Archive for January, 2011

Satan does all that he can to keep his entanglements in the lives of people wanting to head for a new life of salvation in Christ.

For he knows that if a clear, complete cut of ties to the old ways is made, he’ll have much less influence to reeling the new believer back under his control.

That’s why it is so important for Christians, particularly new believers, to be ultra careful to sever ties that are intended to maintain Satan’s influence in their lives.

A man who becomes a Christian has no business still bellying up the bar with his drinking buddies and acting like he always has except for drinking non-alcoholic beer.

And a woman who becomes a Christian has no business loitering as usual in the circle of co-workers who are verbally slicing and dicing others as if they were workers in a meat-packing house.

We are to leave behind the old ways.

The writer of Hebrews calls it laying aside the sins the world that “so easily entangle” the believer.

Leaving entanglements behind was selected today as a devotion topic because of what I read in Sunday’s segment of the One-Year Bible. Moses had told Pharaoh repeatedly of God’s command for the Hebrews to go into the wilderness to worship. Moses didn’t tell Pharaoh the whole story about God’s plan to lead the Hebrews to Canaan, yet the Egyptian ruler knew that there was more to Moses’ story.

That’s why he didn’t want to let the Hebrews head off into the wilderness with all their livestock. Pharaoh reasoned that the Hebrews just wouldn’t come back and then he’d have to replace over a million slaves.

In Exodus 10:25, though, Moses told Pharaoh that “not a hoof is to be left behind.”

Moses explained that the Hebrews didn’t know just how God would use the animals but they wanted to have all of them available for worship as God led them.

Pharaoh didn’t like this explanation, of course, and rejected the Hebrews’ request for permission to leave Egypt “to worship.”

God’s will was done, though, at a horrible cost to the Egyptians.

Moses had no intention of going back to Egypt after heading toward a new life.

That’s why it was so important to not leave even one hoof behind.

For only bad would have come from returning to Egypt to collect something that should have been brought the first time.

Please, dear friend, closely examine your life to see if you’ve left any hooves behind in your past “Egypt.”

When you repent of a sinful action or pattern of behavior, don’t maintain ties to people or things that require you to go visit your old barstool or your old gossip circle or your old spending habits or your old whatever.

Cut the cord.

It’s not about hating the people of your past.

Even the Hebrews brought a number of Egyptians with them into the Wilderness.

Instead, it’s about hating the poisonous environment that hates you and strives to enslave you.

Struggle with Internet porn? Put the computer in the family room where everybody can see what you’re surfing.

Struggle with bitterness? Invite a dose of accountabilitiy by asking a close friend to monitor how you’ve been giving encouraging words, notes or deeds to the person who wounded you.

Struggle with despair? Make a covenant with yourself that you won’t allow your mind to ponder any of your pain until AFTER you’ve prayed sincerely for wisdom and strength to overcome it and asked somebody to pray with you.

Cut the cord, my friend. And don’t leave a hoof behind.

As always, I love you

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Some Christians probably get tired of reading biblical mandates to forgive others.

To them, the recurring message of scripture might seem like a mother’s admonition to “Clean up your room!” that keeps being neglected.

The patient mother knows, however, that the room won’t clean itself and that laziness toward personal habits lays a foundation to larger, costlier problems.

And so her admonitions continue.

To stop them is to settle for disarray, something that is never good.

Today’s reading in the One-Year Bible contains another admonition to forgive others.

It’s in Matthew 18 and involves the question of Peter who asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

It is supposed by Bible scholars that Peter was thinking he’d impress God and Jesus by this implied willingness to give others seven strikes before saying, “You’re out!”

And the fact is that many people never reach that threshold of forgiveness toward others.

The grudges are just too tasty, too sticky, it seems.

But Jesus wasn’t impressed.

In fact, Jesus said one should forgive another 490 times at a minimum. Of course, Jesus was using hyperbole in order to make a point that Christians aren’t to keep score regarding forgiveness.

For to do so implies a deep root of hypocrisy. And Jesus points this out quite clearly in His parable that follows.

We all are quick to desire the forgiveness of others, even if our pride blocks us from verbalizing it.

If only we were as quick in our desire to forgive others.

Jesus said elsewhere that God will forgive us according to the pattern that we use to forgive others.

That’s a very tough teaching for many.

Because many are clinging to very tasty, very sticky grudges.

Please, my friend, view grudges as poison.

Because that’s just what they are.

No matter how badly we’ve been wounded by another, no matter how distasteful the idea of letting the offender(s) off the hook — regardless of whether they ask forgiveness or not — we’ve got to let it go.

For the consequences of rebellion against God just might leave us forever with something infinitely more distasteful than a bowlful of swallowed pride.

Please…. forgive always. Without keeping score.

The benefits are out of this world.

As always, I love you

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It’s not difficult to determine if a congregation is focused on its long-term future.

