Life lessons

Shining like a star

Daniel 12:3
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

8 30 light.JPG

The media rang out her praises. “She was a pioneer in rhythm and blues. Her records sold billions of copies and the world won’t be the same without her” lamented the reporter. I scratched my head as I listened to the report and wondered if I had ever heard of her or her music. Despite the great accolades, I doubted that she would be remembered next week when we moved onto the next great loss for mankind. In contrast, I thought of Lou, Carol, Ray, and Jean. They are still remembered in our little church. They may have been dead for several years, but their influence and light still shines. They were the people who served others in the church and in their family. They were the wise ones who everyone listened to when they spoke. The media didn’t speak their praises, but the people whose lives they touched will speak of them for a long time.

The Bible is filled with names that shine like lights today. We think of Abraham, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, and Peter to name just a few. None of us has ever met these men and women but we have been influenced by their lives recorded in the Bible. Daniel will always be connected with a lion’s den and Mary with the manger in Bethlehem. Their actions showed faith and love that still excite us today. Their words are full of God’s wisdom that can guide our lives and show us how to live with joy in tough times. They are God’s people and their lives shine like the sun even after hundreds of years.

I don’t want to be praised like some musical artist or the next great football player. Their stars will fade and their accomplishments probably didn’t really change the lives of many people. I want to be like Daniel. I want to be someone who stands up for his faith and leads people to Christ. I want to shine with God’s wisdom so that others can see what God is like and why we should all follow Him. I want the people I touch to see my character and my willingness to serve rather than be amazed at my accomplishments. I am nothing. God is everything. I want His brightness shine in me.

What attributes of God do people see in you? How do you shine the wisdom of God so that others around you will have a better life?

Good can come from bad

2 Corinthians 4:17  
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

8 23 plumber.JPG

 The sewer began to run slow. It ran so slow that it backed up a little when he ran a load of wash and worried him when he took a shower. Tim contacted a plumber and had the sewer augured out. It turned out that the oak tree in his front yard had roots in the sewer. The auger chopped through them and the sewer flowed freely. It rained the next day and water flowed into the sewer through the drain in the patio. So much rain came that a clogged sewer would have meant water in the basement. The inconvenience of a slow drain was nothing compared to the major headache of a flooded basement. So it is with life. Sometimes problems that are so difficult at the time seem nothing when we compare them to the good that can come out of them.

It is ironic that Paul would talk about his troubles being light. During his ministry, Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, thrown in prison and even left for dead. Yet, none of that seemed like anything compared to the glory that Paul could look forward to in Christ. The afflictions were momentary but the glory of heaven was eternal. Paul could also see that what God accomplishes in our lives through the times of affliction were greater than the pain we experienced. Paul was suffering with the purpose of bringing others into faith. He was also drawing closer to the Lord as he depended on the Lord and watched the Lord work through each problem. The afflictions were having a marvelous outcome.

We often cry out to the Lord when we have any pain and want Him to fix it right away. We express anger that God would let us go through illness, family problems, and sewer backups. It is as if we believe that Christians should be exempt from all those things. Yet, we never consider what we gained from each one. Often illness makes us stop and adjust our values and our goals in life. An argument in a marriage can push us off autopilot and force a couple to grow in their relationship with each other. Little problems in our lives like a slow sewer can make us fix things before they become bigger. There is often a purpose to pain. It forces us to make corrections. It can also force us to look heavenward and into eternity. Problems aren’t all bad. They force us to make changes and see the good we have in Christ.

What was the last problem that you had that brought you to your knees? As you look back, did any good come out of it like a new insight, a change in life, or an appreciation of God’s work in your life?

Fighting fear in a new year

Deut. 1:19-36

 New Year, new challenges and for many of us in uncertain times, that challenge is fear.

1 fear.JPG

Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the Promised Land was so close that they could smell and taste it. The children of Israel had waited 37 years for this moment, but they were not ready to cross. Their parents had failed at the edge of the Promised Land because of fear. Moses wants them to succeed where their parents failed. It all comes down to faith. There is a high cost for fear and their parents had paid dearly for their fear. People fail all the time because of a lack of faith. They are overwhelmed by the problems and they forget God. They wonder what they are going to do. Some even walk away from God thinking He can’t or won’t help them. This was a time for faith because people lose everything because they have fear not faith.

Failure comes when the enemy is too big v.27 Moses begins by recalling an. Many in the crowd were not even born, but that event 38 years ago affected their whole lives up till now. Scouts were sent into the Promised Land to determine where they should enter. Instead they came back with stories of giants and destruction. They cowered in fear in the barren desert instead of marching into the fertile lands God had prepared for them.

Failure comes when God is too small v. 32 Ten plagues had overwhelmed the Egyptians so that they begged the Jews to leave. Waves of water had washed aside the greatest army in their world. Food had fallen out of the sky so hundreds of thousands could eat each day. It was a miracle that the people were here in this place. Yet, they forgot what God had done. They forgot how God had defeated a great army and miraculously brought them to this place.

