Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Crazy People and a Faithful God

The two opposing commanders sat on opposite sides of the pool discussing the fight in which they were about to engage. They decided that each would choose twelve men and let them fight it out first. Twenty-four fighting men were chosen, and the account says that they grabbed each other's hair, drew their daggers, and stabbed their opponent in the torso. All twenty-four died right there, in the same way.

There is purpose behind telling stories like that. The first five chapters of 2 Samuel contain a number of crazy stories; crazy because they are about people and we act boneheadedly pretty often. Despite the craziness and inconsistency of people, though, God worked out his plan to place David, his choice for king, on the throne.

That's important because God had also promised that many years after David, one of David's descendants would reign. God had to work through many more whacked out human decisions to bring Jesus to his throne, too. But he's had lots of practice and he gets the job done! He is faithful to bring about what he has declared; including eternal life for the faithful. That's Life at Work!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Drop the “E”: From Feasting to Fasting

Had your fill of turkey yet? Hope not. You've got a week of reruns. Marshmallows from the sweet potatoes coming out of your eyes? They stack inside in you, you know. Have you ever thrown a clump of marshmallows in the back yard? They stay forever. They are not biodegradable. They take a while to digest, I bet, too. Have you already been to Braum's for their annual Egg Nog assault? I have. It's been out a couple of weeks now! Finishing off a Thanksgiving meal with Egg Nog is like wrapping your full tummy up in 4 quilts and a thick down comforter. On one level, you feel pretty comfortable and satisfied. On another level, your belly is saying, "It's pretty stuffy in here."

For bigger reasons than balancing out the diet, I want to suggest that in the next month – at least one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas – fast… and pray.

World-wide, we are producing more food than ever, but nearly a billion people still do not have enough to eat. Crop failures, fuel prices that consume about 65% of every food dollar shipped to many remote places, and higher demands for grain for non-food purposes have hurt efforts to battle world hunger. You probably know that hunger isn't just a foreign phenomenon. There are hungry locals, too. Be aware of them. Fast and pray for a God honoring mass feeding of the world.

I'm encouraging you to do some type of food fast – to connect the prayer to the problem. Talk to your doctor before you fast! Some of us have some diet necessities that we must consider. Getting hungry to prompt prayer, to get the focus off of yourself, and to let God know that your heart is serious and your mind is open to his wisdom could be fruitful. If you just can't do a food fast – take something out of your daily diet that makes an impact – a computer fast, as wireless fast, a dessert fast (ought to be more than a day), or a "eat out" fast. Take the money you would spend in a week of eating out and send it to a hunger-fighting faith-based organization. And pray! Did I say talk to your doctor before you fast?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Soldiers and Christians

What are the common concerns of Christians and soldiers? When I was first contemplating what I would write here and asked that question in my head, I thought, "That doesn't sound good. That could be understood to mean that I don't think there are Christian soldiers." So please understand, I know that there are Christians who are also soldiers. I'm thinking about the principles we follow about giving honor where is honor is do. From the vantage point of a Christian, what are some of the honorable motivations behind the actions of a soldier?

The pursuit of justice is a soldier's and a Christian's concern. God will one day "pay back with trouble those who have troubled Christians (2 Thess. 1:6). Why will he do that? Specifically because he is just. God put government in place to provide justice. Government is an agent of wrath to bring punishment to the wrongdoer according to Paul's inspired word (Romans 13:4). When evil doers are active, Christians and soldiers are right to be eager for justice to be accomplished. God sure is – twofold. He's got punishment for evildoers set up here after-here!

Another pursuit of both soldiers and Christians is the drive for an end of oppression. God cares for widows and orphans. He knows full well that both widows and orphans are the targets are greedy idolaters who will take affair advantage of others to fill their pockets. He knows that wicked men in position of power will abuse, steal from, and kill those who cannot protect themselves. God himself will be the witness and the judge of those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice (Malachi 3:5).

Soldiers and Christians have equal concern to bring justice to the evil doers and to rescue the helpless from the wicked who unmercifully oppress them.

