Archive for January, 2012

Are You What You Say?

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ever meet people that say one thing and in reality are quite different. It is interesting to me that they see others through the eyes of their reality. Jesus did not say, “Do not judge.” He said, “Do not judge, or you will be judged by the same criteria.” He said, “How can you remove a speck from someone’s eye when there is a beam in your own eye?” If you read that passage in Mattehw 7 you will discover that those who see the specks in someone’s eye is usally because they deal with the same problem in their life, in “Log size” not speck size.

God is not who you say that He is. God is who He says that He is. He is truth. He is reality. He is pure. He is absolutely honest. So what God reveals of Himself is who He is. Not who we try to make Him into by our finite conceptions. That, by the way is idolatry.

Ironically, we are not so much who we say we are. We are who are actions show that we are. I John 1 issues three false professions. Some talk the talk and never walk the walk. So who are you relly? Are you who you tell us you are? I am too busy trying to let God clean me up to judge others for their sins. That does not mean that I don’t help a brother. That doesn’t mean I cannot enter into covenant with others to walk together. But it means I must remain humble because of the battle with my own flesh.

I read somewhere recently if you have an income in your home of $36,000 per adult or more, you are in the upper five percent of wealth in the world’s population. It is hard to imagine the imbalance of wealth. It is almost time to get on an airplane and return to the bush country of West Africa. It is hard to describe. As you approach the village there is the unmistakeable pungent odor of shay nuts roasting. There is the dust kicked up from the bush taxi as we make our way down what they call a road. There are the bloated bellies of the children who have worms, and the reddish colored hair from malnutrition. There are the clothes that they wear until they are absolute shreds and no longer will stay on.

There are the charcoal fires with the iron pots cooking millet into “toe” a playdough consistency gray food that is the staple of their diets. It is gritty and bland, but they live on it. It is tolerable with the peanut sauce or okra sauce.
There are the ropes and rubber bladder type buckets that lower into the ground level wells, where the cow dung and dead bugs, and dirt, and everything else falls in. There are the big eyed children, and the toothless older adults. But on all there are the huge smiles and the waaves as we come or go.

It is like stepping into the first century. There is no running water. There is no toilet, just a hole in the ground, and if you are fortunate a wall that surrounds three sides and comes up to at least your waiste. The joke is, ‘How do you tell the volunteers from the missionaries?” The volunteers can use a squatty potty, but the missionary can hit it. I know, that is gross and vulgar.

But what is amazing is the thousands, no millions of people tha thave no access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Coca cola has gotten there. In our village there is a huge cell phone tower. So no electricity in the village, but cell phone service now. No modern conveniences at all, except the cell phones. Oh there is an occaisional television powered by a car battery with an antenna run up a tree. How did coke get there, and cell phones, and the Good News of God’s incredible love.

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved. How will they call on Him in whom they have not beleived? How will they believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how will they hear, unless you tell them?”

The Journey Continues

Posted: January 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

How hard is it to tell someone good news? If I found a cure for cancer, would it be difficult to share that information? If I were to discover the answer to world hunger and ruin every Miss America candidate’s answer to the interview questions, would that be hard to share? Is it hard to tell people that USC found a way after all these years to win three in a row over the Tigers if you are one of those silly chicken people? Just kidding.

We do not normally find it that difficult to share Good News. Except when it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ. Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps it is fear of the unknown, or perhaps it is because we just don’t know how/ This week at CHurch Unleashed, Dennis Nunn of “Every beleiver a witness” gave us some very practical tools to share our faith. It is going to make this a very interesting year at church. It has been an amazing day sharing the Steps to Peace With God tracts all around. My wife actually warned me that someone might be out an APB on a salt and pepper haired middle age man giving tracts to everyone. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I want to challenge everyone to get in on the fun. Tell your personal story. Pray for your server at meals. Give away a Gospel tract. And here is a radical idea. Actually pray that God use all of your tools to radically change some people’w lives.It is pretty doggone Great News, actually. Jesus Christ died on a cross for the sins of all mankind and rose from the grave. You can turn from your sins and place your faith in Christ. “For whosoever calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved.”

