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Monday, July 25, 2016

What is Revival?

James 4:8-10

Introduction
            Friends, America desperately needs to turn away from sin and return to God.  Yet, it’s easy for us to point the finger at others so we don’t have to look in the mirror at ourselves.  However, each of us, personally, needs to turn away from the world and turn to God.  If we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.
            My great hope is that everyone would turn away from the world and turn to God and thus experience a great personal revival.  I have been praying for this kind of revival for a long time.  Many in our church and in our community and in our nation have been praying for revival.  We long for the return of those days when revival swept across our land in days of old:  when thousands upon thousands turned to the Lord and were save, when churches were filled on Sundays, when Americans lived godly lives of integrity, when our leaders led our nation according to the will of God.
            The Word of God in James 4:8-10 speaks plainly on the subject.  It speaks to me.  I pray You will hear God’s Word speak to you today.  May it cut straight to your heart, convict you, and challenge you to change.

James 4:8-10
Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Loyalty Divided
            If ever there were a phrase that describes Americans today, verse 8 describes us when it says, “…for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”  This is what distinguishes us from the Christians of the New Testament.  It is what separates us from early Americans who built this nation, inspired by their commitment to Christian values.
            Some have said, “Well, it was easier for them to be close to God.  They actually saw Jesus and they witnessed miracles.”  My friends, they were no more equipped to draw close to God than we are.  Their closeness to God was a conscious choice.  They chose to forsake all else and draw near to God and He drew near to them.  They saw miracles because they were close to God.  Their success at changing the world was directly related to their commitment to God.  We remember and venerate these “saints” of old because they forsook the world and chose God.
            But what of Americans in the 21st century?  Can we say we are wholly and completely committed to God?  Are you?  It should be no wonder to us that America is in the state it is in for, “…your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”  Worshiping God on Sunday morning has become just one option among a myriad of things we can do.  We could choose instead (and quite often we do) to: sleep in, go to a ball game, hang out with friends, go fishing, work in the yard, see a movie, watch TV, clean the house, play video games, have friends over for lunch, go shopping, or any number of other things.  (There’s nothing inherently wrong with these activities; but our loyalty is divided because we treat worship as if it is optional and often place other things ahead of God.)  We have come to believe and live as if our comfort and happiness are what’s most important.  It’s all about us (so we think).  Did it ever occur to you that life is not about you?  It’s not even about your family or your kids.  Life is our opportunity to glorify God.  It’s what we were created for:
God put air in your lungs so you could sing His praises.
God placed beauty all around us so we could see THE ARTIST.
But we have made it all about us and what we want.  How selfish!  How foolish!  The servant has said to the King, “No!  I don’t want to serve you! You serve me!"
            We have fallen for the world’s lie that our security is found in:  more money, a better job, and social acceptance.  We seek shelter in our comfortable lives, always doing what we want, what we are used to, and turn away from the mission of God because it seems too risky.  We don’t want to be different.  Everyone else is doing the same as us and we feel justified in being like everybody else.  We are like sheep all heading off to slaughter.  We feel safe in our flock walking along together, until it is too late and we feel the knife at our throat.  O wake up!  Wake up!  Before it’s too late!

