Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pride and Prayer - Guest Post by Walter Cooper

Most Christians desire a powerful prayer life. Most of us realize that sin hinders our prayer life. Though sin is not ranked in order of severity, “sin is sin,” the consequences of some sins are more severe than others. I think that PRIDE, POSSIBLY HAS THE MOST SEVERE CONSEQUENCES.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:  “There is nothing into which the heart of man so easily falls as pride.  And yet there is no vice which is more frequently, more emphatically, and more eloquently condemned in Scripture.”

“Pride” is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as:  “the state or quality of being haughty or self-serving; having too high an opinion of one’s self.”

The Pharisee’s prayer was concerned with “telling” God what a good man (the Pharisee) he was.  He had kept the law by fasting and tithing… and that to the smallest detail.  The Pharisee also considered himself better than other people because he was using people as his standard of righteousness.

On the other hand, the Publican used God as his standard of righteousness and realized he must throw himself on the mercy of God for forgiveness.  His only prayer was “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

“Pride goeth before destruction.”   And Spurgeon adds, “No matter how dear you are to God, if pride be harbored in your spirit, he will whip it out of you. They that go up in their own estimation must come down again by His discipline.”

Could it be that the sin of pride is THE sin that most cripples our prayer lives?  If so, what can we do about it?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Convenience Store Evangelism

There is a Cumberland Farms between my house and my office. For those who do not know, a Cumberland Farms is a gas station/convenience store chain that is open 24 hours a day. I go in almost every day and have a large soda because I prefer my morning caffeine to be carbonated. Because I go in almost every day, I have gotten to know the employees as well as the other regular customers.

But the other day I had an extremely busy schedule and started my day much earlier than normal. It was only 3 AM when I went into the store. There were a number of people I did not know. Though I greeted them, as is my custom, they barely gave me a nod back. Keep in mind that it was 3 AM, and many people are not overly happy at that early hour.
But as I got my drink and made small talk with the employees, I could not help but notice the complete lack of hope in the eyes of the other customers. Though I have lived in the area for 18 years, I only recognized one of the other customers, a young man who had been in the youth group at my former church. He did not recognize me, though I greeted him. He too had a sad and forlorn look in his eyes.

I was so taken by their sadness that I hung back for a few minutes, pretending to look at other merchandise, hoping for an opportunity to speak of word of joy into someone’s life. But the ebb and flow of the conversations they were already having with each other did not afford such an opportunity and eventually they all left the store.
In the days since then I have not been able to get the sad look in their eyes out of my mind. Their conversations, which I could not help but overhear, were filled with sadness. The sadness that seemed to consume them was more than just 3 AM sleepiness; it was from deep within their hearts.

Those precious people need a touch of joy in their lives. They need a life changing encounter with Jesus! Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came to give abundant life. Jesus came for people just like them. Someone who knows Jesus must introduce these precious people to Him.
I have been wondering lately what it would be like if several Christians adopted our Cumberland Farms and each took a turn showing up at 3 AM and just letting Jesus shine through them. It would definitely be different than the traditional Tuesday night “visitation” sponsored by the church I grew up in. But somehow, it seems that it is the kind of “visitation” that Jesus would engage in. Anyone want to join my visitation team?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The New Fundamentalists

Joel Belz wrote an interesting column in the January 28, 2012 issue of World magazine entitled “The New Fundamentalists.” In the article he talks about how the word “fundamentalists” used to mean that a person believed the fundamentals of the faith. Therefore, it was a complement to say a person knew the “fundamentals” of Christianity. But somewhere along the way that term came to describe people who wanted to force not only their viewpoints, but their rules, on other people. For the vast majority of people in America, that is what the word means today. Consequently, when a person is called a “fundamentalist” in today’s nomenclature, it is no longer a complement.

In the article, Belz makes the point that in the past it was those on the far right who have been viewed as the “fundamentalists” for forcing their conservative views on others. But he points out that there is a new breed of fundamentalists that have arisen in our society, those who have emerged from the far left. These new fundamentalists have somehow managed to get into many key power positions in our culture and our government. These new far left fundamentalists are not just content with sharing their views with others, which would be perfectly fine in a free society. They want to take it one step further and force their views and their rules on others. Belz suggests a number of ways in which “rules” (he calls them “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”) are being created by the far left and forced onto society as a whole. He points out that “whatever you think of Congress, it’s very inefficiency provides a brake on many silly and arbitrary statues. But when such rule-making is moved from the legislative chambers and happens in the back offices of regulatory agencies, there’s little to slow down the goofiness.”
Though I have not done all the research to fact check Belz various examples, I tend to agree with him when he says that we should be wary “of modern day fundamentalists.” Our children will have to live with whatever is left of the society we are building. If we load society down with so many rules about every aspect of life, how will the next generation be able to function in business, in education, or in the areas of religious freedom and free speech that have made America what it is? This is something that all of us in leadership should be thinking about. Are we simply replacing one brand of fundamentalism with another? And if so, why do we think it will work any better?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Religious Militants - Guest Post by Chris Beltrami

mil·i·tant   n.  A fighting, warring, or aggressive person or party.

