Sunday, November 17, 2013

10 Things You Can Pray For Other People

This list borrowed from Colossians 1:

1. Be thankful for the people God has brought into your life

2. Be thankful for the good things you have heard about other people

3. Be thankful that others have come to faith in Jesus

4. Be thankful for the love that people have demonstrated to you and others

5. Be thankful for the hope that can sustain people through their suffering

6. Pray for the increase of people’s knowledge of God’s will

7. Pray that people will have and demonstrate wisdom in their daily choices

8. Pray that people will understand the life circumstances in which they find themselves

9. Pray that people’s lives will be pleasing to God and bring glory to him

10. Pray that people’s lives will produce fruit, specifically that they will bring others to know God

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Be A Fool

A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!"

On the surface, it would appear that this is an astute business man. He worked hard, he profited, he invested his profit to secure his wealth and provide for the future. This sounds like good sound stewardship.

Yet, in verse 20, God calls this man a fool. Why?

First, he was foolish because he had a faulty view of success. As we are all sometimes guilty of doing, he believed that his success was solely a result of his own hard work. Yet when we look more closely at the story, we can see that Jesus told it very intentionally to demonstrate that success in life, work, or anywhere else is something that God provides for us.

In the story, it is the farm that produces the fine crops, not the rich man; and Jesus describes the farm as “fertile.” It was ready to go. This man literally reaped the benefits of God’s creation. That the land produced more than he expected is another evidence of God’s provision. Any time we receive more than we expect, we should remind ourselves that this is from God, not something we deserve. While the man certainly invested and worked to produce a crop, without the hand of God he never would have succeeded.

His greater mistake, though, was responding wrongly to the blessings of God. He chose hoarding over generosity. Here was a man who had been given far more than he expected, far more than he needed, probably more than he even wanted. Perhaps he could have given some of his crop away? Perhaps he could have used his excess to meet the needs of those in need. Instead he chose to build bigger barns.

Have you ever seen the television show “Storage Wars”. It follows a group of people who purchase storage units which are in default. The show is part of a recent trend in television which includes shows like “Pawn Stars”, “American Pickers” and several other shows which follow a new industry being born in our country which is based solely on people’s massive accumulation of stuff and their inability to hold on to it.

Take a moment and contemplate how many self-storage units have sprung up in cities across America in the past decade. They are everywhere. We have so much stuff that our houses can’t hold it, so we build bigger barns.

One summer, several years ago, I spent a week in Chicago with a group of high school students.  We went to several different soup kitchens and helped make the food, set the tables, serve the meals, and clean up.

During those evenings I met some incredibly fascinating people.  After the men and women ate their meals, some of them were willing to stay around and talk.  I listened to their stories about which churches served the best meals in their basements, and which parks the police were most likely to kick them out of, and what was the best way to keep your bag full of things from getting stolen.

They didn't talk very much about their storage problems.  No one complained that their closet was too small. One guy commented that he wished the basket on his bicycle was larger.  It wasn't quite big enough to hold all his stuff.

All his stuff.

He could almost fit everything he owned in a bicycle basket.

An enormous number of people in our world would look at the storage units which have become so prevalent in our country, and would salivate at the thought that maybe someday they could live in a house so large.

Bigger barns.

Let me take a minute and point out what this story is NOT about. Jesus is NOT saying that wealth is wrong. Jesus is NOT saying that it is wrong to have nice things. Nowhere does Jesus ever teach that everyone should have the same amount of everything; in fact, he touches just the opposite. He teaches that everyone is given different amounts of different things. Some people have been blessed more than others financially or materially or with intelligence or athletic ability. God gives to all as He deems best, but His expectation of all is the same.

Use what He has given you as He would use it.

God said to the rich man, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Nothing you accumulate on this earth will last. So Jesus said, “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly possessions but not have a rich relationship with God.”

The rich man died. We all die. And we cannot take it with us. From an eternal perspective, money is not important and money does not last.

But seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Were You Doing 10 Years Ago?


Before Facebook, before Twitter, before Instagram or Snapchat... There was Blogger.

And I was blogging. Those blogs are no longer accessable to the public, but every so often I look into the archives to see what kind of person I was back then. "Disturbed" seems like a good description.

Ten years ago, I wrote this:

I think that Celine Dion would make a great hit-person. if you saw her walking toward you, the last thing you would think was that she was there to kill you. (Celine, if you are reading this, i have nothing against you, i think you are a magnificent musician). But here's the best part, as you lay there dying in a pool of your own blood...getting cold from the blood surrounding you, but also because you get cold when you die...she could sing to whatever you wanted. i would probably choose Ave Maria, not because i have and special fondness for Mary or anything, but it is just a great song.


Monday, November 11, 2013

5 Commitments That Could Revolutionize Any Church

We commit to focus our efforts on pleasing God, even if that means not pleasing some people.

We commit to investing in our neighborhoods, even if that means investing less time at our building.

We commit to speaking the TRUTH in love, even if that means we’ll be accused of being unloving.

We commit to serving with all we have, even if that means losing all we want.

We commit to die to ourselves, even if that means living a way we never would have imagined.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Once for All. The Most Important Words in the Bible?

Hebrews 9:26 says:

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Three words in the middle of that verse define the distinction between Christianity and every other religion in the world.


Virtually every world religion shares one fundamental similarity. At the heart of the religion is instruction for achieving "eternal life", or whatever else might be the ultimate goal of the religion (eg. Nirvana, Heaven, etc.). Another way to say this is to say that the majority of religions tell you what you need to do. I think this concept of religion resonates with most people.