A Personal Revival
            What then should we do?  James tells us.  O hear the Word of God!  “Let there be tears for what you have done…” Are you not sorry that you have traded loyalty to the God who made the heavens and the earth, who also made you, who gave you the ability to know love and joy and peace and happiness, and who (even when you rejected Him) left the glory of heaven and came to earth to save you by dying on the cross—paying the price for your sins—that you might take off your filthy ways like a dirty garment and put on a brand new, pure and brilliant, white robe?
            You have traded your loyalty to Him for the worldfor empty pleasures that do not truly satisfy, that are worthless, that are selfish, empty, shallow, shameful, and self-indulgent, that bring about evil and suffering and destruction for you and the whole world.  You have traded your loyalty to God for worldly ways that lead to the exploitation of the poor and needy, that foster injustice and oppression, that hammered the nails through the hands and feet of Christ.  Are you not full of sorrow and grief that you have betrayed God for the sake of the world?  Oh recognize how far you have fallen from the high calling of God!  How you have broken His heart!  How your actions are leading to the enslavement of America and the whole world!  Does it not break your heart?  Are you not ashamed?  Does it not fill your eyes with tears?
            Then, “Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts…”  You cannot wash away these sins with water.  There is but one ingredient that can wash away the stain of your sins.  It is the blood Christ, which he shed on the cross at Calvary.
            “Humble yourself before the Lord…”  Bow your head in humble prayer.  Earnestly ask the Lord to forgive you and wash you clean.  And humbly commit yourself to Jesus—completely and wholeheartedly.  Choose this day—as did the Christian saints before you—to no longer divide your loyalty between God and the world.  Instead, give your allegiance completely and fully to God.  Cast away anything else that threatens to draw you away from Him.  And follow the Lord from now on.
            Some say revival is a week-long series of church services designed to get people saved.  Some say revival is a movement in history like the Great Awakening in America in the 19th century when people were swept up in religious fervor.  But I say the essence of revival is James 4:8-10.  Revival comes in our individual hearts when we humble ourselves, repent of our sins, and choose God—forsaking all else.  Revival comes when we yearn to follow God more than we yearn for anything else.  Truly, revival is when we want God only (and nothing else).
            Revival can spread across the land like a wildfire when just one person lives an authentic Christian life and leads another to do the same.  Soon whole churches, communities, even the whole world is changed forever because individuals had the courage to live wholeheartedly for God despite what anyone else did.
            So hear the Lord crying out to you:  “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.  Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

Confession
            If your heart is broken because you have loved or been loyal to the "world" instead of God, I invite you to confess your sins, repent, and make a change.  I offer the following confession adapted from page 890 of United Methodist Hymnal. May these words be your sincere prayer to God.  He will hear you and forgive.

Prayer of Confession
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen.

My Prayer for You
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Do Not Worry

Introduction
            Today, I would like to write about one of my all-time favorite passages.  It’s very poignant today as we reflect on so many troubling events in our world. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus reminds us not to worry.

Matthew 6:25-34
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

What is Worry?
            Worry is:  “To allow one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles”  Some people are more prone to worrying than others, but we all worry.  It is part of our fallen, human nature; we forget to trust God or we never really knew we could trust God.  
            Sometimes, we even worry about problems that are only imaginary.  For instance, a teenager might worry themselves sick wondering whether there will be any friends in their classes when school starts back.  This may be a potential problem, but it’s not a real problem right now.  And there may be plenty of friends in their classes, we just don’t know yet.  But people will worry even about things that are only potential problems.
             Worry is a waste of time and energy.  It’s not healthy.  It’s like spinning your tires—it doesn’t get you anywhere and it ruins your tires.  If you can do something productive about your problem, do it.  But then, stop worrying about the problem over and over.
            What would it feel like not to worry?  How much time do we waste worrying?  How much mental, emotional, and spiritual energy do we waste in the unhealthy habit of worrying?  What would it be like to be free from the anxiety of worry?  To know that God has got your back.  Oh, what a wonderful thing!  Our lives would be less stressful and so much happier, peaceful, and serene if we gave up worry.

The  Basics
            The Scripture lists two things we should not worry about:  food and clothing.  But it’s really about more than just food and clothing.  Food and clothing represent the basic necessities of life.  To these, you could add other basic necessities like water, air, shelter, companionship, etc.  God will make sure we have the basics we need to live.
            There is something else implied in Jesus statement.  You may have a deeper spiritual problem if you are worrying about more than the basics.  Perhaps you have become self-absorbed and fallen too deeply in love with the things of this world.
            What do we really need to be satisfied?  Perhaps it would be enlightening to compare our problems in America (a first-world country) to those who live in third world countries.  Consider the following meme's about our first world problems:











            Meanwhile, most people around the world earn less than $2/day and struggle to find enough food and clean water.  Now, I know that all our problems are not so trivial.  We have real problems too.  However, we already have so much.  Sometimes we lose perspective about real problems and what are just our “worldly” concerns.  Sadly, the only time we may regain a proper perspective is when a real tragedy strikes.
            If we want to be truly happy, we should learn to be happy with the basics.  Paul tells us in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”  We would all do well to learn Paul's secret to a contented life.  I suggest you practice needing less.  Here are some ways you can improve:
            Simplify your life.  Get rid of things you don’t need.  Resist the urge to buy more and more new things.  Learn to live with what you have.  Borrow or rent instead of buying if it’s practical.
            Go without.  Fasting is the spiritual practice of going without.  Typcally, fasting involves giving up food, but it can be other things as well like watching TV or using Facebook.  Fasting can help us discover what we can do without, remind us what we really need, and it can also help us to be more grateful for what we already have.
            Practice being thankful.  Genuine gratitude for what we already have helps us to be more satisfied and need less.  We stop looking for the next great thing that might make us satisfied and start to realize how blessed and satisfied we already are.  Being thankful actually helps you to be a happier person.  Take the "Gratitude Quiz" and see if you are a grateful person – http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/6
            The point is, God is going to provide for your basic needs.  You don’t need to worry about the basics.  And don’t allow yourself to become consumed by yearning for more and more beyond the basics.  When you are satisfied with the basics in life, you will worry less and have less stress.  You will have a happier, more peaceful life and you will be more focused what’s truly important.