This week we are having a guest evangelist lead our church and a sister church in some training entitled, “Every Believer a Witness.” In a world where we have access to so many TV shows featuring a courtroom, we know that a witness is someone who tells what they know to be true from personal experience. We have been writing our stories, and I thought I would share mine.

I was born and reared in the thriving metropolis of Spartanburg, S.C. I was pretty fortunate to have both parents in the home, and I had one younger brother who swears I tortured him mercilessly growing up. I loved the early years. I spent most weekends with my maternal grandfather whom we all called “Pop”. He taught me to hunt and fish, how to ride a horse, and a multitude of other “guy things.” Life was simple, and good.

As a middle schooler I was a little short for my age, and somewhat “chubby”, and definitely not a part of the “in-crowd”. I remember being tremendously insecure and I lacked in self-confidence. I was an introvert. As I got older, my father became increasingly dependent on alcohol. He wasn’t funny. He was a mean drunk. I remember being too embarassed to bring friends to the house. I remember wishing our home was more “normal” as I imagined my friends’ homes to be.

We did go to church as a family. It was the Sunday thing to do. It was about the time I began middle school that our church group attended a summer camp in the mountains. I remember horseback riding, water-skiing, and square dancing at night. I also remember we had a missionary who spoke to us each night. On the last night of camp he talked about how Jesus came to rescue sinners. He pointed out that “all have sinned and come short of God’s glory” which I know now is Romans 3:23. Even though I had been a pretty good kid, I didn’t do drugs, drink smoke, and those kinds of things, but I knew that “all” included me.’

He told us that Jesus is God who became man, and that He died on the cross to take the punishment of our sins. He talked about how he was buried but that He rose again on the third day, all of this just as the Bible had promised. Then he told us that Jesus wanted to forgive each one of us of our sins and give to us eternal life. He asked anybody who wanted to let Jesus become their Savior and Lord to come down to the front of the room we had gathered in and talk with him. I had seen a public opportunity to respond like that once at a Billy Graham Crusade I had attended a couple of years earlier. I remember feeling drawn to the front to talk to him. He sat several of us down on the front row and after everyone else had left, he talked to us again about Jesus becoming our personal savior, and Lord of our lives.

He directed us to pray a prayer asking God to forgive all our sins and inviting Jesus Christ to come and live in our hearts. I did that. I vividly recall there was another boy at camp that I had fought with all week long. He, too, had responded to this same opportunity. I remember us hugging each other and apologizing to one another.

I did not realize they would, but apparently they turned my name into the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I started getting Bible Studies in the mail. They became a source of learning the Bible and beginning to grow as a Christian. Life wasn’t radically different. I do remember prayer becoming more real to me and studying my Bible as a young boy.

When I was in High School, I made a significant discovery. There were more girls at the Baptist Church my neighbor attended, so I began to go there. I am not sure why, actually, I was still relatively shy. (I didn’t become the suave and cool guy that I am today until college, LOL). It was at this Baptist Church that I began to believe God had a real purpose for my life and that I should become a minister. I attended college and seminary with that in mind. I married before seminary, and during these days I worked as a youth minister in a couple of churches.

Life was generally good. But in 1991, I returned from a trip overseas and life fell apart. My wife told me she didnt love me anymore, which eventually led to divorce. I found myself terminated at the church I had served as pastor. With three children to feed and provide for, life was tough. I began to be angry with God. I began to walk away from God. At one point, I even prayed, “God, if you will leave me alone, I won’t call your name.” And I meant it. I was stubborn, angry, confused, and I began to live without God as a major part of my life.”

I discovered that a BA degree in history, and a Masters degree in theology don’t mean much in the business world. THe only real options continued to direct me into sales, and eventually I owned my own business. I had remarried after a few years of single life, although I am not sure why she loved me in the mess I was in as an angry confused, and I felt like failure.

But she loved me and prayed for me. I attended church, even taught Sunday School, but things weren’t good between me and God. I lived on a spiritual roller coaster, and really a double life. But in 2004, God began to answer my wife’s prayers. God began to deal with me, and on February 5 of that year, I got up from my desk at work, went home, shut myself in a room, and cried out to God. I surrendered my life completely and totally to God. I remember joy replacing my anger, and faith replacing my fear. All my problems did not vanish, but God began to put the pieces together. My wife told me she got a new husband that day. She said before I had been a…, well just say it was another name for a donkey’s bck side.

