Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guard What Has Been Entrusted To You

    So, I was scouring the web today (as I usually do most days) and was impacted by something that really stirred up my soul.  And when I say stirred, it was more of a nauseous way rather than a joyful elation.  I came across a story about a little boy who is preaching in his father's church.  Now, when I say preaching, I mean he is given the pulpit and allowed to share what is on his heart.  As I researched this further, I found out that this little boy is not the only one out there.  Apparently, there are little boys (and girls as I found out) across the country that are being given the privilege of the pulpit during Sunday morning services here in America.  To take this phenomenon even one step further, the NatGeo channel has started a show on them called Pint-sized Preachers!  Now, I want to say that I firmly believe that God can and does call those that are willing to do His work, no matter what the age (to give an example, my seven year old "evangelizes" to his schoolmates throughout the school year telling them about Jesus and how they can be saved) but I think there is a serious problem when we present our children to the responsibility of preaching and leading a congregation through the scriptures when they are not able to comprehend the magnitude of what it means to be saved and what the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ truly means in terms of a relationship with him!

    Case in point, one little boy is four.  He can not read the Bible, however his father and his grandfather are both preachers and have read the Bible to him and helped him understand the basic truths of God's Word.  But I have this one thing against them.  The father and son were interviewed on national television and asked if the boy preaches often?  The father's response was, "No.  He preaches when the spirit comes to him."  Now, here's the problem I see.  Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:20-21 said, "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith."  Guard what has been entrusted!  As a pastor, as a preacher, we have been given the gift and responsibility of presenting the Word of God in a manner that is consistent and true to the scriptures.  I have watched several times over many of the YouTube clips of these "baby" preachers, and very few are filled with the proper instruction of God's Word, let alone the reading of the Word.  Many, sad to say, are filled with animated performances.  But what they display in sensationalism, they lack in depth and knowledge of the Word.  2 Timothy 4:2-5 says, "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."  I fear these young boys being put up on a pedestal in much the same way as Tiger Moms push their young children to perform musically or academically at a high level without failure, or like the baseball dads that place their sons in one league after the next, travel team after travel team in hopes that their boy will one day be the next Evan Longoria or Ichiro Suzuki.  (I'm a Rays and Mariners fan.)  Is it that these dads think that the earlier their sons fill the pulpit, the greater chance they will have to be the next Billy Graham?  I think this may be that case as one of the videos i watched was actually labeled Baby TD Jakes.

    Let me leave you with this.  As Christians, we are called to test the men that are preaching God's Word.  That we should not take them at face value.  Present their teachings before the Word and if anything is out of line with the scriptures, then we are to challenge them on it.  A good and faithful servant of God will appreciate your care and concern and will not shy away from it.  As a pastor, I always ask those I have the privilege of ministering to not to take what I say as gospel, but to hold it to the Word of God and make sure it is consistent.  I pray that these men that are not allowing the very thing that has been entrusted to them - the careful and correct exposition of the Word - be overshadowed by the sensational nature of self-display.  In the end, if our purpose is not to worship God Almighty in wisdom and in truth, we have become just like anything else; a display of our failed state that will never match up to the awesome wonders of our God and Creator.  I pray for the boys (and girls), I pray for these men, and I pray for their congregations.

    1 Timothy 3:1-7  "Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

G.O.S.P.E.L. - The Real Story of Everything

Short message for everyone this week.  You want to know the real story of everything?  All you have to do is turn your heart to Christ and let him take control of your life.  Let him show you the way. 

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.  For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you."  -  Romans 1:8-10

Love you guys!  I'm praying for you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Story of Everything?

   So, I was watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Discovery Channel tonight.  It's actually part of a series of looks at the universe by Stephen Hawking.  Pretty interesting stuff actually.  When you get right down to it, to study how our universe began and postulate the beginnings of life is a noble feat.  However, no matter how hard we search and probe and discover; no matter how much knowledge and understanding we gain, there is still no "scientific" way to explain how all of this great and vast universe came into existence.  All our great theories and hypothesis only scratch the surface of reality.

   As I watched this show, I was fascinated by two things. 