Victory and honor belong to those who believe v. 36 The model of such faith was Caleb. He was easy to pick out because Joshua and Caleb were the only men older than 60 years old in the whole camp. Caleb and Joshua had believed when no one else would. They had known that God could do great things for them and wasn’t afraid of the giants. Old as Caleb was, he and his sons would take the choice lands in southern Palestine that he had once looked 38 years ago.

Israel was at a crossroads. Would they repeat their parent’s failure or would they have faith. As God called them to cross into the Promised Land, obedience was important. Faith was essential. They need to trust the Lord so much that they would follow Him because they believed that He would not fail. It is a model for every person who finds themselves at a crossroads of life. Instead of panicking, you pray. Instead of worrying, you worship. Instead of stewing, you study. You bring the problems to the Lord on a daily basis and asking what He can do with the problems that you face instead of what you can do. You look into the word of God to find out how you live so that you avoid problems and do the kinds of things that will build life. Listen so you learn and live. Those who let the Lord be their teacher and guide will thrive in life.


Two questions we all face

Luke 1:26-38

12 Mary.jpg

 She was just 13 or 14 years old and tradition says that she was gathering water at the well near town. An angel appeared to her and told her something wonderful was going to happen. The text says that it scared her and that she was troubled. How about you? What if God sent an angel who would talk to you as you got out of your car tonight? How would you feel? How you handle it all is a matter of faith and trust. It is one of the reasons that we admire Mary. God can have great plans, but He often uses people to make the plans work.

My first question if approached like Mary would be “Is it worth it?” What God was asking of Mary was going to be difficult. People would think of her as an unwed mother and sinner. She would bear their ridicule and scorn. She was taking on a great task from God himself to raise the “Son of the most high”. It would not be an easy task. We often voice our questions. We are afraid when someone asks us to teach Sunday school or to be on the church council. Too often we can make a list of excuses about everything under the sun. Something is not the way that we want it. We look at the bother that it will cause in our life. We just wonder if it is going to be worth all the bother or if we will work hard and have no results. Really, is it worth it?

My second question reflects Mary’s one question “How can this be?” While she is asking with faith for instructions on how God can do this, I often wonder if it can be done. I applaud Mary for asking details so that she can be a part of the miracle. She is asking logistical questions as she commits herself to being part of a miracle. When God lays the big task out for us, our natural question is how? Can God really do what He was saying? In our mind, we know that God can do all things. We know in our mind that he can, but will he? We don’t want to be left holding the bag. We don’t want to put all that effort in it and have nothing happen. The challenge for me is to trust God like Mary does.

It all comes down to trust. Mary was God’s servant and was ready to do the impossible. I wonder how much she really understood what was going to happen and how much was pure faith.  I often find that when God calls us to do something, He often doesn’t give us the full answer about what will happen or how. He just sketches things out and tells us that the details will come later. Trust me! Saying yes is more about believing in God than it is accepting that things can be done. Through the miracle, our faith will grow and we will be able to say yes to other things God proposes. The two questions will never truly be answered. The only question we have to wrestle with is whether we believe God can do the miracle He is asking us to be part of.

Embrace the King!

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. Micah 5:4

11 crown.JPG

 The world is in confusion and terror is on every street. The year is 701 BC and the Assyrians are coming down from the north. They have already come down the coastline and are coming back up from the south to finish Judea off. Hezekiah the king is powerless to save them. It would seem that Judea will be destroyed just like Israel was twenty years before. Why has this tragedy come? It is because the people worship idols and are filled with greed. The nation that once had been built around God has forgotten their God. They have caused this destruction by their evil practices and their denial of the Lord. The year is 2017 and our world seems to be in confusion. Our nation is filled with rebellion on the streets and terror threats in our cities. We see degrading values in our culture and greedy politicians who trample on the common man. Gone are the days of the past where people followed the Lord. America has entered a new era and is facing many of the problems of Micah’s Judah. Fortunately, God has not forgotten His people and offers the same solution – a king to lead and save them.

 The King will be from Bethlehem. The prophecy was so clear that the Pharisees of Herod’s court could tell the magi exactly where to find the baby in the manger. He will be humble and be able to relate to people. He will not be born in a palace but in the little crossroads of Bethlehem about ten miles south of Jerusalem. Yet, he will be of the royal family and fulfill the promises made to David about a descendant who will rule forever. Many will reject the king, but those who are desperate enough and recognize their weakness will embrace Him. To those who seek Him, God will reveal the savior. They will have joy while others still struggle. They will bow down before the king and make Him their Lord while others are chasing after fleeting happiness and disappointing answers. The king will come to those who have fallen on hard times and are willing to put themselves in His hands.