Okay, I have a question.

Why do some people violently hate others for the way they believe?   

Think about it!

Why do some militant Muslims want to put a hood over their face and chop off someone’s head with a sword?     That’s savage!    That’s evil!

Why does the militant Westboro Baptist Church picket and protest other peoples’ beliefs with such hateful signs and yelling?  Demonstrating at a young man’s funeral because he fought in the war  -  That’s outrageous!  That’s cruel!   

Why, even, do some atheists become militant towards people who believe in God?

They can be quite mean also.

It seems as though some Darwinian Academia are repulsed with God-believers.  They seem to view them as 2nd class living beings of the human race, mocking their beliefs and ridiculing their prayers.  I dunno - They just seem to be so mad!   ... Because someone believes in God!  

Especially Christians!  Not so much Hindu!  Nor Buddhist!  Especially - Nor Muslim! 

Now, many people believe that there is a God and that through Christ, when they die, there will not be one millisecond of time where their soul and spirit are not still alive.   I believe that!   I believe that when I die, I will slip out of my body and be in the presence of God, who created all things.

Other people don’t believe that way.   Some say that your soul and your spirit will disappear into nothingness and your body will be burned to ashes or rot away in the grave.

Now, I don’t believe that … But, I’m not mad at them for the way they believe.  

I’m not mad at anybody for the way they believe.

There is no real reason to be militant.  

We should not want to fight or war against those who do not believe the same way. 

Proverbs 11:12  “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.

Romans 12:18  “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

Ephesians 4:29  “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Let’s be filled with love and peace and grace.   Let’s desire that we might be able to offer something good to anyone who is “running on empty” and asks for help.  

Usually one person at a time!      

You cannot change the world.   But, you can help to change the world for someone. 

James 3:17  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Freedom in Christ

A sermon outline of Galatians 5:1-14 developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

             Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to churches that he had started to reach non-Jews.
             Some Jewish Christians told the non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Old Testament laws and Jewish traditions in order to be real Christians.
             This was causing a lot of confusion because Paul had told them that all they needed was faith in Christ alone for salvation.
             Paul made it clear that salvation is by FAITH in Christ and not through religious rituals. Rituals only have value of we FIRST have real faith.
• Once we come to real faith, we should remember the lessons learned from our past but not live in bondage to our past nor turn back to our past sinful ways.

             As we grow in Christ, we must learn to do things God’s way and in God’s time. When we kick doors open in our own strength, the result is always less than we had hoped it would be.

Verse 1 - Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.
             Christ has liberated us from religious legalism.
             Christ has liberated us from the eternal punishment of hell.
             Christ has liberated us from bondage to sin.
             Let us each take a moment and consider what Christ has liberated us personally from.
             Christ has liberated us to FREEDOM.
             We are FREE to love others without carrying all the baggage of the past.
             We are FREE to love ourselves without all the guilt of the past.
             We are FREE to love the church without carrying  baggage from any negative past religious experiences.
             We are FREE to love the world around us enough to try to make a positive difference.
             For us to experience the reality of our freedom in Christ, we must stand firm in our faith.
             The phrase “stand firm” literally means “a tenacious stand from which a person cannot be moved.”
             Too many times we let a little difficulty or hardship shake our faith.
             Though we may go through difficult times that challenge our faith, those are the very moments in which we must stand firm.
             If our faith is weak, we must trust God to help us stand firm.
             Romans 14:4 – The Lord is able to make us stand.
             Philippians 4:13 – I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
             Now that we are free, we should not submit to our old ways of thinking or acting any longer.
             The great evangelist D. L. Moody illustrated this point by quoting an old former slave woman in the South following the Civil War.
             Being a former slave, she was confused about her status and asked:
             Now is I free, or not? When I go to my old master he says I ain’t free, and when I go to my own people they say I is, and I don’t know whether I’m free or not. Some people told me that Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, but master says he didn’t cuz he had no right to. So is I free or not?
             Just like this former slave woman, many Christians are confused on the issue of freedom.
             Jesus Christ gave us an “Emancipation Proclamation” and He had the right to do so because He paid for that right with His own blood.
             But our “old master” tells us we are still slaves and far too often we believe it.
             It is time to throw off the yoke of bondage and be free!

