Priorities vs options – or the grace by which we stand!

The year 2011 was a rollercoaster ride for me and my family. We started out with plans…big plans…very, very big plans…most of which came crashing down at 11:08 p.m. on April 30. It was at that moment that Lynette had what is called a mini-stroke, or a TIA. We didn’t know what it was so I took her straight to the emergency room and less than 5 minutes after we arrived she had a second, more powerful, stroke from a blood clot in her brain. For 2 hours she was tested and scanned and poked and tested again and again as they did “head to toe” tests to see how the stroke was progressing.  At 2:05 a.m. on May 1 Lynette consented to a drug call TPA, known as the clot buster. It helps 1/3 and kills 1 out of 16… but if it works the results are truly miraculous. Forty minutes after they began to administer the drug she began to have migrane symptoms, a sign of bleeding in the brain, caused by the drug TPA. At 2:45 a.m. the doctor removed her again from the ER and sent her for her 3rd CT scan and I walked out of the emergency room in shock because her doctor told me he suspected she was bleeding in her brain… I was supposed to get myself “ready” for what was about to come. How do you respond to that? What was I supposed to do? How could I help my wife? I hated blood clots at the moment and hated the word, stroke. I was exhausted, in shock and didn’t know what to do – I thought at that time we had made the wrong decision for her to have the drug… I was not mad, I was numb.

I did the only thing I could do, I sat down at the computer terminal and began to send emails. I was desperate and didn’t know where to turn. Facebook, email, everything and anything that would get word out to my supporting churches and friends without calling them at 2:45 a.m.. People were still awake in California, they were already in church in Europe and home from church in Asia. And responses began to flood in and people began to pray. My brother-in-law and sister were at the hospital with my neice, they were the only other ones from Minnesota who knew, so we had a prayer meeting. Twenty minutes later I walked back into the ER, still numb, still with my mind reeling as I thought of the last words from the ER doctor… bleeding in the brain…nothing they could do. I got back to her room and there she was, laying on the bed, and she smiled a 1/2 smile at me (the left side was paralyzed)… she was “ok.” I asked the doctor what happened? He said that when they got her to the CT scan room all of the symptoms of the migrane/drug reaction just disappeared as fast as they came! I was so relieved as I stood there and cried like a baby for happiness. In 20 minutes I was drawn through a minefield of emotions from the personally unthinkable event of my wife succumbing to a stroke, to utter and complete relief.

At that moment, when I realized that it was going to “be ok” I began to go into recovery mode. I thought only of my wife and my family. I would’ve done anything, at that moment, to see that she had whatever she needed to recover. I would’ve sold everything I owned and started over again if that is what it would’ve taken. I did not yet know about the hole in her heart, I found that out on Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know about the ulcers she would develop and the long road to recovery she would begin to experience in all areas of her life. I didn’t know that she would not be able to sing again for a long time but what I did know was that our miracle was already happening and I had already been placed into God’s school. For 45 years I had driven my life. Oh, I yielded to God’s will and drove down the roads he wanted me to drive down, but for the first time in my life I learned that nothing lasts forever, except the grace of God. God’s message to me was a resounding, “Take your hands off the wheel, I’m driving from now on.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I was being rebellious for all of these years, I had yielded to God’s will and become a preacher and then a missionary, but all along the way I was planning my work and working my plan… and I believe that is biblical. PROVERBS 16:9 SAYS: A MAN’S HEART DEVISETH HIS WAY, BUT THE LORD DIRECTETH HIS STEPS. God had allowed me to devise my own way, he was directing, but I was devising… that is, until May 1, 2011. At that moment, all of my devising came crashing down and God took the wheel from me. I had no idea where I was heading….

Romans 5:2 says:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.. I never understood that verse until the events began to unfold in my life in 2011. Let me explain….

Luke 18 has a famous passage about the unjust judge and the widow woman. She needed help, she needed someone to plead her case. The analogy is that if an unjust man will finally yield to the pleas of a helpless widow woman, how much more will God speedily avenge his own? Much more, praise the Lord. But the teaching does not stop with that conclusion. It continues on and Jesus made a statement that I never really understood. He said: ” Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”

What? Why in the world would Jesus say that? When the Son of man comes back, will he even find faith left on the earth? Jesus gave a parable about the help that God the Father was going to give to his children. It was a promise that they would not be left without someone who will truly help. Yet, in spite of the fact that we are promised by God that all things will work out and he will be our avenger, the end result is a lack of faith in the earth? What in the world does that mean?

God knows us and he knows that our attention span is as long as our current circumstances. He knows that we are mountain top dwellers and we are valley sloggers. He knows that a victory today may mean we allow ourselves into deep disappointment and disallusionment soon after. How many times have people had a great spiritual victory, only to follow it up soon after with a statement of unfaithfulness or actions that scream that they have forgotten everything that God just did for them? How often have you done that? I know I have. Why is that? Well, I do think it is quite basic; we convince ourselves that our faith is the reason God has worked and we convince ourselves that our faith is the reason for our success and we convince ourselves that proof of our godliness is found in the blessings we have received from obeying the commandments of the Lord. We have convinced ourselves that our faith is the reason for all that is right in our lives because we have obeyed God and he was obligated to bless us. We have convinced ourselves that the reason we were able to stand through adversity is because of our faith. But, herein lies the conundrum.

