The Heart of Cain

 

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”  — Genesis 4:9

 

I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Cain and Abel.  When I first read it, it seemed so unfair.  I mean, at first casual read, it sure looks like God plays favorites.  Abel’s sacrifice was accepted.  Cain’s was rejected.  I believe this little partial verse I chose today reveals exactly why Cain’s offering was rejected.  He had no love for his brother.

 

If you and I are going to call ourselves Christians, I believe we must closely examine the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Many, many Christians make the weekly sacrifice of going to church.  Many of those same Christians attempt to do good things for God.  Even Cain was no stranger to religious activities.  Why did he do them?  Why do you do them?  If I’m completely honest, there have been months, maybe years that I went to church and did religious things because I was afraid to not do them.  I thought God might punish me for not going to church, reading my Bible, tithing, etc.  I also thought that those things gave me some sort of points in heaven.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d be good enough to get into heaven when I died.  Maybe, just maybe he would throw down a blessing for me.  It isn’t hard to imagine that Cain made his offering with the exact same intent.

 

Here is where it gets rough.  What if I do every religious act I could possibly do for God, yet have no love for my brother?  Well, the Bible says it like this, “Whosoever hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15).  In other words, we can perform all the religious activity in the world, but if we honestly could not care less about people, we are in no way saved.

 

As I honestly think about this, there are people that I can’t stand.  What is worse, many of these people are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  There are people on this planet who do unspeakably evil acts.  It is so easy to wish them harm, and even condemn them to hell.  There is no prayer offered up for them.  There is no fasting and interceding for them.  There is no love for them.  It has become acceptable to condemn those we consider vile.  We so quickly forget that before God came into our lives, we were just as lost and just as vile.  Could you imagine doing life without Jesus?  That is what so many people are doing right now.  Why are we surprised when lost people behave like lost people?  They don’t know Him!  In fact, many have evil spirits at work in them right now!  What are you doing to help? How are you trying to reach them?

 

Am I my brother’s keeper?

 

Lord, I confess my heart of Cain.  I don’t have Your heart and Your love towards so many!  I can’t just turn it on, for I don’t have the capacity to love my enemies.  I hate offering prayers for those who despise me.  They don’t feel genuine and I know that You know my heart anyway!  You know all things!  I ask You to give me a heart that truly loves my brother.  I don’t want the sacrifices I make to be in vain, Lord.  I want to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I want to love my neighbor as myself.  I confess that I don’t know how.  As You lead me in this life and guide me for the rest of my days, will You show me and teach me how?  I love You, Lord.  Thank You for giving Your life for mine.  Thank You for filling me with Your Holy Spirit.  May I be guided by Him more and more as the days seem to grow darker and darker.  Make me more and more like You, Lord.  Amen

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The Dog

 

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  – Psalm 51:7

 

So, I was playing golf with my dad yesterday morning and we saw a dog on hole number 14.  He had a leash dragging behind him, so we knew he belonged to someone.  The dog wasn’t interested at all in coming to us.  Right when we were teeing off on 15, we heard someone calling for him.  We tried to yell and say that we saw the dog and point them in the right direction.  It didn’t seem like they heard us, so we went to see them from where they were calling him.  The dog had come to them.  The dog had gotten sprayed with a skunk, so they were putting anything they had on him to take the stink away.  On the 16th hole, there is a pond.  The owner was holding him down and rinsing him off.  You could tell the dog hated it.  By the time we were on 17, it looked like the dog was on his way back home safely with his family.

 

I could not help but see the perfect correlation with God and the way He cleans us up.  Each of us bears the image of God when we enter this world.  Yet, we have been sprayed with sin and we stink quite literally to high heaven.  When we hear our master’s voice and we respond, He quickly does some uncomfortable stuff to us.  He puts us through this process called sanctification so we might not stink the place up when we finally arrive home.

 

Lord, thank you for the perfect picture I just saw.  Thank you that every single thing that You put me through that I have absolutely hated only served to make me more and more like You.  All things truly do work for the good for us who love You and are called according to Your purpose.  Help us to see the end from the beginning.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord my God and my Redeemer.  The last thing I want to do is stink in Your Presence.  There is no one like You.  Prepare me for my heavenly home . . . and help me and that dog not stray too far away.

