Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Sunday, February 20, 2011

!!! SHOCKING !!!

Over the years as I have had the privilege to share Jesus' good news with thousands of people, one of the things I have heard over and over is how !!!SHOCKED!!! they are to read Jesus' statements in Matthew 10 about how he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword", and that "a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." Hey, it is !!! SHOCKING !!!. After all , HE IS the Prince of Peace, or so Isaiah said, so we naturally don't expect him to say something so !!! SHOCKING !!!
Actually Jesus is quoting the OT prophet, Micah, who was simply reporting the social condition of his day. He even counseled his contemporaries to trust NO ONE! Jesus used Micah's words to highlight the battle that rages between the truth of God and how we humans tend to either interpret that truth or ignore it altogether. Yes, even in our families and among our closest friends.
Long before Jesus, Solomon wrote - "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him - (1) haughty (arrogant) eyes, (2) a lying (deceiving) tongue, (3) hands that shed innocent blood, (4) a heart that devises wicked schemes. (5) feet that are quick to rush into evil, (6) a false witness that pours out lies, and (7) a man/woman (troublemaker) who stirs up dissention among brothers." Prov 6:16-19
Those seven "things" should create an earthquake of self awareness in every human on the planet! If you take the time to go back and read them slowly and seriously think about your own thoughts and ways, surely at least one or two will strike a chord in your spirit. They involve the whole person, eyes, tongue, hands, heart and feet and conclude with the contentious spirit that does exactly what Jesus predicted!
To me, Solomon seems to be quoting his father, David, who wrote - "Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure." Psalm 101:4-5
David understood how serious this is and vowed to walk on a different path. ME TOO!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Small Potatoes"

"Mortals make elaborate plans but God has the last word." Proverbs 16:1 MSG
When I read this it brought to mind that early Friday morning when the Jewish High Priest and his band of "yes-men" dragged Jesus to the palace of the governor. They had spent all night brow-beating and threatening Jesus and finally unanimously voted that he must die. I seriously doubt Pilate was happy to receive this bunch of pompous hypocrites who demanded that he pass the death sentence on Jesus. Pilate was suspicious of their intent and attempted to question Jesus privately. Puzzled by Jesus' steadfast refusal to directly answer his questions, Pilate said, "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"
I kinda feel sorry for the guy because he knew he was being "played" and tried to free Jesus, but there was nothing else he could do when they accused Jesus of competing with Caesar. So, Pilate had an agenda, the Jewish priests had an agenda and both seemed to have achieved their own plans when Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Jesus' response to Pilate is to me the greatest statement of faith in the Bible. He told him, "You have no power over me at all unless it has been given to you by my Father". That statement is exactly what Solomon said at Proverbs 16:1.
There is nothing wrong in making plans. Doing so is a wise thing to do as long as we recognize that ultimately "God has the last word."
James taught this principle to his brothers and sisters in the earliest days of the church. His words still ring true today - "...if the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that." James 4:15
The Psalmist sang - "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." Ps 115:3
In fact, every Bible writer makes the very same affirmation in one way or another.
Making my plans can achieve goals that I never would have if I just drifted along day-to-day with no direction or purpose. But just like Pilate and the Jewish leaders who demanded Jesus' death, my plans are always small potatoes when viewed in the ultimate context - God always has the last word. He will do whatever he wills regardless of political rulers, spiritual tyrants, circumstances or popular opinion.
I take great comfort in that knowledge - all of us should.

Monday, February 7, 2011

When I Breathe My Last Breath

Okay so that sounds really morbid, but it is an event on the calendar of every member of our human family. We all know it and most of us avoid even thinking about it until we are knocking on that black-shrouded door. What will I leave as a legacy for my family and friends to remember me by?
Solomon wrote - "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath (or death), but righteousness delivers from death." Proverbs 11:3 NIV
"When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing." V:7
"The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward." V18
Recently I was asked to speak at the funeral of someone I have known and loved since high school. Her children had very good things to say about her which I shared with those gathered to honor her memory. Those are words that we would expect to hear at such a gathering of loved ones who are grieving their loss. That's a good thing.
However, I read a portion of Psalm 103 and talked a bit about the Fatherhood of our
God and how at times like this, we all want to feel somehow connected to each other and to God our Father.
Here's the point. To the grieving family, the fact that their mother loved them and enjoyed cooking, gardening, fishing, camping etc. is important to them because each of them has their own cherished memories connected to those shared moments. I urged them to hold those memories close because they help us to grieve in a positive way. However to their mother, none of those activities are of much importance now. What IS important to her now is the presence of her Father and his love.
On the day I breathe my last breath, how well I cooked or gardened or whatever, will hold NO level of importance to me. How much wealth I amassed or how many professional degrees I acquired or how many monuments I built will not even be on my radar. Whoever conducts my funeral service will probably say a few nice things about me and my family will have their own memories to comfort them. But me? I'm looking in the face of the One who willingly and violently gave his life to give me a new name, a new hope, a new home. I love the Mercy Me song, "I Can Only Imagine" because it was introduced to me by my daughter Michelle several years ago and because it expresses my anticipation of an event I can't even begin to anticipate.
That doesn't mean I won't have any thoughts or feelings about my family and friends left behind. But I don't think I will be sad to have left them because I know I will be with them again. However they probably won't be "my family", we will all be God's family - together - forever!
Even though I've been through the funeral experience hundreds of times, I always come away from it with a new sense of my own mortality and God's promised immortality. The two words that impress me most are GRACE and HOPE. Jesus died to give me the gift of both and the day I breathe my last breath, they will be enough!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Humility - The Unexplored Frontier"

