Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekly Devotional - September 28, 2012

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love."
Psalm 103:8 NIV
When David wrote the 103rd Psalm he poured out praise to God. Read it and notice that David mentions dozens of attributes of the Lord. Each attribute praise-worthy and taken as a whole they paint a picture of one worthy of our honor and devotion.

Couched in the middle of the Psalm is a phrase we might overlook. We might even take for granted that the Lord is slow to anger. I've done enough - haven't you? - that the Lord would be totally justified to take immediate and harsh action to punish me for my wrongs. Yet he is slow to anger.

That makes me think about the way I treat other people. I would rather you not ask my family if I, too, am slow to anger. I'm one of those people who is pretty good at holding back the emotion but when it does surface...well, it's nothing to be proud of.

What is it about God, that I lack, that allows him to be slow to anger? The answer is not just a deficiency for me; I hear it from so many people on a regular basis. God is patient. He is supremely patient. We are not. Some of us may be more patient than others, but we are not supremely patient.

Patience keeps God's anger in check. He's not just stuffing his anger down inside until he will one day explode. He is actually willing to wait and put his anger aside. He's angry with sin. He will punish the sinner. The Bible makes clear that a day is coming when those who do not claim the blood of Jesus for forgiveness of sins will receive the most severe punishment - separation from him. Until then he is patient while people come to him for salvation.

If God can be patient, can I? Can you? Yes, because patience is a character quality that grows from a cultivated relationship with Jesus. See Galatians 5:22-23. Pray that God will grow his character within you.

Replacement Officials

So the National Football League and the officials' union have come to an agreement that ends the lockout. Last night's game between Cleveland and Baltimore was the first this season to have to regular referees officiate the game. Up until now the games were officiated by replacement referees - guys from various levels of experience, some whom had been released from obligations at lower levels of football. A few had been fired by the Pac12 in college football. One had been fired by the Lingerie Football League.

Unless you've been successful at ignoring the sportscasts, newscasts, and pop culture shows, you already know that each week featured a few bad calls or no-calls by the replacements. The worst was a game-ending, game-changing call on Monday Night Football. The Green Bay Packers, with the lead, intercepted a desperation pass in the end zone as time expired. But the replacement officials called it a touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks. Game over. Seattle wins. Green Bay and everyone else loses.

This is where Dandy Don Meredith should sing "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over." Over for the replacement officials. Almost 48 hours later, a new contract was ready for approval by the officials' union.

That was an interesting 48 hours. Every sports talk show on radio and TV talked about it. National mainline media carried it on their news programs. Presidents, past and present, weighed in on the issue. I don't particularly like the NFL's style of the game but I was captured by it.

Labor disputes really irritate me, especially when an agreement is quickly reached after months of negotiations. Actually, I just hate negotiations. I've walked off car lots when they start that. Just give me the best price and if I can do it I'll pay it. But don't ask me what I think I can pay or float a ridiculous price out there.

Anyway, labor disputes irritate me. They highlight selfishness. At least one side, sometimes both, is acting without much regard for the other. Philippians 2:4 says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." If we would just apply biblical principles to our negotiations, everybody wins. But, no, one side feels cheated or disrespected or oppressed if the other side gets anything out of the negotiation.

So the NFL was extremely embarrassed Monday night. The public turned up the heat on both the League and the officials' union. Both are at fault. And an agreement that could have been reached weeks ago is negotiated. Both sides step forward to take credit, neglecting to acknowledge their fault.

I thought it was funny that the NFL Network, airing last night's game, went to commercial break with a highlight package of the real referees back at work. The game was scoreless at the time so maybe having the regulars back on the field WAS the highlight.

Now, what about the replacements? Seems to me that out of the dozens of men who took the field so that the most popular sport in America could go on, just a handful of them are really to blame. Sure, they were probably all in over their heads but they weren't all totally confused. I'm thinking that most of them did a pretty good job. In fact, as the NFL hires a pool of "referees in training," some of these replacements might be in that group...if the union can quit thinking like Big Labor and not call these guys "scabs." Some of them may deserve a legitimate shot at the NFL. Given the training that the regulars have had, and placed on a team of officials with senior members, some of them could have a respectable career with the NFL.

I'm afraid that won't happen. Typical of our society is to lump the good with the bad and call it all bad. We'll throw out the baby with the bath water. One bad apple (or a few) WILL spoil the whole barrel. If his resume lists "Replacement Official" he'll get shuffled to the bottom of the pile and won't hear back from his prospective employer. The good guys take a black eye they don't deserve. Or a black ball they don't deserve.