Over the next few months, old friends began to come back into my life and encourage me. God fully restored me, and even opened doors for me to return to the ministry. The world had changed in the long years I wandered without God’s direction in my life. But some things remained the same. I discovered that God is faithful and loving. I found that He had a better plan for my life. He has a better plan for yours as well.

And that is my story, (at least a brief synopsis of it), and I am sticking to it.

After traveling to West Africa for five years on a pretty regular basis, I have come to appreciate and love African Proverbs. One is so simple: You eat an elephant one bite at a time. Just another way to say we face any difficult task one step at a time.

One of my favortie Bambara Proverbs is, “No matter how long a log floats in the river, it never becomes a crocodile.” When I ask them what it means, they say, “You can never be something that you are not.” So I ask, “If I carve it to look like a crocodile and set it in the river for one hundred years?” “No.” “Can the witch doctor transform it?” “No.”

“So, can a stick ever become a snake?” “No”. Then I tell the story of God calling Moses, and how God told Moses to throw down his staff, and it becomes a stick.” SUddenly the answer is, “Only God can turn a stick into a snake, or a log into a crocodile.” And the point ultimately is that only God can transform a person from being a sinner into a person who is righteous and can enter heaven.

“Therefore, if any person be in Christ, they are a new creation. Behold, all things become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

What if the big day arrived? What if all the guests were gathered? What if on that occaision you walked into the wedding feast and you couldn’t even recognize the one you were wed to? I cannot help but wonder if Jesus will recognize His bride, or at least the American version of her.

Jesus told Simon, “on this rock, I will build My Church.” When Paul was persecuting the early church, he received authorization from the Sanhedrin to arrest the members of this new cult “The Way.” But what if the church were so foreign to the plan that Jesus had, that when a church attempted to be like the scripture calls it to be, people called it a “cult”.

How much of what we do in our churches in American culture is based on tradition, and not on the Bible? How much is downright idolatry, as people sit around saying things like, “The way I figure it, or the way I see it is.” Sometimes folks will say, “My Bible says.” Is their Bible different? Does God give different peope different Bibles?

Getting back to what Jesus said. He promised that the very gates of hell could not stand against the church. So it seems if a church is a “Jesus Church” it is carrying the battle to the enemy, and it is winning. If a church is not doing that, maybe it is just a pretender.

Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.” Real disciples are people who have adopted the mission of Christ. They are in the people business, like Jesus was. And yet only 2% if the churches in America are growing by conversion, that is by reaching people and leading them to faith in Christ.

Is it possible that the American Church, by and large, is almost unrecognizable by the blueprint of the Bible? Think about it.

That title seems familiar. A song from my college days, and sung by the great theologians, “The Beatles”. But there is a long and winding road that so many travel. It is a road that leads to nowhere except destruction and death. It is the wide road that most travel, a Nazarene once said.

I remember hearing someone say, “It will take you farther than you wanted to go; it will keep you longer than you wanted to be; it will make you pay a price higher than you wanted to pay.” The “it” is sin. Sin is not relative. Sin is not found on a list of do’s and don’ts. Sin is rebellion against the God who created you.

God made man and woman for Himself. But Adam and Eve said, “We will be our own gods.” And they chose sin. For most of us it is much more subtle. It begins slowly. It has at its center, the letter “I”. sIn. I want, I will, I must, I can… I deserve. It is me, me, me, me. It is all about me.

I spend so much time with people who have made their choices, and made bad ones. Then they are praying desperately that God not allow the consequences of their sins to catch up with them. It is like sowing seed in fertile soil getting adequate rain and sunshine, but then praying that the harvest will not come in. I will have unprotected sex outside of the confines of my marriage, but God please don’t let me catch a disease, or have pregnancy result, and please don’t let my spouse find out. I will drink and drive, but God please don’t let me get caught or hurt anyone. God I will jump off the Empire State Building, but please don’t let me die.

We can make our own decisions and choices; God has created us that way. But we cannot choose the results of those choices.
Sin when fully conceived always results in death. The death of hopes and dreams. The death of marriages. The death of ministries. Sin takes you on a long and winding road that ultimately leads to hell.

There is another choice. It is a narrow road that few take. It is the Jesus Road.