Monday, March 31, 2014

What Grace Looks like

The culture in which we live has turned cruel and calloused, often glorifying sarcasm and celebrating failures.  We would rather laugh at people when they fall and video it on our cameras than reach down and help them out.  We continue to draw into more selfish circles, refusing to extend our arms to those who are in need.

However, because of Jesus, this is different for the Church.  The rest of culture may be moving in this direction, but we understand the power of grace.  As we read the bible, we see grace extended in so many ways.
-The world becomes corrupt and evil which leads to their destruction, but God saves humanity through one family...That is what grace looks like.
-A city becomes so hedonistic that it is destroyed, but God saves the only family willing to leave...That is what grace looks like.
-A man refuses to wait on God's promise and births a child out of wedlock.  This child and his mother are run off from the family, but God protects that mother and child and allows them to become a nation...That is what grace looks like.
-A wife laughs at God's promise, but God still delivers on His promise anyway...That is what grace looks like.
-A brother cheats his brother, then flees for his life.  After many years, God reunites the brothers and there is peace between them...That is what grace looks like.
-A man is sold into slavery then thrown in prison for being righteous, but God brings his release and promotion to a place of prominence...That is what grace looks like.
-This same man forgives, feeds and cares for the very family members who sold him into slavery...That is what grace looks like.
-A man commits murder and flees for his life, but God restores him and sends him back to the very same country he fled...That is what grace looks like.
-A poor shepherd speaks to the most powerful ruler on earth and God brings about the miraculous release of slaves...That is what grace looks like.
-A man with incredible strength given by God misuses this strength, but cries out to God asking for this strength to be restored.  God restores his strength so he can bring judgment...That is what grace looks like.
-A man with no courage and little training is utilized by God to defeat an enemy of over 20,000 with just 300 men...That is what grace looks like.
-A ruler who commits adultery and murder to hide his adultery experiences conviction and forgiveness by God...That is what grace looks like.
-A man with leprosy kneels before Jesus asking to be healed and Jesus heals him...That is what grace looks like.
-A large group listening to Jesus is fed with only a few fish and loaves...That is what grace looks like.
-Some women who stay close to Jesus are the first to see Him after His resurrection...That is what grace looks like.
-A man who denies Jesus three times is restored by Jesus...That is what grace looks like.
-A man who refuses to believe his friends about the resurrection gets to see and touch the risen Savior...That is what grace looks like.
-A man who enjoys persecuting and killing followers of Jesus becomes a follower of Jesus...That is what grace looks like.
-A young man who drops out on a mission trip is restored and given another opportunity...That is what grace looks like.
-Humanity was plunging headlong into Hell until Jesus became the perfect sacrifice on the cross for all of the sins of humanity...That is what grace looks like.

The Bible is a book of grace - God redeeming that which our world thinks is beyond help and hope.  But grace is not just something that happened thousands of years ago.  Grace is something that happened back in 1971 when as a ten year old boy in the woods of North Carolina at a Royal Ambassador Camp, I realize a profound emptiness in my life that could only be filled by Jesus.  In that moment as I received Jesus as my Savior, I was given a lifetime of purposefulness that has taken me to Kentucky, Hawaii, California, the Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong and next door.  That is what grace looks like.

BUT grace is happening every day around us, in ways we often do not see because of our busyness.  He is offering multiple second chances to blow it again to so many of us.  Many who have rejected His grace continue to be shown grace in the hopes that they will respond and receive this incredible gift.  As the Church, we are entrusted with God's grace.  We are to be instruments of God's forgiveness and second chances.  Who do you know who needs another chance?  Who do you know what needs some grace.  In an angry and bitter world, we become the seeds of peace and joy as we share God's grace found only in Jesus.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Is Madness

This past week marked the beginning of "March Madness", when the NCAA basketball tournament begins.  The madness was heightened this year when there was a $1 billion offer for anyone who could correctly fill out the entire tournament brackets.  After the first day of the tournament, 98.3% of all brackets had been busted.  By the third day of games, no one had an intact bracket.  This just shows how tenuous a hold can be in basketball.