Just look at how it ministers to children.

If the classrooms and teachers are prepared for learning and loving each Sunday or when other sessions occur, a solid foundation is being laid for generations of ministry.

If there are other opportunities at least several times a month for kids — and even their parents — to get together for recreation and education, then the congregation is on the road to becoming a growing, extended family with an infectious nature.

If the above are neglected, the future is not good for the congregation.

This is to be a matter of intense prayer for every congregation, including mine.

Demographic and generational shifts have had a significant impact upon the congregation that I started serving with several months ago. But there are still hundreds of thousands of people within a 20-minute drive, including hundreds of thousands of children.

That means that opportunity exists to reach kids and their parents.

And that means that my congregation, like others in the area, is called to provide classrooms and teachers prepared for learning and loving.

I recognize that I need to pray more for this and recruit more for this and train more for this.

And I need to ask our wonderful roster of current teachers to do the same.

It’s that important, Jesus taught.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:11-14).

Jesus said just before the above statement that whoever “welcomes” a child in His name is actually welcoming Him.

That means that however we minister to children is a reflection of how we want to minister to Christ.

So ask yourself this question: What impression does my congregation’s children’s ministry give visiting parents regarding my/our love for the Lord?

The man in the parable did whatever it took to bring the wandering lamb into the fold.

Are you? Is your congregation?

Are you both rejecting the temptation to see children’s ministry as just another church budget item perhaps needing cut?

Invest in the future, my friend.

God did when He sent you into this world as a child.

Please provide a good return to God for that investment by doing more to help your congregation invest in “welcoming” Jesus via ministry to children.

As always, I love you

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It doesn’t happen much to most of us, but when it does, it’s quite disconcerting.

I’m talking about those times when we’re actually accomplishing much for the Lord and others are seeing how God is so graciously working through us and then the Enemy sends a poisonous gossiper into the mix.

The gossiper doesn’t spew the caustic comments to us, but instead to our close friends and associates.

The idea is to destroy our credibility and, thus, our influence.

I wish I could say this has never happened to me.

I can’t.

It’s part of being in ministry, unfortunately.

But this faith-testing circumstance isn’t limited to pastors.

Most every layperson who is serious about serving the Lord has been bruised by the baloney told others about him or her.

Rather than fight fire with fire, we are called to boldly do what’s right and actually remove any basis for the complaints against us.

We cannot out-gossip the gossipers.

And we should not expect gossip from us to stop others from gossiping.

We are called to always do the right thing in a way that shows our commitment to play by the rules.

Simply put, the best way to respond to lies is to live by the Truth.

This is the message that jumped off the page this morning while reading from Matthew 17:24-27.

Some Jewish temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked if Jesus paid his annual two-drachma tax.

Notice that they didn’t go to Jesus first and ask for the money.

Here’s what they said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

Cynicism dripped from their words.

Peter, though perhaps not being sure of the answer, immediately answered, “Yes, He does.”

Peter went to the house where Jesus was staying in Capernaum and, before he could even ask about the tax, Jesus taught that kings don’t pay taxes, others do.

But in order to not “cause offense,” Jesus told Peter to go fishing, opening the mouth of the first fish he caught in order to pull out a four-drachma coin for Jesus’ tax payment AND Peter’s.

The lesson for us is this: Sometimes the best response to those trying to pull the rug out from under our standing in others’ eyes is simply to make sure we do the right thing, not only in our eyes but in the eyes of the one(s) hearing the gossip.

If you learn that one close to you is hearing gossip about you, determine to demonstrate your integrity to that person in an unmistakable fashion.

The objective should not be to shut up the gossiper. Such hearts are typically darkened and slow to respond to your patient persuasion.

Instead, the objective should be to shut the ears of your friends to the lies of the gossiper.

And that will happen as your credibility is affirmed over and over again.

That’s what worked for Jesus. That’s what has worked for me. And that is what can work for you.

As always, I love you

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If I planted weed seeds in a flower pot, I shouldn’t be surprised if weeds are what grows out of it.

“Well, duh…” you might be thinking.

Okay, but I have a question that we each need to ask ourselves.

What seeds are we allowing into the garden patch of our lives?

I’m talking about the spiritual and emotional soil given us by the Lord in the form of our minds and hearts.

If there are weeds or thorns — or both — in any aspect of our lives, then we need to start pulling more and we need to start protecting more.

Spiritual weeds are never accidental. Satan is always broadcasting the seeds and sometimes even offering us a handful “for free.”

But he never sticks them into our soil on his own. We have to allow him or sometimes we take the seed and plant it ourselves.

That’s why he is called the Tempter, not the Planter.

We have the choice to plant the seed, a choice we too often make.

You know the weeds growing in your life.