Verses 2-3 - Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.
             Though circumcision was only one aspect of the Old Testament law, Paul used it as an illustration because it was graphic enough to get everyone’s attention.
             Paul points out that if the Galatians were going to try to achieve salvation through keeping the Old Testament law, they would have to follow the entire law, not just one part.
             The problem with seeking salvation through the law is that it is impossible to follow it all.
             If we cannot keep the entire law, then we are guilty as a law breaker (James 2:10) and if we are guilty then we have no hope of salvation.
             The very purpose of the law was to help us see our need for Christ (Romans 10:4) so that we would trust in Christ INSTEAD of the law.

Verse 4 - You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.
             If we choose to reject the grace of Christ, then all we have left is the law, which we will constantly fail at fulfilling.
             Therefore, we will constantly “fall” from grace if we are seeking to gain our salvation through the law.
             Sadly, many people are trying to keep themselves “saved” never really knowing if they have eternal life or not.
             That must be a very stressful way of living!
The good news is that just as it is God’s job to call us to salvation to begin with (John 6:44), it is also God’s job to KEEP us saved.
             Jesus said in John 10:28-29 - I give them eternal life and they shall never perish - ever! No one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
             What a glorious promise from Christ that once we have eternal salvation, we cannot lose it.
             Some might say that if we cannot lose our salvation then we can live however we want.
             And they are right!!!!
             But if we are truly saved, we will want to live right before God.
             Though there will be times when Christians fail to live right, they will have an inner push from the Holy Spirit to get back to living rightly. And we will not be happy until we respond to that inner push.
             What about all the people who claim to be Christians but seem quite happy living sinful lives?
             Though only God is the judge and no one can know another person’s true relationship with God, the sad reality is that many people who claim to be Christians simply are not (Matthew 7:21-23).
             Real salvation involves making a commitment to turn from our way of living and to follow Christ’s teaching (repentance).
             Real salvation results in a person growing in their faith and over time overcoming their sinful behaviors as they become more like Christ (sanctification).

Verse 5 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
             We must live through the power of the Spirit while we wait for righteousness to be fully formed in us.
             Righteousness = rightness
             Righteousness is doing the right thing.
             At the present, we do not always do right. But if we are constantly being renewed by the Spirit, we will be moving the right direction.
             And when we occasionally mess up, it is nice not having to fear loosing our salvation. Christ has made us FREE from fear! (Romans 8:15) 

Verse 6 - For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
             Whether we have kept every single point of the law or not really means little in our lives.
             Which is a relief since we KNOW we have NOT kept every single point of the law!
             What matters is that we have REAL faith and that our faith is demonstrated through real LOVE for others. 

Verses 7-8 - You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.
             The Galatians had been making great progress in their spiritual growth.
             Then all the talk about religious rituals and traditions got them sidetracked.
             Paul points out that the urge to pursue things that sidetrack us spiritually does NOT come from God. 

Verse 13 - For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
             If we have trusted Christ as Savior, then our salvation is secure. Though some would use that security as an excuse to live worldly (fleshly) lives, Christ calls us to something better than that.
             Christ calls us to serve each other through love.
             Too often we want to be in charge or in control, but we are called to serve.
             Too often we serve out of duty or obligation, but we are called to serve out of love.
             Our freedom in Christ should move us to serve others out of a heart of love for God and all He has done for us.

Verse 14 - For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.
             If we love others as much as we love ourselves, we will find ourselves keeping the “law” pretty well.
             Some people may argue that if we do NOT love ourselves enough, then we cannot love others much.
             While there may be some truth to that, most of us love ourselves quite adequately.
             Even people who portray themselves as having a low self esteem are often just “fishing” for complements.
             A person who is fishing for complements thinks so highly of himself that he considers it okay for everyone else to stop what they are doing and tell him how good he really is.
             If we love ourselves enough to think that others should stop what they are doing and tell us how good we really are, then perhaps we should portray that same love to others by stopping what WE are doing and telling THEM how great we think THEY are.
             Loving others as much as we love ourselves really would solve a lot of issues in our lives. 

             Real Christians are freed from the past so they can live for Christ in the present.
             Though that freedom is sometimes abused, real Christians will not be able to continually abuse it because the Spirit will be drawing them back to the Father.
             We cannot find freedom through the law, or any other distraction. It is only found through Christ.
             Real freedom expresses itself through loving service to others.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Preacher Said What!!!!!!