Your faith is not the end of all things. It is simply the vehicle by which you have access into the true reason that you stand. One verse says we stand by faith, two verses say we stand by grace. Our faith, which is given to us by the Word of God, is there to give us access to the true peace and joy, the grace of God. Nobody understands the grace of God. Nobody knows how or why or when God gives it. But we know that we need it and we ask for it much to casually.

When someone experiences a “disaster” in his or her life we pray for God to give “extra grace.” What that means, I do not know, other than we want God to take extra good care of them at this time.

Paul asked God three times to remove a thorn in his flesh. And three times God said, No, I will not do that, my GRACE is sufficient for you. He did not tell Paul to suck it up and have more faith, he told Paul to not worry because he was driving…. God’s grace would work when Paul’s faith was not able to understand…

So, what does this have to do with priorities and options? In May, 2011 I learned a lesson that was incredibly valuable to me and was a slap in my ever aging face. I learned that I had a bunch of wrong priorities in my life. I was making things a priority that were treating me as an option. I did this with people, I did this with work, I did this with my life. I would often major on things that didn’t matter and wonder why I was disappointed by the results. I would let things that did not consider me important to draw me in, and then they would rub me out when I served their purpose. I was living my life trying to win the approval of people and things that would never give me their approval. I was trying to plan my work and work my plan, but my end goal was much too often only results orientated. I knew the law of sowing and reaping, but what I forgot about was the growing season. In fact, I forgot about the breaking of the fallow ground, the planting of the seeds, the watering, the care and the time needed to bring the “fruit.” I was working to get microwavable results in my ministry, my personal life and my friendships with other pastors and churches.

I said all of that to say this. If you are still reading this epistle, here is the reason for it. We need to understand to whom we are a priority. If we seek to please man, instead of God, we will ultimately try and forge relationships that just will not work because they are not in God’s plan. When we make the wrong things and people a priority in our lives, they will treat us as we deserve, we will be treated like options. The result will be disappointment and discouragement. God has called me to do something and as long as I do what he called me to do, as long as I make God the priority in my life, I will never be optionalized. You see, God has called us to do something, and he has made us his priority. We fail when we let other things draw us away from God’s plan. Those other things will use us, abuse us and then rub us out when our purpose has been accomplished. The world will do this to you every time. The world will tempt you and then taunt you. It will show you a fast result and then it will use the talents God gave you and then place you aside when your purpose has made it fat and happy. Your end result is emptiness and lonliness and frustration. Do not get away from what the Lord has called you to do. As long as you prioritize the will of God in your life, he can take the wheel and it will be all right. You may have devised everything up to a point, but the time will come when God will just flat out take over. And the reason for this is you are his priority. He wants you to set aside the options in your life and let him drive. He will never optionalize you. He will never allow you to fall and break. His grace is above your faith. Oh, you still need your faith, it is how you gain access to the grace. Because only a man living a life of faith will get to the point when he must rely on God’s grace… or he has nothing.

It is the Christmas season when I am writing this. 2011 has come and gone. I have taken so many detours in 2011 and my plans have fallen flat on their face. God put me in a situation where I was laid bare before him. Oh, it hurt… it hurt badly… but it was a lesson to me in my priorities. May I never lose sight of the fact that God has made me his priority and that what happens is not happenstance or coincidence… it is the Lord saying to me, “Son, my grace is sufficient, and it is by my grace that you will ultimately stand.”

Posted in Sermon | Leave a comment

Sometimes it just seems overwhelming in the ministry…

Titus 1:5 – 9
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 
If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

If I were to take a poll and ask who was your favorite NT personality, after Jesus Christ, I would get a list as long at the names in the NT. Naturally I like to read and study about each of them, but one person stands up for me above all the others, Titus. Why is Titus such a draw to me? Well, let me list some of the reasons:

1. Titus was a man who refreshed those around him – this is the subject of another piece I am writing.

2. Titus was a man of character that Paul vouched for 100%.

3. Titus was given an impossible task and expected to do it.

4. Titus was everything that Paul told him to look for in other men.

Let’s look at the situation that Paul dropped Titus into as stated in Titus 1.

Paul had been to Crete and saw that many things there needed fixing. He said, “For this cause I left you in Crete,” and then he mentions 2 things. Titus was to fix the things that were “wanting” and to ordain elders in every city. Paul left Titus in Crete because there were believers but there were not any pastors to preach and teach to those that believed. Picture, if you will, a group or groups of people getting saved and baptised and then  joining together because they want to have a church. Picture then the problem found in these groups. There were men who thought they were leaders yet you could buy them off. How many preachers have their been in the world that have been bought off to change what they preach because someone waved some money in their faces? The love of money will destroy a pastor and it was no exception on the island of Crete. Picture also that these self proclaimed leaders would easily take advantage of the lesser members of the congregation and you have the receipe for disaster.