In His hands, they will find peace. He will shepherd His people and they will depend on Him. He will lead them beside the quiet waters and He will restore their souls. This will be a king that will bring wholeness to people who live in chaos. We see it in the life of Jesus as He heals the sick and as He brings help to thousands sitting on the hillside looking for answers in a world of fear. The world around them may be chaos, but Jesus gives order and light to their lives so that the pieces of life work together to build stronger families and friendships. He changes them from the inside out so that they have character and values. Life is Shalom with Jesus. It has real peace. The fool will try to keep Jesus and His wisdom at a distance in life. God gave them a king, but not let Him rule. They will hear His guidance and think that they are so wise that they don’t need it. The wise will bow before this king and follow Him with their life. They will put Him first in their lives and hang on every word that He says in scripture and seek Him out daily in prayer so that they may have His guidance and comfort. They will thrive in the chaos because Jesus will be their leader and bring them peace. Disaster surrounds them, but in His care, they will have the confidence that eludes the masses. 

Bringer of Light

Isaiah 9:2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

10 light.JPG

 Darkness surrounds us even though the presidential campaign was over a year ago. We are just as divided as ever and name calling and persecution is on the rise. It seems odd that things that the world has known were wrong continue to be touted as what is suddenly right. Churches are seen as places of small minds instead of the wisdom of the Lord. Yet, the world seems to spin out of control as the light of Jesus is forsaken. The wise will be shown to be foolish. It is to the desperate that the light will come most this Christmas. It will be people broken by divorce, by job loss and by the pain of illness. While the rest of the world pretends that everything is Ok, the broken will be looking for the light. They will be open to the words of a carol or a bible left in a hospital room.And the savior will bring them hope and help. He will comfort them with his words in scripture. He will listen to the prayers and give them comfort. He will send people like you and me to give them food to eat and presents for the children of those in prison. The light will come because they need it most.

The ministry of Jesus will change lives. The families of Jairus and Lazarus would see life come into their midst. Dozens of people were healed of sickness and demon possession. Thousands were fed by Jesus on hillsides. But most of all were the people whose lives were changed by his words. As the days grow shorter and the darkness takes over from the summer’s sun, Jesus is the light that is needed so much. He is the cure for the blues that come with the darkness. He is the friend who will be there at our side when everyone else is busy. He is the one who brings real holiday cheer. Those who hold on to Jesus will find that he still works miracles. He answers prayers and he cheers our hearts as we read his scripture. He chases the blues away as we bask in his love. Ultimately, he gives us the hope of everlasting life. He lets us know that no matter who we are, things will be all right.

 As the Christmas season comes upon us, many of us will put up lights on the outside of our homes and decorate our homes with candles and tree lights. We hope to chase the gloom away and bring hope and peace in the darkness. Yet, I have always found that we need to bring Christ into the season in order to chase the darkness away. It is the Christmas carols played on the stereo or sung in a Christmas program that reminds me of his birth and his love. It is the times of giving like Angel tree or a donation to Salvation Army that bring a warmth to my heart. We can’t overcome the blues by ourselves. Those who make time for Jesus this season will find a joy that is often missing in the people around us. Those who let Jesus in will find that He brings real joy and peace no matter how dark life can be. His light and love are like a gentle fire that wells up in you bringing light and warmth to a dark cold world. Share the light and bring hope. Invite a friend to a Christmas service or concert. Let them see the light in this dark world. Let the light of Jesus shine so that our world can be brighter.

Plan or Propose?

Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

9 plans.JPG

I entered the hospital room and was amazed at how life had changed in an instant. The healthy person I had seen earlier in the week was lying in the hospital bed clinging to life as he suffered the effects of a massive heart attack. Gone were the plans for a trip to Florida. Gone was the celebration of Christmas with the grandkids. It reminded me of how fragile life can be and how all our plans are but proposals before an Almighty God. We prayed and we asked the Lord to help this person and this family. Life had changed, but the love of God had not.

It is always good to have goals and plans in life. One drifts in the wind without them. Yet, plans should always include the Lord. We can ask, “What will I be doing next year or in five years?” However, we need to hold onto those plans loosely because the Lord or life can step in and rearrange our plans. I think of the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 who made plans without the Lord only to lose everything in a single night. Life can change in an instant, yet if we put God’s desires at the center of our planning, we have a direction that will not fail us. He will help us through the difficulties of life. We hold onto Him because He will never leave us.

I bring find it helpful to bring my plans to the Lord in prayer. He helps me to weed out the selfishness of the rich fool and to be comfortable in this ever-changing world. I propose what I would like for the future, but I always ask the Lord to plan that future for me. My vision of the future is imperfect and cloudy. His vision of my future is crystal clear and filled with opportunities that I can’t begin to see yet. His future for me will always be better than my vision of that future. Life can change, but He will bring good things out of the bad and better things out of the good. I will propose what I want for the future, but I want His plan and not my own. His plan for me will not be taken away by the struggles of life. My plan is to place my life in His hands so that no matter what happens, I will be living in His plan for me.