However, I harken back to the madness of my childhood and youth in watching a basketball tournament.  It was not the NCAA tournament which caused the frenzy, but the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.  This was back in the 70's, long before the super conferences of today and back when only one team would make the NCAA tournament from each conference.  The ACC was the first conference to determine its representative via a tournament.  This meant the winning team went to the NCAA tournament and the other teams either played in the National Invitational Tournament or stayed home.  The NCAA tournament only had sixteen teams in it.  This made for some incredible basketball with tickets almost impossible to purchase for the games.  In school, we would beg out teachers to let us listen to the ACC tournament games on the radio (This was long before cable TV).  Some teachers would realize they wouldn't have our attention and so would relent to let us listen.  The teachers who tried to carry on business as usual had to deal with student sneaking radios into class with the ear plug.  They also had to battle the constant distraction from students as we talked about what happened in the games that had taken place already.  We all knew who was a Carolina fan, Duke fan, State fan, Clemson fan or a Virginia fan.  Of course, I was and still am a Wake Forest fan, which meant my team never won the ACC tournament in this old school format.  It truly was madness during the ACC tournament.  Then there was always the lucky student whose parents would keep them out of school so they could listen to the games or even go to the tournament.  The first two days of the tournament were on school days and the final two days were on the weekend, so we could watch the semi-finals and finals.

The greatest game I have ever seen played happened at the 1974 ACC tournament championship, which pitted the University of Maryland against NC State.  There were some great players in that game like John Lucas, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Monte Towe, Tom Burleson and David Thompson.  This game would propel these men to legendary status in ACC lore.  Of the fourteen players who played in that game, eight would be drafted by the NBA.  This was the clash of two great teams and only one would be allowed to compete in the NCAA tournament.  State won the game by a score of 103-100 in overtime.  State would go on to beat an incredible UCLA team in the NCAA semi-finals, in another classic game.  But this Maryland-State game was just an incredible game from start to finish, a game you didn't want to miss.  There was madness in the air.  Amazingly, after 40 years, I can still remember that game, which shows the power of March Madness.

On Sunday, we looked at another madness.  I Peter 3:13 tells us, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?".  The word for eager could easily be translated as "zealous", kind of like madness.  This passage reminds the follower of Christ that we should be zealous to do what is good and right in God's eyes.  Certainly, we live in a pagan culture with morals which have become relative and slowly degrading.  However, we are not to do what is right with the standard of our culture, but with the standard of the Bible.  March Madness should pale in comparison to our passion in doing what is right.  We do what is right whether that is honored in our culture or whether it sends us to jail.  As our culture continues to compromise and become more evil, this will be a bigger challenge.  Doing right in God's eyes will quickly fall out of favor and will become costly for us.  It is already happening around us, so we must be zealous in doing good.  This is our goal, not because our culture will affirm us or celebrate us.  This is our goal because we have a different mindset and a different heart.  We had heart surgery when we came to Christ and He has given us a passion to do the right thing.

Please, don't read this as some wayward desire to harken back to the "good ol' days".  The good ol days weren't all that good and God has now given us an opportunity to let our light shine brightly.  Never before in my lifetime has it been as exciting to be a follower of Jesus.  Obeying Him and doing what He says is right, now makes us stand out from our culture.  We become rebels and a prime target for persecution.  I think it's great that we can now allow our friends and neighbors to see the difference Jesus makes.  We don't have ben able to spout the proper theology, we simply have to honor God in what we do.  Our friends and neighbors will be shocked by what they see.  They will see people who care about those in need, marriages that not only stay together but thrive, children who are loved and disciplined, generosity, patience and an incredible peace.  So how about making a decision to get more fired up about doing the right thing than by some basketball tournament which will end in a few weeks?  Let's have right-living madness!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Are You Ready to Go Underground?

