Saturday, October 25, 2014

Call me "Coach Dad"

Our child gets a hit, and we cheer, as well we should. 

Our child makes the tackle, scores the goal or grabs the rebound, and we jump in joyful exaltation, as well we should. 

Our child gets a good grade, and we compliment them, as well we should. 

Our child nails the recital piece, and we applaud, as well we should.

We drag them to practice. We make them practice at home. We push them to do their homework We know the grind of success, so we applaud and cheer and compliment the moments of accomplishment. We photograph them and we laud their accomplishments abroad.

What about moral accomplishments? Do we cheer them? Do we compliment them?

Do we expect them?

When we want our children to succeed in anything, we sign them up, get them to tryouts, workouts, and practice. We make them do at home whatever they need to do at home to make opportunity become success. We buy uniforms and equipment. We talk to coaches and teachers. We push, because we want to see on the stage or field or court the accomplishment that represents the work.

Do you want your children to thrive as human beings? Do you want them to succeed as disciples? Do you want to see them accomplishing on the field and stage of life the victory God desires they achieve?

Disciple them.

As much as one would with any sport or academic endeavor or artistic enterprise, disciple them. Teach them. Talk to coaches (disciple making people); get counsel, develop game plan, require practice, demand excellence and pray with them for results. Beg God for results.

How is it that we understand EVERYTHING we want to see our children excel in takes instruction and constant practice, except spiritual disciplines?

Shape their worldview. Help them develop values that match God's. Teach them how to serve others. Foster compassion.

"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it." (Proverbs 22:6 New Living Translation)  "And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 New Living Translation)

A New Creature in Christ - Courier-Times article for Saturday, October 25, 2014

A New Creature in Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

When I began to look into God’s word as a very new believer, one of the most shocking things I read was this: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 ESV)

I remember being floored by that reality. I’d very rarely checked my actions and Jesus was revealing to me that inaction did not equate purity; my heart was the issue. I could hold back my hands, but even I knew my heart was wild, untamed and, well, sinful.

We often hear people say, “Follow your heart.” The problem with that is following an unregenerate heart only leads to wrong action. My unregenerate heart had led me to much unregenerate actions. The Prophet Jeremiah would never say to a single person, “Follow your heart.” Jeremiah would say, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

The hope of any individual is not modified or mollified actions; what each of us needs is a new heart! We need a deep, inner change in who we are if we expect there to serious change in what we do. Too often do we explain things away by saying “It’s only natural” when our problem is that we do what’s only natural!

Our sinful nature must be replaced with a spiritual nature! This can only happen by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what we mean when we say “regeneration.”

Regeneration is more than getting one’s actions in order. Oftentimes, people stop doing bad thing and start doing this good thing while inside their hearts are the exact same. Without regeneration, many people wind up in churches that won’t wind up in heaven.

To become a new creature in Christ is a work only God can do, and it is a work that must be done. Jesus said, “you must be born from above” and that believers become sons of God “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 3:7 and 1:13). Jesus told Nicodemus “that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

Without a doubt, regeneration – becoming a new creature – is a work of God!

That being said, it’s hard to understand or explain this divine change that must occur. Truth be told, however, we don’t have to fully understand it or be able to fully explain it to receive it.

I realize that we think we know a lot, but we don’t. I realize that we often so fear what we’ve seen people claim the Spirit is about that we are a little nervous about Him showing up, but He is mysterious. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 ESV)

As mysterious as His work is, we can receive the work of the Spirit. The Apostle John said, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV) In the original Greek, the word “right” is exousia and it means “power, authority, or weight”. As mysterious as the Spirit’s work in making new creations is, the power comes when we believe on the name of Jesus and receive Him.

The only way real change comes to our lives is through getting a new heart; we must be born from above; we must be regenerated by the power of God. And, real change does not mean fixing certain actions while hiding a still dead heart. God’s offer is only to change everything!

God would describe the change He desires to see in us as putting to death the works of the flesh. The Apostle Paul said, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10 ESV)

Finally, trust God to work till the work is done: “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ…to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Philippians 1:6b & Romans 8:29b ESV)

God will do a work, and He must do the work. It is mysterious. It would encompass ALL of who we are, and He will finish it.

Are you a new creation in Christ, or just a religious person with a corrupt heart? Is the Spirit leading your spirit, or are you a white-washed tomb; are you a different person, growing in the image of Christ, or do you just look good?

God is willing and able to make anyone a new creation in Christ if we are willing to believe and receive the Lord Jesus.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Courier-Times article for Saturday, October 11, 2014: Small Things

Small Things

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10 ESV)

“If you don’t vote, don’t complain,” was the memorable advice I received from a man in 1980. I remember the year because we were doing mock elections for the Jimmy Carter / Ronald Regan campaign.

That man was born in the 1890s and I loved talking to him. He’d seen a lot of changes in his days. He remembered seeing his first car and the first time he saw an airplane. He’d served in the cavalry and lived through the Great Depression.

I remember him telling me swallowing watermelon seeds would cause watermelons to grow in my stomach. Balance the lie about watermelons, and some other tall tales in the mix and it’s true to say I wasn’t so sure when I should listen to that man and when I shouldn’t. For example, watermelon seeds aside, this man told me “…‘puters are going to ruin the world!”

No watermelons have sprouted in my stomach.
I’m still living by the advice of “if you don’t vote, don’t complain.”