Thankful for God Working in His Time

When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4  "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." 5  His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." John 2:3-5

8 time.JPG

 In this time of thanksgiving, I wanted to add one more thing to be thankful for and that is God’s time. We live in an age where everyone wants everything and they want it now. We work 24/7 and wonder why we are so stressed out and constantly going to the doctor for pains and problems. I don’t want it now. I want it when God thinks that I am ready. I think about this in all parts of my life, but especially my writing. I have met sever authors that wanted to break out with their one book and make the "big time". I am not one of them. I am happy to go slow and steady and arrive at God’s destination at God’s time. How could I devote more time to marketing and writing when I have a congregation to take care of? Where would I find time for book tours or six-month deadlines to get the next book done? We live in a fast-paced world that always wants things fast. I would rather move at God’s pace since He knows the best time and place to arrive at so that the most good is done.

In the text, Mary approaches Jesus with a simple bit of news. The family party has no more wine. Jesus’ response seems harsh, but it was an admission that He did not live according to her timetable, but to God’s. He and the disciples would not run to the next village to see if they could find some more wine. He would not call attention to Himself by doing some great miracle that would surround Him with crowds. He would wait for God’s time and God’s way. To Mary’s credit, she was willing to trust Jesus and told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Wine would come in Jesus’ time and way.

I felt blessed at the Kentucky book fair. Many of the people around me had one book to their name. I have three and am working on the fourth. When God says it is time for us to take the next step, I want to be ready. Till then I will simply have the joy that comes as I dig deep into the Bible for the messages. Each one teaches me something that I didn’t know about my Lord and about my service. Getting upset that things are not moving faster accomplishes little. God knows the best time and the best way. As we trust Him with our lives, we have the best result. Like picking apples off the tree in June, forcing results too early leaves us with a small result that is not fully developed. God’s time is best and I am sure that He will let us know when the time has fully come. It just another reason to be thankful that I am His and that He cares about what I do so much that He watches over me.

How Do We Control Evil?

Mark 5:1-20

This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.(v.3)

7 terrorism.JPG

The man had lost everything. He lost his home, his family, and his decency. He became more like an animal than a man living in the caves and running around like a wild animal cutting his body with stones. It was the life that Satan gives because Satan hates people. Satan likes to take everything away from people. He takes away their families, their self-respect, and their concern for others. The man with the demon in Mark 5 would fit easily into our society. The terrorist with a gun going into our schools or driving a vehicle into a crowded market is becoming far too common. Heroin addicts are becoming an epidemic as people want to escape the world around them. Satan longs to bring suffering. He wants control over people and will destroy their lives in an instant. He is still very active on the streets of our cities.

Sadly, there is nothing that we can do to stop Satan’s control over people. The people tried to control the demoniac, but it always failed.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. (v.4) It seems that all that society can do is isolate someone that Satan has under their control. In our day, we have homeland security trying to stop the terrorist and massive programs trying to “prevent” drug abuse. We spend lots of money as a nation trying to prevent Satan from taking over people. Yet, all our science and loads of cash don’t seem to be solving the problem. We are containing the problem at best. Satan is too strong for society to control.

Our only hope is Jesus. The demons fear Jesus. "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" (v.7) The demon sees Jesus and begs for mercy. There is no real battle here. Just the presence of Jesus is enough to make this demon cry out in fear. Demons still fear Jesus. He has the power to cure the drug and alcohol addicts. He has the power to help a person with their own demons get turned around so that they don’t become a terrorist. Those who encounter Jesus and ask for Him to take control of their life will find salvation. They will overcome their demons and start rebuilding their lives. They will have friends and a future. Jesus can conquer all the demons that people face in life. The world around us will continue to find themselves at the mercy of Satan as long as they push away Jesus. Jesus is the only hope for mankind as we deal with the problem of Satan and terror that surrounds us.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job 42:5

6 hospital patient.JPG

     Right now, there is a lot of suffering going on in the world. Hurricanes have destroyed homes in the south. Wildfires rage in the west. A troubled man shoots people sitting in their church. Why does God allow it? Why doesn’t God use His almighty power to end all suffering? If you want the answer, you just need to read the book of Job. Here is a man who seems to have it all and loses it in a single day. His wealth and children were gone; he sits in an ash heap and is covered with sores. His friends condemn him as a wicked man through three waves of dialogs. Surely, there was never a more horrible situation come upon one whom God calls “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8).

     Satan is confident that if God allows Satan to strip away all of the blessings that the Lord has given Job that Job will curse God to his face. Something different happens. Job ends up with a deep understanding of the mercy of God. With all of life stripped away from him, Job begins to see God as the fog of life lifts from his eyes. The waves of condemnation from his three “friends” have made him ponder the mysteries of God deeply. He has had to unravel their half-truths so that he can see the truth about God. He is not afraid to cry out to God for answers, and God responds to a man who has nothing but God. In the end, Job will make his confession and gain a new understanding of God before God restores a single blessing that had been taken. The great gift Job receives is that God is no longer abstract to him. God is someone that Job has met and understands the enormous power and compassion of God.