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Always

 

And lo, I am with you always. – Matthew 28:20

 

I love how the Lord works.  He has taken so many what would seem like “small” instances in my life and turned them into lessons that I’ll never forget.  When He says, “I am with you always,” He means it!  For the last 3 weeks, I’ve been on a little mini preaching tour.  Man, did He ever show up!  These atmospheres were created that I just did not want to leave. It had to be at least a .1% taste of heaven.  Any time God’s people are hungry and thirsty for Him, He is going to come down and fill them.  But, what about the small life moments?  Can this type of presence be felt in those?  What does it look like when He show up for those moments?  After all, the verse says that He is with us always, not just when we are in church.

 

Several months ago, I decided that my family would hold our own Sunday services right here in the house.  Those were held in the evenings.  The kids would normally sleep in and Tonya and I were the early risers watching services online in the morning.  One particular Sunday, I decided to go play golf bright and early in the morning before I watched an online service.  I have a history of playing very poorly on Sundays because I feel so guilty that I’m playing on the Lord’s day.  It’s like I feel like I’m hiding what I’m doing from Him, yet I know He is right there.  It’s like I disconnect from Him and hope He will look elsewhere for a few hours.  It is a very weird feeling.  This Sunday was no exception.

 

So, I was standing on number 13 fairway waiting to hit my approach shot.  Here is what I heard from miles away:

 

Hallelujah Thine the glory

Hallelujah Amen

Hallelujah Thine the glory

Revive us again

 

It was so majestic.  Standing there, I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply.  It was like I just breathed Him in.  No judgment.  No “I caught you Adam!”  It was more like He said, “Adam, why won’t you ever let me play golf with you?”  I had no answer.  I felt about two centimeters tall.  Why had I taken my Christianity back to my teenage years when I felt like God couldn’t wait to zap me for every wrong?

 

Since this moment, my awareness of God in the most mundane of moments has increased at least twofold.  Until this moment, when I’d play golf, I was a tense mess.  I would try so hard and just be exhausted at the end of every round.  Now, it is like I enjoy everything.  The good shots, the bad shots, just being out there with both my earthly dad and my Heavenly Father . . . everything.  Sometimes I just give Him my body and let Him hit one . . . He’s pretty good!  We joke around and we laugh.  I can’t believe it could have been like this all along.  As an unbelievable added bonus, I’m shooting these ridiculously low scores.

 

My lifelong goal is to live a day where I am 100% aware of His Presence 100% of the time.  I don’t want this to happen because I stayed home and read the Bible and prayed all day.  I want it to happen because I lived my everyday life.  Maybe I worked all day, then hung out with my family, and then just did normal everyday stuff.  But, while I did that stuff, I was just very aware that He was right there with me.  He and I just enjoyed every moment together.  I can’t help but believe this golf experience just brought me one step closer.

 

Whatever it is you are doing today . . . invite Him to be a part of it.  It will be so much better.

 

He is with you always.

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Beyond Sacrifice

 

“The multitude of your sacrifices — what are they to me?” says the Lord.  “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”  — Isaiah 1:11

 

When I first read this verse in Isaiah, I thought, “That is about as harsh as it gets right there!”  The Israelites had begun to treat God the same as other religions treated their gods.  In fact, they had simply lumped Him in with the other gods.  They were offering sacrifices to those other gods and freely breaking Commandment number one.  Yet, because they still gave God a little nod by offering Him what He said it took to have your sins covered, they thought they were okay.  They most certainly were not.  Isaiah let them know that because of their sin and disobedience, foreign enemies would destroy their current way of life.

 

Today, God has allowed the main way that we honor Him to be rocked.  We can no longer freely pack churches without the odds greatly increasing that someone will get sick.  This pandemic was the beginning of a great division amongst Americans.  Even among Christians, we are greatly divided about government control, the wearing of masks, and just whose lives matter the most.  It reveals that we are not unified.  It reveals that we are breaking His command of loving each other as He loved us (John 15:12).  Just as Isaiah 1 was a chance for them to turn it around and make things right, I think we are in a warning period.

 

Three times now, I was allowed to be a part of a church where the Holy Spirit of God absolutely manifested Himself regularly.  Even though each church was different in the way they did things, it was apparent that there were people who very simply loved the presence and the nearness of God.  He was all they wanted.  God was more than happy to come and meet with them.  I can’t hardly describe the feeling when you enter such a place.  It is like you just want to cry.  It is like there is just raw emotion in you dying to be released.  Once you are in that atmosphere, you just never want to leave.  You could be around it all day and never worry about beating the crowd to the restaurant or what you need to get done the rest of the day.  It is nothing short of amazing.