Look at the standard Paul gave to Titus. This is an impossible standard for way too many people. It is not an impossible standard for all people because there are men in the world who will hold to this standard, who will obey the Word of God and who will not fall into temptation. They are not many, unfortunately, but they are among the churches and many, many, many churches are pastored by men who uphold these standards. But, I am not talking about pastors who already are pastoring, upholding the Word of God, I am talking about Titus, a man who was given a task that most men would cower from, run from or flat out say, “That is impossible!” Before we get more indepth into the situation on the island of Crete amongst the churches, let’s look at the standard Paul gave to Titus. This is God’s standard. It is not to be changed, ever. This is a list of items that are non-negotiable in a New Testament church. What are they?

I love the way verse 5 begins: If any be…. Those three words are loaded with meaning. You could almost say, if any dare…. but I digress:

1. Blameless. That one word will eliminate a whole bunch of people. Blameless means just that, not able to blame. Of course, there are false accusers everywhere. I have experienced them in my own ministry. I have been accused of things, by people giving a narrative of supposed point by point statements and actions, that never happened. I am amazed at the ability of people to convince themselves of error or to just plain not tell the truth. But, a man who is blameless does not mean he is never blamed. Jesus was blameless but he was blamed for all of the problems of the day by those that hated him. Blameless means that their charges do not stick because they are not true.

2. The husband of one wife. In the cultures of the early NT church it was still common to have more than 1 wife. No place does it tell anyone to put away their multiple wives if they get saved. It does not say they cannot be born again or join the church, it just says that they cannot have more than one wife if they want to be an elder in the church. I think that is quite clear. In the case of divorce, I do not personally think that this is the phrase that eliminates a man from qualifying to be pastor, I think the blameless portion of the standard would eliminate a man from pastoring if he is divorced – his fault or not, divorce is still divorce and a divorced man is no longer blameless.

3. Having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. Again, the dominos fall on way too many men here. I had a fear when I was on deputation, and that was that my children would be accused of riot or unruly. I thank the Lord that my children were my best asset on deputation and they got me support in many churches. Many times the pastor would ask if he could take my boys home with him for the afternoon, so Lynette and I could rest… I knew what they were doing. I knew they were watching my boys and it was a test. Praise the Lord, only one time did my boys fail that test… and frankly, I think the church looked better with a line of brown spray paint all the way around the building, at an alternating height of 18 to 36 inches…. I know children will be children, and one of the things they do is oppose their parents. But, frontal opposition and bald faced defiance in children towards their parents is a ground for disqualifying the man to be an elder.

4. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God. Again we come back to that “B” word, blameless. But this time it is as a steward of God. In other words, the elder must understand it is not his church. It is not his offering money. It is not his play thing to do what he pleases in order to build his ministry. The people, the building, the grounds, the program, all are God’s and the pastor/bishop/elder must, must, must treat them and administrate them as if God is reading the financial statements and getting the progress report himself. In other words, a man who uses the meeting of the Lord’s people as an end to furthering his means, should do the honorable thing and administrate himself right out of the pastorate. This is a high, high standard.

5. Not selfwilled. Here Paul begins to wax eloquent. Self willed means just that… The pastor is not the dictator, he is the shepard and his orders come from the Word of God. You do not have the right to change the Word of God to meet your own needs. The Bible constantly says to come out from among those in the world and to be separate, I have no right to be selfwilled and to bring the world into the church… just look at the church, if it looks, acts and sounds like the world, there is not reason for the church. A pastor has no right to lead the church in that direction.

6.  Not soon angry. It does not say not ever angry, it says not soon angry. Anger is a misused and misunderstood emotion and it is used way too often and used improperly. The best action is to obey the Bible when it says that the servant of God is not to strive with other men. That is quite clear. I have gotten angry in the pulpit before. I have preached some hot sermons before. But each time my attempt was not to be angry at people, but to be angry at the sin that was hurting the people. A man who has a short fuse does not belong in the pulpit. I have had to learn this discipline, it can be learned, it is possible to conquer your anger and to have self control. The elder MUST have this control.

7. Not given to wine.  I think the teaching here is clear. In order to avoid drunkenness, an elder is to be in control of himself so as that he is never given over to the wine. A man who is not given to wine is a man who is in control of himself. Drunkenness is when a man loses control of himself. I think the teaching is clear, an elder should never be subject to alcoholic beverages, he should not partake of them.

8.No striker. An elder should be someone who does not look for a fight but who uses his hands to work for people and to provide for his family. Open hands should not be for striking, but used when his arms are open for comforting.

9. Not given to filthy lucre. Filthy lucre is fancy English for money. An Elder should not be someone always looking to make a buck. I have seen at least one man quit the pastorate to earn his second million… he earned his first million as pastor….

10. But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate. I’ll combine these. These are similar to the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, an elder should love God’s people and be known as a godly man. This is a list that implies a way of life that is not worldly. This is truly a high standard, indeed.

11. Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. The elder needs to be teachable and loyal to the Word of God. He needs to be skillful in teaching, apt to teach, so that not only can he convince the godly, but he can also convince those that try and undo what he has taught. A pastor that does not make an effort to know the Bible has no business teaching it.