     Lying in a hospital bed or at home having lost your job gives a person a lot of time to think. The busy life has been stripped away. Time has been provided for extended Bible study and prayer. You can lie there counting the dots in the ceiling tile, or you can spend time wrestling with suffering and asking God why. Through the tears and the fears, God will speak to us. He may be silent at first as He was for Job, yet given time He will speak. In those moments where your dignity has been stripped away from you, God will open up your eyes to see His great love for you. He will invite you to the throne room where you can gain a sense of His wisdom and wonder at His power. God allows suffering to strip away our pride and self-worth so that He can teach us His mysteries and give us a worth that comes from the cross and can never be taken away. 

Grace is more than getting to heaven

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- Eph. 2:8

5 Luther's seal.png

 Luther’s greatest concern was to find a gracious God. He wrote, “I am seeking and thirsting for nothing else than a gracious God. And He earnestly offers Himself as such and urges even those who spurn Him and are His enemies”. Early in his life, he beat himself because he saw all his sins and was ashamed. Later, Luther came to understand was that grace was a gift and an attitude of a loving God toward man. It was earned at the cross and that works are only our response to a loving God. It was at the heart of the reformation and of the Lutheran church that came out of it. Ironically, Paul, who had also been struggling under the law, also noticed that it was God who did everything. Everything that we do as good works are a response to all that God has done. Grace truly is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. On this week of the Reformation, let us celebrate this gift. 

God found us dead in our sins unable to understand or appreciate God or anything that God had done. We couldn’t do anything to save ourselves. The transformation of grace began with God’s love. There was nothing in us that made us loveable, but God is love and He looked on the people he created and He could not do anything but love us. He loved us so much that He picked us up from the doom of death and gave us life by sending His son to die on the cross for us. Satan spends all his energy trying to take this gift away. God protects us so we keep the gifts He has given. His purpose was not just to rescue us from the dump. His purpose was to keep us in salvation so that one day we might join Him in heaven. Finally, God keeps us by perfecting us that are working on our faith so that it is stronger every year of our lives. The Holy Spirit equips us with bible study and prayer so that we develop an armor that Satan finds hard to pierce. In grace, we go from infants in the faith to saints able to lead others.

There is a good reason why the verse above is so often quoted. It is the heart of all that we have talked about and it is what Luther learned that set him free. Early in his life, he tried to earn God’s grace and love. Here Paul tells us that it is a gift. Every good work that we do in life is a response to the great gift that we have in Christ. We never have to earn salvation – we already have it. We do good works to celebrate what we have so others see our God and do good works to help others and bring them closer to Him. Take time today to celebrate what you have in God’s mercy. You are no longer in the pit feeling guilty for your sin. You are a child of God who is loved by God and wanted by God. Celebrate what you have as God’s child for many have not discovered the joy of being saved by “Grace alone” Grace is what it is all about and it all starts with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”.

What really is faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

4 faith.jpg

Faith is something necessary for salvation, but I find that it is rarely understood. We talk about faith all the time. We have faith in politicians or in a doctor ready to operate on us. We have faith that the weather. But such is not Biblical faith. It is only a hope or wishful thinking. Faith is certain and it is life changing. The text gives the example of Abraham as a man of faith. Elsewhere such faith is counted as righteousness for Abraham (Gen. 15:6). So what is this faith?

Faith begins with faith in the person of God. Abram had to believe in the person and truthfulness of God when God called Abram to travel to Palestine. That faith grew as he came to believe in the promises of God given in Genesis 12. He believed that God would make a great nation of him. He believed that his children would own the land of Palestine. He believed that God would bless the whole world through him. Abraham did not see any of those things come to pass, but because he believed in the person of God, he believed in the promises. It allowed Abraham to go to the mountain and begin to sacrifice his son. He knew that God would make it all come out right. He was certain of something he could not see or understand.

So what does that have to do with us? It shows where we must begin with faith. We must come to know who God is. You have to believe in God’s person before you will believe in the promises of scripture. We have to be sure of what we hope for. That certainty comes from knowing God. That certainty will allow you to do the impossible. Many actions in ministry must be done without any guarantee of the outcome. We witness to friends not sure if they will be open to the message. We serve in a ministry wondering, at times, if things will turn out OK. There are times that all of us must just go forward in ministry trusting that God will not lead us astray. We are certain that God can make good things come out of even our disasters because we are certain of God. Faith trusts God even when we can’t see where things are going. That was true of Abraham and it can be true of us.

Free samples of the three books that I have written are yours by simply clicking on this link

You have a Christian life worth sharing

Rom. 15:13-21

2 sharing.JPG

Sometimes, I think we forget how good we have it as Christians. We forget what the grace and faith mean for our lives. We forget how wonderful it is to be comforted by the word or to lay our cares on God in prayer. We have something very special and it is something that we can share. In Romans 15, Paul tells them why he has written the letter. The year is 57 AD and Paul is writing a letter to the Roman church hoping that he will have a chance to stop by and meet them on his way to Spain. What he doesn’t realize is that he will get to Rome in two years as a prisoner appealing for his life before Caesar. During that time, he will share his life and they will see that even prison can’t take away the joy that Paul has as a Christian. It will be a powerful time for Paul. It is a model for us as well.