But we go about it differently, as ordained by God and his son Jesus. As a soldier, including a Christian soldier, I am part of a force given authority by God to provide justice and protect the oppressed with force – you might say sword.

As a Christian citizen, I have the responsibility of attempting to end violence and oppression through the spreading of the gospel of peace. God would prefer that we reach the future would- be wicked men first, because he doesn't want anyone to perish.

Let's honor veterans; and especially for us, Christian veterans. And let's keep pushing forward to win the world for Christ with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Forgive Your Neighbor

Owen Schmitt, Seattle Seahawks fullback, beat his head with his own helmet in pregame warm-ups recently and split his head. He was on the sideline with an open wound and blood running down his face. You have to admire a guy like that…. Not!

We know people do that kind of thing. There's no denying that. It's not as if people don't hurt themselves sometimes, but when they do we don't overlook their behavior as if it is normal. We know something is not right. Without thinking, the word "bonehead" comes out of my mouth every time I see the video of Schmitt whacking his noggin.

C. S. Lewis asserts that the same tendency we have to protect our head instead of hurt it is the same tendency we have to forgive ourselves when we do wrong (Mere Christianity, "Forgiveness"). You don't have to write me telling me that some people don't forgive themselves for shameful acts. However, when people don't forgive themselves, we usually know that something is wrong and we try to convince them that they should forgive themselves.

Upon what principle do people usually forgive themselves? In the context of loving their wives like they love themselves, Paul wrote about husbands, "… no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it…" (Eph 5:29). People forgive themselves because they love themselves.

Jesus said that the second greatest command is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." There are many things involved in love, and one of them is forgiveness. How would Paul say you can love your neighbor like yourself? Feed him like you feed yourself. Care for her like you care for yourself. Here's a key application: forgive your neighbor like you forgive yourself.

Here are two reasons why we find it easy to forgive ourselves out of love for ourselves: (1) We know the pain that accompanies blame and bitterness and we don't want to make ourselves live with it; and (2) we judge ourselves by our intentions rather than our actions.

What would happen if you began to let those principles of self-love begin to work in your unforgiving heart for others? What if your neighbors, those who need your mercy, were to be loved by you like you love yourself? Could you, in order to love your neighbor like you love yourself, determine that you are not going to make them continue to live with the blame of what they did to you? Could you, in order to love your neighbor like you love yourself, assume the best about them instead of the worst – judging them by intentions rather than actions?

You can forgive them. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When Someone Turns to the Lord

"When someone turns to the Lord…." Isn't that a great line?

Turning is about change. A sinner is headed in one direction. Jesus calls it the road to destruction. Then, the sinner determines there is a better direction, and she turns to the Lord! Jesus says that this is the way to life, and though it is difficult, though it's the road less travelled, this turn is a great turn!

Scripture tells us that some turned from idolatry (1 Thess. 1:9). Others turned from Judaism or The Law (Acts 3:18-20). Everybody turns from death to life when they turn to Jesus. I've made a lot of wrong turns in my life. That's why my family got me a Tom-Tom GPS for Christmas. One turn I made a long time ago, though, was the perfect turn. I turned to the Lord.

When someone turns to the Lord, they follow him where he leads. He leads to green pastures and quiet waters. He leads us to restoration. He also leads us in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Since he leads us in the paths of righteousness and as we walk his way, as we add to our faith the character of Christ we know him better and we become more like him (2 Peter 1:5-9).

"But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…" (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

In what ways are you more like Jesus than you were twenty years ago? Or ten? What about three? Are you more merciful? Do you practice greater patience? How have you grown in generosity? How much more zealous for God's will in this world have you become? Are your more prayerful? Are you filling up with love for God and for your neighbor? Turn to the Lord and follow his lead! God will transform you with ever-increasing glory! That's Life at Work!

They Got to Sleep

My friend John Dobbs reminded me of the "Held" video. "Held" was the song that a friend here introduced us to when our family friend Brad Skelton was killed in his car wreck. It was important to me then. I listened to it a lot when John Robert, John's son, died. I'm not sure how I would describe what it does for me. Comfort? Not sure. Explain? Don't know. Challenge? Maybe. "Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?" Yes, I can; but it hurts while I'm waiting. At least the disciples got to sleep. And at the end of the song something is better. Maybe closer. Maybe.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Essential Prayer

"Pray continually."

