Category Archives: Faith

Trust in God from Genesis 12

In Genesis 12 we have the story Abram.  In my series Walking with God, I spoke about Genesis 12:1-9 because of the great promises made to Abram for following God by faith.  After all, Abram left everything he was comfortable with to follow Yahweh to a place that was still not clarified to him when he began to literally walk.  In fact, he was even able to get some people to go with him!

Genesis 12:1-9 is a great look into what it means to place all of your faith (hope, security, control, physical well-being, trust, and etc.) in an invisible God.  This is a great story since Abram lived in a time of great idolatry.  Yet, he heard God!  He heard God in contrast to those idols who cannot speak.

In Genesis 12:10-20 Abram doesn’t do so well.  In fact, all of that faith that he placed in God seems to be for a fleeting moment.  In fact, this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to actual faith.  A famine broke out where Abram was.  Here is one of life’s circumstances that simply occurs beyond our control.  However, Abram’s stomach begins to control him because he decided to move on to Egypt so that he, and those who were with him, could find food.

In contrast to the earlier part of this chapter, where I bragged on Abram’s faith, Abram was not told by God to go to Egypt.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Abram left to go to the land that God would show him and for incentive God made great promises to him and those who were to come behind him.  In my mind, to leave in the first place, I would have to literally trust God to take care of me and my crew.  Yet, that is not what we are seeing here; at least from my vantage point.

Listen, if God was going to do all that He said He would do, then why didn’t Abram simply stay put?  Abram’s earlier trust should have come across his mind.  God had assumed responsibility for him.  He should have stuck it out, but he didn’t.  In fact, he told his wife to tell a half-truth that she was simply his sister.  Abram told her that since she was beautiful, he would be treated well and spared his life because of her.  Wow!  Where did the trust in God go?  He now seems to think that between the abilities of Pharaoh and Sarai that will be saved.

Even more troubling is that he allowed Pharaoh to take his wife to be his wife.  It is good to remember that God is Holy.  John Oswalt once said, “God is Holy! He is Holy for our good and our ill.”  Even though Pharaoh seems innocent, God is just and afflicted he and his people.  This seems to be God’s Holiness that brought ill on Pharaoh.  Further more, Abram is accumulating wealth at the expense of his wife being wife of Pharaoh!  So now we have innocent people being hurt since Sarai was born too soon for women’s rights to help her.  Likely, she didn’t have a choice in Abram’s decision; not to mention what was happening to the Egyptians people for not fault of their own in this situation.

Remember the promises God made Abram?  Since we know the story Abram, who later became Abraham, we know that God promised him and Sarai a son.  Yet, later since God seemed to be taking so long in fulfilling that promise Sarai she offered to Abram her servant Hagar.  So Abram impregnated Hagar and had Ishmael.  Nevertheless, this was not the Promised Son.  The Promised Son was to be born 14 years after Ishmael.

We have to consider how Abram’s decision to go to Egypt impacted this.  Is it possible that Isaac, The Child of Promise, could have been born sooner?  There is no way to know for sure, but consider that God would not want any connection possible between Pharaoh and Sarai.  After all, Pharaohs generally thought of themselves as gods on earth.  And for sure, I can imagine the talk among those in the camp with Abram and Sarai.

If this assessment is possible, then how much impact does a lack of faith have on God’s people?  It seems that we can prolong the good that God has in store for us by not following Him by faith.  In fact, it seems best to remain in the situation that brings you struggle until you hear from God.  Famines that drive us to make decisions irregardless of God are meant to be a time of testing our faith.  We may find that when we continually try to escape uncomfortable situations that we are demonstrating a lack of trust in God’s ability to maintain us in spite of what we face.  How much sooner would those in the camp with Abram have seen God’s power if he remained where he was?  And how much sooner would Abram and Sarai have received Isaac?  Thoughts to ponder.

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Filed under Faith, God, Holiness, Leadership, Miracles

Believing toward freedom

Before I came into a relationship with Jesus Christ, there was a point in my life that I wanted to be a good person.  In fact, I desired to become a good person for several reasons, such as, I felt sick about how I didn’t care for others, I wanted to be respected in the community, I wanted my wife to have a good husband, and I wanted to be different so that my children would not behave as I did.  What I found was that while I tried to do these things, I could not achieve peace with myself about the results.  Now the results were not simply centered around right actions; they also included right thoughts along with right actions.  I soon found that I could not become the person I wanted to be.

