Thursday, January 29, 2015

Temptation

We had a spirited discussion in Bible study last night. I started it when I used this definition of temptation while talking about Genesis 3.

"A temptation is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing in a bad way." (Warren Wiersbe, Be Basic)

I threw out the definition then went on to apply it to the text. I didn't make it that far for several minutes. And that's ok. Sometimes we need to park a minute to make sure people understand. I'm not sure we got there but we tried.

The sticking point was whether or not every temptation fits that definition. My first thought was about sexual temptation. God created humans for sexual intimacy. Sex is a good thing but rape and abuse, sex with a person other than your spouse, an overly aggressive pursuit of sex or the denying of sex to your spouse, and pornography are bad ways to express sexuality.

What about stealing? Wiersbe isn't saying that stealing is a good thing. Stealing is the bad way of acquiring things. We need things to live but stealing them or stealing to get them is wrong. We want things, too. If the desire leads to stealing or even coveting we have fallen to temptation.

The temptation Eve faced was to find her worth and value (which are good things) not in her relationship with God (a good way) but by a disobedient shortcut (a bad way).

Satan is crafty and he knows how to attack our weaknesses. It's not a sin to be tempted; the sin is to follow the temptation by choosing a bad way to get even a good thing.

So I wonder about the person who says they would steal to feed their children if they had to. I'll let you chew on that. Leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Teaching Stewardship

This morning I'm looking at stewardship material to use at Cross Road. We will teach and preach about biblical principles of stewardship during Bible study and worship each Sunday in February. As with all Christian disciplines, it's easy to soften on our commitments. While I believe stewardship is a central component of discipleship and include these principles regularly in my sermons, taking a closer look usually helps us renew our commitments or make new ones.

Many pastors that I speak with are feeling an economic crunch. In spite of what we heard in the State of the Union last night, the economy has not bounced back. It hasn't in my world personally and in the realm of my pastorate. Up and down the roads and all around town I hear the same thing.

Some of the financial struggles a church faces are due to economics. A tithe is 10% of a family's gross income. If gross income goes down then the tithe goes down. Income decreases because business is bad, sales are lower, a family member loses a job, factories shut down, the main wage-earner enters retirement, etc. There's not much a church can do about that. If the family is faithful to stewardship and continues to tithe then that is a positive rather than a negative. I hope that I've taught and modeled to be faithful in little or much, less or more.

A church may also deal with tight times because some who tithe no longer attend the church. The migration of church members really doesn't bother me if the members move along because God is leading them to do so. I've heard plenty of reasons that somehow seem to have attracted God's blessing. "This other church offers more for my family." "This other church is where my friends attend." "I like the music better at the other church." I won't say those are never good reasons to move but I can say honestly that I've never heard one of these excuses when it wasn't just a coverup for something else.

Regardless of the reason, when a person no longer attends our church we no longer receive their tithe. We have experienced some of this and have to adjust accordingly.

So there isn't much you can do about economics and migration, but a third reason churches struggle financially is fixable: when members are not properly stewarding the resources God entrusts to them. I don't know that this is absolutely the case with our church but I do know that money is an area where a little encouragement and instruction helps people apply wisdom. So we will study passages of scripture that teach stewardship fundamentals. If just one or a few families become better stewards then the church benefits and the families do, too. God promises to bless those who are faithful stewards.

I should mention a fourth reason churches struggle with money. Sometimes the church is not a good steward of her resources. We expect our members to be good stewards; we should lead our churches to be good stewards, too. Budgets - a better name is Ministry Spending Plans - have to be reviewed regularly just like a family's home budget is reviewed. Adjustments may be necessary to reflect what really is happening and to focus attention on specific areas of ministry. Hard decisions regarding favored projects must be made. You get the point: churches must be good stewards.

The bottom line for me is humorously reflected in what a preacher once said. "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that God has provided all the resources we need to do everything he wants us to do. The bad news is that most of it is still in your pocket."

It's true. If we are good stewards with the resources God has given us our churches will never lack for resources to meet the ministry opportunities presented to us when engaging the Great Commission.

Just think about it. The gospel reaches lost people. Needs of the poor and hurting are met. Churches fulfill God's calling. Christians are blessed. Teaching stewardship is good for everyone.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sealed

My youngest son turned 14 a couple of weeks ago. About six months ago he downloaded the driver's license test booklet and began studying. I hope he studied because he will take the written test later this afternoon.

One document required for this by the State of Arkansas is an attendance form from his school. He picked that up earlier this week from the school office. He had to put his name on the list for documents to be prepared later that day. Apparently, I'm not the only parent embarking on this journey.

The attendance form verifies that Riley is attending school and maintaining a "C" average. At the bottom, the school registrar signed it and stamped it with the school's official seal.