I still like the King James, "Pray without ceasing."

"Pray all the time!" is good, too.

Do I have to pray? Is there a minimum requirement? Some religions emphasize a particular number of times to pray each day. Christians haven't been given a number, and the ambiguous "Pray continually" translates into "Pray once or twice a day… over your meal… maybe."

Was the last nationwide impromptu push for prayer on September 11, 2001?

Is prayer essential? No, it isn't.

I don't mean by that, "God doesn't demand that we pray." I mean that many of us do not consider prayer essential enough to do it persistently. I'm not basing that conclusion on a survey where the question was asked, "Do Christians consider prayer to be important?" I'm basing it on my personal observation that worshippers of God have not prayed as often or as fervently as we would if prayer were truly essential to our lives.

Don't wait to pray in your closet or in a room where there are no disruptions. Pray now. When someone tells you some good news, pray with them – right then and there. When a sister voices her concerns, pray with her – right then and there. When you're talking on the phone with a brother who is job hunting, pray with him – right then and there. When you are texting someone stuck in their home with the flu, text them a prayer.

Pray all the time! That's Essential Prayer! That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Can Prayer Really Change Things?

Can prayer really change things? Does God hear us? Does he care? Does he bring faster, more complete healing to people sometimes when we have prayed for them? Does his arm of safety reach out to people for whom others have prayed? What impact does prayer have on the actions of God and the future of our lives?

Those of us who have prayed a lot know that we don't always receive what we've requested from the hand of God. We've had people whom we loved, and for whom we prayed fervently, continue in sickness and die – even while we prayed.

Yet, those of us who have prayed a lot also know that there have been times when we have made requests out of desperate hope and experienced something great for which we have to thank God with a heartfelt "Hallelujah!" Praise God!

It's difficult to balance out truths like his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) and "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). We must trust him, and in our trust we will not stop praying! That's Life at Work!

What have you prayed for and received a tremendous answer from God? What have you prayed for, but didn't get what you requested; and how are you dealing with that?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

God’s Issues

"If the poor and sick and widowed and disadvantaged aren't in our sight, they aren't really an issue" ["My Paparazzo Profile", Homiletics, (Sept/Oct 2009)]. That reality is the sad consequence of our virtual reality. We have so much visual input, 24 hours a day, we have little time to think about anything that isn't on our computer, TV, or mobile phone.

Yet, the poor, sick, widowed and disadvantaged are in God's sight – and they remain an issue with him.

"Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?" declares the LORD. "Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?" (Jer 5:28-29)

Keep your head up and your eyes open to see the hurting people around you. Look long enough to allow compassion to be born in your heart. Follow through with genuine help. Make God's issues, your issues. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take Your Stand

Take your stand!

The war is against the evil spiritual forces! The battleground all around you! The enemy's tactics are the devil's schemes! And they can be defeat when you are strong in the Lord and his mighty power!

Get your belt of truth. Straighten up your breastplate of righteousness. Fasten on your gospel sandals. Pick up your shield of faith, put on your helmet of salvation, and take hold of the sword of the Spirit. And stand your ground!

Wait! There's one more very important weapon. One more critical piece of armor!

Pray. Invite prayer. Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. And keep on praying for all the saints in the army of the Lord!

To take our stand against the devil's schemes, we need to be praying and having others pray for us. When the church prays great things happen!

What can we do to be a body that prays more? How can we pray so often that prayer becomes our native language? Can we become a family who trusts God so much that we approach him persistently when we are in our closets or with each other? Imagine group prayers in our foyer for the jobless. What if four or five were huddled together in the auditorium before the assembly praying for the sick? Envision leaders praying for the spiritually wounded with hundreds of us looking on, linked together in prayer!

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Eph 6:10-18).