 

I was able to talk to the preacher of one these churches and ask him what he thought happened.  He said that God began to move in their services.  He said that people from all different walks of life began to come.  As a leader, he said he simply got out of the way and let the Spirit lead.  He said it was all almost effortless.  Then, he said that a small group of people who didn’t care for it began to work behind the scenes.  This group found fault with the new people who were coming.  They found fault with him as a leader and decided that he needed to find somewhere else to preach.  In short, they didn’t like change.  They liked the way things “had always been done.”  It was enough for them to open up the Bible, read a bit, pray a bit, take up an offering, shake some hands, talk to some good ole folks, and then go on about the week with regular business.  Here is the question we must ask, does God take pleasure in our church services?  Or, has He had enough of what we’ve been offering Him?

 

The original sin is still the biggest sin flowing through our hearts.  Adam and Eve wanted to be “like God.”  Unfortunately, they succeeded.  We can all freely choose to be the master of our own lives and make our own decisions in life.  What God asks us to do is give up our preferences and desires to follow Him.  He says it like this, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Yet, as we begin our journey with Him, as soon as something He wants interferes with what we want, that is where the breakdown begins.  It is precisely at these moments in life where we have our greatest opportunities to truly worship our Creator.  It is at these moments where we have the chance to truly exercise faith and trust in Him.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great churches doing it right.  But we have to ask ourselves, “What are we really doing?”  Are we truly experiencing God as we worship?  Or, are we simply feeling better about ourselves by going through the motions?  As Isaiah 1:11 teaches us, by the time we are just going through the motions, our hearts are very far from Him.

 

Lord, I don’t like writing such harsh things.  Even now, something in me is saying to just repost an old WMD.  I know people aren’t going to like this because I don’t like it.  It is convicting.  Help me to honor you with all my heart.  May you be the love of my life.  All else pales in comparison to knowing You.  Help us to learn what you want us to learn.  Help us to be what you called us to be.  Help us to fall crazy in love with You and honor the greatest commandment more than any generation ever has.  I look so forward to the day when my faith becomes sight.  I love You, Lord.  Please help Your church to get this right!

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When Good is No Good

 

And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator.  – Colossians 3:10

 

I have been reading this really old book by a man named Arthur Dent.  It is called “The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven.”  It is kind of hard to read, at least for me, so it has been pretty slow going.  But, one thing has stood out to me and has made it more than worth the effort.  Here is the question that gets answered:  Can a person please God without having been converted?

 

We humans tend to think way better of ourselves than we really are.  Before I was born again, and even years after my conversion, I would defend myself as a good person.  I would point out the fact that I went to church, believed in God, and tried to do good for others.  After God began to change my heart, I began to beat myself up and could find very little good inside of me.  I learned that plenty of church people hadn’t truly been converted.  I learned that people who had zero problem doing some pretty vile and sinful things actually believed in God.  I also found out that “good” could be done with some seriously bad intentions.  No wonder we need to be “renewed” in the image of our Creator.

 

Romans 8:8 says “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  The truth is, until we are in a state of grace, there is no pleasing Him.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Until we are in the state of grace granted by God upon our request for salvation, even our best intentions and our best actions are sinful.  Every single one of us is born corrupt.  Without Christ, we are constantly growing even more corrupt.  Sure, there are good character traits and some morals coursing through all of us, but make no mistake about it, we are all born with spiritual cancer and that sin is eating away at our souls and corrupting our decisions from the moment we enter this world.

 

As soon as we are born again and truly give our life to Christ, there is a great reversal that happens.  It isn’t that God magically makes us better people, but what He does is begin to renew us into His image.  Right after I was saved, I honestly thought because I still sinned that salvation didn’t work.  I didn’t realize that salvation was a slow-going process that God used to make me like Him.  Twenty-nine years later, I don’t really deal with the same sins I dealt with in my youth.  Yet, the closer I get to God I find new sins that, on my own, I would never have even called sin.  I even find that, like Paul, there is this good that I want to do that I just don’t do.  There also exists in me things I hate that I end up doing anyway.  I used to beat myself up like crazy because of these things.  Now, I trust in God to deal with them in His own good time.  He has changed me so much these past twenty-nine years, I suppose He will do a lot more over the next twenty-nine.