You know who handed the seeds to you or who was invited to plant them as you watched with blinded anticipation for a tasty harvest of pleasure or revenge or wealth or prideful “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.”

Here’s God’s warning about the garden patch of your life:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

If you were in the business of selling greenhouse roses, you would be hyper-careful about what got into the soil in the flower beds.

Your survival as a business would depend on guarding the soil from corrupting seeds.

And so it is with our harvest of faith.

Let’s be hyper-careful about what we let into the soil of our lives.

Reject temptations to watch TV shows or movies that condone sin.

Avoid conversations with co-workers, classmates or relatives that decay into carnality, either with sexual innuendo or with animosity/condescension toward others or into straight-up, old-fashioned griping.

See as poison any offer to spend money that might prompt you to cut the amount of offerings you are giving to God on Sunday.

The list of weed seeds is much longer than my time window for providing examples, so I’ll stop.

Please remember the simple principle you’ve heard many times: garbage in, garbage out.

If you don’t want to serve garbage to God in terms of the life He seeks from you, then keep the garbage from coming into your heart.

Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all for the glory of God.” (Colossians 3:17)

As always, I love you

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Jesus loved the people from His hometown and surely wanted them all to embrace Him as Savior.

But it was not a surprise to Him that few actually did.

Matthew 13:53-58 in today’s daily Bible reading tells the story of how Jesus taught and tried to heal many in Nazareth, but the people were skeptical of Him.

They said that they knew Him as just a carpenter’s son and that they knew His large group of siblings.

The inference was that because Jesus’ dad wasn’t a big shot and because his siblings might not have been special people, then Jesus couldn’t be special, either.

In essence, Jesus was judged by His past and by His family peers.

The last thing the crowd wanted was someone from Mary’s household telling them what to do.

In fact, the Bible says the crowd was offended by Jesus’ telling them of needed life changes.

Sadly, Jesus left the area with very little ministry success having been accomplished.

It had to have been one of Jesus’ more disappointing days.

Some of you know how Jesus felt.

You’ve tried to share your faith with words that point others to God and you’ve tried to share deeds of help so that others might find relief from hurting situations.

But your efforts have been repulsed because people rejected you as a means of rejecting your family or your past lack of public acclaim.

They’ve pointed to what you used to be or to the “nothing special” family from which you’ve come.

I wish this kind of blind, prideful backlash never happened.

But it does.

Just like it did for Jesus.

Rather than fretting over the many who reject your compassionate desire to help, it is better to thank God for the opportunity to help a few.

For even one person who finds help and hope through your caring sharing will make all your efforts worth it in God’s sight and, hopefully, your own.

Remember the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in order to go find the one?

Keep caring. Keep sharing. Keep daring.

God will keep you in His flow of love, power and inspiration as you do.

And the one or two people you lead to Jesus in your “home turf” will celebrate with you forever.

As always, I love you

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The Great Recession that has financially hammered so many millions of Americans has provided a compelling reminder of the need for a Plan B mindset.

In fact, countless people have already burned through Plans B, C, D and working on Plan E just now.

It’s been SO difficult for so many.

A silver lining to this enduring season of dark clouds is that the financial management DNA of countless people has been altered.

The percentage of people adding to their credit card debt is plummeting.

The number of people taking out mortgages to buy houses is dropping.

The number of people actually putting money into savings accounts is increasing.

And the percentage of people paying for purchases with cash or with debit cards is at record levels.

Why the changes? These people want to exit from their status as slaves to debt and are working toward that end.

Wisdom says it is better to be prepared in advance for when tough financial times come along.

Many of you were and are making it through this Great Recession without filing bankruptcy. It hasn’t been easy, of course, as many spending patterns have been changed or simply scrapped.

But you’ve paid your bills and hopefully you’ve trusted the Lord with your tithe offerings.

If you haven’t, you’ll need to do the math and to play catch-up in order to show God that you’re more loyal to Him than to the thing or trip that you’ve put off purchasing until you had more money.

Why this topic today? I read this morning in Genesis 41 about God’s inspiration to Joseph regarding the seven years of abundance in Egypt that preceded the seven years of famine.

Because of Joseph’s wisdom regarding putting a 20 percent portion into savings during the good times, millions of people were able to survive during seven years of famine.

No, it wasn’t easy, this time that was SO much more difficult than our Great Recession.

But the people made it through to the other side of the famine.

There are so many stories in the Bible that can help us to make practical decisions that can greatly improve our lives.

This is one of those stories.

As you are able and disciplined, increase the amount of money you save monthly. You might not reach 20 percent of your gross income as did Pharoah’s kingdom during Joseph’s supervision, but any increase will be an improvement.

The more you save, the less likely you’ll be a slave.

I’m working — and cutting — toward this end. And I’m striving to remember my tithe check when I head out the door each Sunday morning.

I pray that you will, too.

As always, I love you

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