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Showing posts from May, 2008

Ungranted Prayers

One of the biggest arguments that skeptics use against Christianity is the difference between the promises found in the Bible regarding prayer and reality. If we are honest with ourselves there are time when we wonder if our prayers are making it past the ceiling. It is embarrassing to try to explain the differences between the promises in the Bible and the reality in our lives.

Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the promises we read in the Bible don't say what we think they say. That is what H. Lynn Gardner argues in part one of his article When Our Prayer Requests Are Not Granted. Gardner writes:
People often speak of unanswered prayer. Is this the best term to use? It may wrongly suggest that God is either unable or unwilling to respond to our prayers when he may well answer in ways we do not recognize. Therefore, I prefer to speak of ungranted prayer requests.

Whenever we study the words of Scripture, we need to be careful not to take them out of their context. This …

No Guarantee of Success

Into the Unknown: Part 5

It was a bleak time in the history of Israel. God had finally given them the king that they longed to have, but their country was still occupied by a foreign power. The Philistines ruled the land and the and the troops and the equipment to enforce their rule.

King Saul, facing overwhelming odds, took his two swords and six hundred soldiers and hid. He was waiting for a better time, for God to open up a door. While Saul hid his son Jonathan acted. Taking one sword and his armor bearer Jonathan decides to engage the enemy. This is what Jonathan tells the young man following him:
6 Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let's go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the LORD from delivering, whether by many or by a few." (1 Samuel 14:6; NET)

Here is the fourth parallel I want to draw. God has not guaranteed success. It is quite possible that God will not come through f…

Know God's Desire

Into the Unknown: Part 4

Life has a way of throwing tough circumstances our way. In these tough times it is hard for us imagine a way out let alone see the light at the end of the tunnel. When this happens we usually conclude that God has closed the door and that we just need to wait around for God to open it back up again.

In 1 Samuel 14 we read about Israel’s tough situation. The Philistines occupied the land and their army was large and well equipped. Israel’s army had dwindled to 600 men with two swords. King Saul’s solution was to hide, but his son Jonathan had a different idea.

Here is where I want to draw the third parallel. The first step forward is understanding God’s great desire. Jonathan moved to engage the Philistines because he understood that God’s desire for Israel was for the people to be free. So what is God’s great desire today? Matthew 28:18-20 give us good summary of what God’s desire is:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on ea…

Our Problems Don't Define Us

"We are not our problems. We are not our wounds. We are not our sins. We are persons of radical worth and unrevealed beauty. If we face ourselves fully, we will be broken by what we see, by the selfishness and fear and rage and lust that cover our spiritual beauty like tarnish on silver. But the silver is there. Something brilliant and intact gleams through the stain of our brokenness.

"Labeling each other makes the shine of silver hard to see. It directs attention to the tarnish. Labels encourage us to believe that our problems define us. Of course our problems are never pretty. So we either use them to manipulate people into taking care of us or we hide who we mistakenly think we are." ~ Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, p. 34

Faith is Needed

Into the Unknown: Part 3

In 1 Samuel 14 we find Israel in a desperate situation. The Philistines occupy the land with some 30,000 troops, plus they have armored chariots to go along. The Israelite army, commanded by King Saul, was down to 600 men and they only had two swords, Saul had one and his son Jonathan had the other.

Rather than taking a step of faith and doing what God had asked him to do, Saul hid, not wanting to engage the enemy. Who can blame him? We find ourselves doing the same thing every day. Rather than stepping out in faith we wait around for circumstances to be just right for us to act. In the process we miss out on the opportunity altogether. Saul was hiding waiting for just the right time when he could be assured victory.

Here is where I would like to draw the second parallel between the story and our situation. This is the parallel: There is no formula for success. I am convinced the Saul hid because he was waiting for the battle plan that would guarantee vic…

Spiritual Community

In The Safest Place on Earth Larry Crabb writes, "Like you, I want to contribute to spiritual community, to provide my family and friends with a safe place to face their brokenness and find God" (p. 38). I don't know about you, but I share that desire.

I love being able to preach, teach, and write about God's Word. My motivation has always been to encourage people as they travel the road of faith. I have always hoped that something that I have said or have written has encouraged a person to take that next step of faith.