After a few years of trying to be different, I decided to try God.  I thought that if I got saved that somehow that would establish me as the person that I longed to be.  I decided to read the Bible, mostly because I didn’t know many Christians who would help me and from my experience I did not want to be associated with them.  As I read, I found that God had an entirely different plan for, not just my life, humanity as whole.  This knowledge enlightened me to the point that it became about desiring to know this God of the Bible instead of simply being saved.

Many people who are not associated with a community of believers realize that there is something missing in their lives as I did.  The problem is that God has outlined what is best for us in the Bible, but we generally do not find out for ourselves.  Instead, we rely on other Christians to tell us spiritual things that will make us feel better.  The problem is that most Evangelical Christians get stuck at the point of belief.  What I mean is that most simply point out that believing is what God does to make you and I saved.  Then the problem becomes that you and I, who have not been associated with church, find that we are still the same persons we were before getting saved.

Finding out that nothing has changed, both internally and externally, becomes troubling to those of us who have not been properly pointed to Christ.  After all, Evangelicals simply believe that we should get saved to avoid hell and to be ready for when we die or Jesus Returns.  This type of believing causes many of us who are giving church and Jesus a try to give up.  We learn quickly that simply believing has not helped us in this life now.  We are still in bondage to our poor attitudes and behaviors.  Yet, those of us who will turn to the Bible can learn that Jesus wants humanity to believe toward freedom.

Believing toward freedom, means to me, now that we believe in Jesus Christ and received Him as our Savior, what does that demand that we do?  Think about; the Bible is full of God’s plan for His people and continually communicating the importance of being different. This is where much of our problem occurs.  God wants us to be different from who we were before we established a relationship with Jesus.  Yet, we Evangelicals continue to be reluctant to tell those outside of the Kingdom, along with those who are new in the Kingdom, that God expects our belief in Jesus to bring us into freedom.  Freedom is being free from the internal and external issues that troubled us in the first place, which is why we investigated who Jesus Christ is.

God wants us to do more than simply believe in Jesus.  He wants us to become more like Jesus.  In fact, if we don’t and simply are satisfied to just believe, then are we really saved?  These are questions that are age-old, but these may need to be wrestled with again in the Evangelical circles.  Consider the Fruits of the Spirit, these are those characteristics that I longed to have but could not on my own.  Why?  Because Jesus was not involved in the change.  In fact, simply just believing in Jesus can also lead to Jesus being uninvolved in our character reconstruction.  The Fruits represent the freedom to be who, I and Jesus, desire me to be.

This is what I call believing toward freedom.  Freedom means that I am not locked into the hatred, jealousy, pride, and anger I felt all of time anymore.  So if you are someone who believes in Jesus, but you are not free to love God and others that would demonstrate that you are becoming more like Jesus, then you may not really be saved.  My Jesus came to set the captives free.

Here’s what you need to do.  Seek Him with all of your heart.  In other words, you have to desire Him for more than just avoiding hell.  You need to seek Him while surrendering yourself to Him so that He has the freedom mold and shape you into someone He wants you to be; this better than the person you tried to become without Him.  Pray to Him regularly.  Read His Word regularly.  Meditate on Him and His Word regularly.  Incorporate His commands into your new lifestyle.  Don’t give up.  If you surrender you life in these ways, then you will have the freedom be the person that loves God and others.

We need Christians to start teaching lifestyle change instead of lifestyle acceptance.  We need Christians to teach lifestyle change now instead wait until later change.  The Church needs people who model this change in a positive light instead of an unhappy negative light.  Believing toward freedom makes more sense than simply believe and you will be saved.  So what are you going to do about it?  Believe toward freedom.

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Filed under Christianity, Faith, Living it, Sacrifice, Salvation

Questioning salvation

As a pastor, I commonly hear other pastors who share about salvations and baptisms that take place at their churches.  I genuinely rejoice with them.  I don’t have many at my church and that does not mean that my church is not doing Kingdom work.   We still have several a year.  I want to establish that in my introduction because you should know the context I am writing from.  That way you can disagree with me and find flaws all day long in what I write on this subject of understanding salvation.

I write from a Wesleyan-Arminian point of view and that is mixed with experience.  A lot of my theology comes from reading my Bible and relating Scripture to what I believe I have experienced personally with Jesus Christ in my life.  However, I do not necessarily rule out completely all aspects of Calvinism.  Therefore, what I am writing does not always dispute Calvinism; except the more extreme point of view of living a life of sin and still being thought of as “saved” according to reciting The Sinner’s Prayer once.