So, this is the standard. Culture cannot change it and neither can necessity. If I live in a pagan culture the standard is still the standard, no man is to be an elder unless he shows these qualities. Lack of a pastor is no reason to bend the rules. If a church cannot find a pastor it should not lower the standards to get a “pastor.”

So, Titus gets this list from Paul, who got it from the Holy Spirit. What does he do? Does he go down to his local Bible college to choose his men to teach and train to pastor the churches? Well, no, because there is not anybody out there who meets the standard yet. Remember, he was left there to fix the trouble, and then to ordain the elders. So, he had to right the ship, plug the holes and then train the people. So, with whom was he working?

Titus 1:10-12
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

Well now, isn’t that a blessing? No, not really. Some important words are found in these verses: many unruly, vain talkers, deceivers. Paul would often go to the Synagogues to preach because it was there that the faithful would first be found. But, among those of the Jews that were to be found on the island were people who would not listen, who wasted time when they talked by saying nothing of value and who set out to deceive others by their words. Paul told Titus in verse 11 that Titus needed to shut them up. He said, Stop their mouths! Not only did they lead astray one or two people, but they led astray whole houses. The word subvert means to dig under to cause to fall. These men, religious no doubt, were using their “sermons” to make families fall… and they did it for money! In other words, they were being bought off to harm those that were in the congregation. They were putting out spiritual “hits” on unsuspecting people like some sort of mafia dons. They taught things that harmed, not things that helped and they did it for money.

I love what Paul says in verse 12. He says that one of their own prophets says that “The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” Paul said the sterotype was true of those people was true, you could not trust them.

Titus 1:13-16 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. 14. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. 16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Paul told Titus to rebuke them sharply. Titus was placed into an impossible situation, but human standards. He was told to uphold the highest of standards when looking for men to put in EVERY city. Titus had to swim against the current and he had to do it among the sharks. Titus did not shrink, he did not shirk, he did not run for cover. He did not start farming for Jesus because the people would not listen. Titus was told to stay, told to work, told to fix, told to endure, told to rebuke and told to build. He was not to leave until the task was complete.

So, what can we learn from this? There is something that is not stated but it is implied very clearly. It does not say in chapter 1exactly, step by step,  how to go about this, but he is told what the result will be if he were to remain faithful. The implication here is that even with an “impossible” human standard that, unruly, lying, backstabbing, money hungry people could be changed to have a heart for God, to become elders and to have the high standards set forth by Paul. The Gospel “works” in changing lives. God’s standard, when upheld, will bring fruit.

If you find yourself in a “hard” place, look at Titus. What was he told to do? Follow the teaching from Paul as if the teaching was written directly to you. Plan your work and work your plan. Your outline is found in chapter 1, work it and the results will follow. You think you have it tough, you probably do, so find someone with a task who was even more difficult and copy them. Titus is your example, the Word of God is your sword and the results will come. You can do it, dear Christian worker. You plus God and his Word and his standard is a winner every single time.

Posted in Sermon | 1 Comment

To do good or to be nice? That is the question.

Good vs nice, is there a difference?

Parents often admonish their children to “Be nice!” Or to, “Play nice!” While that sounds like a “nice” way to raise a child, I do believe it stunts the child and will eventually lead them into a completely “me centered” mentality. Is there a difference between good and nice? I believe there is, and my prayer is that I would never be accused of being a nice guy… let me explain.

I read a book a few years ago entitled: “No More Christian Nice Guy.” I was intrigued by the title and when I began to read it I found myself agreeing with the premise of the book. Basically it comes down to this, nice people will say anything to cause a situation to not become unpleasant. If it means compromising on fundamental beliefs, if it means not doing something because someone else is uncomfortable, if it means you avoid conflict in order to maintain the peace, then you are a nice person.  A nice person will smile to your face and talk about you behind your back. Of c ourse, part of the dictionary definition of nice are the words: kind, amiable and pleasant. I do not disagree with those words, I simply disagree with the concept of being nice so nobody is offended. I pray I am never accused of being a nice person. Before you write me off completely, let me explain further.

The word, “good” as a noun implies that someone is in a position of blessing. “He did good to those people.” ” He did it for his own good.” When the word “good” is used it means that someone benefited from the actions of another. Let’s try that with nice. “He was nice to those people.”  “He did it because he was nice.” “He was nice to the new person.” In any case, the word good implies that one person did something to benefit the other. The word nice, on the other hand, implies that someone was not contrary, was pleasant, did not cause a stir, etc.

Now, before you throw rotten eggs at your screen or leave an unkind comment in the box below, let me give you an example. In the book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis, the story is told of Michael Oher, the poor black young man, from the wrong side of the tracks in Memphis, who goes to a private Christian high school and is taken care of by a wealthy, white, husband and wife, Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy. He lives with them and is helped by them, they even become his legal guardians. Along the way the Touhy family is changed by the experience as much as, or more, than Michael Oher, who is now the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Many people have probably seen the movie made of this story, “The Blind Side,” in which Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Touhy. In one scene she looks over at her husband and asks him, “Am I a good person?” That one question encapsulated the whole story. What would a nice person have done vs. what would a good person have done?