God is constantly preparing you to share your life so that it benefits others. We forget how far we have come. God has changed our life month by month so that we can be more like Him. We are kinder and gentler than we were before and we have been given opportunities to serve the Lord. God is not finished with us either. Paul knows that God will continue to help the people of Rome grow as God heaps His love and mercy on them. It will have a great effect letting them flourish in this pagan capital. His love will continue to change us as well. Paul also challenges the people to let the Lord work through them so that God has the chance to change others and give them the benefits that every Christian already has.

How can you change others? You use the opportunities that the Holy Spirit gives you. He will lead you and will give you the power to change lives. It may come as a simple meeting of someone at Walmart who you haven’t seen in a while or a friend who you visit in the hospital. Talk with them and let them know what the Lord is doing for you. The Spirit will guide you where He wants you to go. Don’t be afraid to take risks. The work you do is important. God is calling you to impact one person or group at a time just as Paul did. Your actions and words can bring them closer to the Lord and change their life. You are the luckiest people on the planet. God wants you to share those blessings with others so that they can be blessed as well.

Underestimating the greatest gift of all

 John 14:15-27

1 box-159630_1280.png

 We drool over the latest cell phone and are willing to pay outlandish prices for them and for their monthly fees. The world stops for some people when football is on, nothing else matters. Why don’t most Christians have the same admiration for the Christian life? Shouldn’t we be excited about a ministry and willing to do anything for it? Shouldn’t the world revolve around Sunday worship and Bible class? The cell phone will be outdated in a year and won’t work after a few years. Who will really care what happened to the Bengals or some other team by February? Yet the gifts of God make an enormous impact. The character and values that come from being with God will impact our work, home, and life. The lessons that our children learn from Sunday school and youth group will protect them from danger. Eternal life gets more valuable as we age.

I can think of several gifts that come from being a Christian. First, you will never walk alone Christians are the most blessed of all people. Our God is always with us. He is only a prayer away at any time of the night or day. He is willing to comfort or guide us anytime we open up his word. Second, you can live a life worth living. We can have a life of purpose as we grow in meaningful service that uses the spiritual gifts and talents that he has given us. You can impact the lives of those you love. Third, the Spirit will teach you how to succeed.  Most of the world wanders through life hoping that they can figure out how to survive. The joy of being a Christian is that we have someone who wants to teach us how to succeed.

Have you ever had the feeling that it just doesn’t get any better than this? It might be a day on a cruise ship in exotic ports. It might be Thanksgiving with your family gathered around the table. It is a feeling that the entire world is right and ordered. Cares are gone and life is good. What you have described is very much like the peace that God alone gives. While we know the day on the cruise ship or the Thanksgiving feast must end, the peace of God can go on and on in our life. God can give us a kind of Feng Shui in life where things are ordered in our lives and where they work together. Why should our cell phones be loved more than Jesus? What activities could bring more peace than prayer? We are the luckiest people in the world. We have Jesus and when appreciate and use His gifts, life just doesn’t get any better than this.

Just Go Tell

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." Mark 5:18-19

He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to follow Jesus and learn more from Jesus. It was only natural. The man of God had just cast out a legion of demons from him. He could leave the tombs that had been his home. He could stop cutting himself and being tortured every waking moment. He begged to come with Jesus so that he would be safe. Jesus told him to go and free others. Tell what has happened to you. Let them know what God’s mercy looks like first hand. The text says that he went out and began to tell his story and people were amazed.

Sometimes I think we make sharing our faith harder than it needs to be. We want to have a class that tells us how to do it right. We want to have someone break it into several steps so that it will all be easy. God says to us just go and tell. Tell how being a Christian has helped you with worry and problems. Tell how being a Christian has given your children an edge. Tell people when Jesus helps and heals. Let them know that He is still working in our world. Let them know that Jesus is not dead but is alive and powerful.

They won’t know Jesus if someone like you doesn’t tell them. You are the message that they need to hear. They don’t care about theological articles and discussions. They want to know that being a Christian will make their life better. They want to know if it “works.” So tell them about the good things that Jesus brings into your life. Tell them how He is helping you and assures them that He will help them too. You don’t need training for that. You just need to play “show and tell.” Show them what Jesus has done.Tell everyone that it was Jesus who worked another miracle in your life.

Parables of Jesus: What To Do While We Are Waiting

Focus Passage: Matthew 24:45-51

I hate waiting for a plane or for someone to call. It feels like wasted time. I know people who think that church is wasted time as well. They would rather just join a church when they are ready to die. The bible tells us what to do during that time of waiting.

When the Bible talks about the last days, people think about crazy people who put on white robes and sit on top of a mountain waiting for the last day. Jesus, however, talks about the last days as a time of activity caring for one another and doing the work that he has given us. The church is not just about feeling good or having fun together. The real test of a church should be whether it helps people know God better and help them to serve in ministry well. The church is the place where we confess our sin and see our savior. The church is the place where we grow so that we are ready for whatever comes in the days ahead. The most important thing to do while we wait for the last day is to be in God’s word.