The issue we must wrestle with is can we say someone is really saved as often as we have heard it?  Especially in the rather large numbers that some suggest?  It is possible, but we should consider what seems to be real, and reasonable, salvation.  This has to be wrestled with because if people are coming to Jesus Christ in the droves that we hear about, then we should see serious transformation of our local communities.  After all, if the Spirit of Christ is now dwelling in those who have been “saved,” then we should see many people living their lives in complete reverse of how they were living them before.

As I understand salvation, I realize that my heart has been regenerated.  This means that my heart is made new.  Or, restored to a point that I am no longer at war with God by the way I live my life.  Of course discipleship as a process and learning under the influence of the Holy Spirit will guide me and help me to change. With that type of understanding of being taught by Jesus, we have to say that when someone has a real experience with Jesus Christ there is a very noticeable change in the beginning of their new life.  In fact, others can see it and will question that person about why they are acting different.

Many times I hear pastors ask people to raise their hands if they repeated after them that they believe in Jesus Christ.  That is great to believe, but did that person repeating The Sinner’s Prayer really repent?  Frankly, you will not know until after that person has been placed in the same situations that tempted him or her to sin, and the result is that he or she chooses the way of Christ instead of sin.

I think that Calvinists and Wesleyan-Arminians would agree that if there is not fruit that demonstrates a change in the heart of the person, then that person has not been regenerated, or born again.  If this be so, then this may change the amount of people mentioned on a regular basis that many say our saved.  Let me talk out of the other side of my mouth now.  If someone repeats The Sinner’s Prayer with me, then I will share that with others and say they are “saved” too.  I think this is because we do not know what to do with that result, and this is the reminder that only God knows who is really saved.

I think that it is time to reconsider our great need to speak about numbers.  I also think that we need to explore different terminology that communicates salvation, but with the understanding that the person has begun his or her race with Jesus and now the person has to decide to finish as well.  Whether you believe in Eternal Security or not, you have to put that aside and ask yourself whether or not salvations are really taking place.  Further, I do not think that I even have to tap the issue of water baptism because, although Christians should be water baptized, we all know that someone can go down a dry sinner and come back up a wet sinner, which means not a saint.  Most of us have known personally people who fit this description.

Let me be clear in case you think that I am saying that people are perfect after salvation.  I am referring to people who make significant lifestyle changes after receiving Christ.  Yet, they will still stumble as they continue to strive to be guided more by the Nature of Christ that was pronounced to be birthed in them.  Nevertheless, they should be actively running the race with those who are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Salvation cannot include in it that you can still live your life in a similar way that you did before because you “prayed” The Sinner’s Prayer.  In fact, your life is centered around building up Christ’s Kingdom instead yours.  Seeing people building up The Kingdom is the sign that transformation has indeed taken place in their hearts.  This is why I feel a little leery of people raising their hands and believing they are now really dead to the flesh.

It seems to me that evidence should be considered before the pronouncement by those of us in ministry.  I think if we carefully reconsider our quick pronouncements of salvation and look for evidences of regeneration, then we would see different numbers that are more accurate in the long run.  My fear is that The Church and those who are without Jesus are confused about where they are in relation to each other.  Therefore, I wonder if instead we should consider being saved as a more accurate way of describing salvation.

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Filed under Christianity, Eternal Security, Faith, Salvation

From Jesus to my students

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Teens and adults need to spend some time meditating on these Scriptures, taken from Matthew 6:25-34, and consider what real importance is in this life.  These statements and rhetorical questions were spoken by Jesus while He delivered The Sermon on the Mount to the Jews.

Interestingly, the Jews who taught about God and served God, were stuck in a philosophy of being important in the eyes of others.  A lot like we Western Christians are today.  They focused so much on material things that it is possible they actually were  miserable and did not realize how important to God they were and are.

So to my students that I sub for, I want you to know that you all are very important to me.  What is more, you are extremely important to God.  Jesus said that we are worth more than the birds of the air.  It is a timeless truth.  God is going to give you what you need.

When you use the things, or friends, and popularity, to measure your happiness with who you are we all lose.  Whatever situation that you find yourself in, you need to know that you matter greatly to God.  You will never find your happiness in dating someone.  You will not find your happiness in owning cool things.  Unless you have ’69 Camaro SS.  Just kidding.  You will never find happiness in being like someone else.

