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Monday, November 20, 2017

What's Wrong With Our Churches Today? - Repost

Is it just me, or does it seem like our churches are dying?  What has happened to leave so many empty seats in the house of the Lord?  Why is it that churches with a record attendance of 3,000 are now struggling to reach an attendance of 300?  I'll give you a good idea of what I think has happened, and believe it or not, it can be found by taking a good look at King Ahab (you know, the wicked, wicked king of Israel).

And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. - I Kings 22:7-8

In the above passage, Syria was ready to war against Israel, so Ahab sought an alliance with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah.  Jehoshaphat was willing to help, but he wanted to make sure the Lord was with them and approved of their actions, so he asked Ahab to have the prophets enquire of the Lord.  Well, Ahab did just that, only the prophets that were seeking God's will were not God's prophets.  Knowing Ahab's ways, they were more than likely prophets of Baal.  Nevertheless, they gave Ahab the green light from "the Lord," but Jehoshaphat wasn't convinced.

"Don't you have a real prophet of God that we can ask?" the king of Judah queried.  I would love to have seen Ahab's face at this question.  No doubt, his smile faded, but I must admit that his verbal response brings a smile to my face every time.  "Well, there is this one guy, but I hate him because he never tells me what I want to hear!"  Oh my goodness!  What a baby!  Once again, Ahab opened his mouth and displayed his immaturity.  Unfortunately, Christians do the same thing all the time, and that, my friend is what's wrong with our churches.

"Well, I used to go to that church, but the preacher made it sound like I was some big sinner because I like to smoke, so I just don't go there anymore."

"Yeah, I used to attend that church, but the preacher said something that really hurt my feelings, so we joined somewhere else."

"Sure, I'd go to church if the preacher didn't preach so much against sin.  I mean, good grief, can't he find something else to harp about?"

These statements may sound like exaggerations, but I promise you they are not.  I've heard them (and many more) with my own ears.  Now, I understand that God will sometimes move people to another church.  That's fine.  I also understand that sometimes the preacher will stray from preaching the Word of God and will begin preaching his own convictions and pet peeves.  In such cases, I urge you to find another church.  But, more often than not, the problem is not with the church or the preacher, it's with the immature Christian who, like Ahab, says, "Well, there's this one pastor, but I hate him because he never tells me what I want to hear." Hmm!

May I be very blunt for just a moment?  If the preacher is preaching the Word of God, and you're upset because it's not what you want to hear, where do you think the problem is?  After all, if the man of God is preaching the Word of God, and you don't like it, that means that you're upset with what God is saying.  If that's grounds for leaving and joining another church, guess what--You're either going to have to join a church where the preacher is NOT preaching the Word of God, or you're just going to get mad and leave that church too.  Right?

Christians, it's time for us to grow up!  If we don't like what God has to say, it is not God or the Bible or our church membership that needs to change.  It's us!  We need to change.  We need to grow up.  We need to stop worrying about our feelings and start thinking about what we can do to become better servants for Christ.

Yes, sometimes the truth hurts, but the truth will always set us free!  Keep that in mind the next time the preacher steps on your toes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Are You Faltering or Fighting?

May I be brutally honest with you?  The past few weeks have been busy and somewhat discouraging. On a personal level, we lost Mitch, gained Barnabas and have spent the recent weeks dealing with sickness, training and all that is involved in getting a new dog (especially a young one).  Please don't misunderstand.  I love Barnabas, and he is making significant progress.  It's just been a lot to deal with.

On a professional level, I've been a vendor at three different events in the past three weeks.  Knowing that I had the meetings but uncertain how much I would sell (as is the case with every opportunity), I ordered nearly $200 worth of books to make sure I didn't run out.  With all three events combined, I sold a grand total of five books.  Yep, five!  I have another speaking engagement today to a group of school children, so I don't expect to sell much, but maybe I'll be able to earn at least a little bit of my money back.

To top it all off, as I was thumbing through my journal this morning, I came across my 2017 Goals.  Well, that was depressing!  I haven't met any of them.  The goal sheet included items like making enough money to support the family so Jason could stay home and keep the house while I made more time to write (which is something we would both love!).  Not even close on that score!!!!  There was a goal that I would have improved my health, lowered my blood pressure and stabilized my joints.  While there has been some progress in those areas, it's all a bit up and down.  Some weeks are good while others are not.  Also included in the list was that Mitchell's tumor would be healed and that his strength and stamina would be renewed.  I guess, in a sense, that is the case, but that's certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote my goals for the year.

It's discouraging to look back and feel that I've not lived up to my expectations over the past year.  It makes me wonder if I'm wasting my time.  What am I actually accomplishing with my life?  Some days, it seems we're stuck in a rut of just getting by.  Never enough money to accomplish the things that need to be done.  Never enough time to do the things we would truly enjoy.  Yes, sometimes, it feels like we're just going through the motions, but is that really living?