   First, there was a line in the show about halfway through that discussed how we as humans came into being.  He said, "the most likely way that life came to be, is that we are an accident."  He went further to say that we (life) are most miraculous in that "by merely chance, the basic building blocks of life came to be, given enough time and the right conditions to happen".  Now think about that for a moment.  You and me, and all of life as we know it, an accident.  That by some mere chance, with enough time and the right conditions, you and I were born into being?  This is a WIDELY accepted view too!  Let's consider two things for a moment, shall we?  Take a simple remote control for your TV.  Let's look at the parts of the remote.  There are buttons, lights (if it's backlit), a circuit board that governs its actions, the casing, circuit connectors, wires, and batteries.  (I might have missed a few parts, but just follow along with me.)  Now, we take all those parts separately, put them into a box, put the lid on it, and shake it.  For a really long time.  We pass it down to our children, and their children, and their children's children, and so on for generations.  Let's say we do this for 1,000 years.  Now, let's open that box up and see what we find.  Would we find a fully functional remote?  NO!  More than likely we would find dust and rubbish after shaking that box up for all those years, if anything was still recognizable it would be a feat into itself, but it would not be a functioning, highly organized tool that we could use.  And that is just a simple remote.  You and I are made up of so much more than that!  Consider for a moment that even the world's fastest computer can not even come close to the computing power of the human mind!  And yet we are an accident?  A pure freak of chance?  Even the Laws of Thermodynamics show us otherwise.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters of leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state."  Huh?  Basically, the Second Law says that the universe is constantly using losing usable energy and never gaining.  So if that's the case, how is it that some random chemicals and building blocks of life, swimming around in some primordial pool of ooze gave birth to life, by chance?  Well, some may say, "You are forgetting about the spark that started the chain reaction?  That came from outside of the pool of energy."  Well, ok.  How about this.  Take a wind up clock.  It will progressively begin to wind down until it eventually reaches the end.  Can it restart on its own?  Can it begin to count up from where it is?  It takes something to spur it into action.  It takes someone to wind it up again before it can do what it was created to do.  So the question then is, who wound the clock?  Genesis 1:1 says in the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.  Genesis 1 in fact tells us how the world and everything in our universe for that matter was created!  In fact, it's in verse 3 where God says let there be light and the start of life as we know it.  Whether you are a new earth believer or an old earth believer, I think will be a point that we can discuss when we get to meet our Creator face to face.  But I also believe that when we see our wonderful and amazing God, the one who created all that we see and are still discovering, the one who made us from the dust of the earth, I think we are going to have a lot better things on our minds than the wonder of how he spoke everything into existence.  But it is a noble thing to study.  Let's look at the second insight....

    The second thing that impressed me was Stephen Hawking himself.  Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known here as Lou Gehrig's disease.  This disease progressively destroys the neuro-muscular functions of the body.  This disease has left Hawking mostly paralyzed, and how most of us know him.  However, this was not always the case.  When Hawking was 21, he started to develop symptoms which led to his ultimate diagnosis that he was in fact affected by ALS.  Hawking's disease is unique in some ways as most individuals diagnosed with ALS will only survive a few years before succumbing to the aggressive attacks from the disease.  Stephen Hawking will be 70 in 5 months from today.  But here's what really affected me about this man.  Despite his afflictions, God has given this man a tremendous gift in the wonder, curiosity and function of his brain.  While his body can no longer move, his 500lb brain is sharp and active in its exploration of our universe.  What an amazing opportunity he has to expound on all the wonders of God's existence in the world.  And yet, when asked about God, Hawking says that he does "not believe in a personal God."  Hawking adds, "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second.  Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing."  And it saddens me that while all his knowledge and understanding of the beginnings of the universe, what is postulated as fact and touted as reality is nothing more than just a theory in itself.  Not one, even Hawking for all his work in theoretical physics, has even come close to fully explaining how it happened.  How it all came into existence.  How we are even here today.  It's all just his best guess at how life and the universe was formed.