Amen! That's Life at Work!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Christian Parents

Talk about a good reason for low grades. Carl was being lectured by his parents for his low grades. The best excuse he could think of was, "Well, all the boys at school made C's and D's; it wasn't just me."

"All of them?" his dad cross-questioned. "What about Brandon down the street? Did he make C's and D's?"

"No. Not Brandon. He got higher grades," Carl admitted. "But Brandon's different. He has smart parents."


You know that a kid does not have to have smart parents to get the high grades, although it probably doesn't hurt. Higher grades are usually made when there is attention and help from parents regardless of their intelligence. Attention and help are critical for every kind of learning.

I am concerned about the spiritual welfare of our kids. I see their interest in and devotion to spiritual things on a downhill slide. We need to figure out what is pushing this trend and stop it. Let me illustrate what I believe one of the major contributors to the spiritual demise of our children by changing the earlier story a little.


Talk about a good reason for poor Facebook content. Carl was being lectured for some profanity and sexually suggestive comments on his Facebook page. "Well, all the boys were posting that kind of stuff. It wasn't just me."

"All of them?" his dad cross-questioned. "What about Brandon down the street? Did he post that kind of garbage?"

"No. Not Brandon. He didn't," Carl admitted. "But Brandon's different. He has Christian parents."


Ouch! That would hurt, wouldn't it? Or maybe I should say, "That does hurt, doesn't it?" Most of us who are parent have witnessed our children behave in unacceptable ways and then realized that they were imitating what they had seen or heard from us.


"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!" Jesus said. "Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" Our progeny are going to miss the mark, just like we do – really, just like we do. But let's be sure that in an age where temptation is all around, we provide as good a picture of the character of Jesus for them as we possibly can. That's Life at Work!

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Will Rise

Talking with some friends at lunch recently. When I think about death, I told them, my first thought is "relief." I'm not going to hasten the day when I will rise, but it's fine with me if Jesus does. Here's one of my favorites that tells me that H-E-A-V-E-N spells relief. What or whom do you think of when you think about dying?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father's Day!

God watches over men (Dads) who delight in the Word rather than wickedness. Dads have no place walking in counsel of the wicked, standing with sinners, or sitting with mockers. Dads need to be with their wives and children, living like they believe the Word and teaching their children how to live it. This man prospers because God watches over him. He is like a tree planted by a stream. His roots run deep, his limbs are strong, his fruit is plentiful and good (Psalm 1:1-6)

One father overheard his son pray, "Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is."

Later that night the dad prayed his own prayer as he usually did saying, "God, Make me the kind of man my son wants me to be." God can answer that prayer for the dad who "meditates on his Word."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Walk in the Spirit

Living by in the way of sexual immorality, hatred, envy, divisiveness, and drunkenness is easy. It's natural. Act without thought. Follow your passions. Give reign to your desires. You will walk in the way of human, sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21). Be warned, though, if you continue that way, you will not go to heaven.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Living in the way of the Spirit demands deliberate choice. You must make up your mind that living in this difficult way is the way for you. This way of the Spirit is not natural. It is spiritual and we must decide to give reign to the spiritual way of life. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit," Paul continued (5:24-25).

Make the choice to live for Jesus. Be clothed with Christ (3:26). And then live in the way of the Spirit. You will not always do what you want to do, but if the way of the Spirit is your mindset, you are not under the law that condemns when you sin. You have life, and you will have it eternally! That's Life at Work!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Busted Morals

Younger adults, age 23-41 (Baby Busters), have given themselves significant moral license. For instance, many believe that cohabitation (59%), sexual thoughts and fantasies about someone (57%), sex outside of marriage (44%), looking at pornography (33%), and homosexual activity (28%) are morally acceptable. Did I mention that those are the percentages among Busters who claim to be born again? (Kinnaman and Lyons in Unchristian, Baker Books, 2007).

The survey that asked those questions also asked questions about abortion, using the "f" word on broadcast television, using drugs not prescribed to you, getting drunk, and using profanity. Guess which one of those was believed by the most Busters to be morally unacceptable. Did you guess "using the 'f" word on T.V.? That's correct. Only 7% of Busters believed that was morally acceptable.

