Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Need More?

Dear Friends,

I was in Pasadena and saw a homeless guy on a street corner. He was standing next to his shopping cart that was piled about seven feet high with stuff. He was holding a brown cardboard sign that just said: NEED MORE. I thought, What could this guy need more of? He wouldn’t be able to fit one more thing in his shopping cart. My next thought was that what he needs is more of God. And then I realized that’s exactly what I need too. Maybe I need to carry a sign that says: NEED MORE GOD.

Psalm 42:1-2 says: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Some of us hunger and thirst for more. Like an animal driven by instinct to find streams of waters to satiate it’s thirst, we are driven by Holy Spirit intrinsic desires to find the streams of Living Waters to satiate our thirst. But how do we get more of God?

The Apostle Paul said, I beseech you (I urge you) therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1) In the old covenant, worship to God had been through a system of sacrifices. But under the new covenant, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice as worship to God. And Paul is not saying that a sacrificial lifestyle of worship is something just for the very religious or the monk in the cave. It’s the normal, rational and reasonable way for the “ordinary” believers like you and me. Some people tend to look at people who are constantly worshiping the Lord as some kind of zealous nutcase. But Paul says that a lifestyle of worship is simply our “reasonable service” – our normal behavior. Worship is not for the spiritually mature, it’s for the spiritually hungry.
King David’s kind of worship was not an event or a period of time he set aside on a weekly or daily basis, it was his lifestyle. David’s kind of worship takes place inside the sanctuary, but even more importantly it takes place outside the sanctuary. It begins when he wakes up in the morning and ends when he falls asleep at night. David writes “Blessed are those who hear the joyful blast of the trumpet, for they shall walk in the light of your presence. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation and in your perfect righteousness. You are their strength. What glory! Our power is based on your favor!” (Psalm 89:15-17)  How do you get more God?  Rejoice all day long in the light of God’s awesome presence!

Worship was David’s number one priority. Nothing he did during his day was more important than being in God’s presence through worship. King David’s worship lifestyle was uncompromising. It was wholehearted. David had total commitment to God and worshiped Him with all of his heart. David’s worship was a witness to others. When we worship with all our heart, people take notice. When people see the Jesus in us, they are drawn to God by and through our worship. They see God’s presence in our lives when we worship and they want and need that.

My thought about the homeless guy with the NEED MORE sign was this: He may want  more, but there is really no way he can get more with his cart piled high with junk. He can’t really fit anything else in until he gets rid of some of the useless stuff he already has. (You probably already know where I’m going with this...) Do you need more God, but just don’t seem to have the time to fit Him into your overstuffed life? Read this paragraph again.

Here’s the bottom line. Take a good hard look at your relationship with God. You may not need more God. If you think you have all of Him you’ll ever need, than you’re good.

Do you need more God? Worship! You may need to schedule and set aside certain times throughout your day. Need more God but don’t have the time or energy to spend with the Lord? You may want to clean out your cart!  Amen?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "Promise" of a Proverb

Dear Friends,

She was born into a Christian family. Her mother was a believer and her father had come from a Gospel singing family of Pentecostals. She was christened “Destiny Hope” and was brought up in church. She was baptized in the Southern Baptist Church at age 12 and described her church as her extended family. As a young teenager, she wore a purity ring for all to see that she was deeply committed to a lifestyle of sexual purity and abstinence until marriage. She read her Bible daily and had publicly described herself and her family as “hard-core Christians.” She said, “Jesus is who saved me. He’s what keeps me full and whole.. Hopefully I can influence people and help them follow the same path I am on.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” We can only image how proud Destiny Hope’s parents were at this point in her life. Their daughter’s strong faith, her love of God, her commitment to follow Jesus and her desire to be a light in the darkness for others to follow, was evidence that they had indeed done a wonderful job in training her up. They may have even read that verse as a promise that she would not depart from all they had taught her. But what happened? At what point in this child’s life did the purity ring fall off her finger?