Let me provide a few examples.

Buddhism is built on a process of holding to or believing four noble truths. The fourth of these noble truths instructs Buddhists to follow the eight-fold path, which is a list of eight activities designed to help the Buddhist gain liberation from attachment and suffering. Following the eight-fold path means doing the following:

  • Right View
  • Right Intention
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

According to the Buddha, apart from doing these things, one cannot hope to rid himself or herself of attachment or suffering, and has no hope of reaching nirvana.

Islam is a religion which many consider in the same family as Christianity. Muslims find their roots in Abraham's family tree (albeit their branch is Ishmael, not Jacob). Muslims are monotheistic, a trait they share with Judaism and Christianity (and maybe some "Christian-like" cult groups).

The core of the Islamic ethic is rooted in the Five Pillars of Islam. These five activities are the core of the Muslim's hope to one day find their way into the heaven of Allah:

  • The shahada -- a confession that there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet
  • Ritual prayer, five times a day
  • The giving of alms to aid the poor and further the advance of Islam around the world
  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • A pilgrimage to Mecca (those who are physically unable or cannot afford a pilgrimage are exempted)
(I've listed here the Sunni Muslim pillars. Other branches of Islam have slightly different but essentially similar pillars)

As with the Buddhist, performing these duties is essential for the Muslim if he hopes for a "good ending" in the after-life.

Most people assume (understandably so, due to the obvious emphasis of nearly every world religion) that our destiny in the afterlife is directly tied to what we DO in this life. Many people even assume that this is the perspective of Christianity, that our adherence to the rules in the Bible affects our ability to make it into heaven.

This is the misunderstanding that Hebrews 9:26 corrects.

First, let me point out what some might view as the ethical foundation of Christianity. Many people would view the eight-fold path and the five pillars as parallel lists to the ten commandments of Judaism and Christianity, or the three commandments of Jesus in the new testament (Love God, Love your neighbor, Love one another). However, the Bible is CRYSTAL CLEAR that someone who adheres to the ten commandments and/or the three commandments all their life will NOT earn their way into heaven.

The message of Christianity is that no to-do list of good deeds will ever be sufficient to eradicate the sin that separates us from God (if this post wasn't getting too long already, I'd discuss how our first three years of life and college put us so far behind on the good deed-bad deed ledger that we can never hope to catch up).

If you'll notice in this verse, Jesus does ALL the work. Nothing is left to us. While other verses explicitly discuss our weaknesses, this verse clearly implies our inability to be right with God on our own.

Instead, we rely on the fact that Jesus has already accomplished the necessary work to make us right with God. We only need to rely on His work on our behalf.

His sacrifice was ONCE. It requires no on-going work on our part, it requires no repetition, it requires nothing in the future. It was a one-time historical event that eradicated the penalty of sin for all who believe.

His sacrifice was for ALL. We can understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all people of all races, tribes, creeds, etc. We can also understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all time, it left nothing undone that needed to be done.

According to the Bible (Hebrews 9:26 particularly), my eternal destiny is completely dependent on ONE past historical event. My ability or inability to follow a list of rules or an ethical code has no impact on my standing with God. phew!

It boils down to this:

Religions require an ongoing process of deeds as the only way to be purified from wrongdoing.
Christianity recognizes one righteous act by God was sufficient to put away sin.

How do you respond to this truth?

  • For some, this brings great relief as they willingly place their reliance in Christ's work
  • For some, this brings confusion as it conflicts with life-long deeply held notions about religion, God, and Christianity
  • For some, this brings frustration as they still cling to the idea that they are good enough on their own to be okay with God and therefore they don't need someone else
  • For some, this causes laughter as they simply cannot conceive of such a simple salvation

How do you respond?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What is Salvation?

I was recently involved in an interesting discussion about the nature of faith and salvation. As I thought about some of the things we discussed, I went back into the archives and found this draft I wrote many years ago about salvation and evangelism. It's worth consideration:

What is “salvation”? Many within the church misunderstand salvation, and therefore we must be certain to hold a proper concept of salvation before we attempt to explain it to others. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Salvation comes directly and only from God. It is something that can absolutely not be achieved by any action. Herein lays a common and serious misunderstanding of salvation. We are not saved by something we do. We are saved by something we have, namely faith.

Faith is not something we can develop, it is not something we can find, and it is not something we can purchase. It is the gracious gift of God. This is encouraging for the evangelist. If the possession of faith of others was dependent upon our abilities, we would likely fail, and at best we could have no confidence that any would be saved. However, it is not up to us. We are assured that faith will happen through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:13-15). Thus the role of the evangelist is to proclaim the truth of God, depending upon the work of the Spirit to regenerate the darkened mind of the unbeliever.

If faith is the true measure of the evangelist’s success, how can he/she know when he has been successful?

Life change must be the measure. True faith is evidenced by life change (James 2:14-26). Thus it is imperative that our evangelistic method be more than just a cognitive exercise; for a cognitive exercise will most likely produce only a cognitive awareness.

Our method, while appealing to the mind, must also be experiential in nature. Faith, when received will lead to baptism (Acts 2:38), a new way of life (Eph. 5:8), and ultimately the multiplication of one’s own faith into others (Matthew 13:23).

Therefore, our evangelism must present the faith as the entrance into a community of believers, living counter-cultural lives, bearing witness to Christ’s work in them. This experiential element of evangelism may for some, be far more powerful than any well-crafted argument.