As much as I have loved this I have growing desire in my heart to truly connect with other people. To enter into their lives in such away that I am not seen as the preacher or teacher, but as brother and friend. In other words I want to live life with other people instead of following my agenda and trying to overcome my problems and fears on my own.

It is a desire to experience Christian fellowship that moves past potlucks and Sunday morning greeti…

A Bleak Situation

Into the Unknown: Part 2

Israel faced an impossible situation. The Philistines occupied the land with 30,000 soldiers and Israel had an army that had dwindled to 600 men with just two swords among them. How could they ever defeat the Philistines when they were out-equipped and out-manned?

Life throws difficult situations at us all the time. From the overwhelming situation of a continually more perverse culture seeping into our homes and influencing our families to wondering if you should help with youth group or pick up a few overtime hours to help the budget situation a little easier. Life is out of our control and the result is that often our circumstances are not what we would like them to be.

Here is where I would like to draw the first parallel between the circumstance Israel found herself in and the circumstance we find ourselves in as we try to live a Christian life. The parallel is this: Circumstances look bleak. It is easy to be discouraged. I know that I have been there, a…

Peering into History

Into the Unknown: Part 1

The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, but that did not mean, as you probably know, that circumstances always went well for them. If you know anything about you the Old Testament you are aware that Israel went though times of occupation and division once they took control of the Promised Land.

Near the end of what is called the “captivity of the land,” which lasted from the death of Joshua through the reign of Saul, we discover another instance when Israel’s hope for freedom looked very bleak.

What I hope to accomplish as we take a look at this event in the history of Israel and as we draw parallels to our lives, and the fears that hold us back, so that we will find some encouragement as we head of into the unknown, what Shakespeare called the “undiscovered country,” the future. Take a few moments and read the Biblical account of what happened.
1 Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let's go over to the Philisti…

Chuck Norris on Atheism

At Worldnetdaily Chuck Norris has an opinion piece about atheists using the first amendment as the basis for taking prayer out of public meetings. He writes:
But these atheists make the same classic blunder about the First Amendment that the ACLU and others have been making for years. They reinterpret it in ways it was never intended to be understood. They actually use the very amendment that is intended to protect our religious and speech rights and liberties and turn it on its head and make it a law of prohibition against prayer. And in so doing, they bastardize America's founding documents and founders.He goes on to write:
The fact is these atheists have every right to voice their grievance – that is their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. But their request to restrict others' religious freedom is unconstitutional. And it is on that basis of the council members' First Amendment rights that they (and any other requests like this one across our land) ought to be …

Salvation Begins with God

William Pile in his book What the Bible Says about Grace reminds us of this important truth:Any theology that construes salvation as some sort of cooperative effort between God and man is false.  Whatever man does in reference to his salvation may be seen as responsive, not causal.  Jesus, God's gift, is the sole cause. (p. 105) Our salvation doesn't depend on our righteousness, but on God's grace.  We could never hope for heaven, we could never have our sins forgiven, and we could never have eternal life without God first deciding to give us these things.  Grace is what makes Christianity so great.

Keep It Simple

The other day my brother Tom and I were talking about preaching. We talked about one of the problems that many preachers run into is making things more difficult than they need to be. Preachers, sometimes, get so enamored by little things that they discover in commentaries or in theology that they feel the need to work these captivating tidbits into their sermons.

Take baptism for instance. There are many different opinions on what baptism is and its importance for the Christians. We debate about the mode, place, and significance of baptism in a Christian's life. While we are outlining our position we miss the simple truth that Jesus wanted us to know: Be baptized! I like what Malcolm Smith wrote in The Lost Secret of the New Covenant: "Is a person save if he or she is not baptized? Questions like this turn the grace of God into law. It is a pointless question that any Pharisee would have loved! God commands it; so do it, and stop discussing how many angels can stand o…

Making the Most of Opportunities

Opportunity Knocking: Part 5

God loves to come through at the bleakest of hours. One could say that it is His M.O. That is why we needn’t get discouraged about our situation, God can use us to make a difference, but for that to happen we need to respond in faith. God isn’t just give us people and provide us with money if we have not demonstrated that we are good stewards of what He provides. He isn’t going to step in and do things for us that He requires us to do ourselves. The response of faith is crucial if we expect God to show up.