Changing her name from Destiny Hope Cyrus to Miley Ray Cyrus, she posed nude for a magazine cover when she was 15. When she was 17, her party-lifestyle was being written about in articles that questioned if she was still a Christian believer. At the Teen Choice awards, she danced with a pole like a stripper and outraged the parents of her young fans. She begin to mock her Christian fans who spoke out against her raunchy behavior. Last year she tweeted a quote to all her followers that said, “You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all those things that matter for evolution) weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in stars. So forget Jesus. Stars died for you to live.That quote was a blasphemous denial of God – of her faith.

Most of you know that during a recent music awards show, this former Disney child-star styled her hair to resemble the horns of the devil and was so inappropriate and borderline pornographic that even the jaded Hollywood types were shaking their heads in disgust. She has 28 million followers on social media, most of whom are teenage girls. Last week she released her new soft-porn music video of her dancing naked while perversely licking a sledge hammer. “Hopefully I can influence people and help them follow the same path I am on.”

All of America is now watching the moral self-destruction of this once strong Christian. For some it’s “schadenfreude” and for others it’s just very sad. And for those of us who have had children and grand-children that walked away from their faith and into a troubled lifestyle, we know only too well the shame and pain that her parents must be feeling today.

Raising our children in the church, teaching them to love and follow Jesus, demonstrating Christian beliefs and values in our home, does indeed set our children on the right path. But many churches teach that Proverbs 22:6 is an ironclad guarantee. Do a good job as a Christian parent and your child will keep the faith forever. But that could only be guaranteed if his/her freewill were taken away. And, God has given every person the choice to follow Him or not. So our job is to do the absolute best we can as a Christian parent and then hope and pray that our children will continue to make the choice to follow God into adulthood.

Despite the Christian values taught by her parents, her church, and her pastors, Destiny Hope has now chosen to follow the lust of the world. (See 1 John 2:15-17) If your heart breaks for a lost child or grandchild right now, please know that God has not abandoned them any more than He’s abandoned Destiny Hope. And don’t let the devil instill any guilt over your children. After all, he was the one who lured them away. An editor of a Christian magazine recently wrote: Did Miley Cyrus sell her soul to the devil? We don’t know. But we do know this. That the devil can never take our children to a place where God can’t reach them.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Keep the Blessings Flowing

Dear Friends,

Descanso Gardens in La Canada-Flintridge is a sensational, verdant oasis in our valley foothills. The Rose Garden is amazing in the Summer as is the Camellia Garden in the Winter and the Lilacs in the Springtime. Year-round the evergreen Oak Tree Forest and the lush gardens are green. Green trees, green landscaping and a green lake... A green lake? Yuck! 

For years the lake has been choked with a thick, green layer of rotting algae. Once pristine blue, you could stand on the observation platform and see hundreds of brightly-colored fish and large colonies of turtles swimming and sunning themselves. The lake was known for its variety of birds and ducks. It’s been over a year now since I visited the lake. My favorite place in the gardens had long ago turned into a cesspool. The only fish present seemed to be the floating dead ones that had suffocated under the thick layer of stinking algae. The turtles had survived by being able to stick their head out of the slime, but the few left were coated with green sludge. What happened? New environmental laws no longer permitted the lake run off into the county storm drain system, and the inflow from the natural springs had been restricted to a trickle to just maintain the water level. With a blocked outflow, this once healthy body of water teeming with life, was now a stagnant pond of what could have easily been mistaken for industrial waste with its dead and dying wildlife.

Have we restricted the inflow of God’s blessings into our life because we’ve blocked the outflow? We desire and pray for God’s blessings to flow into our lives every day, but have we robbed ourselves of what He wants to give us? The Lord calls us to live unselfishly and generously. But can we do that if we are unwilling to give to others what we receive from Him? Will God reward us if our only focus is on what we can get from Him?

God has a bigger purpose in our lives than just stamping ADMIT ONE on our golden ticket to Heaven. When we become a “Christian,” meaning a follower of Jesus, we also become His ambassador. We become His personal representative to a lost and hurting world. He has assigned us this temporary home we call “earth” in order for us to minister to His loved ones and we are to follow His example. Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves.” (Luke 22:27). The life of a Christian is far more than just a few hours on a Sunday in church. It’s a lifestyle of service and giving. It’s blessing others with what God has blessed us with.

