Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Family Nights

In the recent series we did on Peace in Our Homes, I mentioned that I kept my day off on Tuesday and Family Night on Friday nights sacred, so that they were hardly ever interfered with.  I worked hard the rest of the week.  But those times were sacred.  It wasn't easy.  There were many things we had to say "no" to in order to say "yes" to our time as a family.  But isn't that what priorities are all about?  With so many options and opportunities facing families today, we must fight for God's best.

Some people have asked me what kind of things we did as a family on those nights?  Here are just a few ideas that I hope could be helpful.  There is nothing earth shattering or super creative.

1.  Movie and pop corn at home in pajamas.  Standard activity.  But we tried to make it special by it being a movie we all wanted to see or watching an annual favorite (White Christmas; Home Alone; etc)

2.  Games.  We were big on them.  Trivial pursuit; cards; Scrabble.  Whatever the kids wanted to play, we did it.

3.  We did a four location activity night.  This was one of the most memorable for the kids.  We did different games or activities in four different locations in the house.  They didn't know where we were headed next.  But they received clues along the way.  They asked for it again and again.

4.  Hide and seek outside in the dark.  What fun.  In a dark shirt and pants you can hide in a shadow and they walk right past you.  Learn patience while having fun.

5.  Picture night.  Sometimes we would pull out old family slides (for you younger ones they are a type of media that showed pictures) or videos and tell stories about them or remember some of the vacations we took.  It was good to learn about family history or share fond memories.

While we did the activities we always tried to talk about life, what was happening, what was going on at school or with their friends, what we were doing at church, and other conversations that kept us up to date with each other.  Communication was, is and always will be the most important tool between parents and children.

Again, this list is not earth shattering.  But I hope it can stir some thoughts for you and your family in making time together a priority.  It means time doing things that don't involve a smart phone or tablet or computer but do require conversation, listening and thinking.  Families that pray and play together are stronger than those who don't.  I encourage you to find your time and make the most of it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Because of Covenant

I was reading through 2 Kings 13 this morning.  So many things drew my attention.  The kings of Israel are leading the people in sinful patterns and because of that God puts them under the hand of the king of Aram and his son.  Elisha is dying of an illness.  Yet on his death bed, he is consulted by King Jehoash and gives his final prophetic directive.  He is such a powerful man of God that after he dies a dead man is thrown into his tomb by some raiders and when his body touches Elisha's bones the man comes back to life.  What a shock that would be!

But there is one phrase that struck me the most since it explains so much in our current day.  If you understand Israel's modern history at all, you know that it should not exist today.  They have faced wars on multiple fronts several times; been outmanned by the armies surrounding them; and have withstood political pressure to give in each time they are attacked and they defend themselves.  Yet they are still there.  A recent news article clearly outlines the goals of radical Islam against them and America.  Please read the full article here:

Here is the statement in 2 Kings that struck me:  22 Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.

Because of the covenant God made, He showed concern for Israel. It was not because Israel had done all things right or were following faithfully. He did it because He made a promise, a covenant, with Abraham and was and is carrying through with it. We talk today and preach that when we love or respect our spouse, we do so even when they are not lovable or respectable because of the vow we took before the Lord. The point here is parallel.  In fact, just as the Lord's heart is expressed in 2 Kings toward Israel, so it is toward all believers in 2 Timothy 2:

If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself

Why does He remain faithful to us when we are faithless?  Because He has made promises that He will not break.  He will fulfill the covenant He made with Abraham and his seed just as He will the new covenant He made through the blood of Jesus.  And those two covenants are interlinked through the faithfulness of Him who made them.

We as a people of the covenant have a heart to see all people reached, including those who oppose Israel.  At the same time, we also stand side by side with Israel against all people who seek to cause her destruction.  We stand with her, not because Israel does everything right always.  We stand with her because the God of the Covenant stands with her and is unwilling to destroy her or to banish her from His presence.

