Saturday, May 4, 2019

Brothers in Defect

We are not so much brothers in our virtue but in our defects, and in our willingness to be open and deal with them together."

Many people don't attend church because they think they're not good enough to hang around perfect people. Others who do attend often hide under a cloak of shame and guilt mistakenly thinking that people in the pews around them have their life together while they know they themselves struggle with defects of character  for which they feel they would be judged if anyone else really knew who they were behind their mask. They listen to sermons that portray a standard of living that they can't seem to live up to and then leave feeling more guilty and ashamed than when they arrived.

I recently heard a preacher ask this question to an audience of several thousand, "How many of you in here have done something you knew was wrong and you swore to God and yourself that you'd never ever do that again; but then you did?" Everybody in the room raised their hand including the preacher. I know as you read this you would also raise your hand; all of us would.  We struggle with temptation  over and over and over again no matter how long we've been believers in Christ and more times than we'd like to admit we yield. Just because you became a Christian doesn't mean that you're sinless; but it does mean that you can sin less. But it's a process and doesn't happen quickly.  It also depends on the type of defects you struggle with and how long you've had that defect as a pattern or habit in your life.

There are different types of people who struggle with alcohol for instance. Some can drink and even get drunk on occasion; but they can quit simply by making a decision to quit. An alcoholic on the other hand, has a different biochemistry and alcohol affects him differently. It creates an insatiable and often irresistible craving that controls him and when he tries to quit on his own he feels like he's insane. He thinks to himself that if he only had enough will-power he could quit; but he can't on his own; regardless of how many times he's resolved never to drink again. Other chemical addictions play a similar game on those who are trapped in the helpless cycle trying to recover.

I heard of a woman who was a prostitute and called a church counselor in Colorado Springs trying to reach out for some resemblance of a relationship with God. She asked, "If I come to church will I have to stop sleeping with men?" The counselor said "yes."  Her next question revealed the hunger in her heart that needed to be filled, "But if I can't have sex, how will I ever feel like somebody loves me?" Instead of accepting his invitation to come to church; he never heard from her again. What if the church was the place that people felt they could get genuine love and acceptance in spite of their defects and in the process they would be welcomed with open arms and helped to honestly deal with those temptations and destructive thoughts? Jesus was friends with sinners and sought them out and was criticized for doing so. If we are to be like Him, we'll seek out sinners as well and point them to the Great Physician who can heal their hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Three Categories of Defects

There are different categories of sin, each as deadly, but we view them differently and judge people with a different standard when they struggle with them. I saw a church sign recently on Social Media that said, "Don't be so hard judging another person's sin because it's different than your own!" Three categories of sin that Paul identified are: 1) Sensual Sins, 2) Social Sins, and 3) Spiritual Sins. Let's explore them.

Sensual sins include drunkenness, sexual immorality and gluttony. We tend to recognize those who struggle with these defects immediately; except the sin of gluttony.  For some reason that one never get's mentioned as a defect especially since most of us in the West are slaves to it. The city of Corinth was known for its indulgence in sensual sins and many in the church struggled with these defects even after becoming believers.

Social sins are, in my opinion, some of the most destructive; yet get very little serious attention. Among the list in this category are gossip, slander, envy, jealousy, rage, malice, outbursts of anger, etc. I've witnessed churches divide and relationships shattered by those who struggle with these defects, and yet they aren't addressed as seriously as sensual sins. Those who struggle with these defects are often the most judgmental on those who struggle with sensual sins. Jesus told a parable about these people who think they are better than others. "To some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable. "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, "God I thank you that I am not like other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted," (Luke 18:9-14).

Spiritual sins would include witchcraft, sorcery, seyonces, astrology, and covetousness or greed which the Bible calls 'idolatry.' Have you ever heard someone challenged for being covetous or greedy? It's one of the Ten Commandments, but for some reason in our culture we excuse it as someone driven to succeed. There are people who struggle with these defects and from reading the history of the city of Ephesus in Acts 18 and the letter to the Ephesians one can see the evidence of this spiritual temptation.  This temptation ensnared the nation if Israel more than any other and led to their ultimate demise in the Old Testament.