You must never define your self-worth considering whether or not you have friends that you think would be good for you.  You must never find your happiness in doing things sexually for someone because you think you are really making them and yourself happy.  It won’t work.

What happens is that you might think you will find happiness in being wanted by others; or think that you are important in the sight of others.  Yet, it won’t work.  We must find our delight and peace in the words that Jesus spoke to the Jews, 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

We must find our joy in the fact, that Jesus gave Himself on the Cross so that not only would we be able to escape hell, but that we could live a truly happy life knowing that we have a God who is in Heaven that smiles on us because we make Him happy and are worth everything to Him.  He hurts when we hurt too.

These are some things that I wish that I could have understood when I was a teenager.  I want you all to know things like this about God because I care about you, but God cares even more.

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Filed under Discouragement, Faith, God, Teenagers, Youth ministry

4 Gravitational Pulls All Churches Experience

I took these notes from Andy Stanley at the Newspring Leadership Conference in September. 

Text: Acts 15:1-21

One of his comments about the Scripture was that a controversy arose about the need for surgery to be saved. 

He also said that every church has a “they.”

1) Churches always gravitate toward insiders and away from outsiders.  Jesus liked people who were nothing like Him.  The people liked Jesus who were nothing like Him.  Resist this pull in the way you preach, build, and etc.  We must keep our churches externally focused. Red flag prayer requests. Sin, sorrow, and death are what makes our message more important!  Lost people are what matters!

My take: Prayer requests must be centered on people finding Christ.

2) Churches gravitate toward law instead of grace.  People think categorically instead of relational.  Love must always overcome rules.  Acceptance paves the way to influence.  Use grace to sort things out.  We will have to accept people who sin; not the sin.  Homosexuality, abortion, fornication. 

My take: Those who live this way must not be influenced away from the church. The Holy Spirit can still work with them and that is His job. 

3) Churches gravitate toward complexity instead of simplicity.  Clarity.  Partner don’t pioneer; fund and volunteer for other organizations that are already doing it.  Don’t lose your uniqueness in your community.

My take: We are all unique and have a purpose in God’s plan.  Sometimes we need to simply cut the fluff away and focus on the one thing we do.  Discipleship should be a clear process too. 

4) Churches gravitate toward preserving and not advancing.  The Jews were trying to preserve the Law of Moses.  The same Law that God gave him.  Do not move into a protection mode instead of moving into the community.  We cannot protect assets before fulfilling the mission.  Think like a church plant. How did we think when we did not have money? 

My take: Protect mode really brings everything to a stop.  The assets that we protect are Gods; we must watch burying our one talent.  

4 Commitments

1-Be more concerned about who we are reaching instead of who we are keeping.

2-Let’s error on the side of grace.

3-Remain focused on our unique calling.

4-Remain open-handed.  We started with nothing we may end with nothing; and that is okay.   

This is great advice.  I think this advice is great for a small church pastor.  There is a lot to chew on and ponder on here.  Everything in these notes I took are applicable even my small church situation.  I recently shared this with my board.  My goal was to help us focus on what is important.

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Filed under Church Attendance, Church Health, compassion, Faith, God, Homosexuality, Leadership, Missional Resources, Newspring Leadership Conference, Small Church, Vision

What I want Teens to know

As a pastor I hear many stories from teenagers who struggle in different situations that they find themselves in.  Sometimes it is because of their own choices.  Other times they are in situations because of someone elses choice.  Parents, when you have kids there is more to life than thinking of yourself.  Sometimes it just works out that teens are placed in a hard situation.  Sometimes, it could be God who placed teens in a bad situation.  Just being honest. 

Here are some things I want to tell you that I wish I would have known.  I grew up in a hard situation too; and like you I did not understand why.  I was terribly angry, bitter, and hateful, toward people. 

You may find yourself being the class clown; but you know that it is not really you.  Sometimes you wonder, when nobody else is around, why you have to continue to be the person you show yourself to be.  The answer, you need to know someone pays attention to you.  What I want you to know is that God does because He has dreams for you even when others who are supposed to be important in your life don’t. 

You may find yourself alone.  You might think that nobody cares if you live or die.  Don’t fall for that!  More people do than you think, and again, God really does.  What looks like to you a situation that will never change, God knows it will.  You see the now in your life, but God sees the later (future). 

