Sunday, June 17, 2012

Our Father in Heaven

There was a cute little joke about a child who kept referring to God as “Art.” His mother mentioned to the Sunday School teacher that whenever he prayed, he would speak to this “Art.” When the Sunday School teacher asked the child about it, he said, “Well, you told us should pray to our Father, who is Art, in heaven.’” This child’s misunderstanding actually revealed a greater understanding of the personal relationship we should have with God.

Popular culture may sometimes paint a picture of God as “the old man in the clouds,” who is all-powerful, but completely disconnected from the human condition. This can create a very damaging perspective, which is so contrary to what we know about God from the Bible, His Holy Word.

Our God is not and has never been an absentee father! We know that from the very beginning, from the first verse of the first book of the Bible, God has been involved in every aspect of humanity. He created our world, He provided for all of our basic needs, and He desired a very personal relationship with us.

This is where the secular view of a disinterested God gets turned on its head. For those who buy into that way of thinking, it’s so hard to believe or understand why a spiritual being, who has so much power and authority, would even seek to associate with the common man. Yet for Christians—even though it is beyond our understanding to know why God loves us so much, we simply know and appreciate that He does. And the evidence is found throughout the Bible. 

When Christ taught the disciples how to pray, He began by telling them to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9). When we approach the Almighty One, we can do it the same way a child nears his or her loving dad. Isn’t it good to know that we have a Father who is always near, who will leave or forsake us?

Happy Father’s Day!

Living Sacrifice

“When did people stop making sacrifices to God?” This question from a student made me pause once during a Sunday School lesson. And I completely understood where my student was coming from. True, I thought, God no longer requires us to slaughter the fattened calf to atone for our sins. But how do I answer this?  Then, the Holy Spirit gave me a revelation…

The easy answer is that God has always required a sacrifice for sin. Under the Law, there were various types of sacrifices that were given depending on the type of sin committed. The most significant was the blood sacrifice of an animal without defect. When Jesus came into the world, He offered Himself as the perfect blood sacrifice for all of mankind. He, who had never committed sin and was therefore without defect, took upon the sins of the world and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. The blood He shed washed us clean of the penalty of sin. God, who is unchanging, did not change his mind about sacrifice—His requirement of a blood sacrifice for our sins was fulfilled through Jesus.

Again, that’s the easy answer.

Those who are spiritually mature may realize that we, who are no longer bound by the Law, have a different requirement. I believe the apostle Paul said it best when He stated, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

We, as Christians, were saved from the penalty of sin and freed from the obligations of the Law. Jesus took us from a point of physical sacrifices (with our hands, actions, and deeds) to that of spiritual sacrifices (with our hearts, minds, and souls).

What are these sacrifices? When we deny our carnal nature and make a conscious decision to instead follow the Word of God. Or when we show love to others by putting our needs last and theirs first. There are many examples that can be given, but in general, when we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and follow Him without regard for reputation, position, or favor with man, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to the Lord. As believers, our sacrifice is made daily!

Because of Jesus blood sacrifice is no longer required. Through Jesus self-sacrifice is to be desired.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

“It Ain’t Ministry ‘Til It Hurts”

One morning, I had put out some special treats for my Sunday school class. I was about to send my group of teens off to attack the table of goodies, but when I saw my pastor coming into the room, I said, “Pastor first.” He stepped back and said, “Oh, no. Pastor last!” In this day and age where pastors would declare themselves to be kings, I found my pastor’s attitude absolutely refreshing.

I used to attend a church where the leaders of the church had the mantra, “It ain’t ministry ‘til it hurts.” And their work proved it. Personal time, attitudes, and comfort were often put on hold as they addressed the needs of the congregation and promoted the Word of God. These men and women sometimes worked past the point of exhaustion. Ministers, Deacons, Trustees—even Greeters and those who led other ministries—put aside their own needs and feelings to get the work done. Although they recognized that their position in the church was a privilege, hardly any boasted or took it for granted. They knew that along with title came great responsibility. There was even a gentle reminder written on the walls of the pastor’s study, “…To whom much is given, from him much will be required…” from Luke 12:48.

Jesus gave the greatest example of leadership in John 13. During the Last Supper, He got up from the meal and proceeded to wash His disciples’ feet. They objected to Jesus taking such a lowly position, as they looked to Him as their teacher and their leader. But Jesus told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) Jesus made it clear that leadership and ministry isn’t about lording our position over others, but about serving others with humility.

And Christ’s example doesn’t only apply to those who are recognized as leaders and who have been given titles. Even in the pews, we should adapt an attitude of, “What can I do to serve?” When we surrender our all to His will and His way, we might be amazed by what He can do through us.

There isn’t just one “I” in ministry because it’s not just about you. There are two I’s in ministry because God’s eyes are watching, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Oh, Joy!

Once, while teaching the “Under 5” Sunday School class, I found myself having a hard time getting the kids enthusiastic about the lesson. Finally, I pulled out the hand puppets, which brought smiles to most of the faces. Except one. I said to the student, “Don’t you like the puppet show?” The two-year-old shot back, “I don’t want to like it!”

Too often, we fall into the trap of believing that people or things can make us happy. “If I only had this,” we tell ourselves. Or, “If this person would only do that.” People and things can be a lot of fun, but they are not the key to our happiness. Happiness is something that starts from the inside. And we alone are responsible for our own inner joy.