You have a unique gift mix of talents, abilities and gifts. You can make things, bake things, read things and do things. You know the computer, medical needs, how to fix an old car,  do financial planning or how to program a TiVo. You have at least one spiritual gift that the Holy Spirit has given you for the use of others. (1 Cor 12:7) Note that our God-given abilities, gifts and talents have not been given to us for our own selfish enjoyment. Blessings that God has released into your life are to flow out of you and into the lives of others. Are you using those abilities, talents and gifts to be a blessing to others? 

A mind-set of selfishness also makes it difficult for us to give financially for the needs of others. Fears of our future compel us to bank or hide what we have instead of allowing our finances to be used for His glory. Unselfish giving is about our lifestyle – our finances – everything...

God blesses you so that you can be a blessing to others. And the more you give to others, the more you will receive from Him. Don’t choke off the outflow of His blessings and become a stagnant lake. Let His Living Water flow through you. Give of yourself generously and be a blessing to others!  Amen?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Knowing the Will of God

Dear Friends,

My favorite person is having a birthday this month, and if you know me, you know who it is. I can tell you about her birthday, but under penalty of a punishment worse than death, I’m not permitted to reveal her age. I can only tell you that there are two numbers involved and the second number is a “zero.” I just don’t understand why she’s so overwrought about this whole age thing. How old we are is really no big deal. I certainly don’t mind telling people that I’m in my early fifties, so I don’t know why she’s so hung-up about her age!

Birthdays are times of celebration! In fact, having a lot of birthdays seems to be the only way of having a long life. And, every time we celebrate the day of our birth, we are celebrating another year of life that God has so graciously given us. We are thankful to Him! From the first moment God gave us breath, all that we have received is from Him. And, our birthdays, especially those with a zero, can be a time for thoughtful reflection. We may feel various degrees of satisfaction when we look back and evaluate how well we've used God’s gift of life. Are we tracking with God? Are we living our life according to His will? And if our answer makes us squirm a little, we need to remember that our God is a God of second chances, and every birthday is an opportunity to start over again.

But how do we know when we are living life according to His plans and purposes for us? First of all, there is no method or technique that’s 100% guaranteed. But, there are some general principles that may be helpful for you.

To know the will of God for your life, you must be a believer. Our sin keeps us separated from God, and you are unable to know His will for your life until you confess your sins and put your faith in Jesus. It is His will that you believe in Jesus first and foremost, and when you do, you’ll receive His forgiveness and your relationship with God will be restored. Then, read your Bible! It has been said that: “The will of God for the people of God is in the Word of God.”  

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT)

But while God’s Word gives very detailed teaching, for example, on our attitude at work and the type of Christian person we should marry, it doesn't tell us which job to take or who we should marry. At times we need specific directions, and when we do, God wants to reveal His will directly to us. Here’s how to receive it:

Pray. Pray again. Pray some more. Contemplative prayer brings you into the presence of God. Intense, focused and continuous prayer often results in a stage of discernment and clarity of vision. If I am faced with two or more options, I ask God to give me a holy discontent – a strong feeling of discomfort – about those options and pathways I am not supposed to follow. At the same time, I pray that God will give me an increasingly strong sense of His peace about the option that He does want me to choose. After a few days of prayer, the contrasts between the options often increase until God’s will for me becomes very clear, and I have a strong sense of peace about the direction in which to go.

The Holy Spirit won’t give us all the details, and He doesn't show us more than we need to know. I’d love to have a complete report of what my tomorrow will look like. Actually, I’d be content if He would just mark down all future key events in my Google calendar, but instead I’m told: Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

When we believe in Him, submit to Him, pray to Him, ask His direction, then He will show us where to step out in faith. And, while we don’t always know where we are being led, we walk with confidence into the mysteries of tomorrow because we love, trust and know the One Who is leading. Amen?