How to Overcome Worry 
            Jesus said “do not worry.”  But how can we actually overcome worry?  It is hard sometimes because worry is not just mental; it can physically take over your body.  For some, worry can become a paralyzing medical disorder that requires medication to overcome.  If that is the case, I encourage you to get medical help.  Regardless of your situation, the following steps can help you overcome worry.
            Pray about it.  Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”  Putting it in God's hands through prayer is the first step and can make all the difference.  Remember, God can handle any problem you have.
            Talk about it.  Another thing you can do is talk about your worries with a trusted friend or two.  Talking about your concern can relieve stress and bring fresh insight.  However, don’t keep talking about your worries over and over again all day long to everyone you meet.  That’s just an outward form of worry and will only aggravate and prolong your anxiety.
            Make a plan.  You can deal with worry by making a plan of action.  Worry is often mistaken for planning because both require you to think ahead and consider a plan of action.  The difference is, planning is productive.  Planning sets up goals and identifies practical steps that can change a situation.  Worry is unproductive because it just keeps going around and around about potential scenarios and possibilities over and over again.  Planning turns into worry when you go too far and your planning stops being practical and productive.
            Do what you can.  Instead of worrying, make a plan and then do what you can do.  Instead of thinking, do.  If you can’t do something, stop worrying about it.  You’ve done all you can.
            Let it go.  Once you’ve done all you can do (at least for right now, in this moment) then, let it go.  Don’t go on worrying about it.  You’ve prayed and put it in God’s hands.  You’ve done what you can do.  Now, let it go.

How to Let Go
            Sometimes, you get stuck and just can’t stop worrying.  When that happens, here’s what works for me.  First, I meditate.  I make a concerted effort to quiet my mind while asking God to help me.  I concentrate on my breathing.  People often comment that I am so relaxed and calm when I preach.  I can tell you, it takes effort.  I am not a natural public speaker.  It has always made me nervous--even after 17 years.  I've learned to relax through lots of practice.  One of the biggest things that helps me relax is concentrating on my breathing--breathing slow and deep.
            Then, if your mind continues to wander back to your worries, try to think of something else. It helps me when I listen to music.  Another thing that helps me is to watch a commedian or something funny on TV.  It's hard for me to worry when I am laughing.  I will also sometimes blow off steam by joking around with others or just being silly.  Another thing that helps is to go out and have some fun.  These are all things that have helped me break the cycle of worry.  Maybe they will help you too.

Closing
            There is one thing you should worry about:  Is your heart right with God?  Have you repented of your sins?  Have you asked the Lord’s forgiveness?  Have you decided to follow Jesus?  To listen to his instructions and obey?  Has the Spirit of God assured you of your salvation—that you are a forgiven, child of God?
            If your heart is right with God, you have nothing to worry about.  Even if terrorists attack. Even if the wrong person gets elected.  Even if the country falls apart.  Even if the Methodist church splits apart.  Even if you lose your job.  Even if your children go astray.  Even if things seem completely out of control, remember, God is in control!
            If your heart is not right with God, I beg you to get it right with Him today.  Won't you repent of your sins, turn to Jesus, let him take control of your life, and commit to follow him the rest of your days?  If so, perhaps you would like to use the following prayer to guide your words to Jesus.

