Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Friend Is Sinning

My friend is sinning and I know he knows I know.  It is not a secret anymore.  It hasn’t been for some time.  Somewhere along the line, he and other sinners thought that if the world didn’t call his sin a sin anymore, that the terrible bondage that sin brought on his spirit would be lifted.  He forgot that the world calling it sin isn’t what makes it sin.  It is sin because the God who made us says it is sin and what He says is sin is only the stuff that destroys us and our relationship with Him.  It destroys us whether we think it does or not.

Redefining sin is not new.  Everyone has tried it.
“I didn’t hit him, Mom, I just tapped him!”
“I wasn’t angry, it was righteous indignation!” 
“I wasn’t lusting, I was just admiring God’s creation!”
“It wasn’t sin, it was only a mistake ‘cause I didn’t intend to do it.”

My friend says that I am afraid of sin.  He says I am sin-o-phobic.  Oh, I used to fear sin.  It was that “thing” that I just couldn’t seem to control.  I didn’t want it but I couldn’t shake it.  Then I thought that maybe it was me.  You know.  It was just the way God made me.  But then I thought, wait a minute.  God made me!  Sin did not!  Why should I let sin define who I am.  What does this sin know?  I think I will let God define me and my potential!

I do not claim that I am free of sin, but I am happy to tell you I am free from sin.  It no longer has its impossible hold on me.  It doesn’t scare me into silence.  It doesn’t hold me in its terrible trap of lies about me.  Its claim that because I have sinned that I am defined by that sin, no longer keeps me bound to that sin.  Christ has set me FREE!  Can you hear it in my best Mel Gibson voice… FEEEEDOOOOM!  No sin can separate me from the love of God!  Take that, sin!

Sin had its moment.  Oh, yeah!  It had God right where it wanted Him.  The crowd was with sin.  Yelling.  Calling for God’s death.  They had Him.  No one wanted Him.  He wasn’t popular.  Lies were told about Him.  They killed Him.  Buried Him.  It seemed like sin’s claim of ultimate power was finally proven true.  Then God rose from the grave!  Setting the captives of sin free once and for all!  Proving that sin’s claim of control over you and me was once and forever a lie.  God is our way of victory over the lies of sin’s power in our lives.

God convicts me of my sin and I am thrilled.  I don’t want that sneaky stuff in my life.  When I agree with God about my sin and repent, turn from it, renounce its claim to rule my life, God sets me free.  I invite God to cleanse me of its residue in my life and keep exposing any remnants in my life.  Conviction.  Repentance.  You guys are my friends.  You lead me to God’s truth about his power over sin.

My friend is sinning.  You see, he is afraid of his sin.  His braggadocios defense of sin or redefining sin is really his own sin-o-phobia.  I have been there friend.  It will not lead you to the freedom you seek.  It is only in Christ that I no longer fear sin and its power to dominate my life.  I am not afraid of you or your sin.  I am afraid for you.  But I will never give up hope for your freedom.  I love you, sinning friend.  If I can find the way out in Christ, so can you. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Is It Just Too Late?

"Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.  (James 4: 13-17, NIV)

I got connected recently to a stray website while checking about time.  It was a Calendar and Time Zone calculator.  I was about to leave the site when I notice an interesting calendar feature.  If I put in two dates, it would tell me how many years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes or seconds there were between any two dates.  Now since I was near a birthday for me, I was curious what it would tell me.  I knew the years.  But it promised to tell me how many seconds I have lived!  Are you ready?  I have lived:  3026 weeks or 21,185 days or 508,440 hours or 30,506,400 minutes or . . . 1,830,384,000 seconds!  In a little over 5 more years, I can hit 2 billion seconds of life!

That seems like a lot of time to have gone by.  Have I wasted it?  Is it too late for me to accomplish more in my life for God?

Now my granddaughter, Eva, will reach her first birthday soon.  The calculator says that she has lived just over 31.5 million seconds!  What has she done with all those seconds (other than learn to melt her grandparents heart with a smile over Skype!)?  Have they been wasted?  Is it too late for her?

Well, Eva, I guess someone might ask you what you have accomplished with your 31.5 million seconds.  Have you invented a new machine?  Have you started a world changing charity?  Have you made your mark on your chosen career?  Of course not.  You have been growing and learning.  You have been falling and picking yourself up.  You have been crying and laughing.  You have been watching and loving your parents.

There have been times when I have thought it was too late for me to do what God wanted me to do.  (Have you ever been there?)  I have let too many seconds tick by, too many lost opportunities.  I have seen others who have already done it sooner and better.  I tried it and it didn't work or wasn't received well.  I have been pretty harsh in my judgement of accomplishments with my time on this earth.