On Wednesday mornings, I meet with a group of pastors from a variety of denominations to pray together and entreat God to move in a powerful way in the Bay area.  Our goals are to encourage each other in ministry and pray.  I have been praying with this crew for over twelve years now and they have become dear co-laborers with me.  Last week, one of the pastors asked what we thought the future of the church in America would be.  We shared a variety of outlooks and responses to that questions, but it would behoove all of us to think about the future of the church in America.

Before I shared my thoughts, I will preface my comments by stating that I am NOT a prophet, nor is this a prophecy.  I have not heard some direct word from the Lord to pass on to you.  As I look at what is happening in our culture, this is my assessment of where the church is heading.  Please feel free to disagree, but don't discount what you read in this post.

The ultimate realization the church in America must make is that we live in a pagan culture.  No longer does out culture reinforce the values of the church, but it is moving in quite the opposite direction.  The things that we value because of our faith in Christ are now becoming ridiculed and marginalized.  Time and again, we see cultural shifts in morality that are not only against the truth of Scripture, but are labeled as "evil" in the Bible.  However, the pagan culture embraces those evil values and is seeking to normalize those values.  This spiral simply continues to keep increasing with each proclivity that is normalized and glorified in our culture.

I believe one of two directions will take place for the church in our culture.  Direction #1 appears to be the most likely to happen.  As our government continues to remove liberties and freedoms in America, they will begin to try to control the message of the church.  They will begin to pass laws as to what can and cannot be said in public and private settings.  There will be guidelines that churches must follow if they are to continue to have any standing in the culture.  The progression look something like this:  The IRS/Federal government will have to be given a list of the "board of directors" of the church.  The church will not be allowed to discuss or support political causes or candidates.  The church will have to sign a document pledging to not discuss certain topics or only discuss them in the culturally accepted terms.  Any church which refuses to do this will:  Have their tax exempt status removed.  If they continue, the church will be fined.  If they continue, the board of directors will be fined.   If they continue, they will have their property taken.  If they continue, their pastor will face criminal or civil charges.  Does that sound possible?  So this will lead to two churches in America.  One option will be the church which has government approval:  This church will maintain tax exempt status along with other benefits, but they will be very restricted in what can be preached from the pulpit with scrutiny and oversight by the government.  The second option will be the underground church:  This church will meet in homes and in clandestine settings, know they will face repraisels for these meetings.  However, they will freely preach and teach the Word.  They will see this church grow in strength, even if she drops in number.  They will see powerful movements of the Holy Spirit.  As you can probably tell, I will be a part of the underground church.

The second directions seems less likely, but it is still possible.  America is headed for a massive economic collapse.  The continual over-printing of money along with a huge debt will cause a major economic upheaval.  Right now, the US dollar is the international currency of trade.  Other countries have had a vested interest in keeping the dollar strong, even though this is a shell game.  If the other countries decide to make China's currency or the Euro or the Russians currency the international currency, the collapse of America's economy will be quick and total.  Whenever countries begin to lose power, they look for scapegoats.  In the past, two groups have always been looked at as scapegoats:  The Church and the Jewish people.  So as America degenerates from being a world power to a country on the brink of collapse, the church will become the focus of persecution.  The membership roles of churches will be utilized to round up Christians and systematically force them into labor camps or internment camps.  Once again, the church will have to move underground.  It will be a death sentence to go to church buildings, so the church will meet in homes and be clandestine in her activities.  She won't become quiet, but will become less institutional.  .

Please understand, I am not discounting an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and revival breaking out in America.  That is truly our only hope for America to remain a force in the modern world.  Already, other countries are minimizing and marginalizing America.  Russia is ready to invade Crimea with no fear of what America will do.  Iran continues to ramp up their nuclear activity with no concern about the impact of America or the UN.  World events show a remarkably quick fall America is having from the world stage.  So politicians cannot change this fall.  Financial institutions can't change this fall.  Even the church cannot change this fall.  Only a movement of God that brings revival and purity to the church can change this fall. 