Lord, come in and take control of my life.
Fill me up with Your wonderful grace.
Cleanse my heart and my wretched soul.
Lord, take control of my life.
I know Jesus is the blessed son of God
and that He died on the cross for my sin
and that He rose from the grave
and is living again.
Lord, I confess my sin.
Lord please come in.
Forgive my sin and make me anew.
Teach me to walk in Your ways.
Shine in my life for the world to see.
Lord, take control of my life.
Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Christian Community

Acts 2:40-47

Introduction
            If there's anything the violence of the last month has taught us, it's that our world is in desperate need of God.  I am starting to lose track of all the violent attacks reported on the news.  Less than a month ago, a gunman went on a shooting rampage and killed 49 people and injured even more at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Just this past week, videos were released of two separate incidents where black men were shot by police officers who are now under investigation.  (Regardless of who's right or wrong, it is a terrible trajedy and telling of the kind of world we live in.)  Then, on Thursday, five police officers were killed and seven wounded along with two more civilians when a sniper opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Texas.  Our world is in chaos.  We desperately need God to save us from ourselves.  We all need to repent and turn our hearts back to God before it's too late.
            I long for our nation to turn back to God.  It is something I have prayed about for decades.  It is why I am a preacher.  Here’s something I wrote in my prayer journal way back on June 29, 1999--even before I became a preacher:
“Lord, we need You more than ever.  Please work in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on this planet.  Revive us, Oh Lord.  Turn our hearts back to You.  Save us from these crooked ways.  Bring us back to You.”
This has continued to be my heart's desire for 17 years.  It has directed my life and my ministry.  I’m not alone.  I believe there is a longing in many hearts for our community, our state, our nation, and even our world to turn back to God.  I long for this.  Don’t you?
            As we long for a more godly community, we have different ideas about what that looks like.  Some wish the community to be more like it was in the “good ole days”.  Some long for a more progressive community, where we are more tolerant and open to people who are different than us. Who's right?  If we don’t know what type of community you are aiming for, how can you hope to achieve it?
            Rather than aim for our own worldly ideas of a Christian community, let's look to God's Word.  There was a time when the Church community lived wholeheartedly for God.  Let’s read the Scripture to see what pure Christianity, pure Godly living, pure revival looks like.

Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What were the characteristics of this early Christian community?
            First of all, we see these Christians were devoted. We sometimes hear about parents who are devoted to their children; who would do anything for them.  Sometimes perents are so devoted they smother their children or do too much for them and spoil them.
            We hear about sports fans who are devoted to their team; they won’t miss a single game—whether in person or on TV.  They dress in their team’s apparel, decorate their homes and cars with their team logo.  The most extreme
fans are so devoted they might even paint their faces or bodies for the game.  I’ve seen cheese heads at Packers games shirtless in the dead of winter in Wisconsin!
            The early Christians in Acts 2 were devoted to God.  Oh, that people in our churches today were more devoted to God than they are to the things of this world!  Oh, that we were devoted like the Christians in Acts chapter 2!
            The early Christians were devoted to the Apostles' teaching.  The Apostles spent three years with Jesus.  They learned from what he said and what he did.  They were personal witnesses of his death and resurrection.  In turn, the Apostles passed Jesus’ teachings on to the Church in Acts.  
            These early Christians—who were so close to God, whom we should imitate—were devoted to the Apostles' teachings.  They didn’t try to change the Apostles' teaching to fit their lifestyles.  They didn’t try to make exceptions for themselves.  No.  They humbled themselves, repented of any behavior that was contrary to the teachings—whether sinful things they had done or good things they had left undone—and devoted themselves to living the way Jesus said they should live.
            The Christians of Acts 2 passed these apostolic instructions on to others as well.  They challenged their family, friends, and the people of their community to repent of their sin and turn to God by following the Apostles’ teachings about Jesus.  More and more people started coming to the Lord—and it started to change their community and eventually the whole world.
            These early Christians were also devoted to fellowship.   In other words, they were together as one mind and body.  They saw each other as family.  The bond between these believers was even stronger than the ties between brothers and sisters.  Elders treated their younger believers as their children and young Christians treated their Christian elders as parents.  Everyone in the Christian community was part of the “family of God” and it was more than just words; it was real.  Everyone had each other’s back—to the point they would even sell their possessions for the good of the whole Christian community.  No one went without because everyone was wholeheartedly committed to their Christian family.
            The Church in Acts experienced the risen Christ in their midst because they were devoted to the Breaking of the Bread (otherwise known to us as Holy Communion).  The early church was not distracted by keeping up with the Jones’, making more money, or driving a nicer car.  They were not caught up in sports or politics. They were not glued to their TVs or their Facebook feeds to see the latest gossip in the news.  No.  They were devoted to worshiping the Lord through Holy Communion Thus, they were overwhelmed by Christ's presence in their lives.  Oh that you would be more like these early Christians!  As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus and looked full in his wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”  The Acts 2 community's closeness to Jesus through worship, fellowship, and Holy Communion made them truly alive in Christ and dead to the world, but there is more.  
            These Christians in Acts 2 devoted themselves to prayer.  It was more than just saying they would pray for one another.  They prayed with one anotherThey met every day to pray together—in their homes, in the Temple, where they worked, in the streets.  They never did anything without praying about it first.  Daily, they prayed—not for safety from persecution or death (though these were ever present and real dangers), but instead they prayed—for boldness to share the Gospel of Jesus with the dark world around them.  If you want the dark world around you to change, if you want to see an end to the violence, you must get serious about prayer.  Revival starts with prayer.  It will change you and it will change the people around you.  Soon, it will change the whole world.

