Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekly Devotional - March 29, 2013

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
1 Peter 1:3 NIV
Hope is an interesting word. We use it to mean many things. For example, I was listening to a sports talk radio program this week and the topic was what people expected from their favorite team. Someone said they expected their team to contend for a championship each year. But the team has a history of being not that good so the host made the point that this was a hope rather than an expectation. That's one way to use the word.
Talk with children around Christmas season and you'll get another understanding of the word. They make a list - mine was always just the Sears catalog with every toy in the boys section circled! - and hope they get everything they want. Something on the list is always absent from under the tree.
I look outside and see clouds. The forecast calls for rain. I felt mist in the air when I walked the dog a few minutes ago. Someone with plenty of outdoor activities planned for today might say, "I hope it doesn't rain."
Hope can mean wishful thinking or unrealistic expectations or desire for the future. But the living hope believers have is no such thing. Recall the words to the hymn: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus' name."
We have hope not because of who we are or what we desire but because of who Jesus is and what he has done! And that hope is alive just as much as Jesus Christ is alive. Hope is the confident expectation that what God promises is true. If you need evidence that God is able and trustworthy, then the resurrection is Exhibit A.
Celebrate Jesus and the hope he gives! Pray that God will help you anchor your life upon his promises.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Real Issue

Prop 8, DOMA, gay marriage, abortion. These are hot-button topics on the cultural agenda today. I've become aware of how diverse opinions are even in my own circle of friends. Those of us who call themselves Christians have views that cover a broad spectrum. Even among conservative Christians the wiggle room on these topics is surprising.

That's just where we are today. And we ought not be surprised. We've had plenty of warning. Sadly, we sat back and did nothing when it would have been much easier to keep our biblical values in the forefront.

I'm barely old enough to remember when small town life revolved around the church. Now the outside world swirls around the church so quickly - sometimes violently - that the church is given secondary consideration, at best, and at worst, completely ignored. But we should have seen it coming.

So how long has this train been coming down the tracks? First, let's understand clearly what the train is. The issues of morality are not the issue. We can cry about the number of abortions performed each year, the ease of getting a divorce, the openness of homosexuality, the indecency of entertainment programming, and on and on. These are problems - symptoms of the real issue.

Fewer people live as "people of the Book." The Bible has less influence in our culture than ever. I have no surveys to prove that statement but it seems obvious to me that it's true. All of the moral issues that conservative Christians cry out against are actions that go against God's word. When more people allowed the Bible to direct their lives, we had less of these issues; or at least they were not so much out in the open.

I can hear you already saying, "But there's never really been a time when people really lived by the Book." Yes, we are all sinners and our lives are marked with mistakes and failures daily. What I mean is that there was once a time when more people - maybe a majority - tried to obey the Lord and cared when they failed. By God's grace we can know forgiveness when we confess our sin and repent of it. By God's grace we have his Spirit within us to guide us toward holiness.

Yet we have let other "truths" displace the Truth. Maybe that's not the case specifically for you but I believe it is the case for the American culture. We now live in a day when a minority - probably a very small minority - hold the Bible as the guide for our faith and practice. And that's the issue.

Displacing the absolute truth of the Bible with subjective truth is the issue that has brought us to the point of having the debates on abortion and marriage that we have going on these days. Even among heterosexual marriage, how many are really biblical? I'm not perfect in this area and I've confessed and repented and am trying to do it right this time. That should be the case with every sin we commit no matter if it's a headline-maker or not.

Remember the Pledge to the Bible we said in Vacation Bible School? "I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's Holy Word, and will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path; and will hide its word in my heart that I may not sin against God." Saying the pledge isn't worth much. We need to commit to it. That may not turn things around dramatically but it is the right thing to do for those who profess to follow Christ.

So that's what the train is. How long has this train been coming down the tracks? Since the last election? Since the 1960s? Since the Enlightenment? Maybe much longer than that. Did you know that in 325 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire? At that point the church became an institution more than the body of the Living Christ. What had been a movement throughout the cities, towns, and rural communities was now in big buildings on the corners of the main arteries of town. People came to the buildings which they called the "church." Church became less about being Christ incarnate in the community. Does that sound familiar?

At a church I once pastored we printed t-shirts that said, "It's not a religion, it's a relationship." Honestly, what many people call Christianity is a religion. We need to get back to Christianity being a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Bible is how we will know him. Neglect the Bible and you will lose the relational aspect of your faith. A byproduct will be that you lose your grip on the absolute truth in the Bible and will begin to accept or tolerate the subjective truth of the culture. Your own actions will follow suit.

Then you will look up and wonder where that train came from. Has it been coming since 325? Maybe. Maybe ever earlier than that. All I know is that we are looking up and seeing a culture out of control. I believe reverence for God and his word can change things.

Bro. Snow is a member of that church I pastored years ago. He said, "We've raised a generation who have raised a generation without God." His point was that this didn't just happen over night. What one generation does not stand up against, the next generation will embrace. Thus begins a downward spiral.

If you are a conservative Christian - conservative as in biblical, I'm not talking politics - then you can make a difference by living a biblical life that centers on Jesus and his word. If you aren't doing that now, then you can start today. Teach your children to do the same and begin an upward spiral. You may not be able to turn around a nation but you can turn around your family. And you might be part of a supernatural work of God to turn around a nation that has drifted away from him and his word.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Break

It's that time of year. Students and their families look forward to Spring Break so they can pack up and go somewhere or just chillax at home. For one week during the long spring semester there is a change of routine that somehow refreshes us. At least that's how it's supposed to work. My student did not look forward to returning to school. I've read posts of social media about not wanting to return to work. Maybe we've lost the idea of what a break really is. A break is a short period of relief from the normal.