Some will lose hope that Jesus will ever return v.48 The last days will be a time of deceit when many are fooled by the glamor and glitter of the age. The servant in the text doesn’t believe that the master will return. He has become so confused that he stops feeding and caring for the servants around him. Without a steady diet of God’s word, people are easily led astray by the world. Without the word, they will slowly drift from the Lord and will lose their connection with the Lord.

Some begin to act like the world and will be punished v.49 The servant starts to change. What had been a faithful servant now starts to have a moral breakdown and becomes just as wicked as the world around him. The ideas of the world are not working. The servant begins to use force to control them as the world tells him to do. When a church becomes lax in their Bible study, they often become places filled with quarreling and moral breakdowns. They become just like the world around them.

The faithful are healthy and hopeful v.45a The wise servant knows that feeding himself and others is not an option. He will be different than the world around him having gained wisdom from his time with the Lord. He will be faithful. He will continue to take time for being fed even in busy schedules because he knows that he will not survive without the food that the master has left for him. He will not be led astray by the false claims, but will stay close to what the master has given.

The faithful feed others with God’s Word v.45b Notice that the servant feeds the others with the master’s food. Workers are not expected to go and find or purchase the food. The church is to feed people with the food left by the master in his Bible. They are not to feed people the wisdom of the day or the latest polls. They want to feed people with a wisdom that lasts. They want to feed people based on the forgiveness of the cross of Jesus Christ. They want to feed people so that their lives change and work.

The servant in the text will be rewarded by the master for he has cared for and fed others instead of giving into the world around him. He will be rewarded by giving him further privileges and will be elevated in the household because of his wisdom and faithfulness. The person who continues in the word will find that it will have great rewards as well. They will gain a closer relationship with the Lord. No longer will God be someone far off, but will be someone that you know and who you can rely on to help you in every situation. You will also have a real purpose to life and will have a life that will accomplish great things. You will not look back in your last days and wonder what could have been. You will look at your children and the way that you lived your life and see all the people that the Lord let you impact. As you learn from the Lord and put it into practice, your life will be different.


Parables of Jesus: The (Self) Righteous Brother

Focus Passage: Luke 15:25-32

I confess that there are times when I am self-righteous. Lord forgive me for the times when I hear of someone who is struggling and I feel better about my life. We often forget about the second brother in the parable of the lost son. He was just as lost as the first brother and sometimes, so are we.

Most of us can relate to the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son. We have looked at a beggar on the street who has two good hands and two good feet and thought him lazy. We have been upset with someone swearing at a ball game and wondered why they have no manners. Such feelings seem justifiable. The world is filled with sinners who are destroying their lives. We have better character and we may be avoiding some of their problems. We are the righteous ones. Yet, that righteousness is not from us. We have been made righteous by our God and by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is not self-righteousness, but God righteousness. When we forget that righteousness is a gift from God we can rob ourselves of all the joy that God brings into our lives.

Over inflated self-worth v. 29b His words say it all. The older son has been out in the field working hard. Did anyone notice his hard work given day after day for the months or years that the younger brother was out playing around? He sees how the father and others value the younger son, but do they value him? Where was the celebration for his years of service? His reaction starts with an ego that is crushed. This celebration should be his celebration and be for the wayward brother. 

Misses the blessings he has had for years v. 29a The older brother has begun to think of his service as a duty. “This farm wouldn’t function without all the work that I put in day after day. You are lucky to have me. What if we had both run off like that worthless son of yours. You would be in trouble.” He has forgotten all that he received that the younger son missed. He had the father’s love every day and sat at a table filled with the best of food. He had been comfortable while his brother was suffering.

Contempt for others who do not feel our worth v.30 Ultimately, the older brother shows contempt for the father as well as his brother. In his self-righteousness, he is angry with anyone who does not feel just like he does. His self-righteousness creates a chasm between the father and him. If the father loves the younger son, then he must not love me. Self-righteousness makes us feel contempt for anyone who does not agree with us. People who have done nothing wrong are suddenly the enemy.

In some ways, this brother was just as lost as the younger brother. His heart is in a far country far removed from the Father’s love and character. The cure for his self-righteousness begins with the father’s love (v.31). In the text, the Father came to the older son to plead with him. The father is loving and gracious with this son. It is obvious that he values the older son and sees this son as important to him. It is only the love of the Lord that can break into a selfish heart. The story ends with the older brother standing outside the house. His anger has robbed him of the joy and celebration with family and friends. His bruised ego causes him to stand isolated from others grumbling and complaining. His pride won’t let him celebrate for his brother. When we see someone trapped in self-righteousness, we need to love them with God’s love, but most of all we need to pray for them. We need to help them to know that they are valued and appreciated for all that they do. Every child of the Father is special.