A nice person would’ve donated clothes or bought some meals or helped out in some way. A good person goes out of his or her way to change the circumstances of another person. A nice person will smile at the disadvantaged young man and then go home and talk about how terrible it was that he ended up like he did and how horrible must all the adults be in his life. A good person will go toe to toe with gangbangers, drug dealers, a red tape nightmare and whispering friends who doubt everything she is doing, to do what is necessary to rescue the disadvantaged young man. A good person gives out of what he or she has in order to better the situation of another, or others.  Nice people feel bad for someone else and even give a kind word of encouragement while good people stand up for the disadvantaged and are ready to take a bullet if necessary to see that the end is accomplished, the raising up of those in trouble. Good people will offend bad people to see that good is accomplished while nice people won’t raise a finger to bother anyone. Good people are more interested in making peace while a nice person wants to keep the peace. I want good friends and I want to be a good friend, I care nothing for nice friends.

Now that you know my philosophy on the matter, does God have anything to say about it?

Christians who know some of the Bible, or maybe even much of the Bible, will often quote Psalms 37:23,  The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Yet they will not be able to define what exactly is a good man. So, I asked myself, what is a good man? I want God to order my steps. I want God to direct what I do. It says he does this for a good man. What is a good man? I think that is a GOOD question. Here is what I found out from the Bible:

Notice a very interesting statement about this concept in Romans 5:7,  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. Paul said that virtually never would anyone die for a righteous person, yet, from time to time you will find someone who would lay down his or her life for a good man. A righteous man is righteous for himself, a good man is good for others. I find that concept amazing. People are not impressed with your righteousness if it is not associated with goodness. Jesus gave a very strong condemnation of this in his parable of the Good Samaratin. The righteous passed by, the one who was noticed was the good one who paid from his own pocket to see that an unknown, disadvantaged person would be cared for. Good people do good for others, they do not just talk about it from the pulpit.

The description of Stephen shows that he was noticed for his works: Acts 11:24,  For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. His goodnees was mentioned in addition to his faith and how many were born again because of him.

Jesus said in Matthew 12:35,  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. A good man is made from the heart, and he gives that goodness to others. You cannot be a “good” Christian and not be a giving Christian. Goodness demands a giving heart.

Psalms 112:5,  A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Good people will show mercy, or favor, to other people – yet he will do it with discretion. A good person cannot help everyone, he has to help those that are in his power to help, and those that the Holy Spirit puts in his path. But, he does not shut up his heart and look the other way, he does something about it, from his own goods. Many people will happily give away the money of others, but when it comes to their own they are Ebenezer Scrooge II.

Luke makes mention of the character of Jesus Christ in Acts 10:38, How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. It was said of Jesus Christ that he went about doing good. In other words, he bettered the situation of those who were in need. He did it while he battled with the religious leaders of Israel and those that would take advantage of the poor. Jesus was a friend to the sinner and the outcast, he stood up for them, he “took a bullet” for them, so to speak, he was their advocate and their champion when nobody else would lift a fingere. He was a good man.

But, the question still remains, what is a good man. Obviously it is someone who does something else for someone, and I believe that the principle is given in the following verse. The very essence of what a good person does is found in the following verse: Proverbs 13:22, A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.

The first meaning of this verse is obviously for the father to leave something for his grandchildren. The first teaching is for the man to be responsible and to lay up something for his family, to care for his own. Yet, there is much, much more here. Let me summarize this verse in the following way: A GOOD MAN LEAVES THINGS BETTER FOR THOSE WHO COME AFTER HIM, EVEN THOSE HE HAS NOT EVEN MET YET.

A good man does not leave a mess and expect others to clean it up. A good man does not throw garbage on the ground, a good man does not make a mess of his life and wait for someone else to clean it up. A good man does not father children and then hope someone else raises them. A good man will raise his own children and the children of those who have abandoned them. A good man cares for his own, and for those he has not yet even met. A good man leaves things better for those that come long after him.

Are you the kind of person that people are glad you came or are they glad you left? Titus was a good man. If you are a good man, you will arrive, make things better, and leave them wanting more of you and from you. Let me give you a personal example from my childhood: One Wednesday we were driving to church, it was about 6:45 p.m. and we were one block from the church building sitting at a 4 way stop. We went through the 4 way stop and my dad pulled the car to the right side of the road and stopped the car. He got out and went into the middle of the intersection (cars were driving all over the place) and picked up a broken, jagged wine bottle and put it in the trunk. He got back in the van, smelling of fermented grape juice. I have never seen my dad with a glass of alcoholic beverage in his hand, ever. To see my dad and smell wine on him was not something I had ever experienced or imagined. I asked him why he did that. He said because someone may drive over it and pop their tire and he could not, in good conscience, allow that to happen. He did not have to do what he did, the city had people to clean that up. But, he took his time, his personal cleanliness, his own safety, to go into a busy intersection and pick up something that could cause harm to someone else. He cleaned up after someone else who probably threw it out of his window. I have seen my dad wipe up the sink in a public bathroom because someone else might like a clean sink. I have seen him clean snow off of dozens of cars on Sunday night after church, in January, so people would not drive home in snow covered cars and be in danger of having an accident.