Recovery Help Required

The church should not be thought of as a showcase for saints and a place you have to get it all together before you come; but as a hospital for recovering sinners.The Bible term for our recovery is Sanctification - which means being made holy or transformed into the image of God. Justification is a one-time transaction that wipes away our sins.  Sanctification is the life-long process by which the Spirit transforms a believer. It's the process of recovery from our addiction to the sinful nature.

Each of us is at a different stage in our recovery and sometimes we relapse - often multiple times over and over again. If we keep those defects secret, then like a toxic mold or bacteria, they fester and grow in the closet of darkness, entangling us deeper in the trap of insanity. Let's explore how the addresses this dilemma.
  • Jesus' Attitude toward People
Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.  Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered them "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:27-32).

As you read through the Gospels you witness Jesus continually reaching out and befriending people with a lot of defects - the tax collectors, the woman at the well with five failed marriages and shacking up with a guy she left in her bed that morning, the sinful woman - possibly a prostitute - who washed his feet with her tears; and the list goes on. I find it interesting that the Son of God was condemned by the religious leaders because he wasn't religious enough and he called people whose lives were all messed up - "friends." He was the Great Physician and a doctor to those who were sin-sick. Shouldn't the church be the hospital for sin-sick people in recovery so they can be healed by the Great Physician?

  • Paul's Struggle and Instruction
Paul talked about our common struggle with the defects of our sinful nature. See if you can relate.

"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:14-25)

Paul describes the dilemma of struggling with our defects perfectly and we all feel the same way, don't we? So why should we expect anyone else to feel differently? This illustrates my point; The church is a hospital for recovering sinners and each of us is at a different stage in our recovery and sometimes we relapse!  That's the point Paul is here making.

In his instruction to the churches, Paul reminds them that dealing with our defects is a process of taking off the old man and putting on the new man created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Take off that defect and replace it with a godly character or practice. "Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, instead they must work with their own hands that they may have something to share with those in need." If you've been a liar, start telling the truth. If you've been drunk with wine, now be filled with the Spirit and replace that defect with love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness etc.

  • We Can't Do it Alone
We need to deal with our defects together. Look at these passages and think how they should apply to yourself and the church.

"Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed," (James 5:16). This doesn't say just confess your sins to God, it requires another trusted person. Prayer offered for one another is not so that we are forgiven; it's so we can be healed. For a defect to be healed it has to be brought into the light with another person whom you love and trust with your deepest and darkest secrets.  A mistake would be to confess your sins to someone who might judge you instead of be your friend in spite of your defect. And, it's a two-way street.

"Bear one another's burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ," (Galatians 6:2). Dealing with our own sinful nature is a horrible struggle on our own.  But when I can open up about my deepest struggles with another whom I trust in confidentiality, then my burden is lifted as we carry each other's burdens.

"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted," (Galatians 6:1-2). The idea here is that if someone is trapped, ensnared and unable to escape from a sin or temptation, then another person who lives by the Spirit should help restore that person gently.  To open the jaws of a trap and release a leg can be a painful experience and requires a lot of healing and gentleness for an extended period of time.

 Some issues we can deal with ourselves, but many require another person or persons to be in a strong, authentic, confidential relationship with us. Each person should have a best spiritual friend with whom they can be totally transparent and honest and who will be a friend who loves at all times. No one can help an alcoholic like another alcoholic in recovery.  No one can help someone dealing with grief like another who has experienced the same grief. A tragedy occurs when a person betrays a confidence or condemns another because of their faults.

Putting it all Together

We must remember who we are.  We are fatally flawed creatures who struggle with defects that we wish we didn't have; but we do! We need a safe place in relationships where we can take all the masks off and let another person or persons love us in spite of ourselves. We are not so much brothers in our virtue but in our defects, and in our willingness to be open and deal with them together.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Building Your Relationship With God Book

Did you realize that you'll still be alive one billion years from now? The question is, "Where will you be?"  In my book, I help you explore the questions of eternity.  It reveals what others aren't telling you!
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Atheist Delusion - Can Something Come From Nothing?