I hope I'm wrong. I'd like to see the refs who caused the problems go back to doing something else. And I'd like to see the refs with some potential given the opportunity to develop that potential. And I'd really like to see labor disputes handled better next time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Random Scripture

I have a Bible app on my iPhone. To navigate to a particular verse you scroll through the list of books then chapters then verses. So I thought about trying to use it like you would in a printed Bible. You know how you'll just open it, point your finger to the page, and read wherever your finger lands?

"Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures and the short ephah, which is accursed?" (Micah 6:10)

Now to figure out the application. Not too hard here.

People sometimes act like they think God will overlook their sins. Whether you are a believer or not, you should be aware that God is serious about sin. If he took on human flesh in order to deal with sin, it's not something he's likely to forget about - especially when we live as if there are no consequences.

But God did take on human flesh. Jesus did die for our sins. You can be forgiven. You can receive power to stand strong when facing temptation. You can be changed.

God sees your sin. God takes note of it. God is angered by it. And God is moved by it.

You can't hide your lawlessness, your disobedience, your twisting the truth, or your missing the mark. Not from God. Maybe from friends or family. Not from God.

You can't wait out God, either. His memory is long. He won't forget. There will be a day of reckoning.

But God's grace is greater than your sin. Sin must be punished; that's why Jesus died. Now grace offers forgiveness to those who are repentant. Confess you sins and God forgives.

That is no random act of kindness but a calculated act of love. Here's another verse that "just came to mind."

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

These are no random passages of scripture. God placed them in my path today to remind me of the seriousness of my sin. And to remind me of his grace and forgiveness.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Weekly Devotional - September 21, 2012

"In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of sins, in accordance
with the riches of God's grace."
2 Corinthians 7:6 NIV

We had a common tie from over thirty years ago. Outside that, I didn't really know him other than by name. But the common tie lead to being "friends" on Facebook. He was not a Christian - not anything, really, but certainly not Christian. Some form of Eastern mysticism had of his spiritual attention.

He didn't like the southern Christianity we had both grown up on. For me, it was life-giving and life-sustaining. For him, it was repulsive. And he said so on several posts on my timeline. Until I asked about the health of a person in his family. That seemed to break the ice.

He initiated a chat session that lasted about an hour. The chat was cordial even when we talked about Christianity. He just couldn't accept the deity of Christ and ridiculed the faith expressions he had seen years ago.

But he said if Christians could somehow talk about three things more than anything else - if we could show him how Christianity provides these three longings in his life - maybe he would believe.

Love. Forgiveness. Redemption. I'll never forget that conversation. I'll never forget his desire to be really loved, forgiven, and redeemed. He died about a year later having never found what he longed for.

Love. Forgiveness. Redemption. People look for these things in lots of places...all the wrong places, according to a country song. But love, forgiveness, and redemption can only be found in Jesus Christ. And those of us who have found him must share him with those who are without him.

God loves you. God is willing to forgive you of your sins. God can redeem you and make of you something beautiful, meaningful, and useful. Pray that God will help you know his love, forgiveness, and redemption, and share it with others.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Church Discipline

I'm preparing a message on church membership so I've been reading a lot about the subject. One of the articles was written by Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas area. Matt asks how can a church do church discipline if there is no membership? He says, "How can you kick someone 'out' if there isn't an 'in'?'"

That brings to mind two instances of church discipline I've been involved with as a pastor over the years. Both took their toll on the church's statistics: attendance and offerings plummeted. I had some who supported what we did and others who questioned the actions.

My question is this: Why do churches avoid church discipline? I think there are at least three reasons. First, they just simply don't know to do it or how to do it. Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-12 are two good sources of teaching on the topic. Clearly, Jesus commanded it and Paul endorsed it. Apparently, Paul even applied church discipline. Churches will be wise to learn what church discipline is and how to biblically apply it.

Another reason I believe churches avoid church discipline is that they don't want to offend anyone or create conflict. Christians are supposed to be loving and forgiving, aren't we? So rather than butt heads with the transgressor we just let it go. There's a difference between forgiving a repentant church member and ignoring the offense. Sometimes we equate forgiving a brother's sin and hoping it just goes away. Rather than risk offending a brother we neglect our responsibility. Onlookers see this as condoning the sin. The church loses its integrity. Non-believers may not agree with our beliefs but they do expect us to live by what we believe.

And the idea that bringing a wayward believer to discipline creates conflict misses the mark. The conflict already exists. The church already suffers. The kingdom already has a tarnished image. The member already is outside God's will. Church discipline doesn't bring on conflict, it deals with conflict already present.