This isn't an ink stamp. This is the kind of seal that leaves a raised impression of the seal on the paper. Have you ever had a document notarized? That's the kind of seal I'm talking about. The seal authenticates the information.

I have a friend (a pastor) who has a personalized seal that he uses to mark each book in his library. There's no way someone who borrows one of his books will forget whose book it is!

The Bible mentions a seal like this a few times. In the book of Esther the king gives his ring to another person (more than once) so that person can issue a decree with his seal on it. The seal in those days was a blob of wax with the impression of the king's ring pressed into it. One look and anyone would know it was an authentic decree of the king.

When Jesus was placed in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea, Jewish leaders convinced the Roman ruler to put a his seal on the huge rock covering the tomb's opening. The idea was that anyone coming to the tomb to steal Jesus' body would think twice upon seeing the ruler's seal. The seal would let everyone know that the tomb was not to be tampered with.

In Ephesians, Paul wrote that God seals his people, too (Eph 1:13-14). The seal guarantees that what God says is true and that what God's seals is his. What did God say? He said that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ for salvation will be saved. What does God seal? He seals as his all who believe in Jesus.

I'm actually happy about Riley learning to drive. Listen, if he doesn't learn to drive then somebody has to haul him everywhere for the rest of his life!

I'm more happy that I am sealed with God's Holy Spirit. This is how I know that I'll have an eternal home in heaven and nothing can separate me from God's love.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

How Wisdom Helps

I'm reading one proverb from the Bible each day this year. During January I am posting to social media a verse or two that jump off the page to me each day. Proverbs is part of the Bible's wisdom literature. I've not gone a day (not just this year but ever) reading from Proverbs that I have not been challenged by truth and grown in wisdom.

I encourage you to read the Bible each day. Some of you will want to read a few verses. You'll study them or maybe just move on. Others will want to study larger portions of scripture each day, going in depth to hear from God. Still others will try to read the entire Bible this year. If you are looking to read God's Word regularly, I commend you! And I suggest you look at bible.com if you need plans for your reading.

As I read Proverbs 8 (because today is the 8th day of the month) I came across these words in verse 13:

All who fear the Lord will hate evil.

Do you struggle with evil? Maybe we don't want to admit that we do because we associate evil with terrible things like rape, murder, child abuse, and terrorism. Certainly, those are evil. According to the Bible, dishonesty and manipulation and a critical spirit are also evil. Stealing, selfishness, and bitterness are evil, too.

So do you struggle with evil? Yes, we do.

Do you give in to evil?

Do you hate evil? Hatred for evil is a by product of fear for the Lord.

Maybe a person doesn't hate evil because he doesn't fear the Lord.

A person who fears the Lord:
  • will be guided by Him (Psalm 25:12)
  • will have all they need (Psalm 34:9)
  • delight in obeying His commands (Psalm 112:1)
  • have the Lord as helper and shield (Psalm 115:11)
  • will be blessed (Psalm 115:13)
  • will follow His ways (Psalm 128:1)
  • will gain knowledge of God (Prov 2:5)
  • will turn away from evil (Prov 3:7)
  • follow the right path (Prov 14:2)
  • are secure (Prov 14:26)
  • will not envy sinners (Prov 23:17)

These are just the promises that come from Psalms and Proverbs for those who fear the Lord.

Here's my take-away today. I am better equipped to withstand temptations when I respect who God is and what he says. I am better prepared for life when I fear the Lord.

Friday, January 02, 2015

What I Expect

In 2015 I expect God to comfort us when a friend or family member dies, just like he did in 2014. Three people very close to me passed away last year. Two more who were extended family to people I'm close to died. Another handful with whom I had no personal relationship except to observe them passed away. Death brings sadness, tears, uncertainty, reflection. In the midst of it all was the comfort Jesus promised to those who mourn. The Holy Spirit's presence was obvious. I wouldn't dare to think 2015 will be without such loss and I wouldn't dare doubt that God will be with me.

In 2015 I expect God to provide all I need, just like he did in 2014. My balance sheet is not much to brag about. The county can't tax much property. My assets don't have much shine to them. But I have all I need and much of what I want. God has been good. I've found that my desires have changed over the years. What I once thought were necessities, those things that later slid down to the wants list, are now completely off the radar. And other necessities have appeared. The lesson for me and my family was that God provides what he knows is best. My responsibility is to be faithful to him and with what he provides. And to be thankful. I am and will be this year.