God promised us an abundant life, but for those of us in full-time ministry, some days, that seems out of reach.  It feels like it's our lot in life to simply give of ourselves and live in obscurity.  But when these feelings of self-pity and discouragement arise, I have to pay attention to the source.  Is it really the circumstances that have me down, or is it the echo of Satan's cries in my ear:  "It's just not fair"?  After all, God never promised an easy road.  He never said that faithfulness to Him would result in smooth sailing.  In fact, He declared just the opposite: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Have the past few weeks been rough?  Sure.  But is God still good?  Absolutely.  Is He still faithful?  No doubt about it.  Can I still believe He's working all things (even these frustrating circumstances) for my good and His glory?  Yes, even though it's difficult to believe at times.

In situations like these, it's so important to know and understand God's promises.  It is His truths that will serve as an anchor during life's roughest storms.  It is His faithfulness that will keep us from giving up and giving in.  But you cannot cling to what you do not know, so I encourage you to spend some time in the Word of God.  Dig out those precious promises.  Write them down.  Commit them to memory.  Hide them in your heart.  That way, when the storms come (and trust me, they WILL come), you'll be ready.  If the Word of God was Jesus' weapon of choice when dealing with difficult times and people, then I believe it's the best weapon of all.

Troubles arise.  Discouragement comes.  But they don't have to destroy us.  We can fight back through prayer and the promises found in the Bible.  And while our immediate circumstances may not change, our attitude and focus surely will.  And that makes all the difference!

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where's the Pause Button?

On our way home from church Sunday night, Jason and I were listening to some music through the CD player in the car.  At one point, we began a conversation and, not wanting to miss the music, Jason reached to press the pause button.  Only he couldn't find it. "Where's the pause button?" he asked.  I looked and couldn't find it either.  We ended up shutting the radio off so we could have our discussion without missing out on our music.

Where's the pause button?  That question has resonated with me ever since.  Have you ever asked that question concerning your life?  Where's the pause button?  Things are happening too fast.  You need time to think, to plan, to breathe.  So many obligations.  So much stress.  Every day is like a merry-go-round spinning faster and faster until you find yourself crying, "Stop!  I want off!!!!"

I'll admit, I've felt that way from time to time.  In the midst of a busy week or chaotic schedule, I've found myself looking for the pause button.  After all, who could possibly keep up this pace?  It's exhausting.  It's frustrating.  And it's detrimental to our health.  But at the same time, who has time to take a break?  There's so much to do and so little time.  Stopping means losing momentum and precious seconds which add into minutes which add into hours and so on.  And so, we see only two choices:  (1) Let it roll or (2) Stop the music.  Neither is a good option.

With option one, we continue living like we're superheroes--faster, stronger, better.  We keep giving until we have nothing left to give, until we're a used-up shell of a life that used to be.  We burn-out and find ourselves in a place where we can't even help ourselves, let alone others.

Option two is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  We give up.  Maybe on our jobs or our families.  And sometimes, on life.  How many people have ended their lives when it could have been avoided if they had simply been able to find the pause button?  But they couldn't.  They were miserable and desperate, unable to see another way out.  So, they took matters into their own hands and ended it all.  If we're not careful, we could find ourselves in the same boat.

Exhaustion leads to faulty thinking and rash decisions.  Fatigue tells us there's only one way out of our hamster wheel of to-dos and obligations.  Weariness is a poor friend and an even worse counselor.  Before you find yourself in the company of this trio (or it could be that you already are), take my advice:  press the pause button.  It's there.  You merely have to be willing to use it.  I assure you the world won't fall apart if you take a few minutes to rest, but you will certainly fall apart if you don't.  We were not made to keep going like the Energizer bunny.  The Bible has a lot to say about rest, and it's always in a positive sense.  Even God rested, for crying out loud!  What makes us think we don't need to?

Where's the pause button?  It can be found in the quiet time alone with God.  You can find it in an afternoon nap or a few minutes of pleasure reading.  Life is busy and hectic, but sometimes we need a break.  And typically we'll find we can accomplish more when we're not so stressed and tired.  So, stop running for a little while.  Take a breath.  Take a nap.  Take some time for yourself.  Press that pause button.  You'll be glad you did.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Beware of the Company You Keep

Second Chronicles 23 and 24 tell the story of King Joash who followed the Lord and did many holy things for the Lord during his reign.  In conjunction with his friend and mentor, Jehoiada, the king destroyed the altars of Baal, set things right in the kingdom, and took up an offering to repair the house of the Lord.  Because of his loyalty and faithfulness to God, the people lived in peace and prosperity.

But take a close look at the last phrase in II Chronicles 24:2, which says, And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.  It doesn't say he did right all of his own days, but as long as Jehoiada was alive.  Why?  Well, if we read on, we'll see that Jehoiada (who was VERY old) died, and soon after, Joash fell into bad company.

Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. (vs. 17)  This verse sounds innocent enough, but to see what's really happening here, we need to finish the passage and read between the lines a bit.  We know that these princes were negative examples because the very next verses tell us, And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass. Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear.