What were the results for the early church in Acts?
            These early Christians lived with a powerful sense of awe and wonder.  They saw God’s miracles all around them—in normal everyday things, and sometimes in dramatic actions—healings, people released from prison, impossibilities becoming realities.
            Have you lost your sense of awe and wonder when it comes to God?  Have you become a cynic, skeptical of everything you hear about God and the church?  Have you stopped seeing the Hand of God working in the world around you?  Have you ever had a sense of wonder about God?  I suggest you devote yourself wholeheartedly to the things I mentioned before as did these early Christians in Acts.  You see how they were filled with awe and wonder.  It will work for you too.  
            Another result was the early Christians saw people being saved everyday.  The rich, the poor, men, women, children, slaves, Jews, Gentiles, politicians, beggars, merchants, idolaters, prostitutes, people of all different races and languages, were convert to Christianity—drawn by the powerful authenticity of these people who devoted themselves to the Lord with their whole hearts, who lived what they believed, who were committed to the Kingdom of God above all else.  Daily, new people became believers and the Church grew and grew until it became the largest religion in the world.

Do you want the world to be a better place, a safer place, a more loving place?  It starts with you.  It starts now.  The choice is up to you.
            The Apostle Peter told us what to do—how to find the salvation we and our world so desperately needs.  Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
            He said repent, which means turn around; go a different direction.  Stop living the wrong way and start living the right way.  Stop being unconcerned, lazy, apathetic, indifferent, silent, uncommitted, and start living wholeheartedly for God!
            Peter said, be baptized.  Baptism is a symbol.  It means we die to our old way of living and are reborn to a new way of thinking and acting.  So you must be baptized with water as a symbol, but more importantly, you must die to your old ways and start living a new life.
            Some might say, “I have nothing of which to repent.” You better check yourself again.  We all need to repent of something.  We all need improvement.  We all need to grow.  And just because you are living like or have the attitudes people held in the “good ole days” does not mean you are living right.  Some of those “old” attitudes were wrong (racism, sinful pride, complacency).  It may be that Jesus has some new attitudes and practices He wants you to learn.
            Some might say, “I don’t want things to change.  I like my life the way it is.”  Well, what can I say.  You have fallen in love with the world.  I pray the Lord will break your heart until you realize the world has nothing worthwhile to offer.  Then maybe you will turn away from the world and turn to God.
            Some might say, "We need to protest!  We've got to stand up for our rights!  We need to fight!"  Violence will change nothing; at least not in any positive, lasting ways.  Look instead at Jesus' example.  If anyone did, Jesus had the right and the power to call down 10,000 angels to come and violently change the world.  However he didn't.  Instead, he offered forgiveness and grace.  He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  In the end, he died on the cross for the very people who hated him.  As he hung on that cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  Only love can heal our broken world.  God is love.

Perhaps it's time to repent and turn to God.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell... Seeing God


Photo taken by my brother, Nelson Mullis
Jeremiah 29:13 – If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