The forces that seek to destroy Israel are also seeking the death of Christians as well.  So we must understand that the covenant people are under attack by those who serve false gods.  That is why we are Israel and Israel is us (see Romans 9-11). We are both people of the covenant.  And our hope, as well as their hope, is in the God that made a covenant with us.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and pray for the soon coming of Christ.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The End of All Things

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:7:  The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

The end. What will it be like at "the end?"  Matthew 24 gives us a glimpse.  Wars, rumors of wars, increase of wickedness, earthquakes, famines, many false prophets doing miracles, many people turning away from the faith. Jesus said that the love of most will grow cold.  It will be bad, really bad.  

Do we see things like that today?  Absolutely.  I was in a conversation with a man this week who was not aware of what I do for a living.  He told me he winters in Florida and I asked him where.  He said in the Villages.  He then goes on to describe in detail the sexual exploits of some of the residents there. And to quote him, he said, "and we are proud of it."  It reminds me of the Scripture we are studying in Ephesians that says it is even shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  I felt dirty listening, and then I felt very sad.  The increase of wickedness is certainly happening and the end is near for them.

I see the wars in Ukraine, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, and rumors of war in Korea, Sudan, and other places.  Earthquakes in Oklahoma, Nicaragua, California and Japan, and famine in Africa.  The plethora of false teachers who are tickling peoples ears with their messages and doing "miracles" that seem to validate them.  Remember Peter said to be sober minded and alert so we can pray and know what is real and what is not.

Is "the end" near?  Jesus said to watch and pray so as not to be led astray by all these things.  Obviously we are nearer than we were.  I believe the key is that we will see the "increase" of all these things.  He also said that we would be taken before officials because of our faith.  That was true for the apostles and it will be true for us as believers toward the end.  Because the darkness will grow, so will its repugnance to light.  But that also means that the light will shine brighter.

In Jesus' day, it was clear that the religious leaders had made decisions about important issues such as marriage and divorce based on popular opinion rather than the Scriptures.  Those opinions were followed by many as if God has given them as commands.  (See Matthew 19)  Jesus, in addressing a question about marriage and divorce, took them back to the beginning and the Scriptures.  

As we live in increasing darkness, and it is evident that many are living compromised lives because they are following religious opinions rather than truth, I encourage us to always follow the path of Jesus in seeking what God intended all along.  Look at what the Scriptures have clearly taught from the beginning and don't waver from it.  Following Christ is not easy but the grace and power to do so will always be available to the saint who does.  And a sad and tragic end will meet the religious person who follows popular opinion rather than Him.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What If?

I recently spoke to someone who in the course of the conversation told me about a question posed to them by an atheist relative.  He was asked, "What if you find when you die that there is no God?"  The implication seemed to be that this person would have wasted their life following a myth, a dream.  The man wisely responded that even if God did not exist, his life is richer and better in this world by following Biblical principles than if he did not.

He seemed a bit surprised when I suggested to him that he could have turned the question around and asked the atheist, "What if you get to the point of death and find out that He does exist?"

There is a sense in the heart of many of the unconvinced that they are secure in their philosophy of life.  Nothing too tragic has occurred to them except for the common events of the human existence.  They find pleasure in their pursuits.  They feel empowered and in charge.  They scorn the weaknesses of those who "need" to have a "god" in their lives.  In fact they feel like they triumph over the Christians they see.  They exist, and they are convinced there is no omnipotent being watching over them.

The Babylonians felt the same way.  They had conquered God's people and taken them into captivity. They were the "Queen of Kingdoms." Even though God made it clear that the downfall of Judah was His doing and not theirs, they felt confident.  Their magic was working for them.  Now God warns them:
You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’ Isaiah 47:10

They were about to go down and they were so deceived they could not see it.  They were misled by their "wisdom and knowledge."  They thought the world revolved around them and they neglected the knowledge of God.  Romans 1 reminds us that God turns folks like that over to their delusions so that they may see the error of their ways and turn to Him.