After all his hard work and faithfulness to God, all it took was falling in with the wrong crowd to cause Joash to do a complete 180.  As if it weren't bad enough that he served other gods, the story gets worse.  Jehoiada's son, Zechariah, comes to Joash and tries to set things straight, but Joash refuses to listen.  In fact, he had become so hard-hearted and has fallen so far from God that he had Zechariah killed.

Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, The Lord look upon it, and require it. (vs. 22)

In the end, Joash paid for his wickedness with his own life, and his people also perished.  He led his kingdom to defeat because he made an unwise decision about the "friends" he chose to hang with.  What a sad story!

Unfortunately, the same thing still happens today.  I am thinking of a young man in our church who has walked away from God.  He was raised in a good Christian home.  For a while, he served the Lord in the church and hung around with good godly examples.  But one day, a new "friend" entered his life, and before long, everyone began to notice a change in the young man.  He became more distant and less excited about the work of God, which broke his parents' hearts.  But nothing could compare to the day that he left home, walked away from the church and moved out into a world of sin.  And it all began because he fell in with the wrong crowd.

This young man has not gone so far as Joash, but he is not living a life that is pleasing to God.  We, as a church and his real friends, daily lift up his name in prayer, pleading that God will do a great work in his heart and bring him back home.  I implore you to also pray for him.  I know his family would greatly appreciate it.

The point I'm trying to make is that people have a lot more influence on us than we realize, so we need to be careful who we hang around with.  It's true that one bad apple can ruin the entire bushel.  Beware of who you call "friend."  Joash should have been able to identify from the very start that these princes were bad news and did not share his faith in God.  That should have been an immediate turn-off.  Witness to them?  Sure.  Work with them?  If he had to.  But give in to them?  It should have never happened, but they made him feel good and said all the right things, and in the end, the entire kingdom paid the price.

Please, oh please, choose your friends carefully.  I don't want you to suffer the fate of Joash.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Praise Opens the Door to Blessing

November is the month of thankfulness (though why people feel they only need to focus on gratitude during this one month, I don't understand).  During November, Facebook members post a daily gratitude post, and Christian radio stations focus their selections of music on songs that deal with praise, worship, and thanksgiving.

As I listened to one such station the other morning, I heard a song that rubs me the wrong way.  I'm sure the author meant well, but every time I hear the song, I feel the need to turn it off because it aggravates me.  The verses talk about going through a trial, coming out on the other side and then being thankful.  Then the chorus talks about how he's thankful like Daniel after the lions, thankful like Paul and Silas after the jail and so on.  Well, I'm sorry, but that's just not Scriptural because these men weren't just thankful after the trial.  They were praising and singing during the trial.

Sure, it's easy to be thankful when the storm is over, and everything is "back to normal."  But true thankfulness is discovered during the storm, not after it.  And many times, it is that praise in the storm that creates the blessing and escape.  Just ask Jehoshaphat.

Second Chronicles 20 recounts one of my favorite stories in the Bible (though I probably have a hundred or more "favorites.")  Anyway, Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah, and he was in a royal pickle.  Several of the neighboring nations had joined forces and were heading toward Judah to destroy it and take the people captive.  Jehoshaphat, being a holy man, immediately took the problem to the Lord.  I encourage you to read the whole story, but Jehoshaphat's prayer can be summed up in his final words to the Lord: O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. (vs. 12)

We have no strength.  We don't know what to do.  But we're looking to you.  Wow, does that prayer sound familiar (only regretfully, I sometimes leave off the latter part)!  King Jehoshaphat knew they didn't stand a chance apart from God.  The battle was in God's hands.  And God answered Jehoshaphat's prayer, basically telling the king not to worry and that He would fight for them.  They only needed to stand still and watch what God would do.

Now, I want you to notice the king's response. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. (vs. 18)  As soon as they were done worshiping here, Jehoshaphat arranged the people and the armies of Judah to march out to the "battleground" where God had told them to go.  In the front of the procession, the king placed the musicians and singers, who led the people forth in song and praise.

Now, catch this, and pay attention to the wording: And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. (vs. 22)  When did God move?  When the people praised.  When did the people praise?  Before the battle ever began.  Before the victory was won.  Jehoshaphat prayed.  God promised.  The people praised.  Then God provided.

Based on the song I mentioned earlier, we have the mentality that praise is only necessary AFTER God works a miracle in our lives, but that's not what the Bible teaches.  And I dare say that we often miss out on the blessings that God has in store for us because we fail to praise Him in the storm.  We don't seem to realize that praise often opens the door to blessing, nor do we take into account that God is worthy of our praise whether He changes our current circumstances or not.

Let's be careful not to reserve thankfulness for only the month of November, but let's also watch that we're not holding back our praise until we get what we want.  God has already given us far more than we deserve.  If He never gave us another thing, we still couldn't thank Him enough for what He's already done.  But I'd like to spend every day trying.  How about you?