 

Here is a difficult truth to swallow:  Christ-less people fail in the manner of doing good because they do not do good out of faith in God, love for God, zeal for God, consciousness of God, or any sense of simply being obedient to God.  This makes sense when we think of Cain’s offering.  He honestly thought he was doing good by bringing God his offering, but his offering was not made out of thankfulness to God.  The Pharisees prayed, but not out of love for God.  Ananias and Sapphira gave an offering, but not out any sense of being obedient to God.  The Israelites fasted and gave offerings, but not in the right spirit.  The prophet Isaiah came along and flat out told them that their religious activity was meaningless.

 

The “Ten Dollar” story that I shared a couple of weeks ago helps me make a little sense of all of this.  Had that student simply asked me for ten dollars to go have fun at the arcade, I would have just given it to him whether I knew God or not.  In an unconverted state, that act of kindness would have been of no eternal value to me.  It isn’t like God is going to let me into heaven simply because “Look, Lord, I do good! I gave that kid ten dollars!”  As it stood, God Himself asked me to give him the money.  I essentially told Him “no” because apparently, I had my own “good” reasons for not obeying.  I missed that opportunity to do good simply because God asked it of me and out of a sense of trusting Him.  In His great mercy, He still used that whole situation to teach me and I’m so thankful.  He still asks me to do hard things.  I’ve learned to just pray and say, “Lord, help me complete the good you are asking me to do.  I would never have done this on my own.  Let it not be me, but You, Lord.”

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Two Nights, Same Dream

I will be preaching every Sunday for the rest of this month.  I’d love to see you guys in person if you should get the chance to come to a service.  My schedule is as follows:

 

July 12 at White Stone Freedom Fellowship
July 19 at Open Door Baptist Church
July 26 at Mt Freedom Baptist in Mountain Rest

 

Two Nights, Same Dream

 

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  – Joel 2:28

 

Many of His disciples turned and followed Him no more. – John 6:66

 

Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. – Luke 9:24

 

I had this dream.  I had the same dream last night, but I didn’t realize I had the dream last night until I had the dream again.  It was the exact same dream.  I already know what it means.  Even though I’m crazy sleepy and really, really want to go back to sleep, I know I’m supposed to write it down.  I know I will forget if I go back to sleep.

 

In the dream, I’m climbing this crazy tall tree.  When I look up, I can’t see a top.  It just keeps going and going.  Something in me knows to never look down.  I know how far I’ve come.  I know that I’ve been climbing this tree for years, and I know that I’ve seen things only because I’ve climbed this tree.  I also know that if I slip and fall, I’m a goner.  However, I never think about that.  As I climb there are three types of obvious branches.  There are branches that I know that if I use them, they will break very easily.  Sometimes I simply avoid them, and other times I break them off.  There are iffy branches that I may or may not be able to use.  They simply need to be tested with my weight.  If I need to test them, there is always a sturdy branch that I can hold to so I know that I won’t fall.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  Then there are nice, sturdy branches.  I can trust them.  I do trust them.  In my dream, I’m very aware of all of this.  In my dream, I’m really enjoying the view right where I am.  I’m sitting comfortably on a sturdy limb, but I know that it is time to go further.

 

As soon as I get ready to go, there is this obnoxious kid just above me.  He is kind of transparent.  I know that I could climb right through him.  He starts telling me not to look down.  He starts talking about each limb and convincing me that good limbs are bad limbs, and bad limbs are good limbs.  I ignore him for a bit, but there is this section where I have to reach up to grab a good limb while stepping on an iffy limb.  The kid just constantly laughs at me and tells me how I’m never going to make it.  All of a sudden, I’m worried about falling.  I’m paralyzed with fear.  I start believing that I’m never going to make it.  I wake up.

 

I don’t think it is some big secret that something big is coming down the pike.  People right now, especially Christians, are wondering if life as we know it is about to be considerably altered.  There are so many sub-groups of people wanting different things.  They are fighting for these things.  They are willing to steal, kill, and destroy to get what they want.  I’ve always thought that the thief in John 10:10 was Satan.  Yet, when Jesus was talking about the thief, he was talking to a group of religious leaders.  He was calling them the thieves.  He was basically saying, “People who follow me know my voice, and they can easily recognize when some other shepherd comes along and does not have their best interest in mind.”  He goes on to say that lousy shepherds allow wolves in to attack and scatter the flocks.  Read John 10 slowly and carefully and tell me whether or not you believe the thief is Satan.