I worked at IGA Stores while in high school. If you worked a shift of at least four hours you got a 15 minute break. After the fifteen minutes I went back to sacking groceries, stocking the milk cooler, and mopping floors. The break was not the end of the shift but just a short time to relax. Spring Break is the same but it's really hard for some of us to go back to the normal routine.

One of the highlights of Spring Break for me was attending Dogwood Church in Peachtree City, Georgia. We were on our way to Orlando and stopped in Newnan, Georgia to spend the night with friends. He's on staff at Dogwood Church so we went with them for the early service before hitting the road to complete the trip to Florida. As a preacher and worshiper, I was encouraged and challenged. I like hearing other preachers preach. I love congregational singing. My family felt right at home at Dogwood Church although we only knew two people. I hope that's the feeling guests have when they visit Cross Road.

The rest of the week was outstanding. The Disney parks are every bit as good as I had been told. It took me almost 49 years to get there and the wait was worth it. Add in a spring training baseball game and a stop at Duck Commander and this was a pretty good vacation!

It's over now. Break is over. Back to the normal routine. I'm not fussing about that. I was energized for our services at Cross Road yesterday and was energized BY them. Our people are really seeking revival. I think it's beginning to happen! We had revival services a couple of weeks ago but we cannot see the services like students view Spring Break. The services weren't the end but just the beginning. Revival services propel us forward into revival just like Spring Break ought to prepare us for the next two months.

I'm glad to have had the break but I'm glad it's over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekly Devotional - March 8

"After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, 'The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.' No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you."
Deuteronomy 9:4 NIV
Do you ever start to think you deserve the blessings you get? I hope not because that's a dangerous thought! The right way to think about our blessings is that God blesses us because of who he is rather than because of what we've done. He is the God of love and grace and mercy and blessings. Everything flows from him for his glory. Without a doubt, we do benefit from his blessings and that's part of why he does it. But it has nothing to do with deserving it.
The Hebrew people had been in Egyptian bondage for 400 years. They have fled the country and were now free but because the lacked faith they wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the land God had promised to give them. That promise was first announced to Abraham over 500 years earlier. God keeps his promises and was ready to give the land to the Hebrews.
The leader of the Hebrews for the last 40 years had been Moses. Just prior to Moses' death, he spoke to the people. He wanted to remind them of God's promises and commands. And Moses warns them not to take credit for what was about to happen. The Hebrews possessed the Promised Land in a miraculous wave of victories over the land's current inhabitants. They didn't have to earn the land, God gave it to them.
The warning from Moses ought to ring in our ears, too. What the Lord does for us flows from who he is and accomplishes his plans. Every victory you experience over evil is not because you are so righteous - and you may be - but because evil is so evil and God provides the victory. Pray that God will provide the victory and you will give him the glory.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

From Sunday to Friday

I've been thinking about the last week of Jesus' life. It's called the Passion Week or Holy Week. The Gospels begin the story by retelling Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Sunday. The crowd was euphoric. They proclaimed Jesus was the Messiah. Centuries of expectation reached culmination and the celebration was high.

Then religion set in. Have you noticed how religion can numb celebration? Slowly, as the week progressed, the excitement gave way to anger. Now, I know that not everyone was excited on Sunday and I suspect not everyone was angry on Friday, but the prevailing attitude of the crowd turned dramatically by the weekend.

The people loved it when Jesus swept in. But the religious leaders took over and swept him right out. They convinced the Roman government to nail him to a cross, in fact. The people had never been more alive on Sunday, but Jesus was dead on Friday.

What happened between Sunday and Friday in Jerusalem happens too often in our lives. Don't let Jesus sweep in and create joy only to later get caught up in the motions so that Jesus is swept out of your life. Religion never fully replaces relationship. Religious activity won't satisfy like a personal walk with Jesus.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Preparing for Revival

Several weeks ago while reading for my DMin project I came across what I thought was a great idea for a few sermons leading up to revival services. Ed Stetzer and David Putman wrote "Breaking the Missional Code" several years ago and I've found it to be a good resource for my missional project.

One of the topics the book addresses is that if a Christian wants to really follow Jesus he must do three things: live like Jesus lived, love like Jesus loved, and leave behind what Jesus left behind. When I read that I knew I needed to share it with Cross Road Baptist Church as we were seeking God's movement among us.

I preached the three sermons on February 17 and 24 and March 3. Here are the links if you'd like to listen. Join me praying for revival. If you live close and get a chance, stop by for the revival services March 10-13.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Weekly Devotional - March 1, 2013

"In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord."
Ephesians 2:21 NIV
We are living in an interesting day. Not only is March 1 the anniversary of Deana becoming my wife and not only is March 1 a day of unknowns in our nation's economy, but this is a day when the Roman Catholic Church is without the leadership of a Pope. That doesn't happen very often.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope serves in a line of apostolic succession. That means that he is God's appointed one to lead in the same way (they believe) Peter was selected by Jesus to lead. The idea is not clearly found in Scripture and not found in Christian writings until the late First Century.
In Matthew 16, Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then says, "I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). Some, like the Roman Catholic Church, think Peter is the rock upon which the church is to be built. Their conclusion then is that a line of succession must flow from Peter in order to substantiate the church.
A better understanding of Jesus' words is that Jesus is the rock upon which the church is built. This interpretation best fits with the balance of Scriptural teachings like that found in Ephesians 2:21, "In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." In 1 Peter 2, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone - or the one upon whom the church is built.
The Bible says that all men are sinners except for one. Just one. Jesus Christ. I want my faith to be built upon the sinless one. Then I can trust my faith. I expect church leaders to look to Jesus for purpose and direction. And I expect Christians to look through their leaders to Jesus as those leaders faithfully serve them and the Lord. Pray that God will help our Christian leaders focus on Jesus Christ so they can help others become maturing disciples.