This is an honest question that must be answered and the most brilliant Atheists simply can't answer it intelligently. You'll want to watch Dr. Richard Dawkins, noted Atheist, stumble all over his words as he attempts to explain how everything came from nothing.  Enjoy and please share.

Friday, July 15, 2016

God's Purpose For The Church

If you were to ask the average member or even leader of a church, "What is the purpose of this church" most would look at you with an expression of confusion.  They would attempt to answer with a variety of statements, but they would miss the definition of God's Purpose for the church.  In this video I want to introduce you to answering the question of "What is God's Purpose for the Church?"

Much of the curriculum on my site is available for helping you implement what you're about to learn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8).

I just got off the phone with a brother in Christ who shared a personal encounter he'd just experienced that was similar to this story with the woman and some rock chuckers. He told me that he'd reached out to meet a fellow Christian brother who was involved in a church planting work.  My friend had gone through some very dark valleys in his life over ten years ago and through the ordeal lost his marriage, ministry, and health.  He made some poor decisions and was almost on the verge of suicide, but he'd since rebuilt his life, was in a profitable career, and married a beautiful Christian woman and together they'd been praying about being involved in ministry again.

He told me, "When the conversation ended I felt the stones crushing the bones in my skull and my heart was once again pierced with condemnation for something that happened over ten years ago. "I know about you!" he said, and began to elaborate with judgment about my character and accusing me of some ulterior motive. I apparently bled in the shark tank and he was a Great White! Shocked, and unable to even respond, all I heard from a man who'd never talked to me before was judgment and accusation about my character and accusations about my motives. But he'd heard the other side of the story, that was not all that accurate, and it was over a decade ago." Needless to say, my friend had met one of the guys with a stone and he threw it!

The women in this story had apparently been caught in the very act of adultery.  It's interesting how her condemners focused on her sin, but not that of her adulterous partner and didn't even bring him into the drama that unfolded. Those who point fingers often do that sort of thing and show favoritism or take sides in an issue. They were quick to point to the law she'd violated, and sure enough, she was caught naked with another man and was guilty!  No denying it! The religious teachers wanted to make sure that she was punished and used her indiscretion really as a trap to discredit Jesus.

"She should be stoned! That's what the law demands.  Jesus, what are you going to do about it?" And they taunted him with questions to solicit a response, but his response was not quite what they expected.  Instead of joining their rightful condemnation of her undeniable sin, he quietly bent down and began writing in the dirt.

I've read a lot of speculation about what he was writing and no one knows for certain,  but the guys with the stones in their hands looked over his shoulder and saw what he wrote.  He stood up, then made this statement, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he stooped over and kept writing. Did you catch their reaction?  Slowly, and one by one, you could hear the rocks hit the dirt without throwing a single one at the woman. They began to leave one by one, and I suspect they had their heads down, and most likely feeling angry and convicted, but they never threw a rock. What happened?  What did Jesus write? What did they read?

"Thou shalt not lie," and one remembered the lies he'd been telling his wife.  "Do not covet your neighbor's wife," and another remembers that he wanted to commit adultery himself, but didn't actually DO it! "Do not steal," and the third remembered the taxes he didn't pay. "Do not bear false witness," which might have been the very thing they were doing with this woman. "Judgment shall be without mercy to those who show no mercy."  And the rocks drop from their hands in shame.  Slowly. One by one. And they walk away.

I used to be one of the rock chuckers in the crowd, especially as a young preacher. Repent!  Turn or burn! Change or leave! And many people who sinned, left feeling the bruises of my stones as I condemned and judged them.  Jesus has an amazing way of showing us our own sin and rubbing our noses in our own ungodliness.  To these guys, he did it with his finger and a few words in the dirt. They felt the very condemnation they were attempting to levy against this woman.

David, the man after God's own heart, did the same thing.  He coveted another man's wife, committed adultery, murdered her husband, and lied in covering it up. The Lord's hand was heavy upon him and crushed him with guilt, shame, remorse, regret, even to the point he couldn't sleep as his anguish ripped his soul apart. He knew the law and that he should be stoned! Anyone who has ever sinned and done that which they arrogantly said they'd never do knows how David felt. Perhaps you've been there yourself? The lie that caused a scandal? The business deal you were less than honest in? The woman you became too familiar with? The blinking lights in your rear view mirror when you had that drink you knew you shouldn't?