What have we been doing? I'm serious. What have we been doing? Jesus said to us, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (Matthew 5:13). We've not only failed to influence our world for good, we have actually let the immorality of the world come into our family. We've lost our saltiness and the yeast of the world has spread through us. We've lost our ability to influence and have been persuaded that what is actually evil is now okay.

Sexual immorality, whether fleshed out in cohabitation, prolonged sexual thought and focus on sexual fantasy, sex outside of marriage, viewing pornography, or homosexuality is wrong. It's sin. Along with impurity and debauchery (uncontrolled shamelessness); idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Paul was clear. If these words describe your lifestyle, you will not go to heaven. You will not inherit the kingdom of God. Make no mistake about it. These things are wrong. If you don't believe it, you are missing the obvious. You are blind to what is clear. You are confusing what is plain. That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You Know That’s Wrong!

"You know that's wrong!"

Oh, Really?

What do we really know is wrong? Look at the people around you as you read this. Two out of three of the people you see do not believe that moral truth is absolute. Are you one of them? Someone might respond, "Of course I believe in absolute truth. I'm a Christian." Yet, fewer than half of Christians believe in absolute moral truth.

Are the days where we can say, "You know that's wrong" and expect that people will agree, in the past? More practically, will you conform your thinking to the current world views instead of to the view of God? Paul wrote to the Galatians regarding some things that are obviously wrong. He said the works of the flesh or sinful nature are plain, "Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery (unbridled lust and shamelessness); idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Galatians 5:19-21).

These sins that spring from the wickedness inside the human heart will always be wrong. Christians are called to remember the shame and death that actions and attitudes like these brought to our lives and remain committed to resist the temptations to return to old ways of living. That's Life at Work!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Too Many Words, Too Little Understanding, To the Wrong People

I wish that I always fully appreciated the proverb of Qohelet: "As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words" (Eccl 5:3). The number of bad dreams you have is directly proportional to the number of worries you've got. Like that, the number of boneheaded comments you'll make is directly proportional to the number of words you say.

Some of the most foolish comments I've ever made, I made to people about other people when I didn't really understand what the other people had done. I had failed to remember the significance of two other proverbs, "He who answers before listening--that is his folly and his shame" (Prov. 18:13); and "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" (Prov 18:17). When I have talked first, and have talked without listening, I've said some pretty dumb things. Sorry about that.

Most often in my life, this happens when I talk with someone among my friends, my family, my co-workers, and my church about someone else instead of talking to the person about whom I am talking. In other words, I'm telling Jimmy what Sally did instead of talking to Sally about what I'd heard she did. That's foolish according to the proverbs and the more I do it only increases the number of foolish words I say. It also flies in the face of what Jesus commanded, "…go to him privately and show him his fault" (Matthew 18:15).

Let's all do a better job of talking with each other, confronting each other in love, understanding each other, forgiving each other where we need to, but dwelling together in unity. That's such a beautiful thing – and the first thing that happens to turn our relationship ugly often is too many words with too little understanding, spoken to the wrong people. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grace Like Paul Taught It

My Dad told me a many years ago that if I preach grace like Paul taught it, I'll always have to warn people that grace is not a license to sin. Some people from conservative churches say they didn't hear much about grace growing up. I knew about grace. I experienced it more than I heard it, I believe; but I did hear it.

It's critical to me that those who hear me preach regularly hear a lot about grace; and since I love to preach through books, sermons on salvation by grace through faith come around pretty often. Paul is desperate for the Galatians to turn back to reality. Many of the Galatians had spent their lives worship idols. Idols aren't real. Many had spent their lives trying to be justified by law keeping. Justification on the basis of human effort isn't real. These idol worship and "law keepers" had heard clearly that Christ was crucified for them and that what's real is justification through faith in him!

Since they were no longer under the condemnation that comes with transgression of the law, some might have believed that sinning was not a problem. So Paul admonished them. He called them to live lives of service to each other. He warned them not to return to what had brought them disaster before: First, he warned them not to follow the system of salvation that emphasized their own righteousness above faith in Christ. Second, he told them not to return to those ways that were obviously part of the sinful nature. The way of the Spirit is in conflict with the works of the flesh. Spirit led people don't go there.