A third reason churches look past the necessity of church discipline is that they don't want to lose people. Prideful people count things that aren't what counts most. I'm all for keeping the stats that most churches keep. It helps us manage resources and plan for current and future ministry. But when the number of people we attract to a service is more important than the depth of each person's relationship with Christ, we have missed the point. Sure, the best case scenario is that we have lots of people in church; all at different levels of maturity but all maturing. And we need lost people in our midst with whom we are sharing the gospel and to whom we are demonstrating the Christian life. I'm convinced that neglecting church discipline puts a limit on the number of people a church will see and the quality of the relationships being cultivated.

Let's take Jesus' word and put it into practice. The passage in Matthew 18 says to try to reconcile the offender and if that does not happen then we are to "treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." That doesn't mean to give up on them but to do all you can to bring them to the cross and to redemption and forgiveness. That's how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors.

Church discipline does not weaken the church. It strengthens the church.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Weekly Devotional - September 7, 2012

"But God, who comforts the downcast,
comforted us by the coming of Titus."
2 Corinthians 7:6 NIV
Case One: He had recently lost his wife of 60 years. They were rarely seen apart from each other. Friends and family looked to the senior couple as an example of a godly marriage and lasting love. You can understand his loneliness and emptiness.
Case Two: The job had been steady for her. With a recent promotion and pay raise behind her, she and her husband decided to buy a new house. The payment was higher than they were accustomed to but the raise would cover it, right? Then the company had to downsize and she was laid off. You can understand her fear and uncertainty.
Case Three: He was seventeen years old and the world was full of promise. He starred on the football team and dated a cheerleader. He was to graduate at the top of his class in the spring. But Thanksgiving break saw his father move out. By Christmas his girlfriend left him. On New Years Eve he sits in his truck with a shotgun on the seat beside him. You can understand his hopelessness.
These three cases are close enough to reality to help us see into the thought processes that lead to suicide, alcohol or drug use, or loneliness. Our first response might be that we don't understand these responses because we are Christians. Maybe it's because we are not dealing with these issues.
But you are right, Jesus is the answer. It's just that we don't really know how firmly we are standing on the solid rock until actually buffeted by the howling winds of disaster. And if someone is hit unexpectedly he might become downcast.
God sent Titus to comfort Paul at a time when Paul really needed it. Someone in your circle of influence may really need comfort today. Will you be Titus to them? Pray that God will help you see them and be a comfort to them today.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why Read a Daily Devotional

Many of us have a quiet time each day. If you do, what do you use for that? Do you read the Bible? Do you use a daily devotional? Both? Do you pray? Do you use a list? Do you keep a prayer journal?

Let me be honest. I answered "yes" to some of those questions and "no" to some of them. I can spend time expounding on reasons to do all these things because each of them will help you draw closer to the Lord. Don't even think you can have a quiet time or close walk with Jesus without reading the Bible and praying. Sometimes we need a little help, though.

That's why I want to tell you why I think it's important to use a daily devotional.

First, reading and thinking about God's Word will bring to light some aspects of the scripture because the Holy Spirit will direct your thoughts. The Spirit also directs the thoughts of others who have studied the passage. By reading their thoughts published in a devotional (printed or online, formal or just a blog) you can see how they responded to the Spirit's leading. You know how you can read a passage over and over again and then all of a sudden you see something new? Gathering your thoughts along with those of others sort of speeds up that process. Their reflections on a passage may or may not click with you but if it does, it's worth the time to look at it.

Second, because of God's omniscience (he knows everything) and his sovereignty (he has ultimate control of everything), what I read in a daily, dated devotional often is exactly what I need for that period in my life. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. I experience something then the devotional directs me to a passage that speaks directly to the experience. Or I read an entry in the devotional then have an opportunity to share it with someone or put the principle into practice in my own life within a day or so. I never think that this is just a coincidence; it's God at work! He used that bit of structure to impact my life.

Third, as the word "devotional" implies, you can be inspired by just a sentence or thought shared in the reading. I love to study and dig deep into God's Word. I also love those "drive by" inspirations. They are unexpected but refreshing. Sometimes even convicting.

Fourth, you will find excellent fodder in a daily devotional for your posts to Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds. Just this morning I read a post on a friend's Facebook timeline and a sentence jumped off the page and into my heart. He is reading "Jesus Calling" and shared this. "Nothing is wasted when it is shared with Me." That line just popped for me so I shared it, too! If something in your quiet time touches you in a special way, share it! Your friends will be glad you did. [Suggestion: mix in scripture and one-liners from a devotional along with your other stuff on social media.]

I'd like to hear some other reasons you may have for using a devotional in your quiet time. Leave a comment!