Ask yourself the question, are you a good person? Would you stand up for innocent people being harmed by evil people? Would you stand in the face of the evil person and insist on what is right, at your own peril? Or would you complain that society is so bad, our government is against us….blah, blah, blah…? Would you be like Leigh Anne Touhy, and stand up to a drug dealer because he threatened your black, disadvantaged “son?” Would you go nose to nose or toe to toe with evil in order to see that good prevails? Would you structure your life in such a way that when you leave, those who are TWO generations or more behind you will be blessed because you were alive?

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, the Bible says. I wonder, how many steps of how many people does God really have to order? Does he order yours? If you are just a nice person, the answer is no. If you are a good person, the answer is obvious, the Bible says so.

In closing I think the best synonym for, good, is kind. Be ye kind, one to another… Kindness is goodness and goodness is kindness. A good person is not always nice and a nice person is not always good. I’d rather be good and risk being called “mean” than to be nice and risk not being called good.

Posted in Sermon | Tagged , | Leave a comment

To be blessed or to be happy, that is the question….

I have learned to love the Hebrew language. I am not very adept at speaking it but it is my goal and I plan on accomplishing it. Because of my love for Hebrew I have developed a desire to read the Old Testament in the Hebrew language. I am also almost obsessive in my attempts to find out where the English words come from and how the concepts of our words in English relate to the concepts of the words in Hebrew.

For years one of my favorite chapters in the Bible has been Psalm 1. Seventeen years ago I preached a SS lesson all over the USA while I was on deputation to go to Romania. It was titled, “God’s receipe for prosperity.” I have since been working with Reformers Unanimous International and have developed an even stronger love for Psalm 1 because it is a key chapter in the recovery program.

Recently I began to look indepth at the words in Psalm 1 and I got as far as the first word, “Blessed” in English. The word “Blessed” in Psalm 1 comes from the Hebrew word, ashrei, which is a conjuction meaning, OH HOW HAPPY! Ashrei is from the root word, asher, which was first used in the Bible in Genesis 30:13 where Leah was saying that the young women will call her happy, or blessed, and therefore she named her son, Asher, from the word Ashar.

The Hebrew word, ashar is what is sometimes known as a primitive root. Without going into the Hebrew nuances let me just mention that it is used in 16 places in the Old Testament and is translated, blessed, 7 times; guide, once; happy, twice; lead, once; leaders, once; led, once; and relieve one time. According to one Hebrew dictionary the basic meaning of this word is to walk straight on a level way, signifying to go to be happy and blessed. In other words, our blessedness or happiness lies at the end of our level way.

My next question came regarding the word in English, what does blessed mean? It means more than happy. It means to be endowed with extras. For instance, to be blessed by God is not just to be happy, it is to be equipped by God. When God blessed someone He equipped them for the task at hand. He makes their paths straight, he makes their way right. As the man in Psalm 1:1 walks through life, obeying the wisdom of verses 1, 2 and 3, his way will be straight, it will be level, it will end up in prosperity.

Being blessed could be compared to the difference in cars. When I was a teen I had a car that had one purpose, to get me to where I was going. It was not a luxury car and could never have been accused of being one. As I got older I learned that there was more to life than just arriving at the destination, there was the issue of how you arrived at the destination, and I began to look for a vehicle that was better endowed, better equipped, more blessed, so to speak. It is the same way with life. God wants us to be prosperous, on his terms, and Jesus came to give us a life that is more abundant. This does not mean there are no holes in our road, but anyone who has ever driven a rattle trap of a car knows that you feel every bump and every hole in the road. If you drive down the same rough road in a Mercedes S Class limosine you will not feel the road so much because the car is taking the beating for you… such as it is with being blessed. Your life is still going to have holes and ruts and bumps, but being blessed by God equips you to drive more smoothly over them. You will still arrive at your destination, but you will have enjoyed it much more.

Blessed is the man… equipped is the man… many options are built into the life of the one blessed by God. Webster’s English dictionary lists “divinely or supremely favored.” That is a fancy way of saying you have more opportunities than someone who is not so blessed.

The person that wants happiness will never find it. You do not find happiness, it is the byproduct of being blessed by God. As you obey the Word of God you will begin to reap the rewards of the promises that go with the Word of God. God wants you to be well equipped, because he knows that the better equipped you are the better your drive is going to be. God loves you and wants you to prosper. He wants you to do it on his terms, but nevertheless, he wants you to prosper. God invests in those that obey him, and the best investment he can give to you is to bless (equip/favor/endow) you.

I’d rather be blessed than anything. To have the stamp of God’s approval on me is the only thing that really matters. If they day comes when I will be lowered into the ground, above me I want a stone that says, “He was blessed.” Can there be any greater testimony of obedience to the command of Scripture? He was blessed….

Posted in Sermon | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fidela Edition 3

The Fidela editon 3 has been finished. The editor is inserting chapter themes at this time. This file does not contain those themes.

To download the Fidela Edtion 3 please click here. Fidela 3.

Posted in Fidela Bible | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The key to what is wrong with us?

Just recently I asked a question on my Facebook page: If God were to come to you and tell you that he would grant you one thing just as you ask it, pray tell, for what would you ask?