Matthew 7:7 – Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

            I had an interesting conversation with a friend about why God doesn’t just show Himself to people.  I mean, if God is real, why doesn’t He just "appear" in an unmistakable way so everyone will know?  (Well, God did come to earth as Jesus Christ—did miracles, was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into heavenbut that was 2,000 year ago.)  
            God does reveal Himself to us all the time through nature, through gentle whispers, and in a thousand other subtle ways if we pay attention.  How can we see the magnificent beauty of a flower or the wonder of a baby’s birth and not see the hand of God at work?  However, the question still remains:  If God wants us to know Him and has the power to do so, why doesn’t He do something dramatic like speak in an audible voice from the sky for all the world to hear?
            Well, I don’t claim to have the whole answer, but I have done some thinking and praying on it—especially since the conversation with my friend.  Here’s what I believe.  If you really want to see God, you need to search for Him wholeheartedly.  God is not some sideshow exhibit that you can casually stop by and see at your leisure.  God is active.  He’s on the move.  He is changing the world.  He is leading a battle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  If you want to see God—in His power and majesty, in His most dramatic forms—if you want to see God move in mighty ways that will take your breath away and convince you more fully of His presence, you need to go where the action is.
            I have personally seen miracles.  I have seen God revealed in ways that took my breath away.  I have seen God move in ways that left me convinced that God was personally involved in a situation.  These have happened most often during the course of my ministry as a pastor when I was overwhelmed, out of options, out of my comfort zone, and totally dependent on God.  The most memorable of these “God moments” have been when I participated in foreign mission trips.
            If you want to see God’s hand at work in this world, step outside of your comfort zone.  Leave behind a sheltered life where you are in control of it all, doing your own thing, leisurely making your way through life.  Get busy working for God’s Kingdom where your only hope is God’s intervention.  Take a mission trip to serve people who desperately need God’s help.  Get involved in a homeless ministry like Providence Ministries in Dalton, Georgia or Family Promise.  Find ways to serve God that are beyond what you can do by your own abilities.  It might not happen right away, but you are more likely to witness God doing what God does if you go to where God is doing it.
            God is everywhere—even where you are right now.  However, if you want to see Him more clearly and dramatically, look for Him with your whole heart.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…


God loves you and so do I!

Monday, July 4, 2016

One Nation Under God



Happy Independence Day!  This Fourth of July, I challenge you to consider what is most important in your life--where is your greatest allegiance.

Acts 5:12-32
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25 Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Introduction
The key verse for this blog is Acts 5:29 – “But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.””
The Christian must always remember these words.  Christians in America must be especially vigilant to guard their hearts according to this principle.  For America is a proud, proud land and we are a patriotic people. Our hearts swell with love for our country every time we see the flag waving in the wind and when we hear our national anthem. The flag represents our homeland, our way of life, all that we love about our nation, and all the precious memories we’ve made here. We have enjoyed so many blessings in Amercia:  freedom, safety, prosperity, good health, religious liberty…
And yet we must always remember, we are “one nation under God” as we say in our pledge of allegiance. For the Christian, our highest allegiance must always be to God, or else, we are not really Christian.  God will never take second place in our hearts, in our lives, in our actions, or in our country.  And any country that denies God’s ultimate authority cannot long enjoy the blessings of God. My purpose today is to challenge you to reflect on your own truest and highest allegiance.

The Pledge of Allegiance
If I were to ask you to recite the pledge of allegiance, few in America would have any difficulty doing so.  We have memorized it through thousands repetition throughout or lives.  (This stands in stark contrast to the pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag which hardly anyone knows.)
The pledge was introduced in the late 1800s. Interestingly, the pledge was created by Francis Bellamy, who was a socialist (a dirty word in American politics today). Bellamy wanted the pledge to be quick and easy to recite (taking as little as 15 seconds). The pledge was not adopted until 1942; at that time the pledge did
not include the phrase, “one Nation under God”.  Instead, it read:  I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was not until 1954 that the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge.
Why were the words "under God" added to the pledge? Well, when the pledge was first conceived in the 1800s, everyone assumed Amercia was a country founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. If you were to tell people in the 1800s that God did not exist or that America was not beholden to the Creator, they would have thought you a fool. The notion was generally accepted. Yet by the middle of the 1900s, Christian values were under attack from so many directions, it was felt people needed to be reminded that America was on nation under God. Therefore, a campaign sprang up to add the words to the pledge. Here we are in 2016; more than ever, Americans need to remember that we are one nation under God.