We all have many friends and acquaintances who are being misled.  At some point you may be in a conversation with them where they suggest you are foolish for following Christ while they are just fine and enjoying the life they have.  Tuck this question away and the Holy Spirit may prompt you to ask them when appropriate:  "But what if you get to the point when you die and you find He is real?  What then?"  

This life is but a blip on the radar of eternity.  I'd rather be a "fool" during the blip than face an eternity apart from Christ.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Where is God?

We are working hard at doing right things and someone criticizes or challenges or uses power moves to intimidate or try to stop us.  And what do we do in response?

Read Nehemiah 6.  Nehemiah was facing exactly that.  He was on a God-sized, God-ordained mission to rebuild the broken down walls of Jerusalem.  It was hard work.  He organized the people in such a way that they were rebuilding their familial homes.  They had skin in the game.  Their spirits were being lifted.  There was far more going on than the moving of stones and mortar.  The people were raising their eyes toward the Lord as well.

Great projects attract opposition.  And Nehemiah finds local Arab neighbors trying to stop him.  They invite him to a meeting to have a little talk about their concerns.  But Nehemiah knew they were scheming to kill him, so he told them he was busy with a great project and could not come down.  They ramp it up by threatening to send a false report back to the king that Nehemiah and the Jews are planning a revolt.  Its a lie.  And Nehemiah responds to them that they are just making a story up in their heads.  Finally they work in alliance with two false prophets to trap Nehemiah in fear or to discredit him before the people.  He had opposition from those outside and those closer to him. In fact the nobles of Judah were trying to convince Nehemiah that Tobiah, one of his detractors, was a good man because his son had married into one of their families.  Complicated.

Please note what Nehemiah did.  We can learn much.  I have watched as those who claim Christ return fire using the same weapons as their opponents.  Yet we are reminded in 2 Corinthians 10:

3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Nehemiah does just that. He uses our weapons. He succinctly and respectfully and calmly addresses the challenges to the people who make them. Second, he stays focused on his mission. And finally, he speaks to the Lord about them rather to launch a verbal campaign about them to other people.

He prays: But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

And then:14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.

When I have had times that I began to take a worldly approach to addressing opposition, I had to ask myself the question, "Where is God?" Not that I was questioning if God was abandoning me but rather how do my actions reflect my trust and hope in the Lord?  And I had to repent. And I spoke to the Lord rather than to others.  It was amazing to watch the Lord at work.

When tempted to spew vitriol at people who are hurting us or to counter attack using the same worldly approach taken against us, I urge us all to ask the question, "Where is God?" The bottom line is that we will have to answer that question before Him one day for every word and action we have done.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Glorious Reflection

I was traveling early morning recently and my car lights caught movement ahead of me.  It was enough to alert me to some one headed the same direction I was.  As I approached, I realized it was a jogger with reflective tape on a vest.  Without the reflection, I would not have noticed them.

The same happened with a biker several nights later.  A reflector on the back let me see them.  Our parking lot attendants, firemen, and others in emergency services wear clothing or coats that have some level of reflection to them so that we notice them.  It draws our attention so we can follow their lead and it also serves to keep them safe in dangerous situations.

I have been reading about and contemplating the idea of the glory of God.  What is glory?  By definition it is magnificence; beauty; renown; and honor.  Glory is light.  Glory is purity and wholesomeness.  It is ultimate good.  Glory is the essence of our God.

2 Corinthians 3 contains a discussion about glory.  (Read it before continuing.)  Going back to when Moses received the Ten Commandments, Paul observes that even when the law was given there was a temporary glory that was reflected.  Moses' face was so affected by being in the presence of the Lord that he wore a veil because the people had a hard time looking at him.  They couldn't stand the brightness.  The purpose of the Law was not to bring life, but to show us our sin and ultimately to bring condemnation.  It did show the absolute standard of God:  perfection.  But it also proved that none of us can live up to that standard.  We can feel the same way about the Law today.  We stare at it and say I can't live up to that.  It is hopeless.  I am helpless.  Or I judge myself by my own standards and declare that I am good.  So my heart is veiled by either despair or arrogance.  I am lost.