Connected in Christ: Truthful, But Tender

Focus Passage: Matthew 16:13-28


Most of us are people pleasers. We want someone’s approval and find it very hard to be honest. Who wants to disappoint people? Let’s say that your child brought home his art project. He is beaming and says look Mom what I made. With horror in your gut, you notice that the project he is so proud of is just plain awful. What do you say to your beaming child? What if it isn’t an art project, but it is a coworker who is stealing or a friend who is into drinking or x rated videos? How do you tell someone that they are messing up their life? Jesus gives us the answer as He speaks to Peter. He is tender but truthful to a disciple who has got it all wrong.

Jesus is not afraid to compliment Peter v.17. Jesus is always spending time with the disciples. He asks them questions. He gives them challenges. He is always seeking to build them and expand them so that they understand what God’s plan is. And when they get it, He commends them. Peter must have felt good when Jesus complimented him in front of the others disciples. Jesus built up the disciples and showed them that He cared. He earned the right to be truthful by being so tender.

Jesus must be honest, too v.22. Peter then makes a drastic error. He has assumed that if Jesus was the Messiah that the things that Jesus was saying could never happen. It was like putting your arm around a friend and saying “I doubt that you know what you are talking about”. Jesus sees the horrible unfolding of that logic. If unchecked, Peter and the others will think that anyone who serves the Lord will never face crisis or difficulty. When they all face persecution later in life, their faith may fail.

Jesus tenderly explains the truth v.26 Jesus doesn’t just correct Peter, He explains why Peter’s words were wrong. In a speech that they probably didn’t want to hear, Jesus taught them what it really meant to be the followers of the Messiah. The rewards will come in the end, but they will face hardship at first that will test the limits of their faith. A true friend doesn’t just tell someone that they are wrong but encourages them with the right answer so they know why their answer was wrong.

When you correct someone, examine your motives. We all know people who like to point out everyone else’s faults. As we see a flaw out of control in another’s life, we must be truthful for the sole purpose of saving that person from the firestorm that will come and destroy them. We must love them enough that we want to save them from the affair, from the drugs, or from their workaholic tendencies. The truth is always to lift them up not tear them down. The truth is to build them up so that they can be better not bring them down so that you look good.

Just have the courage to care. The other extreme is one of silence. When someone is wrong, it is easy to walk away and say nothing. You never know how they will react to being told that they are wrong. Jesus shows what real love is. He has built the relationship so that the disciples know His honesty is based on love. He explains why their views will hurt them and helps them understand the truth. That is not always easy, but it is what a friend does for you. It is a gift of love when you have the courage to care enough to say something. Having examined your motives, tell the person in love what the truth is and you will give them a great gift that they may cherish all their lives.


Connecting In Christ: Loving Flawed People

Focus Passage: John 8:1-11

The sun was low in the sky on this day after the Feast of Tabernacles. The pilgrims were ready to start home, but many had crowded around Jesus to hear him one last time before they left. Pushing through the crowd, a group of Pharisees brought a woman half dressed and forced her to stand before the crowd. With anger in their eyes, they practically spit out the charge, ‘we have caught this woman in adultery – Jesus, what do you say should happen to her?” His words disarmed them. “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.’ His response serves as an example of how we are to deal with the flawed people that surround us in life.

It is so easy to focus on another’s flaws. What would it have been like to be part of the crowd that day? The accusation was clear, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” V.4 The woman never argued that she was innocent. Her clothes and appearance probably made everyone know she was guilty. Have her stoned to death. She is guilty and deserves the right penalty. Why is it that we cheer when someone else if found guilty?

It is so easy to feel self-righteous. The Pharisees know what should be done, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?" (v.5) They want Jesus to make the pronouncement so that they can feel smug. Yet, what happens when we are the one who is less than perfect. We get caught in a lie. We overextend our credit cards and are deep in debt. We all have deep secrets. Maybe that is why we are glad when the spotlight gets turned onto the problems and sins of others. In the shadows, we can look a little more perfect.

Jesus’ pause makes us feel uneasy. I find myself wondering what Jesus wrote in the dust. Was it the sins of those who were accusing – as God he would have known who was naughty and who was nice better than Santa Claus. When he does speak, he tells them "If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (v.7) As I read the story, I find myself squirming. Just at the time that we think we are safe, our flaws are exposed. Yet, the perfect Jesus reaches out and surprises us all.

Jesus surprises us with grace. It must have been awkward to stand before Jesus as wrote in the sand. His words – “then neither do I condemn you” (v.11) must have been a surprise.  Having her sin laid raw before Jesus and having been humiliated before the crowd, Jesus forgives her and gives her back her dignity and her self-worth. She is forgiven under the cross of Jesus. Seek out the forgiveness of the cross. Only the cross has the ability to heal the flaws that we all have.

Before he lets her leave, Jesus gives her a word of encouragement and a direction. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (v.11)  He is saying that now that I have begun to unwrap you of your sin, do not go and get tangled again. For Jesus, it was not enough to just forgive her of her sin, he wanted to pull her out of the sin. To give her forgiveness only to have her go back to the same sin doesn’t rescue her. The forgiveness must be given as a chance at a new life. It must be the same for us. Jesus’ command to the woman sums up the mission. Free people by the forgiveness of Jesus from their sin and love them enough to help them sin no more.