As excuses go for not doing what God wants you to do, time is a good one.  I can blame the past.  I can procrastinate to some unknown future.  Or, I can say now is the time to obey.  Now is the time.  "If anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. (unless they plan to do it tomorrow or now know its too late to try)

It is not too late…
…to go meet that new neighbor
…to make those cookies
…to read that Bible verse
…to call that friend
…to pray with my kids
…to witness at work
…to ask forgiveness long overdue

Not if I am willing to…
…repent to God of my sin of disobedience
…humble myself to my neighbor and co-worker that I should have done this sooner
…take a small step each day toward a big obedience
…let God redeem my time of disobedience
…let God draw on the lessons He has taught me during this "wasted" time
…risk stumbling one more time as I learn and grow

So, its OK Eva, we know a lot has been going on during this past 31.5 million seconds.  It hasn't been wasted.  I know your future is unknown and full of possibilities.  But when you are tempted to give up, to be overwhelmed to the point of stopping, just focus on today.  I am praying for your "today."

God, what good do I know you want me to do today?  Now on to the next seconds of my life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ministry Happens or Catching the Wave of Providence

Have you ever given up or were about to give up because your plan didn't come together.  Most of us live our lives with the illusion that life is linear and we can plan everything out and control all the variables with hard work.  Hard work is an essential to anything worthwhile, planning is important but perhaps Spirit-led adaptability is an overlooked  aspect of your life and mine.  I came across a quote from an author who describes these as "Goose trails" (I am not sure I have ever used that expression before!)

"When we don’t pace ourselves, we tend to miss divine appointments right and left. In fact, they seem like human interruptions. We get so consumed with trying to get where we think God wants us to go that we put on spiritual blinders and miss the Goose trails He wants to take us down. The key is slowing down your pace, taking off your sandals, and experiencing God right here, right now.
...Spiritual maturity has less to do with long-range visions than it does with moment-by-moment sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And it is our moment-by-moment sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that turns life into an everyday adventure."  (Excerpted from Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson)

I almost dismissed this as perhaps just one more excuse I could use for not planning well or anticipating change well.  Then I came across a different author.  He is a pastor of a very successful and growing church in the United States.   He describes his experience while speaking across the country and coming to the realization that what worked at his church was not necessarily what would work in other situations.  

"In many church growth stories, while leaders later point to principles that "got them there," they underplay the power of serendipitous, providential events of which they were able to take advantage. " (Dave Browning)

He used an interesting phrase to capture this thought, "Opportunistic Leadership: catching the wave of Providence."  Events that we believe are serendipitous are still in God's providential hands.  They only seem serendipitous to us.  What if God was working through your interruptions?  What if only we saw them as our failures and inabilities and God saw them differently as new opportunities for Him? 

I often wonder if I will ever be sure whether they were my failures in planning and execution or God's interruptions.  Could it be that it doesn't matter now?  I need to humble myself to God's plan, and ask Him to correct or instruct me from this point on.  I need to look around and see how He wants to use today.  Does He want a new direction?  Is there someone to whom I need to minister or something He needs me to do at this interruption/failure point.  

God wants to redeem our plans, our time, our failures.  Ministry is always about Him.  Don't stop planning and working hard in ministry.  Just stop seeing every interruption as your failure (or every success as your success).  Catch the wave of what He is doing, trust Him, and get used to being humbled by a God who sees and plans in ways beyond our understanding! (The watch what He can do through a confident, humble people!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sow Small Things

Yesterday we got a call from an out of town friend in need.  A friend since our first days in college.  We don't really get a chance to see each other much since I live a lot further away from that college.  His family was traveling without him and had an unexpected and scary medical need.  I couldn't do much but be a familiar face in a strange town for a little while.  It was a small thing.

Most of us do small things everyday and we think they don't amount to much.  Perhaps we are expecting the harvest too soon?

I am learning about sowing as a success goal in life.  John Maxwell has written:
Define success as sowing, not reaping.  So often people sow with the expectation of quick returns and are disappointed when that is not the case. Instead, we must sow and be prepared to wait for the harvest in due time. During that time, take a step back and recognize the immense impact you have on others. That is the true reason for living.
Then I read an excerpt from Robert Benson's book, Digging In:
“Gardens are about waiting and about hope as much as they are about anything. You wait for spring to come and for roses to bud out and for the earth to green up again. You wait for seeds to germinate and irises to spread. You wait for the dogwoods to turn white and pink and for the maple to go golden in the fall. And all the while you hold a vision of some new thing in your head, of what the garden will be someday. You cannot hurry it along, not any of it. Spring comes when it comes; roses bloom when they will; the garden grows at its own sweet pace. What it teaches you is to wait, to be patient, and to pay attention. Some morning the sun will rise, and something you have always dreamed of will come true.”
A seed is a small thing.  Most of us do a lot of small things, but it is hard to see them as valuable because our desire is so focused on the harvest.  Do small things matter?