But when we realize that we are incompetent and come to Christ for forgiveness of our sin and the transformation of our souls, the Spirit of God sets us free.  And the glory of Jesus begins to reflect in our lives.  This glory is not temporary but increasing.  It is the glory of the Spirit.  It is the glory of a perfecting love for God and love for people.  It is the glory of purity, wholeness, and peace.  It is the glory of worship and praise and encouragement.  It is the beauty of a life lived out in righteousness and hope and joy.  It is the magnificence of a life lived in the presence of God so that the glory that is reflected is renewed continually.  And it is not honor that is drawn to the person.  It is glory that is lifted up to the Lord because it is clear that it is only by the grace of God that we are who we are.  Redeemed, transformed, restored, and constantly in a state of renewal.  People see us and see Jesus in us.  And that reflection makes them aware we are there, shining in the darkness.  Awareness for those traveling in darkness and they are drawn; awareness by those traveling in darkness and it keeps us safe.

The difference is whether we are seeking to be confident and competent before God by trying to follow the Law or are living by the Spirit.  The Law is temporary and condemns.  But the Spirit brings freedom and a flow of ever-increasing glory into our lives.  The joy of all of this great truth is that I don't have to focus on trying to show people something each day.  That would be focusing on "my" righteousness and goodness.  No, I focus solely on living in the presence of the Lord each day and as I go throughout my day He reflects His glory continually through me.

Today, don't dwell on your goodness but on His glory.  He'll take care of the rest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I find it interesting how unaware we can be as a people.  I realize there is much going on and it is hard to keep up with everything.  But it feels like there are really important things about which people have no idea while they know everything about insignificant things.

For example, I saw a man on the street segment with university students who could name celebrities for current reality shows and song contests but could not identify well known world leaders.  They know much about the cultural trappings but very little about the people and events that are shaping the world around them. It can be a very limiting view of life.

Throughout Scripture we are reminded that it is important for us to be aware of what is going on around us.  God is speaking and giving us signs about world events and many will be unaware of them.  Not because they cannot know but because they are not looking.  Daniel was told:

9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand. Daniel 12:9-10

Wise people will be aware and understand when they see things happening.  Jesus indicated the same thing when He said to the Pharisees in Matthew 16:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

He goes on to say that it is a wicked generation that can tell weather and other related things but cannot discern the signs of the times. So what does all of this have to do with us today?Last night the first of four blood moons that will occur on Jewish high holy days over the next year appeared. John Hagee has written a book about them and what has happened over the past five hundred years when such a rare event occurred. I believe they are a sign of the times. Russia has made an alliance with Iran, which is ancient Persia. In the past they have been enemies. Ezekiel 38 indicates that there will be an army come against Israel, including troops from modern day Russia, Iran and several African nations, including Sudan. It is interesting that Iran also has formed a relationship with a former enemy, Sudan. I believe it is a sign of the times. Birth rates in the largest countries in Europe are trending in such a way that they will be predominately Muslim within the next 20-30 years. This will make the European Union, if it survives until then, pre-disposed against Israel. I believe this is a sign of the times.

All of these things are macro in nature. There are many other observations that could cause us to conclude that world events are hastening toward the coming of Christ and the end of this world as the Bible describes it. I am not seeking to instill fear of any kind here nor am I trying to encourage an unhealthy interest in making predictions about who the Antichrist is or about a date when Jesus will return. I am just saying that we have to be wise and aware and living with a sense of urgency about our mission as we long for and hasten the day when Jesus will return. We must live looking forward to that day, not in fear. And we must be found prepared and ready when He comes. Here is Jesus' reminder for us in Luke 12:35-40:
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”