 

Here is what I know for sure.  In my dream, I was so high above the ground that I didn’t even bother with what was on the ground.  I heard a preacher say a phrase last week that I haven’t heard in a long time.  He said that were people right now that were “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.”  I used to believe that.  I used to say that.  This is not the problem with American Christians right now.  The overwhelming majority of American Christians are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.  I knew that if I climbed down that tree, I’d lose so much.  I also knew that climbing down would be just as difficult as continuing my climb up.  I knew if I didn’t advance, I’d regret it.  I knew if I fell that I would die.  I know what I have to do.  I must speak to that discouraging voice, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  (Matthew 16:23)

 

I bet you know to whom Jesus spoke those words.  He spoke them to Peter.  Peter was one of the good guys, right?  In context, all Peter did was argue against the bad things that Jesus said were coming.  Jesus basically said, “Religious leaders are about to kill me.  Dark days are coming, but I will be raised back to life.”  Peter said, “No they are not!  We will help prevent it.”  It is at this precise moment that Jesus speaks those words in Matthew 16:23.

 

What am I trying to say?  Be very careful who you listen to.  Pay close attention to what the shepherds and leaders of the church say and do.  Peter was a good guy, but he had to be checked when he let his emotions and feelings take over.  The Pharisees thought they were the good guys, but Jesus quickly let them know that they were thieves and robbers keeping people from coming into good pastureland.  Christians right now are making well-meaning posts on Facebook, but they are wrong in their motives.  I’ve made them myself.  You should filter everything that I write and say through the lens of Christ Jesus and the Word of God.  Test my words!  I’ve said things in God’s Name that I wish I could take back simply because I said them when I was hurt.  The most important thing is that you keep climbing the tree.   Test every branch as you climb.  You will know which ones you can step on and which ones you can’t.  Rebuke those voices that are trying to call bad branches good and good branches bad.  The Bible says it like this, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

 

You and I can navigate this life.  You and I can enjoy safe pastureland.  You and I can make it to our eternal home.  My heavenly home is bright and fair, I feel like traveling on.

 

Lord, please, please, please help us keep our eyes on the prize!  We think it is all about leaving a better earth for future generations.  The prize is to receive a crown that lasts forever.  Help us to be the true light who guides others well and points them in Your direction.  May you use us to inspire others to climb up there with You!  May you use us to help others live for what is unseen.  For eyes have not seen, nor ears heard.  It has not entered into the hearts of people the things that you have prepared for us who truly love You.  Help us to live in light of eternity.

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The Beatitudes Book

 

I am in the process of reading, re-reading, and editing my book.  I’m really hoping to have it out by the end of this year.  Along with it, I’m trying to compile 365 of my WMD’s and put them in a book as well.  We will see how it goes.  For WMD this morning, I thought I would copy and paste an excerpt from the book.  It is a story that I tell quite often.

 

The Ten Dollars

 

I have to include this story in this book.  I hate that it highlights my disobedience, but I love that it teaches us that, even in our failure and disobedience, God can still more than complete His purposes.

 

I was a bus driver at Tamassee-Salem High School in Salem, SC.  It was my afternoon route and I was about to drop off my last kid.  In my mind, I clearly out of nowhere heard God say, “Give him the ten dollars.”  I knew exactly what He was talking about.  That particular morning I had found a perfectly laundered ten dollar bill in the back pocket of my jeans.  It just so happened to be Friday and I was in super high spirits.

 

Looking back, I honestly had no problem giving him the ten dollars.  Unfortunately, my mind immediately went to the consequences of my actions.  I pictured the parents asking him where he got the money.  If he said, “my bus driver,” I thought they might think I was some creep luring him for some sort of sexual favors or something.  The demons must have been working overtime because by the time his stop came, I had made my mind up that I just couldn’t give it to him.  He got off the bus.  I reasoned that it wasn’t God talking, it was just my own mind.  Please tell me that you know what I’m talking about!

