Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Looking Toward a New Year

With the increasing violence in our country as exemplified by the Sandy Hook massacre last week, people are afraid.  The fiscal cliff and Obama Care uncertainties add to the apprehensions.  Add in family crises, employment difficulties, natural disasters, and rumors of wars, and it can feel hopeless.

I'm not trying to be a downer.  It is just that I am praying that it is apparent to everyone that time is short.  It is time to act wisely and not allow another year go by where we play with our faith while having faith in our play.  Ephesians 4 says it best:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

So here are a few suggestions for living wisely in 2013:

1.  Work hard at getting out of debt.
      Proverbs 22:7  The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
      Romans 13:8  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Average credit card debt in America, only counting those who have debt, is $15,418.  If every home is included it is $7193.  It is tempting when things get tough to use credit.  But that puts us into greater slavery.  Start with your smallest debt, pay it off, and then add the payment for that to the payments made to your next highest until all your debt is gone.  It will set you free.

2.  Use your time wisely.
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31  What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Most of us are too busy.  The apostle is not wanting us to ignore our spouses or not mourn when appropriate.  He is simply saying "FOCUS."  We must give more time to less things and less time to more things.  Use your time to do the most important things and don't fall into the trap of thinking you must constantly keep busy.  In fact, failing to take a sabbath to rest and refocus violates God's plan for us.

3.  Teach your family.
Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Psalm 78:6,7  He decreed statutes for Jacob
    and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers
    to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
    even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.

God established marriage for our holiness, not just our happiness.  He also created the family to be the school of theology where children learn from their parents.  It is time to quit making excuses and do the work of living out faith at home.  Read the Bible and teach it to each other.  Talk about it each day at home.  You teach your children about faith by modeling a God-honoring life for them.  Set an atmosphere at home of encouraging each other in our pursuit of Jesus and of giving thanks and praise to Him.  Whose responsibility is this?  Everyone's responsibility.

4.  Live a life of love.
Ephesians 5:1, 2  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Too much time is wasted with anger, hate, selfishness, self-pity and bitterness.  People who love imitate God.  They sacrifice for others.  They offer themselves up in service for the Lord, whatever that means.  So let's set our sights on thinking about and carrying out ways we can love more each day.  That will keep us away from the things that would hinder and hurt us.

This is not an exhaustive list but I believe are some key practices that will make 2013 a fruitful year in helping us be more like Jesus.  That is called being holy.  And as the Scriptures say:

1 Thessalonians 4:7  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

Have a Blessed and Holy New Year

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Confession Is Not Enough

Sin and holy living are two topics that seem to get little press today.  It feels like we don't want to face up to admitting we are sinners and we certainly don't want to talk about living up to something greater.  It is to our detriment that such discussions don't happen.  If we truly deal with sin and pursue holy living, we find freedom and power in our lives.

I want to discuss one aspect of dealing with sin today.  When I was younger, I would "run to the altar" in tears about my sin.  That is the evangelical equivalent of going to confession in the Catholic tradition.  So we run to a place where we start the process of freedom, and someone may even tell us that we are absolved from those sins.  And we repeat the cycle over and over again, never truly finding freedom.  Why?

I want to be clear.  I do believe 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin, and purify us from all unrighteousness."  But that truth was written to followers of Christ who were dealing with the occasional sin that came along.  These were momentary lapses in holy living.  They were not lifestyle, habitual, sins.  The recipients had already taken the step that truly frees us.  That step is repentance.

The message of the Gospel is that we must repent.  Not confess.  Confession is a part of the process and is the tool used to keep accounts clean.  Repentance, turning away from sin, doing an about face in the direction of our lives, changing our minds about who is in charge and whom I will listen to in life, that is the key to our salvation.  Fans of Jesus who are looking for relief from guilt confess.  Followers repent and pursue.  Fans cheer the periodic act that could reflect holy living.  Followers live holy lives.  Fans accept the spiraling cycle of sinning, consequences, guilt, confession, relief, as normal.  Followers steer clear of sin and pursue righteousness, holiness, and goodness.  These pursuits cause them to live further away from the border lines with sin. 

If you are living solely in confession and have never repented, you will never know Christ and the power of His resurrection and freedom.  Confession is not enough.  Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  Don't miss it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm Heading Back to the Woods

When I was growing up, we lived out in the country.  Not that there weren't other homes nearby, there were, and it was only five minutes to town.  But there were fields, a woods and three ponds immediately behind my home.  I spent many hours exploring, walking and playing in those woods. 
   After I received Christ at age 7, and started reading my Bible, my woods adventures changed.  I lived out David slaying Goliath as my make-shift giant came crashing down at my feet with one stone.  Like Moses, I took my staff and parted the Red Sea (actually I jumped the small creek without getting my feet wet but it is amazing how our imagination can fill in the details).  All the tad pole Egyptians drowned.  I was David, hiding from Saul, and with great stealth made my way near him without his knowledge.
   During those childhood years and early on in my ministry I believed God.  Notice I didn't say I believed in God.  I said I believed God.  He could do anything.  And He did.  And like a child who was securely held in his Father's arms, I feared no evil.  I looked at the challenges around me and knew my God would care for them.  I looked at what I lacked and knew my Father would supply it.  I took the wounds life inflicted on me and experienced the healing and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
I had no confidence in myself but an absolute confidence in my God and that gave me boldness.

   This question has been on my mind lately:  "Is my God still that big?"  And then I heard a message by Francis Chan that spoke to this same issue.  He confessed, as I do here and now, that our God has not changed.  But somehow through the "stuff" of life I have allowed my boldness and confidence to wane some because I've listened to voices that have dulled my absolute, child-like trust, in the God who can do anything.

   So while I can't walk in the same woods I once did, I am headed back to the woods.  (Remember I said our imagination can fill in details?)  The reason we encourage people to study the Bible is not to gain factual knowledge about Bible history, events and people.  That is part of it.  But the key is to know and trust the God of the Bible.  So I'm tuning my ear once again to David, Moses, Paul, John, Elijah, Daniel, Joseph and Mary, Gabriel, unnamed prophets, Abraham, and others, and readying myself to take greater steps of trusting God in 2013.  It is reassuring to know that the God who met me in the woods in my childhood is the same God today in my adulthood.

Anyone else need to take a walk in the woods??