Paul in his arrogance killed innocent people, destroyed families, destroyed lives. When confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus God didn't immediately save him.  Lucado said in his book, "God put scales so thick on Saul's eyes that the only place he could look was inside himself."  What you see about yourself in those times of blind darkness is terrifying!

The sinful woman saw Jesus sitting with a Pharisee and knelt down to wash his feet with her hair. Appalling! The Pharisee thought to himself, "If He knew the kind of woman SHE was he wouldn't have anything to do with her." Then Jesus again turns the tables of judgment and says to him "He who has been forgiven much, loves much." I've learned that you really don't love those caught in the horrors of sin until you've been there yourself - then love, mercy and grace take on a whole new meaning.

The Samaritan woman at the well had been divorced 5 times and was shacked up with a guy she'd left in her bed that morning before her encounter with Jesus. Oh, she knew the ten commandments and knew her Bible, but also felt the condemnation of her neighbors. She was thirsty, not for religion, but for forgiveness and compassion and Jesus gave her living water, but it was not from the well!

I thought about writing a ministry resume with this information, "I was entrusted by God as a leader of his people, but I coveted another man's wife, seduced her, got her pregnant, then had her husband murdered to cover up the scandal. The child I fathered died, and in guilt I married the woman and later mistrusted God in an even more horrible way and knew that God wanted me dead.  Instead of killing me, he took the lives of over 100,000 innocent people as a judgment for my personal sin.  I've also murdered people in the church and destroyed families because they didn't adhere to the soundness of the doctrines I upheld with a good conscience. But I can deliver a great sermon!

David and Paul wouldn't make the cut at most churches that were looking for a preacher! Their past would not be forgotten and they would never be trusted.

I no longer throw rocks.  I've dropped mine in the dirt because I see what Jesus's finger wrote about me in the sand. I've been harshly reminded that I have no business judging someone else and condemning their sins, especially those from a decade ago.  David the murderer, liar, adulterer was a man after Gods own heart.  Paul, the murderer and legalist was the most effective evangelist in Christian history who wrote about himself, "I am the worst of sinners!" But he also wrote, "Forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward the goal of the prize which calls me upward in Christ Jesus." The Bible also says that "God does not judge us as our sin deserves!" Thank God for that or we'd all be dead.

The rocks of condemnation and judgment can leave you feeling bruised  after what happened more than a decade ago in your life. "Wretched man that I am, who will set me free?" You'll still feel pains of regret and shame, but then when you read the next few verses in Romans 8, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord!"  The Lord  welcomed his prodigal son home smelling like a pig and he threw a robe around my shoulders, put a ring on my finger, and killed the fatted calf and threw a celebration! "This son of mine is home again!"  Funny, you'll still have the older self righteous brothers who reminds your father that you squandered your inheritance with wild living for a while, and the rocks of condemnation are still thrown - and yes, they still hurt. But His Amazing Grace is still greater than ALL your sin and there is nothing you can ever do to earn or repay it! Praise God that Jesus blood covers all my sin, including the ones I haven't even thought about doing yet. Yours too if you'll trust him to do so.

If you have a stone in your hand to chuck at someone you know is guilty, you may want to think twice before you throw it.  God has a not-so-amusing way of making sure its thrown back in your face!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Is your church a Cruise Ship or Battleship?

Dr. Bret McCall came up with the analogy of churches being like Cruise ships or Battleships. I learned a lot when I started looking at the comparison and thinking about why churches either grow or don't. I hope this makes you think as it did me. I preached a 16 week series on Battleship Discipleship to mobilize our church to be engaged in the mission of Christ to the world. So what is the comparison and how does it apply to your church?

Cruise Ship Churches

Think about what happens on a Cruise Ship.  You purchased a package deal to take your family on the ideal vacation.  You're met by people who check you in, greet you as you walk across and board the amazing ship designed to take you on a memorable cruise.  Your surroundings are comfortable, the buffet has every selection to meet every appetite. Accommodations are immaculate, air conditioned, clean sheets, clean towels and all you have to do is pick up the phone for room service.