And he called them to love each other. If you miss that in Galatians 5 and 6, you aren't paying attention. The most obvious evidence that you follow Jesus is that you love your neighbor.

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6).

"The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal 5:14).

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).

"Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (Gal 6:15).

Being a new person, particularly seen in your love for others, is the essence of the Christian walk. How are you doing with that? That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Greatest Command

What is the greatest command regarding your life with Jesus? I don't mean "What should it be?" I mean "What is it?" What is your focus? Where do you find yourself taking your personal stand most often? Ask a friend who will tell you the truth what teaching from Jesus they see lived out in your life most.

In the final two chapters of Galatians, Paul wrote these lines to emphasize to them the command of Jesus to which their focus had to return:

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6).

"The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal 5:14).

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).

"Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (Gal 6:15).

Being a new person, particularly seen in your love for others, is the essence of the Christian walk. How are you doing with that? That's Life at Work!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Slave or Free?

Who would think that Paul would compare the child of the slave-woman Hagar to the "Mount Sinai" crowd? Mount Sinai was major! Mount Sinai was about power, heritage, and pride! "We are the chosen ones" could be the theme-chant for the people at Sinai!

Paul's words for Sinai have more to do with isolation and slavery than power and pride. It wasn't as if Paul was embarrassed of his heritage. He told the Philippians that if anybody had reason to boast in the flesh, it was him. Paul realized, however, that Sinai was about commands he couldn't keep. When he was reminded of the demands of the law, he came face to face with his failures. When Paul considered Sinai, his reaction was the same as the Hebrews at ground zero – he was fearful! Sinai was awesome, but Sinai lead straight through Jerusalem and on to slavery to the consequences of sin.

"But the Jerusalem that is above is free!" (Galatians 4:26) This Jerusalem began with a woman who was unable to have children until God gave her a promise. She is our mother. She is our heritage. The child born because of the promise is the real child of power, and the inheritance that was promised regarding him leads straight to us and to our justification by faith. That's freedom! That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Faith and Joy

Paul had developed an illness, most likely involving his eyes. If he hadn't gotten sick, he probably wouldn't have preached to these people. He needed healing and they needed the gospel. They welcomed him as if he had been Jesus. They were so joyful and filled with love for the one who brought them the gospel; Paul knew that they would have torn their eyes out and given them to him. They were believers because of Paul's message. They were sons of God because of their faith. They had been given the Spirit because they were sons. The Spirit in them cries "Daddy! Father!" and they know they are no longer slaves, but they are not just free. They are children of God and heirs of his promises! Of course they were joyful! Joy is fruit of the Spirit!

Now, however, they have rejected the message of faith! They turned from justification by faith to justification by circumcision! They are trying to attain their goal by observing law. They have put their faith in human effort rather than trusting in the power of the message that had been clearly preached to them: Christ was crucified for you!

When they turned from their faith, they lost their joy. Turning back to an emphasis on human effort turned them from people who would have torn their eyes out into people who wanted to tear his eyes out. Paul knew that their hostility was a result of their change. "Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" Paul asked.

Nobody hates the messenger of grace more than the person whose focus is on his own effort instead of the justifying nature of faith in Jesus. When you turn to slavery, joy is gone. Stick with faith and joy remains! That's Life at Work!

Friday, March 13, 2009

What Are You Saying?

Alvey Augustus Adee served for forty-seven years in the US State Department Between 1886 and 1924 he was actually second assistant Secretary of State. On Adee's watch, President McKinley was approached by six European ambassadors who wanted him act to prevent a war against Spain. McKinnley wanted to say, "no" but felt that a direct "no" would not be received kindly. He asked Adee how to say it. Adee wrote on the back of an envelope:

The Government of the United States appreciates the humanitarian and disinterested character of the communication now made on behalf of the powers named, and for its part is confident that equal appreciation will be shown for its own earnest and unselfish endeavors to fulfill a duty to humanity by ending a situation the indefinite prolongation of which has become insufferable.