The balance between pride and humility is a hit & miss experience for all of the human family. We take great pride in being proud and kinda feel sorry for people who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. If you're like me you were taught from early childhood that "you can do/become anything you want", which isn't ALL bad but can turn into the quest to win at any cost.
Solomon wrote - "Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor." Proverbs 18:12 NIV
He had previously written - "An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions." 18:1 NIV
I especially like the way The Message states it - "Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse, all they do is run off at the mouth."
My family, my friends and my Father all know how I have failed often in the tricky art of "humility". Many preachers and church leaders I have known failed at humility just like me. In fact, most people who have acquired the skill of humility are seldom seen as gifted in those areas of leadership.
For me, being in front of people was a powerful "drug" of sorts because I was so absolutely captivating they all hung on my every word. I've certainly done my share of running off at the mouth. A few brave souls, including my wife who loves me anyhow, tried to get my attention, but my pride always won out because I always knew I was right and they were wrong. After all the proof of the puddin' is in the eatin' and I always had enough cheerleaders to bolster my pride.
Satan is the master flatterer. He always knows exactly just the words to bring to the heart that is dominated by pride of self. I have met church leaders who informed me that they were the only people in that church qualified to lead it. I have known preachers who were constantly in a running campaign to "outdo" all the other churches in their local area just to prove to themselves that they really are as great as they think.
One of the greatest preachers I have known was the kind of man who would spend an hour in a deserted church, walking back and forth and up and down between empty pews praying loudly for the people who would be sitting in each seat in an hour.
Please don't misread me. I have known a huge multitude of truly committed, deeply spiritual preachers and other church leaders whose selfless devotion to serving others is a strong force for good. But, they too had to fight their way through the pride that comes with the territory. Many get there, some never do.
I can't say yet that I am more humble than prideful. My prayers are much different than at any time in my life because my heart seeks the humility that Jesus took with him to the cross. But, I'm probably not there yet. Maybe I never will be but I am learning from Jesus to trust my Father without conditions.
I guess Solomon kinda summed it all up for me in this way - "Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights." Proverbs 18:15 MSG

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Pick Your Battles Very Carefully"

In my younger days I always loved a good fight and hardly ever backed away from the opportunity to prove my superior knowledge on just about any subject. Debating was just another way to seize the high ground and bury an opponent in the unquestionable logic that I was certain had come directly from God. Of course I spent virtually no time in the Proverbs of one wiser than me. Solomon wrote -
"It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel." Proverbs 20:3 NIV "It's a mark of good character to avert quarrels, but fools love to pick a fight." MSG
"Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out." Proverbs 17:14 NIV
I have found that there are times when a fight is unavoidable, but how I conduct myself by carefully choosing my words, my tone and my facial expression will usually moderate the conflict. When you think about it most change is the result of some type of conflict, so on some level, conflict can be a good thing. However one who is always "quick to quarrel" is, in Solomon's observation, a "fool". His counsel is to head off a fight before it starts.
Doing that requires a level of personal and spiritual maturity that was obviously lacking in my spirit in those days when I loved a good fight. NOW I see that people who love to pick at what they think is a flaw or weakness, who look for opportunities to sit in the judges seat or who criticize everyone but themselves, are destined for multiple health issues and will eventually die in loneliness.
Here's another wise word from Solomon that I have needed to HEAR, and I mean really HEAR, for a long time: "A gentle response defuses anger but a sharp tongue kindles a firestorm." Proverbs 15:1
Several years ago I was speaking at a youth conference and asked that gathering of young disciples of Jesus what is required in order for us to be children of God. We spent maybe 10 minutes of them calling out various things they have been taught by parents and teachers in the church. After writing all their responses on the board, things like, faith, repentance, baptism, live a good life, pray, study the Bible etc, I asked if there was anything else they could think of. No one seemed to have any further suggestions so I asked them to turn to Matthew 5 and read aloud, in unison, verse 9, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."
Now that is truly DIVINE counsel. More than ever in my life I want to be that!