     So, are we merely an accident that happened by chance, by some freak spark that put the wheels of life into motion and formed all the varied species of life as we know it today?  Did we come from nothing?  Did the world form itself out of an unseen force that finally snapped?  Genesis 1:26-28 says "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  I refuse to believe that I am an accident!  I refuse to believe that I am merely just a collection of cells and amino acids that somehow came together by chance!  I refuse to believe that the only thing this life has for me is time!  God created me for a purpose!  He created us all for a purpose!  We are here to tell of His glories!  To look at the world and all He created and marvel at the God who spoke it all into being!  I am a child of God, and that means that I am unique and set apart for something more than just to pass the time away here on the earth.  And whether Mr. Hawking wants to believe it or not, we all will face the truth when we come to the end of our life.  Each and every one of us will stand before the throne of God and worship His Holy name! 

   Ephesians 2:10 says that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."  I am HIS WORKMANSHIP!  I am created, unique, prepared beforehand, to do the work that he has called me to do!  This is my purpose and this is my goal, that the world will know Christ, because of his love and his life shining through me!  I choose to walk in that knowledge and in that truth.  Do you?  The story of everything?  It begins and ends with God.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Truth, whether you believe it.....or not!

   I was impacted by an illustration I found as I was preparing a recent sermon the other day.  It was about bank tellers.  Bank tellers work with money all day.  They handle it, they count it, they store it and they check it for authenticity.  A bank teller goes through training to ensure that they are able to spot and identify counterfeit bills.  When they do spot one, they usually know that it is a fake just by the tools that are available to them and the training that they have received.  They know it because it feels and looks a little different.  No matter how good a counterfeit bill it is, there is always some tell-tale sign that lets you know it's a fake.

   And that is the way it is with our Christian faith.  In John 14,  Jesus is telling his disciples that the time was coming when he would soon be departing them.  He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in Heaven, and that if he is going to prepare a place for them, then surely he will return for them.  Then he says something that, to me, is absolutely amazing!  John 14:6-7 says, "I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE; NO ONE comes to the Father but THROUGH ME."  Wow!  How awesome that must have been for the disciples to hear!  And even when Phillip said "show us the Father, and it is enough for us", Jesus gently reminded them that they had been in the presence of the Father all this time.  Jesus was letting them know that they were in the presence of the real deal!  This was (and is) the Son of God, Jehovah-Jireh, Yeshua, the Messiah.

   The disciples were assured of the salvation of the Gospel of Christ because of their fellowship with him.  They walked with him, learned at his feet, broke bread with him, ministered with him and defended the faith because of their intimate relationship with him.  They were daily in communion with him through their physical presence with him.  Paul was assured of the TRUTH of the Gospel because of his close encounter with Jesus.  Because of that experience, nothing could separate him from the truth of Christ's salvation!  And we should be assured of that very thing as well.

   I love how God shows me more and more insight into His Word.  If I am to know who Christ is and what God's Word says about him, I have to have a deep and personal relationship with him!  When I am in prayer, when I read my bible, when I devote quiet time to him, I spend time getting to know what an awesome God I serve.  And I am able to know the truth because I have been in his presence.  The more I build this friendship with Christ, the more I submit to him, the easier it is to know who the Real Deal is!  We live in a world that wants to bring a different message, and different Gospel than the one that we have received from Him.  Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with all sorts of thoughts and ideas that are in direct opposition to the Word of God.  Take your pick, big or small, they all fail to stand up to the absolute truth of the Bible.  But if we fail to spend time with Christ, if we fail to set ourselves apart from this world, we become easy prey for those falsehoods.

   There used to be an underground magazine in St Petersburg, FL when I was a teenager that was put together with this sort of punk-Christian style.  It was very hip and cool during that time, with lots of different fonts (often in the same article) and funky cut-out and xeroxed pictures (think ransom notes).  I carried one of those articles in my wallet with me from about the time I was 15 and still have it to this very day.  It wasn't until several years later that I realized that it was a passage of scripture from Philippians.  I guess it just never dawned on me.  But it's found in Philippians 2:5-11;

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

   We need to know WHO Christ is, WHAT he has done for us, WHY we believe he is the Lord, WHAT we believe about him, and HOW that impacts not just us, but the world.  We need to sit at the foot of his throne daily, just as the disciples did when He walked this earth, so that we know that He is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE!  When we do, it's really easy to spot the fakes, to see the counterfeit revolutions and point them out.  To put it another way, we either stand for something (that which is better), or we'll fall for anything.