The crew are trained professionals, groomed to not offend anyone, and to be at your beckoning call. They organize events to entertain and allow you to enjoy a wonderful experience. You can sit by the pool and your waiter will bring you whatever you need or desire to make your experience a memorable one, after all, you paid for a cruise ship experience!

Battleship Churches

Battleships are not designed for pleasure, but for war.  There are no passengers aboard a battleship, only highly trained crew-members.

Every crewmember knows his job and understands that their job insures the safety of the ship and the accomplishment of the mission. The galley isn't fancy, but designed to provide good food for nourishment to keep the crew healthy and fit to accomplish the mission commissioned by the Commander in Chief.

The crew isn't a democracy and doesn't hold meetings to vote on what they think should be happening.  They don't get to complain if the seas are rough or if the conditions are uncomfortable.  They wouldn't even consider such mutiny! They are enlisted in the service of their country and have pledged an oath to defend and serve the mission!

Which is Your Church?

Cruise ship churches have a paid staff whose job it is to make sure that the passengers enjoy the experience of coming aboard.  The only mission is to make sure the passengers are well taken care of. Classes are well organized, greeters strategically positioned at the doors as the passengers board, coffee and drinks readily available to make the experience a memorable one.  You don't want unhappy passengers!

The crew members understand their job is to serve the passengers who sit in nicely padded seats and listen to the entertainment - great worship team, dynamic preacher, great sound system, and the timing must be perfect.  You can't go too long or you'll interrupt the passenger's experience of going out for lunch and gathering for the ball game in the afternoon!

Battleship churches understand that there are no passengers aboard. At enlistment, every warrior swears and oath to defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. Everyone is trained and equipped for battle against a real enemy whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy.  They fully understand that this isn't a vacation but a life and death mission for the salvation of the human race! The crew isn't trained to entertain, but to fight the battle and to watch their brother's back. Semper Fi - Always Prepared  Semper Paratus - Always Ready! No man gets left behind.  And for every victim the enemy has wounded, the battleship is on a deliberate search and rescue mission. The crew are fully armed, and fully equipped with all their weapons poised and prepared for battle with a real enemy who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour.

Assemblies aren't for entertainment, but muster for warriors.  Attention to detail. All are accounted for. Roll taken. Daily the flag is raised at sunrise, and all hands on deck stand at attention and a sharp salute of honor pledging allegiance to the banner of freedom, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!"  Every sunset, taps are blown, the crew once again snap sharply to attention and salute as the flag is secured and folded carefully with deep respect because the crew knows whom they serve and their lives are proudly offered in service without question!

A Call to Arms

In the Western World our churches resemble cruise ships more than battleships.  Someone said that Christianity was born in a cave and died in a cathedral. If you examine the early church, they met publicly and from house to house.  They sold their possessions to make sure every crew member was taken care of.  They sacrificed their lives and many died in defence of the faith they proclaimed. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!"  There were no fancy church buildings, or professional staff hired for the purpose of entertaining the passengers.  "If anyone comes after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23).  "Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Jesus didn't come to establish what I see in our padded pew, educational model of church. "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations!" (Matthew 28:18).  The cry of our Commander in Chief is a call to arms for the crew of a battleship, "Battle Stations!" "Put On the Full Armor." "Join me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer." (2 Timothy 2:4-5).

When you compare Christianity in the Western world, we'd have to admit that it's not anything like the early church or even like the church we see in other parts of the world like China where it's illegal to be a Christian or even assemble. Preachers are still imprisoned and Christianity is still the most persecuted group in the entire world - but not in the West! The West has built cruise ships to entertain passengers, not to mobilize warriors to turn the world upside down!

Here is a video of Chinese Christians getting a copy of the Bible for the first time. When's the last time you held a Bible in your hands and felt like this?

It's time to kick the cage around the zoo and reexamine our faith.  Do we even understand the severity of the battle we've been called to or the value of the search and rescue mission for which we've been commissioned? Cruise ship or battleship?  Passenger or crew member?  Isn't it time to really examine what we are doing?

They met publicly and from house to house Acts 20:20 - Our House Church