If I eat enough small pieces of candy, I am going to gain weight and be unhealthy.  If I tell enough small lies, they will build a harvest of distrust.  Don't small things matter now as well as eventually?

Perhaps God will lead us to sow intentional, godly, small things in our lives.  Things that may not be appreciated or produce immediate harvest.  Prayer.  Scripture.  Love.  Wisdom.  Kindness.  Loving Correction.

It is His harvest anyway, isn't it.  So what?  Sow the small things that will produce a great harvest for Him.

Some of you are parents.  Sow well.
Some of you are working without much recognition.  Sow well.
Some of you have faithfully ministered to someone without harvest yet.  Sow well.
Some of you are teachers and educators.  Sow well.
Some of you serve others at your job.  Sow well.

You may be more successful than you thought!

It is His harvest, in His time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Learning Love

           Tomorrow is celebrated as Valentine’s Day.  Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the traditional pre-Easter Lenten season.  My thoughts have been turning to the theme of love that these days represent.
            For over 38 years, I have been loved by and in love with a remarkable woman.  My wife, Beth.  Before either of us really knew what was happening, we found ourselves enamored with each other.  At our first meeting at college, our friends left us talking together and it was much later that we realized they had all left us.  We were married when we were 20 years old and have been blessed with a marriage and mission together that we could never have planned.  I have learned love (and am learning love) by being loved by Beth.  She is always my champion when no one knows better that I haven’t earned that honor.  She has shared our ministry together in ways that few will ever know.  She raised our three sons with love and devotion.  Lately, she has loved me back to health after heart surgery.  In all those ways and through all these years, she has loved me.  I am so grateful that God brought us together and kept us together when love was so new to us.
            I was about 9 years old when God’s love got through to me.  I remember the conviction that came upon me.  It was real.  I needed a Savior.  Someone asked me once, what a 9 year old could do that would be so sinful.  I was as lost and hopeless as the greatest of sinners.  I knew He had forgiven me and died on the Cross for my sins because of His love for me.  God had come into my heart.  He showed me His love.  I had been changed.  I remember not wanting to do anything that would hurt the one I loved.  I had been changed and am being changed by His love.
            Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  Two days which remind me that I have learned love by being loved.  I have been changed by the love of God and the love of my wife.  Love someone today.  You may never know how much they are learning about love by being loved by you.  Let God love you and love through you!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Perfect Peace

"You will keep in perfect peace (Shalom) him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." Isaiah 26:3

The following two thoughts flow from living with Isaiah 26:3 and reflect a bit of my spiritual journey to understand how to practically live in and be kept in perfect peace.  

Thought One:  God gives peace as I deliberately (by my will, choose to) trust Him.  What do I trust Him for?  Just to make my life circumstances better?  What does "not perfect peace" look and feel like in my life?  What choices do you need to make today to trust Him in a way that He keeps you in perfect peace?   Teach me how to trust You, God, without conditionally holding my trust in You hostage to my circumstantial outcomes.

Thought Two:  I trust in His character and nature.  They are not defined by my circumstances nor do they predict my circumstances.  In my prayer and worship, I affirm by a choice of my will His nature and character.  When I find myself in “not-peace”, I discover I have become focused on the circumstances or possible outcomes rather than on His nature and character.  At that time, I can begin to affirm (with my tongue) His attributes (not His promises to me) and that brings a proper focus and the potential to receive His peace.  Shalom.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9, NIV)

I have been meditating on a quote I had been given that is attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."  It reminded me of several scripture passages concerning harvest and planting.  I decided to share the passage above from Galatians.

We live in age that expects harvest all the time, not just seasonally.  You boss does, your kids do, your parents do, your teacher does.  We expect our politicians to, our grocery store (why can't you get good fruit in the winter?), our bank accounts, our diets.  We expect results…NOW!
I guess a harvest is a reasonable expectation for your life.  Most farmers plant with an expectation of harvest.  But they expect the harvest in due time.  We must expect that God is the Lord of (and Scheduler of) the Harvest in our lives.  Not our impatience or the impatience of others.  What does "at the proper time" mean in your life today?  Should that be my goal today?  Can I only take joy today in the harvests I have or others bring me?  Maybe today I should focus on the "seeds" I am called by God to plant today and trust God for the harvest "at the proper time."  Where is your focus today?