leave you alone. 115 Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. (Psalm 119:115). When you read that, don’t you feel the confidence in his pen and the boldness in his voice?

In 1980 a young man from Rwanda was forced by his tribe to either renounce Christ or face certain death. He refused to renounce Christ, and he was killed on the spot. The night before he had written the following commitment which was found in his room:

I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power. My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.

I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!