Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Our church family has a funeral this week for a man who had an addiction. You are probably close to a similar situation. Addictions range from food to money to sex to alcohol to drugs to accomplishment to attention. Maybe there are as many variations of addictions as there are people. We are weak at some point. We are all susceptible to addiction.

In his book Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There, Len Sweet wrote:

Every addiction is an honest attempt to fill the emptiness we feel when we deny Christ. Every addiction is self-medication… Desire is God ordained to encourage us to seek the divine and Christ's provision, but a self-focused response is to stuff the desire with whatever will quell the discomfort.

I have found the closer I am to Christ the less my addictions control me. It's not enough to say, "Jesus is the answer" and offer no help with the addiction. Addicts have real physical, chemical, or emotional stuff to deal with before spiritual disciplines will matter to them. The affects of addiction provide reasons or excuses to not follow Jesus.

I'm not diminishing following Jesus - he is the answer. A friend reminds me that sometimes you have to convince a lost person they are lost before you can help them know Jesus as Savior. The point is that obstacles between a person and Jesus must be dealt with as we point them to Christ.

If an atheist refuses to follow Christ because…well, he doesn't believe God exists, then the believer has an obstacle to overcome. If an alcoholic refuses to turn to Jesus it may be that he's not thinking clearly because his mind is controlled by the addiction.

I baptized a man on September 10, 2006. He calls me every year on September 10 to remind me and celebrate. He mentions his baptism and his sobriety. This year his message said it had been 9 years since his baptism and 11 years sober. He turned to Jesus during AA counseling. The help he received with alcoholism led to his salvation. Now he's been sober and happy and following Jesus for all these years because of Jesus. Jesus is the answer.

For some reason the addict begins by trying to feed an emptiness. He finds he must have more and more but still feels empty after the initial thrill.

Chase what you will but only Jesus satisfies the longing. Because the longing is caused by the absence of Jesus. Fill up with anything other than Jesus and you'll still be empty.

Len Sweet also wrote this:

Not too long ago it hit me that I had never preached on Jesus telling a ghost story about a haunted house. Jesus told this story to warn his followers that we must be careful what we replace ghosts and addictions with, because more unholy ghosts than what were banished can refill the house to rule and reign. If we clean up our lives without replacing them with the true Spirit, the house is left empty and vulnerable for new evil spirits and worse dependencies to come back and take over. One of my Facebook friends, Isaac Arten, puts it like this: "I'm not interested in self-improvement but self-replacement." It is the difference between cleaning the house and turning the house over to Christ, letting him live there and leaving no room for malign spirits.

We must deal with the addictions and replace the "false fillers" with Jesus. Jesus has miraculous power to help anyone overcome any addiction. And Jesus has the presence to fill you with purpose and hope. Jesus is the answer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Living at Peace with Your Enemies

Several years ago I had an experience on Facebook that I vividly remember. So much of what happens on our social media pages gets replaced in our minds almost as quickly as it does on the screen. Social media can never replace social interaction but it does provide a platform for connection and information. Without it, how would we survive, right?

A friend - he really is a friend - posted on Facebook a question (rhetorical) asking why there are no love and hate buttons. Another friend - he really is a friend, too - replied, "Because it wasn't meant to be that serious?" Again, social media can never replace social interaction.

The experience from several years ago…

I posted something about our church using CRBC instead of spelling out the church name. It wasn't long before my friend - he was from my hometown but was several years older than me so I really didn't know him - made a comment asking if this stood for (insert crude comment here). I responded with a "Ha" and told him what it meant. He made another crude comment. I joked with him in a clean way and he shot back with another comment.

I thought about firing back with sarcasm (or worse) but decided against it. By the way, that is always a good decision. Instead, I asked how his mother was doing. I knew she had been sick.

Within a minute the chat bubble popped up; our public sparring went private. He apologized for attacking my church and beliefs and updated me on his mother. About two hours later we wrapped up a conversation that looped in and out of faith in Jesus Christ. He preferred to be agnostic or atheist but if he had to choose he would pick Hinduism.

He was a smart man. He had studied religions; or maybe he had studied how to argue against religions. At any rate, he had heard the gospel during that chat session. He died a year later (to the day). I hope he chose to follow Jesus during that year.

Today I opened my Logos Bible app to read a little. The app opened to Proverbs 16 because that's where our Bible study last night took us for the last passage. I began to read the Proverb. I thought of the story I just shared with you when I came to verse 7.

When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.

I wouldn't consider this man an enemy but at the least he was hostile to the gospel. Instead of choosing to lock horns with him in verbal attacks I chose to be kind. I guess that pleased the Lord because my friend's aggressive combativeness turned to peace. I'm glad I didn't have an ugly confrontation with him but more importantly I'm glad I was able to have a peaceful conversation with him that may have helped him see Christianity more clearly.

His problem with Christianity had a little to do with the claims of Christianity. How could Jesus be God? There's no way the resurrection really happened!

But most of his problem with Christianity was Christians. He grew up, as I did, in the buckle of the Bible belt where Christians may not have been…well, let me just say that there is a reason we joke about beating people over the head with the Bible.

I know that this man had to make his own choice whether to follow Christ or not. But I also know that people charged with sharing the gospel and loving him along the way didn't.