That one question can tell a great deal about a person’s ethical and spiritual condition. A person who does not know the Bible or who is unsaved may ask for something like health, wealth or prosperity. Those that would know the Bible better may ask for something for others because, after all, it would be arrogant to ask for anything for yourself… or so may be the line of thinking. But, the question is, what would YOU want God to give to YOU. Not to others, not for others, but you, and only you. I think that is a fair question and I think the way people answer it will show their life’s system of values.

So, the question is, What would you ask for from God the Father, if he were to give you that right, face to face, in a personal conversation?

Think about this when you think about that question: Proverbs 28:26 “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool….”

There is the story of Solomon, he was annointed king of Israel and he was afraid of the task at hand. In 1 Kings 3:9  the Bible tells us that Solomon asked God for an understanding heart to judge the people of God, so he could discern between good and bad. Solomon did not ask for wisdom, he asked for a heart to understand what to do. And the Bible says that this saying pleased the Lord so much that God gave him everything else he could have requested but refrained from doing so. Solomon wanted an understanding heart, and God gave it to him. But, that is not the end of the story.

Solomon became renowned for his wisdom and discretion in matters of judging the nation of Israel. He got visitors from far and wide and they all left shaking their heads. God truly had answered Solomon’s plea. But, life happens, and it happened to Solomon. The man who wrote the Proverbs also penned the book of Ecclesiastes. The man who said to get wisdom and understanding, also said that everything was vanity and vexation of spirit. The man who had God’s ear chose the pagan company of women, and the vital difference between he and his father David became evident. It was so bad that the Bible says that God wanted to take the kingdom from Solomon but out of deferrence to David he waited until Solomon died. Solomon truly went off the deep end in his life. What he got from God to judge the nation of Israel, he did not get for himself to judge himself.

Every problem in life is a heart problem. And the reason for this is found in Jeremiah 17:9: The heart is decitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? This was Solomon’s problem and this was David’s problem and this is our problem. So, the question is, what to do about it? Is there a key? Can we ever defeat this pernicious trouble called a deceitful heart? The answer is, thankfully, yes. And here is what I think is the key to what is wrong with us:

When a man trusts Christ as his Savior his spirit is getting the life of God almighty. Titus 3:5 and John 3:3-6 are important verses to remember in relation to salvation. Salvation is not something you hold in your hand, it is a new creation in you. Your spirit is regenerated… not your body, not your soul, just your spirit. I have often heard of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Now, I understand that statement but I do not agree with that statement. You do not ask Jesus to come into your heart when you are born again. That is a childish explanation of salvation and it is wrong. I also think it leads people to an incorrect understanding of the trouble they are in because of their deceitful heart.

When a person is born again by the Holy Spirit of God, he is a new creature, old things are passed away and all things are become new. Yet, he has the same soul, the same body and the same history. None of that is done away with, what is become new is the spirit which is now regenerated in him with the “new man.” He still has the same old heart, the same old way of thinking and the same old trouble he always had, he simply now got the life of God in him. So, why, pray tell, does he not change? If the life of God is in him why does he still sin? A man sins because of his heart, pure and simple. A man sins because he wants to sin.

I can hear the angry chorus of boos filtering down now from the gallery: What do you mean I want to sin?” “I want to live a sinless life!”

OK, fine, then do it.

Wait, you say, I cannot do that.

Why not?  What’s the problem? You don’t want to sin, so don’t.

The problem is, you say, that I cannot live a sinless life, but I want to.

I am sorry, that is not logical. I thought the life of God lives in you? What’s your problem? Is God not strong enough? After all, you said you asked Jesus into your heart, what’s wrong?

And so we have the never ending back and forth that could take place. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? The answer is not you and not me. It was that way before you were born again and it remains that way after you are born again. It was David’s problem, it was Solomon’s problem, Jeremiah had it and so do we. We are hopelessly, helplessly bound by the desires of our hearts; our lying, double talking hearts. It is an end game in chess where the heart shouts CHECK MATE every single time… so, what do we do? Where is the key?

The key is found in understanding why we sin. We sin because we want to sin. It is that simple. It is fun sometimes. It keeps us from having to face consequences of our sin, sometimes. It makes us look better, sometimes. It makes us feel better, sometimes. It satisfies our flesh, sometimes. Sin is multifaceted and multi-talented. It can be all things to you at the same time and then something else a couple of minutes later. Your heart controls your desires and your desires control your actions.

Let me give you a banal example of how your heart can and does lie to you:

You look in the mirror and notice that you can play games with that stomach of yours that hangs over your beltline. So, being a fair minded person and knowing you should get rid of it you begin to search for ways to eliminate that gut. You search the internet and watch the infomercials for the cure. And so you begin to try different things and one by one you put them in your closet where they are stored until your next garage sale when someone else will take it off of your hands. What happened? It worked for all of those other people. But, you bought it and began with such enthusiasm, for 1 day, 1 week, maybe even 1 month… and then you got busy, and you noticed it didn’t really work. When you bought it your heart said, “THIS IS IT!” And you intended on working out and getting rid of that muffin top. In fact, each time you bought something you intended on keeping up… until your heart started talking again and telling you there had to be a better way, this was not what you wanted. It lied to you, and you listened.