My favorite Old Testament story is found in 1 Samuel 14. This is another time Israel found themselves in a bleak situation. God has anointed Saul king and has given him the responsibility of kicking out the occupying Philistines. Saul’s army, because of fear, dwindles down to 600 and the entire army has two swords between them. Saul had one and Jonathan had another.

One night while Saul was paralyzed with fear and hiding, Jonathan took his young arm…

Spiritual Journey

Reading Larry Crabb's book The Safest Place on Earth I came across this paragraph which really struck a chord with me:

"We moderns tend to think our spiritual journey as a God-directed adventure until something goes seriously wrong or until certain problems persist past the time we give God to take them away. Then we think about solving the problems more than about finding God in the midst of them. We focus more on using God to improve our lives than on worshipping Him in any and every circumstance. We think more about pathology--what can be fixed--than about the journey we're on." (p. 17)
In our efforts to create the life of our choosing, even a "spiritual" life, we miss out on God. We miss out on God because our purpose becomes more about fashioning the life we want rather than truly connecting with God and receiving from Him the life He wants us to have. Something to think about.

Pharaoh's Hard Heart

At his teaching site Chuck McCoy, one of my Bible Doctrine professor at Nebraska Christian College, has an article about God's involvement in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Was God responsible or did Pharaoh have a say in the matter? McCoy writes:
The hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 7:3 - 14:17) has been a topic of discussion for some time. Those who hold a “deterministic” (God controls/manipulates everything) view, argue that God saves who He chooses (totally on His own whim/authority) and hardens and condemns whoever He chooses, regardless of their inclinations, choices or responses.
Take some time and read what else my old Bible College professor has to say about the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart.

Rejoice Always

Opportunity Knocking: Part 4

When God sends an opportunity our way it will rarely be when the circumstances of our lives look favorable. The greatest opportunities God gives to us happen when we are down and out and our circumstances look a little bleak. These opportunities require us to respond in faith, because it will go against every instinct we have to make the most of what God has given us.

That was true with the apostle Paul who found himself in prison, chained to a Roman guard. Paul lost the freedom to travel the countryside and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. But that reality didn’t stop Paul from preaching. He taught the guards who guarded him and the people who came to visit him, and a wonderful thing began to happen, the guards began to put their faith in Jesus and Paul’s visitors were encouraged.

Paul seized the opportunity God gave him, even though circumstances were bad, by responding in faith. Paul’s faith is seen in the fact that he reached out to the peopl…

Encourage People

Opportunity Knocking: Part 3

Usually when we think opportunity is knocking it is because circumstances have been arranged in such a way to make a certain situation positive. In God’s economy that is often not the case. Opportunity knocks the best on a closed door, and it is in these negative situation that God provides us with our greatest opportunities.

That was certainly the case for the apostle Paul who found himself in a Roman prison. The amazing thing is that Paul didn’t let his chains stop him from using the opportunity God sent his way, in the form of his prison guards. Paul seized the opportunity and reached out to the only people he had contact with. If we are going to step out in faith and make the most of the lives God has blessed us with then we need to reach out to the people around us.

The second action of faith we need to do in order to make the most of our God given opportunities is to ENCOURAGE people.
14 Moreover, because of my imprisonment most of the brothers hav…

Reach Out To People

Opportunity Knocking: Part 2

As we read through the Bible it is obvious that God likes to use the under dog who is up against a no win situation. Usually we think opportunity is knocking when things are looking favorable, but often for the follower of Jesus opportunity knocks when things can’t get any worse.

When the apostle Paul wrote Philippians things were not going well for him. He is in prison in Rome. No longer can he travel the country preaching about Jesus, his mission to take Jesus to the Gentiles has come to an end. Yet from this bleak situation Paul tells us that a victory emerges.
12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: 13 The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly.15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ…

Creationism is Dangerous to Science

I was reading PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, today and read his reaction to a study that surveyed High School Biology teachers about their belief of God's involvement in the formation of life on earth. According to Myers the study was the most depressing thing he has seen this week (just think the week is still young, things could get a lot more depressing). It was depressing because the vast majority of H.S. Biology teachers believed God created life. 47% believed that God guided the process of evolution and 16% (the most depressing number) believed in some form of young earth creation.