   I want to be so close to him, that i know a fake when I see it.

  Good night dear Romans, may God keep you in the palm of His hand, may He guide you in wisdom and in truth, and may He never leave you nor forsake you.  I know He won't.  Amen!

Monday, August 1, 2011

On the Road to Damascus..........or something like it.

   I was inspired recently by my favorite person in the whole world, my wife, to start this blog.  You see, my wife is, and has been, an aspiring writer for some time now.  She has actually done quite a bit of writing in the time that I have had the privilege of knowing her.  At first, I knew of her poems and her lyrics.  And it grew into a heart's desire to share the experiences and insights that God has given her with others around her.  She has written a number of devotional inspirations to women and I have heard (and seen) of the tremendous impact that it has had on the women she shared with.  And now, my wife, the woman who for so long struggled to find what God had called her to be, (outside of the wonderful mother of our children and amazing wife and friend to me) has finally put pen to paper and started her own blog!  (I guess pen to paper is kind of an outdated imagery point now.  More like finger to computer I guess!)  

   In one day she got 57 hits in four countries!  WOW!  So you may ask, is this a competition to see who can be the better blogger?  No.  Decidedly no.  Terrifyingly no.  I have no grand illusions that my blog will be some sort of competing interest, nor is it likely to draw as much interest as my wife's.  You see, my wife has the gift of voice and encouragement.  When she meets someone, there is an instant connection.  She has a way of just seeing into the heart of the person and sees deeply the spirit within them.  Me, I'm more of a bumbling fool in that regard.  I get so easily distracted and it can be painful sometimes.  I love people and genuinely want to get to know them on a personal level, but I am so easily distracted.  You see, I am a pastor and the number of families I meet and the concerns that I go through in ministry quite honestly draw my attention so much!  Not only that, but my mind is constantly running about in circles with family, ministry, school, other work and so on and so forth....  Not that I am uninterested, quite the opposite really.  But my wife, she is AH-mazing!

   And that brings me to this post.  I've titled this blog "The Romans Journey" because in my life, I am so impacted by the Apostle Paul's ministry and dedication to Christ.  Paul was such a miraculous and encouraging leader and disciple of Christ, effectively the first "great" evangelical witness to the world!  Paul was so sold out for God and he was determined that nothing was going to separate him from the love of God.  But you know, it wasn't always that way.  Paul had a torrid and tumultuous past that was filled with actions and dedications set against the Gospel.  But Christ got a hold of Paul on the road to Damascus, and the rest is history...

   And isn't it the same with us?  We all have a past that was set against Christ.  We all determined our actions and our decisions predicated by the desires of our flesh.  But Christ got a hold of me.  And I hope he got a hold of you!  God looked down on me and blessed me with amazing grace and mercy that He did not have to.  He plucked me off of the road of my life, blinded me to the lies, and opened the truth of his Word before me.  Look in the Book of Acts (chapter 9) and see what I mean.  Here, God described Paul (Saul of Tarsus) "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord..."!  Wow!  I read that and thought how angry and justified does one have to get to go to the level of animosity that Saul was at?  And yet, I have the possibility of doing that every day.  Every day that I choose my way and not God's I sound that bell of war that screams of my independence and defiance.  But it's not everyday and it's not murderous by any means however, each time I choose the lesser of the two, I create this separation between God and I.  Sin takes over and if given the time and space to grow, would overtake me and lead me to death!  But that's where God meets me each and every time.  Like Christ did on the road with Saul; "Why are you persecuting me?"  

   And that's what is so gracious about our Lord and savior.  Christ gently dealt with Saul in a way that prepared the way for the greatest Evangelist the world has likely ever seen!  I love how God describes Paul's conversion; Acts 9:17 and following shares that "Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened."  Paul immediately began to preach about the wonders of Christ and I hope to be like the same.  My hope and prayer is that this blog can play a very small part in that.  If I can inspire you to share the Gospel, to be compelled beyond a shadow of a doubt to disciple the nations, then I am excited to do so.

   Like Paul said, "for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." Fellow Romans, I hope you'll join me on this road.  It's sure to be a bumpy road, and there's a chance for a few interesting challenges we will face along the way, but it promises to never be dull and Christ never falls short!