What about the practice of a New Year’s Resolution? You make it January 1 and break it January 4 and forget about it January 8. Your heart lied. It said, YOU NEED THIS! And then later it said, Nah, you were fine, let it go. Well, which heart was right? Same heart, different messages…because of life.

You can apply this to almost anything you start and then fail at. When you began you were so dedicated… sort of… maybe… well, not so much… nah, some other time.

HOW TO BREAK THE CIRCLE OF THE SIN THAT SO EASILY BESETS YOU

Your lying heart is your problem. But it can never be beaten… because you cannot beat it. But, you can do something else, you can get a different one… immediately… let me explain.

Your desires cause you to sin, so if you want to stop the cycle of defeat with your sinning you have to change your desires. But, your desires come from your heart and you cannot ever even understand it, much less change it. So, you have to find out who can and how to do so.

1 Kings 8:38-39 contains part of a prayer that is very telling: What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: then hear thou in heaven, they dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.)

God and only God knows the hearts of men. Our deceitful hearts that we cannot know, only God can know. And the key is right here:

Pslams 4:4 says “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.” To commune with your own heart gives many people much confusion for some reason. To commune is an old way to simply say, to talk to or to say to. The Psalmist tell us to tell our own hearts to stand in awe and sin not. We are to take control of our hearts, to insert our will over them and to tell them to be quiet because we are going to listen to God. The Bible says to do this when we are laying still, on our beds, forcing our hearts to obey.

David sinned with Bathsheeba. Nathan judged the sin and the child died. The innocent one in that equation suffered – just like it is in most things. David was God’s man when he commited adultery. So, David’s problem was not a problem of pagan unbelief, he was the chosen man of God. He wrote Psalm 51 after he sinned and he makes some startling statements. The first part of the chapter is him telling God that he deserves what he is getting and that his sin was against God and God should be upset. David also begs for mercy and asks God to not forget that he is only human… and then David deals with the heart of the problem in Psalm 51:10: Create in me a clean heart…. Create means to make something that did not exist before. David’s problem was not where he lived, it was not that he was not in the battle, it was not that he looked down to see Bathsheeba, it was that he had an unclean heart. Do you understand this concept? David, the man of God, had a deceitful, dirty heart. While he was the man of God… it was not just some left over condition from before being annointed, that was the condition of his heart, unclean. And because it was unclean it lied to him and gave him desires that would only harm him.

The solution is found right there in Psalm 51:10, get a clean heart from God.

So, dear reader, I am telling you this, if you are trying to obey the Bible, if you are memorizing Scripture, if you are obeying the Great Commission, if you are doing ALL that you think the Bible is telling you and you cannot get victory over that sin that so easily besets you, it is not for lack of trying, it is for lack of a clean heart. Your heart is the problem. You may be saved but your heart isn’t. You may be a preach of the Gospel telling the truth, but your heart is working against you. It hates you, it hates God, it is not controlable. It needs to be replaced.

Practical application of this concept:

For years I would do something and I did not realize what I was doing. When I was unable to get victory over sin I would ask God to give me a clean heart. I would pray it each time I prayed and often many times in one day. And something would begin to happen… I would forget to sin. What changed? I didn’t all of a sudden become super Christian, nor did I all of a sudden learn chapters of verses nor did I hide the Word of God in my heart in such copious amounts that I would not sin against Him. I simply asked him to create a clean heart in me… and he did.

I have gotten victory over so many sins that so easily beset me. I have forgotten about many of them and they were things that haunted me. What did I do? I got a clean heart and so I got new desires and so the instructions of my heart were now actually instructions from God’s heart and my life cleaned up. Oh, you need to keep memorizing verses, staying clean, obeying the Bible, but you need to add to all of that the simple prayer, daily, Lord, create a clean heart in me today and give me the right desires to do what you want me to do. And  God will do it.

You would never argue that a sinner simply asking Jesus to save him would not be sufficient to save him. Yet, will you say that it is too simple to say that asking God for a clean heart is what you need to do to get victory over your besetting sins? I surely hope not.

Most Christians live in 911 mode with their Christianity. When the building is burning, when the family is trapped, then they get serious. It is better to do daily maintenance than to do emergency surgery due to mismanagment of your life.

I implore you today to understand what is wrong with too many of us, we have a dirty heart as a matter of course and we think only the pagan heart or backslidden heart is in need of being replaced and a new heart from God to be created in its place. Even David, God’s man, had to ask for God to give him a new, clean heart. Dear reader, you can have victory over your sin and you can have it soon. You may be struggling to “win the prize” of a clean conscience but you are failing. It is not for lack of trying or for lack of faithfulness, it is because you have a deceitful heart, like David, like Jeremiah, like me, like everyone. Right now, ask God to create a clean heart in you and to give you the right desires. He will do it.

This little teaching has seen great fruit in our Reformers Unanimous program in Romania. Men and women bound by addiciton are finding those addictions melting away and a clean heart with godly desires is taking the place. David made a simple request, and God granted it.

I have one request of God, for me and for me only, Lord, create in me a clean heart.

Posted in Sermon | Tagged | 2 Comments