It was interesting to read Myers' response to this so called problem, which happened to be in agreement with what the authors of the study concluded. The solution to this dangerous problem of believing in a Creator is more education. In their minds these teachers who believe in creation would cease to believe in God if they had all the facts. After all we can't have people disagreein…

Learning to Say No to Good Things

Randy Alcorn on his blog Eternal Perspectives wrote a wonderful post about using our time wisely. In the post, Planned Neglect, Randy wrote; We shouldn’t say yes to something just because it’s a good thing or even a great thing. One of the things I have thought about recently is how easy it is to start feeling like a horrible person because you can't support all the good causes there are to support.

We only have a limited amount of time, money, and influence. When we allow these things to be spread to thin over a great number of causes then we diminish the good that we can do. It would be better for us to pick a few causes that we can support whole heartedly and give ourselves to them. I encourage you to read Randy's thoughts because I think this is something all of us need to ponder.

Living Hope

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he has given us a new birth to an ever-living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and to an inheritance kept in heaven for you that can't be destroyed, corrupted, or changed. 5 Through faith you are being protected by God's power for a salvation that is ready to be revealed at the end of time. (1 Peter 1:3-5; ISV)

It is no secret that life is difficult. It doesn't matter who we are or what we have been though life doesn't take it easy on anybody. If we are going to keep persevering as we follow Jesus then we need to be able to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In other words we need to know that our present suffering is worth enduring.

The light at the end of the tunnel, according to the apostle Peter, is living hope. Living hope is hope that is able to endure even death. All the hopes that we can think of, from having a family to getting a new…

Don't Concede the High Ground

Monday as I was mowing the lawn I had a Burning Heart Moment. It all started as I began to think how the favorite argument against Christianity for some people has become the argument of why a good God allows evil. The question of evil is one that the Christian has to answer.

As I thought about this ongoing debate I realized that far too often the Christian is placed in a defensive position as we try to respond to the skeptics questions rather than trying to turn the tables of the skeptic and force them to answer questions as well.

This is something Jesus did rather than to allow Himself to be dragged into pointless debates. (What makes the debate pointless is not the question be raised, but the unwillingness of the questioner to change their position. They are only interested in stirring up controversy.) During the last week of His life a group of religious leaders came to Jesus and wanted to know by what authority did ride in to Jerusalem like a king, cleanse the Temple, and teach …

More than Good Advice

In Christianity we find many different teachings and rules on how to live. We are told to love people, to help the poor, not to get drunk, not to have sex outside of marriage, and not to murder anyone. Therefore it is easy to look at Christianity and see it as another system of advice on how we should live our lives. Many people equate Christianity with good advice. They put the teachings of Jesus along side the teachings of Buddha and point to the parallels between the two.

The world is full of "good advice". Everywhere we turn there are people offering us advice on how we should live. We get it from movie stars as well as politicians. We get it from living talk show hosts as well as dead philosophers. If Christianity is just another collection of "good advice" would it matter if we dedicated our lives to following it? It may make our lives go a little smoother because we would stay out of trouble, but it would be absent of hope and promise. It would be the same a…

Don't Be Led Away

We live in an age where it is so easy to hear different viewpoints, philosophies, and theologies. This can be good because it can cause us to wrestle with what we believe, but only if we are truly seeking God's truth. There is a big danger in accepting "truth" claims without at least thinking them through. If we are not going to think through everything we are told to believe we will end up being lead astray.

This was the apostle Paul's frustration with the Galatians. People came in after Paul and give these young Christians other beliefs (namely that they had to convert to Judaism before they could really be followers of Jesus) that lead them away from Jesus. This is what Paul writes:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow a different gospel, 7 which is not really another one. To be sure, there are certain people who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel about Christ. (Galatians 1:6-8; ISV…

God Uses Underdogs

Opportunity Knocking: Part 1

I am sure you have heard the old saying, "Opportunity Knocks". By this we mean that things are looking favorable. We have been offered the “perfect” job or we have been given a tip on some good stocks or we have been invited to the event which give us the chance to meet and network with some important people.

From our perspective when things are looking up and favorable we can hear opportunity knocking. I believe that if we look from God’s perspective we would realize that every situation, every moment, provides us with an opportunity to make a difference in this world. Here is the question I want you to consider: Are you looking for opportunities to share God’s love with others?