You may find yourself feeling the need to be sexually active because that is when you feel at peace and connected (I mean what seems like a good relationship because someone is listening) with someone.  Stop, because you feel worse and become angrier and more hurt.  You need to know that the other person is likely just using you which, at this point, is the last thing you need.

You may find yourself at odds with teachers and authorities who are in your life.  The problem is that they don’t realize, sometimes, how hard your life is right now.  They are trying to live their lives too.  You need to focus on the good that they give to you instead of the bad you receive.  Now consider, if you were in their place, you might bring the discipline too.  If you fight against those in authority over you, you will lose.  Don’t confuse giving respect, that is deserved, with getting pushed around some more. 

You might only have a relationship with one parent, maybe not even one, but I want you to know that this is not what God wanted for you.  Sometimes parents make mistakes, and they get caught in a cycle that keeps them from being able to change.  You might not know how hard they had it when they were in your shoes.  But God can make things happen for you, if you live for Him now.  What I mean is that if you live for Him now, He will have a better life for you later. 

I want you to know that all of the hard times that you face now will make you a strong person later.  And if you rely on God now, you will be a strong Christian later. 

I want you to know that you don’t have to choose to be uncaring.  It is okay, in fact, it is good to care even while it seems that nobody does for you.  This is character building because when things are good, it is easy to pretend to care for others. 

I want you to know your life that seem so bad now will get better.  I want you to know that I am frustrated for your sake and that I am mad with you.  But, I want you to have hope with me for your life later.  You are going to be great to your kids.  But you will have to choose it.  You have to ability to break the chain that has bound your family. 

I want you to know that not do I care for you, but God cares more than you know.  You can ask me things and you really need to ask Him things.  Read your Bible.  He is not angry with you and is not making your life hard because He doesn’t care.  He cares.  He can help you now.  Read your Bible and you will see this.

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Filed under Discouragement, Faith, God, Pain, Parenting, Reality, Youth ministry

Altar-ology

I had athoughts recently about Christian altars in the Sanctuary.  As a pastor, I wonder if anything of supernatural value actually takes place at them as part of worship service.  I also wonder if they are a fad that has been passed by, after all, they don’t seem to make same impact that the mourner’s bench did. 

Many fight coming to the altar today.  Christians and church-goers alike do not want to go because of fear.  Yet, it is not a right fear; if there is one.  It seems that people do not go because they are afraid of what they will look like in front of others in the church.  They are afraid that people will know that they have work to do in their spiritual lives.  Hey, we all do. 

Some have a healthy fear of the altar.  The altar should represent death to us.  It should be a place where people come to die to selves.  In other words, this is where we come to put our inner-man to death.  Yet, some might be afraid that the pastor is going to find out something or ask them to do something that is too personal.  Well, that is what God does. 

A problem I see with is that real work is may not be happening there anymore.  When people finally respond, some might be there to “help” the pastor because they do not want him to become discouraged.  When they arrive, some may think the pastor is taking too long in prayer.  Some may be there because someone shamed them.  Some may go down there because their friends are there.  They do not want to be left out.

Here is the challenge of the altar we Christians need to consider again.  As I mentioned earlier, the altar should be a place where someone goes to die.  This is a harsh act.  We do not want to put our egos to death.  We should not see Christians who were moved to come down, simply get up from the altar because the pastor said Amen.  Instead, people should be distraught and broken while at the altar.  I find it amazing that God works on people just before lunch and accomplishes what He wants to just in time to go to lunch.   

At the altar, people should be praying through; not simply going to say sorry without having the intention to change. Praying through means that we need to stay at the altar earnestly pleading that God change us from who we want to be into who He wants us to be.  This is why the altar is a place of great work that can only be performed by the Holy Spirit.  It should be an emotional moment in our lives.  It is at the altar that we go to be transformed; not to clear our consciences, but to cleanse them. 

Spurgeon saidonce  that the altar was a place where you and I can feel the sting of sin which helps us to get away from sin.  Many today simply want to stand up or raise their hand when the sermon is over so that the pastor will dismiss them in a timely manner.  Yet, I believe that God has more that He wants to accomplish with them and bids them to come and die in front of the church so that they can be transformed. 

I realize that God can work on us anywhere, but the altar still seems to be a place, when rightly used, to accomplish His tasks.  Laying broken at the altar is when the Spirit begins to recreate that which is distorted in us.  Where else are we going to have the best chance to die with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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