We’re still waiting on the verdict with the “’puters”, even as I type on this fine HP Pavilion dv7.
I also remember being charged with being Ronald Regan for the mock election in school that year, and I remember it being a tall order for me. I was in the fourth grade, and, like most fourth graders, my politics were my parents’ politics. That is, for me, until that school year. My parents were, are and will probably remain die-hard Democrats. I remember seeking counsel from my dad for the assignment. He said, “Go ask to be Jimmy Carter.”

“Pop, I can’t be Carter; I have to be Regan.”

“Well, you’re gonna flunk. The last Republican I voted for was Richard Nixon; look how that turned out,” was his terse reply.

There was no internet. All I had was the television and the library. Fortunately, the library had newspapers and magazines, and, even more fortunate, my grandma made sure I was able to access those resources.

I listened carefully to the news. I read magazines and newspaper articles. I worked hard to understand Regan’s plans and positions.

Now, let me say this, I was not a Democrat and did not become a Republican, and I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for either party; then, or now.

What did happen to me because of this experience: I became informed.

We had to form a team at school. Our team had to work together to put together a campaign, complete with articles for other classmates to read, short speeches and we had to prepare for a debate between the candidates.

Amid a very Democrat community, our team pushed Ronald Regan to victory in that local school mock election.

I was raised on the state line. I went to Halifax County schools for K-4th and 10th grade, and Person County schools for 5th-9th and 11th-12th. I say that to say this; I remember that 1980 election well, and remember Person County going with Jimmy Carter and Halifax County going with Ronald Regan.

Now, you might be thinking, “I thought this was the ‘Faith and Worship’ section of Courier-Times, not ‘Commentary and Analysis.’” Don’t worry; you are in the right place.

I wanted to thoroughly illustrate how one man’s sound advice shaped my life. He said, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” If you have been given a trust, use it. Be a good steward. Be trustworthy. When you’re not those things, don’t fuss about the results.

As a citizen, I’ve been given the small privilege of voting, but with it comes the grand privilege of being part of a peaceful and orderly society. If a person is not part of the peaceful process, then don’t add or detract from discussion about it. Be subject to the decisions and hush, or help make the decision and speak up.  

Here’s the “Faith and Worship” portion, and all of those stories and all of those comments and stories above were meant to help you understand this truth: God has given each of us many, many small trusts, and even some very large ones. We are to be living in wise, good stewardship.

We are to be being – get that, be being – good stewards. We WILL answer to God for all that is in our care, including our own lives and the free will that comes with it.

Even that little privilege to vote is a gift worth stewarding. Everything is worth stewarding if God has put in our care. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Beautiful Gardens

Beautiful gardens among rocks, ruins, weeds and hardened paths...
Imagine the people of the world as patches of ground. Imagine each person as a potential garden spot.
The one is a thicket, overgrown; weeds and thorns and thistles, out of control. It's hard to imagine tender flower seeds being able to grow there.
The one is a hardened path. It's difficult to imagine that a few seeds and a bit of water could yield sweet smells or beautiful blooms.
The one has soil, ready enough, but it obviously shallow. You can see a lemon tree springing up in this soil, but shriveling quickly when there is so little subsoil for roots to grab to and grow.
The one is ready. It's ready for seed. The soil is fertile, deep and freshly plowed.
I just described the conditions of the soils in the Parable of the Sower (see Matthew 13).
Soils are not the hero or the focus of the story. The Sower is important. He sows. He liberally slings seed. And, in some plots of soil, beautiful gardens of God's goodness springs up.
What's interesting is that in every case, no matter the soil type, what springs up is foreign to the soil. IF it had been there, it would be there. It's not there. The Sower comes, slings seeds.
But, wait! Don't give up on those other plots! The interesting thing about the Sower is that He is also the Creator; He sustains all things by the word of His power, and all things that subsist, subsist according to His power. He can break up those rough places, clear away weeds, dig out rocks that create shallow soil and make for Himself a fertile field for a beautiful garden.
In every case, the Sower lays down what is not natural to that plot!
IF you see a God-garden walking around, you'll know it. What will make it beautiful will be that God's stuff is in it. God's stuff is in it AND it's very different from those other plots that are filled with other-than-God-stuff.
Someone may put up a sign and say, "God garden here" or have a bumper sticker that says, "God's my gardener" or where a t-shirt, claiming "God's flower" but don't be misled...signs be hanged; bumper stickers be stucked, t-shirts be'll know HIS gardens.
The likeness of Jesus will spring up amid a world of fools, and we shall call that fruitful and beautiful.
O Spirit, plow! IN ME! 
O Spirit, plant! IN ME! 
O Spirit, beautify! EVEN ME!

"Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." (Isaiah 58:8-11 ESV)

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Get ready! Preach the Gospel through your marriage!

Marriage is important...

Age is not a determining factor for marriage. Being ready to be married is the determining factor for marriage! Some people get married in their 30s and still aren't ready!

Many aren't ready for marriage at all these days, so they don't. Some want weddings but aren't ready for marriages.

It's interesting to note that God invented marriage and defined it before there was EVER one single government on the face of this planet. But, marriage had within it a profound mystery that was only ever fully uncovered when Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. That's what the Spirit delivers to us through the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33.

That profound mystery is now clear and easy to recognize and understand: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Wow! People were getting married for centuries upon centuries, and the whole picture had yet to be unveiled. But, now we know it is.

Now, we know not only are we called to marriage, and now we know why our heart yearns towards it...because it allows us to paint a living picture, to preach a walking sermon and to live out the picture of Christ and His church as man and wife. Wow.

God allowed me to deliver a teaching on this recently with our local family of faith, and I just can't get it off my mind.

Lord, lead me, empower me, help me to love my wife like Christ loves the church. Help me, Father, to preach with my marriage!