Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Subtle Deception

When you read through the opening pages of the Bible, you find that perfection gets derailed through very subtle deception.  Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with God and with each other.  A singular command was given to follow.  They joyfully did so until a question was raised in their mind through Satan.  “Did God really say” leads to a distortion of God’s intentions and the breakdown of the relationship.  And sin enters into the world, and death through sin.

Fast forward to a scene in the Temple during Jesus’ time.  It is found in Luke 18:

““Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:10-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Notice the focus for both men was their own condition.  The Pharisee felt sorry that other men were not as “righteous’ and faithful as he was.  The tax collector was broken before the Lord, feeling the weight of his sin, and cried out for mercy.  Jesus said that the tax collector was justified before God and not the Pharisee.

Here is the subtle deception.  When we “feel” like we are in good standing with the Lord, it should move us to join in the same mission as Jesus.  Remember that Luke also told us that the “Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost.”  (Luke 19:10). So Jesus left the perfect surroundings of heaven in order to wade into the muck and mire of lost humanity in order to seek out people and redeem them.  True compassion does not just feel sorry for people because of their messes.  It moves among them in order to lead them out of their circumstance and into a solid relationship with Jesus.  If we simply feel good about ourselves and sorry for them without seeking to help them, we are in essence no different than the Pharisee standing in the Temple.

Subtle deception derailed Adam and Eve (and all of us through them) from the perfect relationship they were experiencing with God.  And subtle deception can derail us today from the perfect work God created for us to do in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

So let’s show true compassion today. Have that cup of coffee with someone who you know who is asking questions about faith in the midst of their addiction or broken marriage or rebellion.  Meet with that new believer who does not have a clue how to make hard choices to honor Jesus.  Patiently coach someone who struggles to develop simple spiritual disciplines.  Let’s give of ourselves to them the way Christ gave of Himself to us.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taking Lightly What God Takes Seriously

Knowing that what I am about to write is counter-cultural, I suggest to you that it is one of the strongest tools in our arsenal both to protect ourselves and to give a witness to others.  I am also painfully aware that many that name themselves as followers of Jesus Christ seemingly take this matter lightly while God takes it very seriously.  It is the matter of sexual purity.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, God says,It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

God’s calling for us as believers is to be holy, living our lives differently than the world around us.  Notice the verbs:  AVOID (to abstain from or distance ourselves from) sexual immorality; LEARN TO CONTROL or POSSESS our own bodies (this could mean focusing on our own spouse); not WRONG or STEP OVER A LINE with brothers and sisters; we are not CALLED to impurity; and REJECTION is against God.  God takes these things so seriously that He will be “an avenger” against anyone who commits such sins.  WOW.

Playing around with pornography is not a harmless endeavor. It objectifies people; violates your marriage commitment; and lures the user into deeper sin.  God speaks in the Bible about not denying relations in marriage except for prayer so we don’t set ourselves up for temptation. (1 Cor. 7:5)  Flirting with the opposite sex, especially a married person, is crossing the line of proper treatment of someone else’s spouse.  In essence it is like trying to steal the intimacy and emotional energies that belong to another.  

That is why the writer to the Hebrews also exhorted, Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13:4

The wording reflects any aberration of God’s design for sexuality. Our culture flagrantly celebrates sexual freedoms on all levels and chastises as judgmental anyone who suggests limits. This contributes to broken marriages and broken people. Our counter-cultural expression of purity and the celebration of monogamy and the wonders of married life sends a strong message about the glory of God and His designs for life that way it is meant to be.

Let’s send a message that helps others avoid the pain and us to experience God’s glory in wholesome and pure relationships.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Don’t Give Up

I’ve always loved picking up details in stories even though I don’t do well with all the details in getting a task done.  One is an exploration toward completeness.  The other is the drudgery of completing.  My mind is drawn to the one and allergic to the other.

So I picked up an encouraging detail in a well known story I read recently.  Jesus is questioning the disciples, getting the latest polling on who people thought He was.  Elijah and John the Baptist, both reincarnated, led the polls.  Then Jesus polled them: “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter immediately blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Here is the detail.  Blessed are you Simon, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father who is in Heaven.  No human being showed you this Peter.  You may not even know how you came to the conclusion.  But you are right.  You are Peter and I will use you to fish for men and build my church.  Wait?  Isn’t this Peter, the one who will tell Jesus along the road to Jerusalem that he would never let happen to Jesus what He is telling them will happen?  Isn’t this Peter, who will get so scared from the accusations of a teenage girl that he will deny Jesus three times?  Isn’t this Peter who doesn’t know what to do after the resurrection and returns to fishing?

Yes.  It is.  But Jesus sees Peter as He knows he can and will be, not as he is.  We focus on where we are and get discouraged.  We want to give up.  But Peter, when filled and directed by the Holy Spirit will be a totally different man.  And that is what we have to remember when we feel like giving up.  The Lord is not giving up on us.  He does and will reveal Himself.  And it won’t be in the same way always.

To Elijah, who was distraught and lonely, He spoke with a still, small voice.  (I Kings 19). To Paul on the road to Damascus, He spoke in bright light, with a voice that he alone heard.  Others heard sound but not what or who it was. (Acts 9). To Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds, He sent an angel with a message. (Matthew 1; Luke 1-2). Through the years I have heard numerous testimonies of people who told me that the Lord spoke to them as if He were right beside them yet there was no audible voice.