Here are some ideas to help Christians do a better job at our job of making disciples:

  • Be humble. No believer is any better than a non-believer; without Jesus we would all be lost.
  • Realize our task is to share how a sinner can be made right with God; the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sins and draw them to Jesus.
  • Remember that each person must chose for themselves whether they will follow Jesus or not.
  • Try to live at peace with those who have different beliefs or who reject Christianity. You do that by living in ways that please the Lord.
  • Pray that God will send others into their lives so they hear the gospel many times.

What are other tips you would add to this list?

Three words from that chat session stick in my mind. He told me if Christians would talk about these things he and others like him might listen: forgiveness, redemption, and love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Now I Know

Have you ever followed a plan not really knowing exactly if the plan was necessary?

I learned a budgeting tool from another religious organization a few years ago. That organization budgeted for salaries, of course. If an employee left the organization during the course of the budget year, the organization continued to pay the salary into a surplus account. This accomplished at least two things. First, had they stopped paying out the salary the budget reports would not reflect the reality. In other words, it would seem that the organization budgeted more for salaries than necessary, which might lead them to cut the salary budget for the coming year when they really would need it when they replaced the employee. The second purpose of this tool was to create a surplus fund to use for employee expenses that could be incurred because of losing one employee and hiring another.

At our church we could foresee a need to replace AC units soon but we did not have the cash to do it. So we implemented a similar plan that would allow us to save the money. Each month we move the budgeted amount for equipment repairs into a surplus account. We've been doing this for a few years and have accumulated a considerable amount. Our old way of budgeting would just show a surplus in the budget at the end of the year and our excess cash may have been spent on something else.

Now I realize a church should not be in the money-accumulating business, but we also have to be good stewards of our physical plant. The old way was a "spend it or lose it" system and a single year's budget for equipment and repairs would not ever replace on unit. Now we save what we budget for repairs, pay out of the surplus account for any repairs needed, and prepare for the big cost of replacing an AC unit.

The plan always seemed like a good idea but we went a few years without needing the surplus. Until this year. We've already replaced one unit. I found out today that another is in such condition that replacing it might be the best solution.

I hate spending money on stuff like that. I'd rather support a church plant, increase missions giving, or fund community ministry. We do all that already but if I had a choice I'd spend less on the physical plant and more on the other.

Do you know what the church in Peter's and Paul's day spent on the physical plant? Nothing! Everything they had poured into the mission and ministry. That's a great model. Probably the right model.

But we live in a day when churches have buildings and the buildings have needs and the needs cost money. We could just let it go and the buildings would eventually not be useable.

Or we can be good stewards and take care of the stuff we have. I'm all for stopping the accumulation of stuff. I'm also for taking care of the stuff we have.

Cross Road Baptist Church has been wise to plan for the big expenses we now face. The Lord has provided - as he always does. Sometimes he provides on the spot. Sometimes he provides over time. But he always provides.

Monday, September 07, 2015

A Posture for Prayer

Before leading our church in observing The Lord's Supper yesterday, I read this from Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker:

"One of my favorite prayer postures I learned from the Quakers. I lead our congregation in this prayer frequently. We begin with hands facing down, symbolizing the things we need to let go of. It involves a process of confessing our sins, rebuking our fears, and relinquishing control. Then we turn our hands over so they are facing up in a posture of receptivity. We actively receive what God wants to give—joy unspeakable, peace that transcends understanding, and unmerited grace. We receive the fruit and gifts of His Spirit with open hands and open hearts."

Then we did it. I added raising our hands upward in the beginning as a sign of surrender to the Lord. And again at the end in praise to the Lord.

My arms grew tired. We laughed about how Moses must have felt overseeing the battle led by Joshua. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to help keep his arms raised. I could've used a little help.

But my heart was full. My spirit was lifted. And although I believe God's Spirit is always with me, I felt closer to the Lord.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Road Construction Ahead

The road department closed the road in front of our house on July 28 to replace the culvert. The road reopened on September 2. I'm not a road builder but I would not have guessed it would take a month to replace a culvert.

As I watched the crew work day after day (except Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), I learned some things about life. It takes time to build the right life. The crew took over a month to do something that seems like it should have taken just a few days. I get in a hurry to learn something or become something. Haste makes waste, right?

They didn't just dig up the culvert but they also dug up the road. Not just a few feet on either side of the culvert but about a few hundred feet altogether. Doing the job right often requires more work than we think. A simple patch job may seem like the right thing but rarely is. Are you content to let God change more of you than you think he should?

And they didn't just dig up the old road and put down new asphalt. Dozens of dump truck loads of gravel were added to the road bed. The surface is only as good as what's under it. Rollers pounded the gravel into the ground, shaking the pictures on the walls in the house. God's work in our lives seems to take so long but he's just doing all the groundwork well so the finished product will be outstanding.

Some delays kept the project from finishing earlier. I heard that the concrete contractor had problems. I don't know if it was a problem with the material or with logistics, but not having the right stuff in the right place at the right time slows the project. I can think of times in my life when God's plans were slow to unfold (or didn't unfold at all) because I wasn't cooperating. Many times, God won't force upon you what he desires but he waits for you to desire what he desires.

Your life is under construction. You probably don't know the extent of the project but you can trust God to do it right.