Reading the historical accounts recorded in the Bible gives one the impression that God likes to be the underdog. God enjoys backing the long shot and making something great happen.

Remember Moses? God’s job for him was no simple task. God calls Moses to walk into the…

The Blessing of Mom

I used this quote from Thomas Edison today in my sermon (Mother's Day):
“I did not have my mother long, but she cast over me an influence which has last all my life. The good effects of her early training I can never lose. If it had not been for her appreciation and her faith in me at a critical time in my experience, I should never likely have become an inventor. I was always a careless boy, and with a mother of a different mental caliber, I should have turned out badly. But her firmness, her sweetness, her goodness, were potent powers to keep me in the right path. My mother was the making of me. The memory of her will always be a blessing to me." (1001 Great Stories and Quotes; p. 290)

Thoughts on Baptism

Mark Moore shared a few thoughts on baptism and then concluded:
However, given these five blessings of baptism, it boggles my mind why anyone would be contentious in refusing such a gift directly from the hand of Jesus, especially when it models the self-abnegation he enjoined on his disciples.You should go read what he says the blessings of baptism are.

God Can Use The Bad

Spiritual growth is not easy. It requires more than reading books, singing songs, listening to sermons, and placing a few dollars in the offering plate. For spiritual growth requires that we follow Jesus, and we do that by applying God's Word to our lives.

It would make sense that Satan, our great enemy, would throw many different obstacles into our path to prevent us from truly following Jesus and thus from maturing in our faith. Satan will throw out fear to get us to hold back rather than following Jesus into the unknown. Satan will sit the trap of temptation causing us to miss out on experiencing God at work in our lives as we pursue the pleasures of sin. He will dig the hole of guilt causing us to fall in as forget about God's grace and forgiveness and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the sin that is in our lives.

I have good news for you: God uses Satan's obstacles as opportunities to make us better people! Just as Joseph told his brothers; "As far as I am conc…

Salvation From An Empty Life

Are you satisfied with your life? I know that I am not. Just today I allowed myself to get discouraged as I thought about all the things I haven’t done: write a book, speak at a large conference, get married. As we contemplate our lives it is easy to focus on all the things we haven’t achieved and think that our lives are empty and meaningless.

You want to know a little secret? It doesn’t matter how successful we might be our lives are empty without Jesus. No matter how great our accomplishments are they are unable to provide us with the hope that we truly need for life. Remember this: Being a success doesn’t make life worth living!

It is easy to think of people who are successful in the different areas of life. From Donald Trump to Tim Duncan we can point out men and women who have experienced success in this life. Many times they have experienced this success without any faith in Jesus Christ. Which at times can cause us, as Christians, to become discouraged. We become discourage…

Throw Off the Old

One of the great hindrances to spiritual maturity is not changing our behavior. We hold on to little vices, telling ourselves that they do not harm our spiritual growth. What we forget is that sin has a way of multiplying. Thomas À Kempis wrote; “ The person who does not avoid small faults, little by little slips into greater ones” (The Imitation of Christ, p. 62). Our little sins tend to turn into bigger ones.

Isn’t true that our small sins often control our lives? The reason we do not get rid of these sins is because they are either addictions or they allow us to feel part of this world. While God has called us to be foreigners and pilgrims in this world we want to fit in with the people around us. We tend to hold on to whatever we can so we can feel like we are a part of this world.

These small vices pose a bigger threat our spiritual growth than we would like to admit. They keep us from experiencing God at work in our lives and thus to trust Him with more and more of our live…

Living Life to the Fullest

We cannot see into the future. There is just no way to accurately predict what will happen in the future and if the plans we have worked so hard on will happen. Life is too unpredictable to be positive that the life we are working to create is actually the best life we could enjoy. It is for this reason why think it is important for us to consider the words of Henry and Richard Blackaby in their book Hearing God’s Voice:
People who make decisions based merely on what seems most advisable to them will inevitably choose something inferior to God’s best (p. 5).

Relying on what seems best to us does not mean we will enjoy the best life God has planned for us. The life God created us to enjoy has nothing to do with income and possessions, and everything to do with obedience and sacrifice. We can give our lives away chasing after the American Dream and in the end look back on our lives disappointed. Regret occurs in our lives, not because we didn't buy the right things, but because …