 

Anyway, I didn’t think about it again all weekend.  Monday came and I simply asked him, “How was your weekend?”

 

“Terrible,” he said.

 

“Why?” I asked.

 

“Well, my dad had given me ten dollars to go to Gattitown (think Chuck-e-Cheese).  The youth group was going there on Saturday.  I still got to go, but dad needed the money that morning to buy gas for his truck.  It kind of sucked being there without any money.”

 

I felt two centimeters tall.  I left and went to be alone with God.  “I’m so sorry, Lord.  I’m so sorry,” was all I could say as tears literally streamed down my face.  I collected myself, went to my truck, got out my wallet, and pulled out a twenty.  I went and pulled the kid out of class.

 

“Man, I just want you to know that God was looking out for you.  He asked me Friday to give you a ten-dollar bill that I didn’t even know existed because it got washed in the laundry.  I disobeyed because I thought your parents would think I was a predator or something.  It is my fault you had to go with the youth group with no money to have fun with.  God did not ask me to do this, but here is twice as much money as He asked me to give you.  Please forgive me.  God is good, but me . . . not so much.”

 

All he said was, “That is so cool that God was looking out for me.”  That was on a Monday.  Thursday, he came in and told me that he had walked to the church near his house and attended the Wednesday evening service.  He gave his heart and life to the Lord.  Today, he is a college graduate and I see him as my own son and one of my best friends.

 

Yes, God knows how to work despite our disobedience.  His ways are simply not our ways.  He is holy.  He is mighty.  He is so wonderful!

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Half

 

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  – Matthew 13:5-7

 

There are four groups in the Parable of the Sower.  The first is a group of people who don’t receive the word at all.  They don’t claim to know God or even care to know Him.  They are easy to spot.  The last is a group of people that obviously love God and are productive in His kingdom.  There is no doubt where their allegiance lies.  Then, there are the middle two groups mentioned in the verses that I used for this morning’s devotional.  They are the half consuming my mind as I write this morning.

 

I’m pretty sure everyone taking the time to read this is in one of the last three groups.  I doubt that someone who doesn’t give a rip about God at all would take the time the read this.  Assuming this is true, that puts you and I in one of the last three categories.  We think we are Christians but have no root, we think we are Christians and the cares of this life are choking us, or we think we are productive Christians.  Where would you categorize yourself right now?

 

Today is my birthday and I’m 45 years old.  That sounds so crazy to me.  I’ve been a Christian now for 29 of those years.  Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned that I go in and out of these last two categories.  I have to be honest about where I am with God.  If I don’t know, I pray the Psalm 139:23-24 prayer.  Most of the time, I know where I am and where I stand.  I used to measure where I was in terms of how much I was doing for God.  How much was I reading the Bible?  How often was I going to church?  How much am I praying?  It seemed like if I wasn’t doing these things often, then I wasn’t where I needed to be and wasn’t doing what I needed to do.  Now, I measure where I am in terms of How much I’m enjoying just being with Him and just being His.  Like, right now as I’m writing, I don’t want to leave this sense of being right there with Him in His Presence.  I measure it in terms of just overall contentment with where He has chosen to place me right here, right now in life.  If I’ve truly placed all things in His hands . . . whom shall I fear?  What reason could I possibly have to be worried?

 

The problem you and I have is that we hardly ever rate ourselves poorly.  Now, there are these exceptions of genuinely saved people who rate themselves poorly all the time and never find any positives . . . that has to stop as well.  But, for the most part, in my experience, we tend to gravitate towards granting ourselves immunity from any kind of negativity.  We do the same for others we love and respect.  A man can be a flat-out premeditated murderer, and yet someone who loves him will say, “He is a good man with a good heart.”  I haven’t been to a funeral yet where the person buried was described as less than a good person who deserves Heaven.  Yet, the Bible flat out tells us that there are no good people.  All of us like sheep have gone astray.  What would possibly make you and I believe that we are incapable of pride, greed, malice, and a multitude of other sins growing in our hearts?

 

One out of the twelve closest followers of Jesus cared more about money than about Him.  He literally sold Him out.  Half of the virgins waiting on the Bridegroom didn’t take care of their lamps and missed out on the actual wedding.  There was this one guy who was actually at the wedding.  Everyone there, including him, must have thought he was meant to be there.  Yet, the king asked him straight up, “How did you get in here without having your wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12).  The man was dumbfounded.  Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 by all appearances seemed totally legit.  Yet, they dropped dead at Peter’s feet because Satan had filled their hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit.  Could that be us?  Is it possible that you and I could lie to the Holy Spirit right now about where we stand with God?