In 2015 I expect God to draw my family nearer to him, just like he did in 2014. My family grew by one this year when my son Caleb married Keegan. My wife, three sons, one daughter-in-law, parents and step-parents, my sisters and their families, and me - God will draw each of us closer to him. I know that to be true because that's what God does. What I'm not certain of is whether each of us will respond. My life is a testimony of obedience and disobedience mixed together. Sometimes the obedience outweighs the disobedience, but not always. That's probably true for all my family. I hope we are more obedient than disobedient this year. Actually, I hope our obedience far outweighs our disobedience when God draws us.

In 2015 I expect God to forgive me, just like he did in 2014. I am a sinner. I'd like to say that I've left sin behind me but I can't. Each day brings new and recycled temptations. Sometimes I fail to withstand them. But I've never sinned a sin that God has not forgiven. The Bible tells me that Jesus died because of and for my sins so that I could be forgiven and be right with God. As I understand scripture, the only sin that will not be forgiven is to die having not believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. So I confess my sin and God forgives me. Being forgiven feels good.

In 2015 I expect God to speak to me, just like he did in 2014. Like others have said, "God doesn't speak in an audible voice, he speaks much louder than that." As I read the Bible I hear God's voice. Faithful people advise me and I hear God's voice. God uses circumstances to guide me. Even my conscience hears God's Spirit. Countless times each day God speaks to me. I don't always listen but I want to hear him more because I need his instruction, guidance, and wisdom.

In 2015 I expect God to be just who he was in 2014. And I'm glad for that. Everything changes except God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is What Christmas Time Means To Me

Christmas makes you feel emotional.
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.

Those words are the introduction to one of my favorite Christmas songs. You may not recognize them but you will recognize the rest of the song.

City sidewalk, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

City street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch, this is Santa's big scene,
And above all this bustle you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

It's an ageless song, isn't it? Whether you prefer Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Michael Buble, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, or a host of other classic and modern artists, you are sure to find a recording to suit you.

Yes, it's one of my favorite Christmas songs. But there is no mention of the real meaning of Christmas. You may catch a glimpse of it in the first verse where people are happy and treating each other joyfully. By the time the second verse comes around with the focus on shopping you see the writer wasn't trying to tell us about the true meaning of Christmas.

I'm OK with that. I'm not one who thinks everything about Christmas has to include a Bible verse. I like giving and receiving gifts. I still believe in Santa Claus; he's just not who I thought he was when I was a little kid!

But you can't have Christmas without Jesus. I want to tell you what Christmas time means to me.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. His birth was the fulfillment of promises God had made through prophets centuries earlier. Jesus is the Son of God and he IS God. he lived the same kind of life you and I live filled with the same struggles and emotions and temptations you and I experience - but he did not sin. He overcame everything life threw at him to remain holy and pure.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who was the sacrifice for our sins. God demands a perfect sacrifice and Jesus met the qualifications. His death was in my place - yours, too - so that by believing (which is not just head-knowledge but a total commitment of myself) I could be reconciled to God.

Jesus not only lived and died, he also resurrected and lives again. Even today Jesus is alive. He returned to heaven where he is preparing a place for those who believe and will return one day to gather us to himself. In the meantime, his Spirit is with us to help us live each day to bring glory to him. I want my life to honor Jesus and help others to see how they can also be reconciled to God through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and return.

This is what Christmas time means to me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peace on Earth

Somewhere along Rushing Road about 5:20 this morning I was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus came that there would be peace on earth. I began to pray that it would happen. Then I remembered that I believe the Bible teaches that peace will come upon the earth when Jesus returns to establish his 1,000-year reign. We may have pockets of peace before then but the pageant-wish for world peace won't really happen.

I jogged on.

"But Lord," I prayed, "what if right now we experience just a 24-hour period of peace? Can't the conflicts between nations, religions, races, and preferences come to a halt for just a day?"

I jogged on.

"Lord, just let me be at peace and be a peacemaker today. Let me hold my tongue, subdue my anger, see people with love, treat people with respect…"

I jogged on.

Within a minute I was having thoughts that absolutely betrayed my prayer! I don't know if it was Satan trying to trip me up or God telling me this would not be easy.

Only when I've kept my focus on Jesus have I been able to be at peace and be a peacemaker today. There have been times today where my focus fell from the Savior and I failed to be at peace in, keep the peace during, or bring peace to the situation.

The skies above the pastures surrounding Bethlehem were filled with angels one night long ago. They said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 NIV).

Peace is not the absence of turmoil. It is not an attitude. It's not a response or a mind-game.

Peace is the presence of Jesus that overwhelms those who keep their focus on him.

I jogged on.

I stumbled. Not on Rushing Road. But in my daily routine trying to honor Christ in a fallen world.

The lesson is as clear as a Bethlehem midnight to me; I hope it is to you, too. Even in the midst of conflict, peace surrounds those who focus on Jesus.