I once heard a pastor explain that the word “happiness” is directly correlated to the word “happenstance.” A happenstance is something that occurs in a fleeting moment. He then pointed out that most often, the Bible uses the word “joy” which suggests something eternal. He encouraged the congregation to stop looking for ways to be happy and to instead find joy.

Joy is something that God wants for His children. And ultimately, we find that very joy in Him. When we turn our lives over to His will, we are blessed with an inner joy that cannot be explained. Even through the tough times. It's like an internal smile that can never be wiped away. When we put our trust in the Lord, we get more than “happy.” We find true joy.

“…The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This Is the Day

“Thank God it’s Friday!” is something people say quite often. But how often does one hear, “Thank God it’s Monday!” How many folks jumped out of bed this morning praising Him for yet another Sunday? Yet, isn’t our God the creator and author of all our days?

One of my favorite “go-to” verses is Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” One of my best friends even gave me a mirror with that verse inscribed on it. It’s a gentle reminder that no matter what the day of the week and regardless of the circumstances, we should be thankful for it.

 “This is the day that the Lord has made…” Let us keep in mind that God knows our situations and cares about every one of our needs. He created each day specifically for each and every one of us. And we can trust in Him to see us through each and every day of our lives.

“…We will rejoice and be glad in it.” No matter what the circumstances, we must give God the praise. Even in the midst of a trial or tragedy, acknowledging the awesome power of God and giving Him praise will confuse and confound the enemy. You may be amazed by what happens next.

Truth is, we never know how a day is going to turn out. Due to planned events or expected interactions, we may anticipate what’s coming. Yet, instead of approaching them with fear and trepidation, those are the days in which we should draw even closer to the Lord. Only He knows what is really going to happen—and only He can get us through.

 “Every day is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Praise God.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

(Happy?) Mother’s Day

Today is the day we celebrate the special women in our lives. We send cards and flowers to our moms. We give our grandmas a call or pay them a visit. We may even take the special ladies in our lives out to dinner. But do all the fanfare and purchased displays of gratitude do the holiday any justice?

According to the Wikipedia, the founder of the Mother’s Day observance in the United States was a woman named Anna Jarvis. She helped establish the holiday as a time that people would set aside to show honor and respect to their mothers. But before her death, she regretted her achievement.

The over-commercialization of the holiday had become overwhelming to her. She resented that the holiday was nothing more than a superficial display of affection. Instead of the heart-warming celebration of love she envisioned, it became a cash cow for many businesses. Even this weekend, you may have found it hard to escape the “Mother’s Day” sales at the mall, restaurant specials, and even discount oil changes!

Does any of this make your mom really happy? Sure, she may appreciate not having to prepare a meal one night in the year. Or she may enjoy the day of lavish attention spent on her. She may even really like card you made—or spent extra time in the pharmacy picking out because it said EXACTLY what you would have written.

But a mother’s true joy comes from her children. Knowing she is raising, or has raised, people who have personally rewarding lives can give her a feeling that a thousand Mother’s Day bouquets can never achieve. And for Christian moms, being escorted to church on Sunday morning is a nice Mother’s Day gesture. But knowing that her children have internalized the spiritual lessons she’s taught and that they have followed Christ the way she has encouraged them—that’s a gift that never fades.

A happy Mother’s Day isn’t a once-a-year event. And I would believe that’s what Ms. Anna Jarvis would want us to remember today. So as we recognize our moms, grandmas, aunties, and other influential women in our lives today, let us truly honor them with how we live our lives each and every day.

May your father and mother be glad;
may she who gave you birth rejoice!
                                                (Proverbs 23:25)

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stoopid Christians

Is there a direct correlation between faith and intelligence? There seems to be an underlying movement to prove that there is. And in some very recent studies, the results are not flattering to those of us who are believers.

Last year, a number of news headlines asked, “Are You Smarter Than an Atheist,” after a landmark study by the Pew Research Center found that atheists were more knowledgeable about world religions than Christians. More recently, articles have begun to appear suggesting that “Being Christian Harms Your Brain” due to a report in the Scientific American suggesting that people who claim to be Born Again Christians were more likely to have brain atrophy (shrinkage).

There certainly appears to be an agenda behind these “findings.” The world loves to portray Christians as narrow-minded, ignorant dolts. By doing so, it belittles the religious beliefs and practices of those who follow Christ. And by proclaiming, “The more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be religious,” the world writes off Christianity as an archaic form of mind control, reserved for those who are too stupid and unsophisticated to think for themselves.

If you think about it, attacking the intelligence of Christians is a pretty subtile move—because how can we really defend many aspects of faith with facts? For many people, this type of discouragement is enough to force them to “keep their religion to themselves” or shy away from Christianity altogether.

But be encouraged—this type of attack against our faith is not new! In fact, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he acknowledges, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) The very nature of our belief is supernatural—above the human experience or understanding.

Our faith is not based on the analysis of a collection of data. It is through the Spirit of God that we became believers. And we understand that in following Christ, we have nothing to prove to the world—our goal is to please the Creator of the universe.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

I’d rather be stupid for Jesus than wise in the eyes of a sinful world!