So don’t be discouraged today or quit.  The Lord sees you the way He created you to be.  And He will continue to reveal Himself to you as you seek Him.  Patiently seek Him.  You will find Him when you seek Him wholeheartedly. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Are We Thinking?

Acts 28:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

   As we begin a new year, what are we thinking about?  What we dwell on drives us, convicts us, convinces us and motivates us.  For the Apostle Paul, the mission of bearing witness to Jesus and seeking to persuade men to follow Him was all consuming.  It was the essence of his life.

   And it is for us too.  Every day, every way, to every one, we are giving a witness.  And when God opens an opportunity, we can graciously speak so as to persuade others.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. 

If you read the whole interaction (you can here) you will find a few things.  First, Paul is very honoring and respectful to King Agrippa.  He is not aggressive or insulting or accusatory.  He counts it a privilege to have an informed conversation.  Second, he tells his story in a concise but relevant manner.  The details he gives, as he says later, are what the king would be aware of.  He was testifying to the truthfulness of the events in light of Jesus.  And he concludes by asking the king if he believed what the prophets have said.  In other words, do you find merit in what you have seen and heard?

When challenged, Paul responds by showing concern, stating only that his desire is that the King and others would find the same peace and joy and confidence in Christ he has.

What do you learn by "sitting in" on this interaction?  Do you have the same daily passion to want to "persuade others" about the Gospel?  Is your approach gentle and respectful or argumentative?  Do you show respect in the process?  Is your testimony focused on what Jesus has done or about you?

These are good questions that can guide us to a powerful year of watching Jesus open the door for more and more opportunities to give a witness for Him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

True Opposites: Light and Darkness

John declares in his letter:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

Yet we are also told: The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)

Is He light with no darkness or can He also be in darkness?  The answer is yes.  His character is that of absolute purity, never stained by even a tinge of the darkness of sin or moral corruption.  His light shines in the darkness and the darkness of this world cannot overcome it or extinguish it. (John 1:5)

Yet He also is in the dark places.  Moses walked into the dark cloud of His fiery presence on top of the mountain. He walked into darkness while the people remained distant.  Other saints have walked into the darkest of times or places of obedience with fear and trembling only to find that God was there.  He does not avoid the darkness but shines in the midst of it.  He is the disperser of darkness. But we will never know that unless we walk into the thick darkness where He is.

As new believers we crave the joy, the peace, the energy-giving nature of light.  Burdens are lifted and lightness has come.  It is like watching the newborn devouring a bottle.  There is an abandonment to it.  And we experience the abandonment of absolute love for Jesus.

And then He leads us into a place of darkness, where another remnant of sin needs dispersed in us, or a hard lesson of obedience needs learned, or He has need of a servant to bring light to a dark place.  Suddenly we don't feel light, or we doubt the light.  It seems like the darkness is thick.  Where is He? Once I viewed His gleaming face.  Now I wonder if I know much about Him.  That is the moment for us to walk into the thick darkness, take up our cross and follow.  And we will find He is there.

And on the far side, we will walk in greater light than ever before.

Friday, December 25, 2015

He Is Born!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS.  It has been so warm here in Buffalo that we thought we were doing Christmas down south somewhere.  People were out in their yards in shorts the past few days.

So we express our love for the Lord with a beach scene in honor of that.

The good news for us today is reflected in the oft-sung, much beloved Christmas hymn:


May you experience the joy and peace of Christ, God's gift to all, today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Entering the Grotto, Church of the Nativity
   Looking at what seemed to me to be a fairly ancient map, I found it.  Located just a couple miles out the road from my home, I was very familiar with what the map was showing me.  The map was not so ancient (less than 100 years), but the memory of this place was stored in the minds of very few.  So why was I so interested in finding it?  Because my Grandmother was born there.  The spot?  Beautiful, PA.  That is a noun, not an adjective.  There is nothing but a couple houses, three churches, a farm and an orchard within 300 yards of the dot on the map today.  There may have been less than that present on August 25, 1900 when my Grandmother was born.  Though small, the place held significance because she was significant to me.

The Christmas story contains a town like Beautiful, PA.  On the night Jesus was born, it was a very small village.  But hundreds of years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah said this about Bethlehem:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”  Matthew 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2,4

Bethlehem was small.  There were far greater towns in the land of Judah.  The thing that made Bethlehem significant was the Someone who was born there. People still flock there today because of Him.  If it weren't for the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem would be just another small, West Bank, Arab town.  

The good news for us today is that it doesn't matter where we are, Jesus in us can make any place a place of significance.  It becomes important because He is important.  Its because Him in you is important.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, anywhere you go Jesus is there.  Just as He was born in Bethlehem, we join in the prayer of the Christmas hymn,

"Oh holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today."

And when He is born in us, that makes us significant.

So rejoice.  You may not seem significant on the map of life.  In fact, you may sometimes feel like a little forgotten or erased dot.  But not to Him.  And if you never have received Him, do so today, and though you are least among others, in you will be born the One who loves you, created you, redeemed you and enables you to live life to the full, Jesus Christ.