You may think this sounds pessimistic, but it really isn't.  For the past 275 years, the church in America has had it relatively easy.  The culture has been supportive of the church and the church actually gave leadership and wisdom to our country.  But the church has become complacent and too immersed in the culture.  We have forgotten to be salt and light, instead becoming enablers of sin and entertainment.  The church tries to put on a good show each Sunday morning to draw in the "unchurched", but there is little depth and devotion.  God has always allowed persecution to purify the church.  That is why we have been going through the book of I Peter, in preparation for the purification God has in mind for His church in America.  Persecution and suffering are often the greatest tools of revival in the life of the Church.  Jesus told us in John 15:18, "If the world hates you, keep in my that it hated me first", and in Matthew 10:22, "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved."

So are you ready to go underground?  Are you ready to face persecution without compromising your faith?  Are you ready to never let your faith go underground as you look at a new paradigm of church in America?  Maybe I am totally wrong and off-base with this look at the future.  I pray that I am wrong...but  Are you ready?

Monday, March 10, 2014


After preaching Sunday's sermon, I found these quotes, which I wanted to pass on to you:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
Ambrose Redmoon

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”
William G.T. Shedd

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Courage is grace under pressure.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Courage isn't having the strength to go on - it is going on when you don't have strength.”

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
André Gide

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
John Wayne

There are a lot of wonderful quotes about courage, but we often think courage is exhibited only in rare instances when our lives are on the line.  The past few weeks, I have preached sermons which require daily courage.  Living in a pagan, morally-disintegrating culture can take away our daily courage.  The bar of moral excellence has been lowered greatly in the past twenty years and the Church has fallen in step with our culture.  Rather than abstaining from the moral relativity of our age, the Church has sought to embrace it and be more acceptable to the lost in our culture.  Jesus reminded us that we really on have two choices:  (1) the wide path that leads to destruction, upon which most of the people we know are traveling or (2) the narrow way that leads to life, but only has a few on it.  As we see the zenith of American's goodness in the rear view mirror, what choice will the Church make?  Even more personal than that, what choice will you make.

The sermons of the past few weeks have centered on God's expectations for those who are married.  We all know that marriage has dropped out of vogue (As more couples choose to live together rather than get married) or been hijacked away from God's original purpose for giving us this wonderful gift of marriage.  So those of us in the Church have to decide what we truly believe about marriage.  This has nothing to do with our politics, but our actions.  What do our marriages look like?  Is our marriage inviting and presenting a testimony of Jesus and His Church to our community?  We know that those involved in church only have a divorce rate of 7% as opposed to 48% for the rest of our culture.  But that is lowering the bar of excellence.  Is the goal of our marriages just to avoid divorce?  Shouldn't the purpose of marriages be to prepare each other for Heaven and lead others to saving faith in Christ?  What have you been doing to assist your spouse in growing in his/her faith in Christ?  What have you been doing to make sure your spouse is utilizing his/her spiritual gifts?  How have you been praying for your spouse and praying with your spouse?  Who are the two of you inviting into your lives so they could see your passionate love for each other and Jesus?  Have you been forgiving your spouse in the same way Christ forgave you?  Have you been playing with your spouse lately? 

Ultimately, do you treat your spouse as a brother or sister in Christ?  It takes courage to have a thriving marriage which is a testimony to our world.  It takes courage to love you spouse with the love Christ showed to you.  It takes courage to put his/her needs above your own.  It takes courage to make her/him your best friend and take the ridicule which inevitably comes from our pagan friends, co-workers and neighbors who don't value marriage.  Live, today, with courage and express that courage in the way you treat your spouse.  One of the greatest testimonies we can share with the world is the testimony of our marriage.  So invest your energy in that which truly matters, your marriage and allow the love of Christ to permeate it entirely.  If so, you will be an example of courage to all those around you!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Style Over Substance

Last night, Hollywood had its annual self-love fest with the Academy Awards/Oscars.  The only reason I know this is because I saw it on one of the TVs at the gym while I was working out this morning.  I have really never understood the fascination Americans have with this "Awards" show.  Spending three hours watching and listening to actors act surprised, trying to out-dress and out-shine others, just doesn't seem like a fun night for me.  But you may be one of the ones who hosts or attends an Oscar Party and it may truly be a festive night for you.  The word we used to use for Hollywood was "Plastic" because the actors and actresses were simply playing roles, looking good on the outside but hollow on the inside.  Unfortunately, our culture has devolved into a cult of personality cult.  We spend time, effort, energy and money following these "stars" who often have personal lives filled with divorce, drug use, alcoholism, addiction, eating disorders and a host of other issues.  Oscar Night is often a celebration of style over substance.