 

Oh Lord!  Many are invited, but few are chosen.  These are Your words.  I don’t want the cares of this life to choke out Your word that lives inside of me.  I don’t want to go through life believing everything is ok when it isn’t.  Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know what I am thinking.  If there be any wicked way in me, show me the way everlasting.  Grant me a heart that wants to follow Your way above all else.  Help me to remain on the narrow path that leads to life.  As You have loved me and given Yourself to me, help me to love You back and give myself to You.  May I hide myself in You for the rest of my days.  Let me be a tree that produces a hundred-fold for You, my God and my salvation. Amen.

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Fishing

 

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  — Matthew 4:19

 

This morning, I want to talk about how one purposefully tries to win people to God.  After reading my thoughts, I’d like for you to reply to this email or leave in the comments exactly how you try to win people.  I like the fishing aspect that Jesus uses.  It helps me to visualize the exact moment that I’m purposefully casting the lure into the water and waiting for a fish to bite.

 

First and foremost, I believe you have to be interested in the people that you want to reach.  You have to genuinely care about them.  If there is a subgroup of people you couldn’t care less about, you will never reach them for the Lord.  I would even say that for many religious people today that there are people they are glad will go to hell and “get what they deserve.”  Think about that for a moment!  Jesus got blasted for reaching out to people many believed were not worth the time or the effort.

 

Not everyone we are to fish for is completely lost.  Here in the South, most people claim to believe in God.  I would even say that most of them have said the “sinner’s prayer” and have been “saved.”  This means that there are people who do believe; but they need to be caught and helped to move forward in their faith.  This also means that there are Christians who are just down and defeated in life.  We must be looking to catch them as well and encourage them to keep moving forward.  I think of it as “catch and release.”  I’m purposefully trying to draw you in for a conversation about the Lord.  Then, I’m going to release you back into the world hopefully a little bit closer to the Lord than you were before our conversation.

 

As I befriend people who are far from God, I never mention God at first.  I want to let them talk about themselves.  I fight the urge to talk about myself.  I want them to know that I am interested in them and care about them first and foremost.  When the conversation eventually gets around to talking about me, I will attempt to briefly mention what the Lord has done in my life and what He means to me.  I definitely don’t go for overkill at this point.  Over time, it is inevitable that something happens in their life.  It may be a sick family member, it may be a health scare, it may be a court appearance, or it may be a vast array of other things weighing on their hearts and minds.  Eventually, they will either ask for help or, if I really get a good bite, prayer.  At this moment, and only at this moment, do I feel free to tell them how to place complete trust in Him.  If they ask for prayer, I’m going for the gold . . . “Lord, show them Your power!  Break through, Lord, in a way that my friend knows it was You and only You!”  I completely leave the ball in God’s court.  I threw the lure out, I got a bite, it is now up to Him to clean them up.  I’m so glad He does this.  I hate cleaning fish, literally and figuratively.

 

I remember one time that I had a friend who wanted me to loan him some money.  I don’t remember how much it was, maybe $50.  I told him that I’d straight up give him the money if he would come to church and sit through the service.  I guess he really needed the money because he came and sat through the service.  I don’t think he is saved, but we have had many really good conversations about what it means and looks like to really live for the Lord.

 

Lately God has given me a new way to fish that’s kind of gotten me blasted a little bit.  For whatever reason, there are songs that I learned to play and sing years ago that I’ve just never forgotten.  I’m talking like scores of songs.  Well, my aunt and uncle have opened a brewery.  It is an amazing place to just sit and chill.  Even if you don’t drink alcohol, you can do like me and drink a cherry cola and eat a soft pretzel.  They are both crazy good.  Anyway, I’ve been going up there on Thursdays when the crowd is small to medium, setting my stuff up, and playing music.  I mostly play the 80’s and 90’s stuff that I remember and play a vast array of stuff with my daughter.  However, at some point, I throw out the fishing lure.  I don’t announce it or anything, but I just close my eyes and sing to the Lord like it is just Him and me.  Most of the time, it gets ignored and I don’t get a bite.  However, I want to tell you about two bites that I have gotten.