Can you believe that? Can you understand that? I doubt it! I had to read it four times before I even got a hint of what it was saying.

I don't believe any of us would deliberately hide the good news about Jesus in any way that would make the message impossible to hear; but we need to do all we can to make sure that the message of "Christ crucified" as clear to the people around us as Jesus intends it to be. Here are a couple of important things:

  1. Keep the message clear by talking first about scripture specifically dealing with God's love, Jesus' death and resurrection, and our faith, repentance, and baptism. Use that information as you tell your own story of salvation.
  2. Live your faith. As those you talk with see the purity and reverence in your life, they will be much more in tune to the message as you tell them the good news!

That's Life at Work!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saved by Faith

God gave me his life-giving Spirit on March 27, 1977. It was on that day that I publically proclaimed my faith in Jesus and was baptized calling on the name of the Lord. My sins were washed away that day, not because of the flowing, clearing, cold water in that chest deep creek outside of Florence, Alabama; but because of the resurrection of Jesus. "My sins, which were many, were washed away and gone."

I died to sin that day. I certainly will never return to what previously brought me shame and death. That would be nothing less than rebuilding what was torn down. I will not rebuild what killed me. The works of the flesh are obvious, Paul asserts. I will not live in them and give life back to that old man.

I determined to put the new man on that day. As a student of Jesus, I had come to know what he is like. As a follower of Jesus, I have determined to live like him. Paul said there is no law against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He called living like that "walking in the Spirit." Those great characteristics are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). Any follower of Jesus will make every effort to live like him.

To be honest, though, even on this side of washing of rebirth, I'm still pitiful compared to Jesus. My best efforts fall woefully short of the mark. I couldn't be saved by my own human effort. I can't stay saved by my own effort either. My faith and Christ's love compels me to be like him; but I lose many battles in this war to do the right thing with my eyes, ears, hands and feet. I have a strong desire to do what's right, but my flesh is weak. Too weak to save. Thank you, Jesus. I am saved by faith. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Review of a Review of Dad's Lecture at FHU

Having listened to one my Dad's lectures at the 2009 FHU lectureship, John Mark Hicks had some great things to say about my dad on his blog. Thanks for that John Mark. You can read a brief history of John Mark's time at Magnolia Bible College in that post. I was a student at MBC during his time there and his classes were some of my favorites.

Lots of people say that they did not hear much about grace from the preachers of their youth. I did. I don't recall many of the sermons that Dad preached, though a few of his best from gospel meetings are still familiar; but somewhere along I learned two important truths about grace: God has plenty for me and I should have plenty for others. His lessons and his life wrote that law in my mind and on my heart. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Turn around to Turn Around

"In the newly released directory [Churches of Christ in the United States], 21st Century Christian identifies 12,629 a cappella Churches of Christ with 1,578,281 adherents nationwide. Those figures represent 526 fewer churches and 78,436 fewer people in the pews than just six years ago" (Bobby Ross, "Church in America Marked by Decline," Christian Chronicle, February 2009).

We can survey, surf blogs, and guess at what has brought about the decline? We might discover what causes people to leave and churches to permanently close their doors. We might find 2,009 reasons. But what can be done to reverse the trend beginning this year?

Here's what I believe we must do turn things around. We must repent. Turn around to turn around.

Jesus entrusted us with good news to share, and we don't share it enough. We do not tell our friends about Jesus' death for their sins and how they, by grace through faith, can be saved. We talk about sharing it. We believe "the church" ought to share it. Yet, days pass, then weeks, and we cannot name one person to whom we have deliberately revealed "What Jesus has done" for us. Turn around to turn around.

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you repent, you too will perish."

Our silence about the good news has caused us to look like we have already perished. We've got to repent of our silence or we will die. Who will you tell about the goodness of Jesus this week? Turn around to turn around. That's Life at Work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One More Thing

"Oh, yeah. One more thing."

"That reminds me. One more thing."