True Allegiance
If you are to be a Christian—a real Christian, not just someone who calls themselves Christian in name, but one who actually follows Christ wholeheartedly, putting all your hope and trust in Him, and going wherever He leads and obeying His commands—then your first and greatest allegiance must be to God.
A person’s allegiances are reveals by their sacrifices. Everyone wants to enjoy the blessings of American citizenship.  That is no sacrifice; it is a great benefit to be an American. The citizen who volunteers in their community--who votes, who works tirelessly to make their community better--shows their allegiance to their country. The public servant, who works for our country—often with little or no compensation, who makes decision they believe are right even when they are unpopular—shows their allegiance to America. Perhaps the greatest example is the soldier who goes off to war and lays down his or her life for this country; they have proven their allegiance in the ultimate way.  They were willing to die for their country.
What of our allegiance to God?  How is it revealed? In Acts 5, Peter and the Apostles showed their allegiance.  They spent their time working for God’s Kingdom and teaching people about Jesus. They poured out their resources for this endeavor. Even when the “authorities” arrested them and threw them in prison, Peter and the Apostles were not deterred.  When the angel of the Lord released them from prison, they did not run off and hide.  No.  They courageously obeyed the Lord and boldly returned to publicly preach about Jesus again.  They said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)
What about us today?  Around three quarters of Americans claim they are Christians.  That’s not surprising.  It is the default “religion” of our land.  If you live here, you most likely were born into a Christian family.  And there are benefits in America to claiming allegiance to Christ.
There is social acceptance for people claiming to be Christians. (This is rapidly changing as Christian receive more and more scorn for their beliefs each year--especially when those beliefs are held very devoutly; yet for the most part it is still true that Christians--especially Christians who aren't too zealous in their beliefs--are more socially acceptable to other Americans.) Though America is becoming more diverse and tolerant, you are more likely to get funny looks if you are a Muslim or Hindu than if you are a Christian. If you are a Christian, you are more likely to fit in as you practice the same religious traditions, holidays, etc. as most other Americans. People are more likely to understand you. So there is this benefit if you are a Christian in Americaa--even if you are a nominal Christian.
Another benefit is a sense of belonging. If you belong to a church--even loosely--you will feel as though you have a wider community of faith to which you belong. You may even have people check on you or assist you if you are sick or facing trouble. This is another benefit for American Christians.
American Christians also have the benefit of a certain assurance that you are a good person, that you will go to heaven, that God will take care of you, etc.  I don't say that these are biblically or theologically sound ideas, but these are the generally held beliefs of the average American--if you are a Christian, you are good and if you are good, you will go to heaven. So there is this soothing feeling in being a nominal Christian in America; even though it is a false hope, it provides some relief in this world to those who subscribe to the myth.
All these things and more are benefits, not sacrifices. They require little or nothing from the so called Christian. They prove nothing as far as allegiances go. It is in the interest of most American's to claim Christianity as their religion.
Yet what allegiances do these “Christians” really have? What do their sacrifices reveal? Are they working for God?  Are they willing to uphold the principles of God even when it is unpopular?  Even when social pressure to conform is overwhelming?  Even if to do so would make them social outcasts in their community? Are they willing to face persecution for Jesus sake?  Are they willing to be chased from their homes and lose their jobs because of the way they live for Jesus?  Are they willing to pour themselves out teaching about Jesus like the Apostles in the New Testament?  Are they willing to be thrown in jail for their message?  If somehow they are miraculously released, are they willing to go back and preach the Gospel of Christ again?  Are we willing even to be seen as “unpatriotic” or “unAmerican” for the sake of Jesus Christ?  Are we willing even to speak out against the injustices of our beloved nation (when necessary)? Are we willing to (in extreme cases) disobey the laws of our land (if those laws are clearly in opposition to God’s Word)?
These are troubling questions.

Closing
I challenge you to reflect on your allegiances.  You may be tempted to answer too quickly.  Sure.  We all want to believe God comes first in our lives—especially if we are church-goers.  But reflect deeper on your life, your attitudes, and your actions.  Consider how you spend most of your time and money.  What are you most passionate about?  Where do you pour out most of your energy?  For what are you willing to sacrifice?  For what would you suffer?  For what would you lay down your life?  In these revealing terms, where is your first and greatest allegiance?
This is important. It is crucial. For if your allegiance to America is greater than your allegiance to God, America is in deep trouble. Even more important, if your allegiance to America is greater than your allegiance to God, you eternal salvation is in jeopardy. God will not accept second place in your life. God will not accept second place in our nation.
            Remember what God has done for you.  He has given everything for you.  John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."  God gave Jesus to save you from your sins--not because you deserved it, but because you needed it.  In return, God deserves nothing less than your complete and full allegiance.  He deserves your heart, your devotion, your love.
            Perhaps it is time to repent and pledge your full allegiance to God throught Jesus Christ.