This "style over substance" can be seen vividly in what is happening in the Ukraine.  Russia is threatening to invade and take over the Ukraine.  Our State Department and President are using tough language in an attempt to keep this from happening.  The truth of the matter is this:  Putin has no respect and no fear of the leadership in America nor her allies.  He knows that we can only make hollow gestures by trying to get the United Nations to enact some type of sanctions.  He knows that our leadership cannot and will not be able to do anything to prevent an invasion, so he is emboldened to act without any fear of reprisal.  America's International leadership is simply style over substance.  The world no longer respects the power and authority of the United States because we will never back up any threat we make.  The red line in the sand of Syria put the final nail in that coffin.  Our International policy is style over substance.

Unfortunately, this love of style over substance has impacted the church in America.  The church feels like she must have the nicest buildings, a large assortment of ministries, a welcome center, an expresso machine, a well-prepared band, multi-media, sermons from a hip pastor and a fantastic logo.  If we can just do all of the right things, the church feels that people will flock to her.  And often they do...for a time.  But after a while, the concert atmosphere of our worship services no longer excites like it used to.  Or there is another church down the street with an even more hip pastor and even better give-aways.  So the crowd moves to the next big thing.  Some churches try to stay up on the trends and keep ahead of the curve to make sure the crow coming to their church is engaged and fully devoted to the church.  We now celebrate style over substance.

I look back at Jesus and He appears to be substance over style.  He didn't have the nicest clothes, the best advertising or speak with the latest slogans.  He was Old Skool.  He would teach about the Law, but spoke about the heart of the Law, not just the actions.  He talked about the substance of our lives and often condemned the style of our lives.  He didn't have time for those who wanted to act a certain way, appearing to be righteous, while all the time, they were devoid of faith, dedication and humility.  He called them white washed walls.  He didn't spend His time trying to draw a large crowd.  When He became popular, He would either get away from the crowd or teach about commitment and sacrifice, so the crowd would dissipate.  He spent his three years of ministry investing in just twelve men, and those men often wanted style over substance.  They argued over who would be the greatest, got upset when things didn't go their way, were impatient with Jesus' timing and rarely understood who Jesus really was.  Yet Jesus would always call them back to substance over style.  The Style crowd hated Him, especially when He would point out their hypocrisy, like when He cleared the Temple.  They wanted Him dead and quiet, which is often how the crowd will treat followers of Jesus who have substance.

Today, we need a breath of the Holy Spirit to lead us to true substance over style.  Hey, it's a battle because our pagan culture spends all their energy on style.  We are going to be radicals and misunderstood if we seek to have the substance Jesus talked about.  He wants us to be servants of us.  He wants us to be humble in how we live our lives.  He wants us to be generous to those who can give us nothing.  He wants us to have faith in Him rather than in what we can accomplish.  He wants us to live a morally pure life, according to His standard not the vacillating standard of the pagans around us.  He wants our light to shine in our neighborhoods, homes, jobs, schools and communities.  He is looking for men and women who will be wholly dedicated to Him and solid in their faith.  Of course, this type of foundation doesn't get the hype nor the applause.  So without the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, this will never happen in our own lives. 

Be honest about your life:  Are you investing more time in style over substance?  Did spend more time preparing your body (Shower, dressing, make-up, hair, breakfast, etc.) this morning or your soul (Prayer, meditation, Bible study) this morning?  Are you more concerned about making your house payment than the eternal destiny of your neighbor?  Have you spent more time chatting about the Oscars or about Jesus today?  Let's aim to be people of Christ, people of substance over style.