 

The first was around the Christmas holidays.  I played what is probably my favorite Christmas song, “Born in Bethlehem,” by Third Day.  It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention, but when I was finished this guy asked me, “Hey, what was that song?  It was amazing!  I’ve got to learn it.”  We talked about Third Day.  I talked about how I started listening to that music in the first place after God changed my heart, mind, and life.  After he left, I prayed for him.  I still pray for him as he comes to my mind like right now.

 

The last one was this past Thursday.  Some of you may have watched my little mini Facebook live session.  Towards the end, I played “All I Need,” by Shawn McDonald.  I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to that one at all.  I said, “Hey, is there anything you guys want me to play?  I may know it.”  Then, this guy said, “Play some more Shawn McDonald.”  I was blown away that someone even knew who he was.  So, I had a little worship session right there and played “Take My Hand,” and “Open Me.”  Afterwards, he said, “You love the Lord, don’t you?”  I said, “Yes sir, I do.”  He said, “I would have never expected in a million years to come here and hear Shawn McDonald.”  We had a great conversation about the Lord.

 

What about you?  How do you do it?  Share with me ways that you purposefully fish for people.  Maybe you do something that I can do as well.  Here is what I know . . . we need to be intentional about it right now more than ever.

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The Devastating Condition of Lukewarm

 

So because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:16

 

This was written to the church of Laodicea.  Even though this particular church no longer exists, the warning remains for the church today.  Churches in general seem to naturally regress to the temperature of lukewarm.   It takes no effort at all to reach this temperature.  All one needs to do is nothing at all.  There is no stoking of the fire nor fanning of the flame.  There is no refrigeration or adding of ice to make it cold.  Inside the lukewarm Christian, there is a not so obvious indifference that lies at the point of lukewarm.  It is very easy to deceive yourself into believing that you are OK when you are lukewarm.  It isn’t like the Christian in this position doesn’t care at all, but neither does he care immensely.  Here is what C.H. Spurgeon had to say back in 1874:

 

They were not infidels, nor were they earnest believers.

 

They did not oppose the gospel, neither did they defend it.

 

They weren’t working mischief, nor were they working any great good.

 

They were not disreputable for moral character, but neither were they distinguished for holiness.

 

They were not irreligious, but they were not enthusiastic in piety nor eminent for zeal.

 

They were neither bigots nor Puritans.

 

They were prudent and avoided fanaticism, respectable and averse to excitement.

 

They had prayer meetings, but very few were present, for they cherished their evenings at home.

 

I’ve heard many pastors and children’s workers say some form of this one:  they don’t mind going to church on Sundays, but neither are they going to commit to helping in the back, volunteering for a team, or being there every Sunday, for they like being able to come and go as they please.

 

It seems that the early church, as well as the church from 146 years ago, were predisposed to becoming lukewarm.  We would be fools to believe that it couldn’t happen to us today.  If the fire of God was burning in our hearts right now absolutely nothing could pry us away from Him.  If we were cold and completely lost in our sin, we might would recognize our dreadful state and repent, take up our cross, and follow Him.  As it stands, the church is content.  As it stands, the church is “fine.”  When we are content with our finances, we are considered rich.  Yet, when we are content with our relationship with God, we could not possibly be in a more wretched state.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  That is to say, “Blessed are those who know their desperate need for Christ and His Holy Spirit.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

I am about to spew you out of my mouth.

 

Why is the church in His mouth to begin with?  Could it be that individual Christians are His sermons?  Does He speak through a group of people called “The body of Christ?”  When others see the once cold wretch now on fire for God, there is no denying the existence of a great, mighty, and powerful God who really does change hearts, minds and lives.  There is no denying His power when a red-hot soul is looked upon.  Yet, when the world sees a church full of indifference, why should they believe in God?  Why should He not spew the lukewarm out of His mouth?  They can no longer be used as a witness to His greatness!  Who cares if you are simply better than you used to be?  You may not be cold in sin, but neither are you burning with the fire and the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.  Would to God that you and I would be one or the other.

 

Lord, set my spirit ablaze!  I want to love You with all my heart.  I don’t want to be lukewarm.  I want to want You.  I want you to be the ultimate desire of my heart.  Don’t spew me out of Your mouth.  Use my life.  Use it to speak to others of Your greatness and Your holiness.

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