Paul told the Galatians that he was astonished that they had turned to a different gospel which, because the teaching was about just "one more thing" they had to do, became a message that was not good news at all (Galatians 1:1-6).

The good news is that because of his tremendous love for us, God gave Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus was buried and three days later, just as he said he would, he rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When people believe that message and respond by turning to live for Jesus and are baptized, their sins are forgiven (Acts 2:26-38). Those who are forgiven have been added to the number of the saved. When we ourselves, because grace is just too hard to believe, or when others begin to put conditions of salvation on us, the message ceases to be good news. There is a message to believe. That is our faith. God has revealed to us how we can respond in faith. That's our practice. Faith and practice. That's Life at Work.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Faith and Practice

Do you believe that it is important for unbelievers to hear the good news about how Jesus can take their sins away? What is more important for them to hear, do you believe?

Do you believe it is important for Christians to feed the hungry, care for the oppressed, and take care of orphaned children? What is a better use of our time and money, do you believe?

Do you believe that it is important for Christians to stand up for the principle of the impartiality of God – the truth that God does not show favoritism and all people are invited to enter the kingdom?

That last question was the one that Paul and Peter grappled with in Jerusalem. Peter, talked the talk of impartiality, but when Jews and Gentiles were in the room together, he favored the Jews. His reputation with the other Jews suddenly became more important than the truth that God does not play favorites with the nations. Paul, in his argument to the Galatians (chapter 1) that he is not out to please men, used his reaction to Peter to make a powerful point. He knew that his approval rating among the Jews was low, but his message of impartiality that he believed was from God was more important than his reputation; so he confronted Peter the apostle face-to face about his hypocrisy.

Our actions show what we believe the most. If racism that keeps the gospel out of the hearts of people of other groups around us goes unchallenged, we might believe racism is wrong; but the need to get along is a deeper conviction.

If we do not do all we can to feed the hungry we may be telling the truth when we say it's important; but we believe something else more deeply.

What do we really believe? Watch us and see. That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just Carry a Watch

    Herbert Tree, a British actor from a while back, encountered a man in the street who was struggling under the weight of a grandfather clock. Tree stopped him and asked, "My good man, why not just carry a watch?"

    That's a pretty good question, I suppose. When I read that anecdote, I thought of a couple of things that may be worthy reading. First, we do troubles like Tree joked about this man doing timepieces. In regard to our sin trouble, we carry the guilt of that sin around, while Jesus says things like, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus forgives us; shouldn't we forgive ourselves?

    In regard to other "everyday troubles" we carry the burden of worry that takes away our joy, health, and hope for tomorrow. Jesus told us that worry doesn't accomplish anything of value. We should "seek first his kingdom and righteousness," letting God provide our "everyday needs."

    Then, since I'm thinking about this figuratively anyway, when we see someone carrying a burden that is too much to for them to tackle, or even awkward for them to deal with, shouldn't we ask if we can help carry the burden. Maybe a joke would be a good place to start, but not a good place to stop. A sincere offer of help, a cup of cold water or a share of the load would be the way to proceed. That's living like Jesus. That's Life at Work!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Fresh Starts

We all want fresh starts in the new year. Where we've ended 2008 struggling to get back in the black, we have a sense of getting back to even this first week of January. Even if we are still less than zero, there's a feeling, a sense, of potential for better things. Hope is a byproduct of newness. I'll be praying that God's plan to give you hope and future is realized for you in the new year (Jeremiah 29:11).

Nicodemus was part of an old sect. He had old ideas that kept him condemned in his old sin. He didn't come to Jesus looking for newness, necessarily, but Jesus knew he needed the new birth anyway. "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again," Jesus told him (John 3:5).

Spiritual newness is not achieved in the making of New Year's resolutions. Real "starting over" is not the result of giving up the hang-ups, hurts and habits of 2008. The New Birth is not achieved. The New Birth is a gift from God. Only God can cleanse the conscience. That reality compelled the writer of Hebrews to declare, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:14)!

Are you ready for a fresh start? Is your soul craving for a new beginning? It is time to let God give you a New Birth! That's Life at Work!