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling most of the week and due to computer problems I could not get on the Internet. That meant that I had to prepare my Sunday sermon without any commentaries from my library or any help from the Internet.  Turns out it was harder than I realized!

The sermon was from Galatians 4:21-31. It focused on why it is important to wait for God’s timing and methods instead of trying to do things in our own way and in our own time. I think this is an important message for the church to hear. In that scripture Paul builds an illustration based on the relationship Abraham had with Hagar, which produced Ishmael. That particular story is not well known among many Christians, so I decided to tell the story as part of the sermon.

The problem was that since I did not have access to any of my reference books I decided to tell the story from memory. My memory failed me and I got the characters wrong and told the story as if Esau was the son of Hagar instead of Ishmael. Though I got the point across adequately, the details were not very accurate. Most of the congregation never realized I had messed the story up. But about 10% of the congregation caught the error. Some realized my mistake the moment I made it. Others knew something about the story seemed off but did not know what it was until they got home and looked it up. Needless to say, we had a great laugh about it afterwards and I sent out an email to the congregation correcting my mistake.

But all week I have not been able to get out of my mind how “easy” it was to tell a “messed up” biblical story and have 90% of the congregation go along with it. Thank God for the 10% who caught it and pointed it out to me. Though we might chuckle about having a name wrong, what if it had been a key theological point? I suspect many people still would not have caught the error.

Regretfully, most Christians sitting in church today are biblically illiterate. They do not know the Bible well enough to spot an error when a pastor or Bible teacher makes one. Though one error might not make a church fall apart, imagine weeks, or months, or years, of errors built on each other. Sadly, that is exactly where many churches are today.

I learned to study a bit harder from this experience. But I was also reminded that we need to help people in the church study the Bible on their own so they will be able to spot an error when it happens. Each of us needs to spend time in the Bible each day. We must be good students of the Word. Otherwise, what starts as a small mistake, if not corrected, can grow into a big problem.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Christians Deal With Stress

These are the notes from a lesson I taught at our church.

Think about all the stress producers we have in our lives:
                Finding out a good friend or close relative lied to us
                Flunking a big test in school or failing an evaluation at work
                Seeing our parents or our children fight
                Being asked a question in public that we do not know the answer to
                Doing something we know is wrong
                Having an argument with a sibling or a best friend
                Not having enough money to meet our basic needs
                Moving to a new state
                Losing a job
                Getting a bad haircut
                Getting a traffic ticket
                Being in a car accident
                Having a bad report from our doctor

The list of things that produce stress in our lives goes on and on and on. When our stress level rises it begins to impact our relationships, our level of happiness, and our spiritual walk with God.

Though some people think that stress is always bad and should be avoided at all costs, others think that a certain level of stress in life is important because it motivates us to try harder and accomplish things we may not do otherwise. I suppose we could debate that concept for hours and not come to an agreement. But what we can agree on is that even if we wanted to avoid everything that may cause stress in our lives, we would be unable to. Stress is a reality that we must learn to deal with in life. Fortunately, those of us who are Christians have some tools at our disposal that help us deal with stress.

Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.
          Notice this verse tells us to trust in the Lord and not to rely on our own thinking.
          When we are stressed out, our thinking is often clouded and we may say or do things that we would never do if we were not so stressed.
          In times of stress, we should think about God more often and seek His help.

1 Peter 5:7 - Cast all your care on Him, because He cares about you.
          One of the greatest advantages of being a Christian is that we can give our stresses to the Lord.
          We give our stress to God through prayer, through fellowship with other Christians, through serving others, and by following the teachings of the Bible.
          Through prayer we talk to the Lord about our struggles.
          As we pray, sometimes we realize the problem is not as big as we thought to begin with.
          As we pray, we begin to calm down, which keeps us from saying or doing things that might make the situation worse.
          As we pray, God often gives us an idea of how to deal with a problem that we might not have thought of before.

Matthew 6:33-34 - But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
          These verses tell us to seek the things of God first and determine to do right.
          If we did this first, instead of focusing on our own issues, we would be able to keep ourselves out of a lot of situations that produce stress.
          This verse tells us not to worry about tomorrow.
          Though a certain level of stress might motivate us to try harder and achieve more, if we become obsessed with what “might” happen, we can become overwhelmed by stress very quickly.
          Each day will have its own joys and its own challenges. We must take each day as it comes.
          This is not an excuse not to plan for the future. It is simply a reminder that we can only plan for so much in our lives and then we must leave the rest in God’s hands.

          We all face stress in life.
          When we feel stressed we should think about God.
          As we think about God, we should talk to Him through prayer.
          God will help us know what to do if we focus on Him instead of ourselves.