Breaking the Chains of Sinful Habits

Dear Friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against your soul.
— 1 Peter 2:11

The word "abstain" translates the Greek apechomai, a combination of two Greek words: apo, a preposition meaning "off;" and the verb echo, meaning "to hold." Combined they mean "to hold off." It describes an aggressive stance--a defensive position--as one would hold off an attacker. "Fleshly desires" translates the Greek epithumia, which literally means "to pant after." According to Peter, we have inside us these animal lusts that wage war against our souls. Just a glance in the window... just a whiff of fragrance... just a brush of the hand, and the battle is on! Our response is critical. We must match aggression for aggression. Passivity means defeat. 

As as an example: one in ten adults look at pornography on a regular basis--one in three of these are women. 25% of internet searches are porn related. 70% of men ages 18-34 view internet pornography once a month. One in four Christian men have viewed pornography in the last 30 days. Many are losing the war! 

What can we do about it? 

1. Admit you are vulnerable. Even a Christian giant like the Apostle Paul admitted his vulnerability (Romans 7:18) Do not think that because you have been a Christian for 40 years you are beyond certain temptations. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Recognize that your old nature is just as wicked, corrupt, incorrigible and perverted as ever! 

2. When you fall, confess and repent. Proverbs says, "The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy" (28:13). 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness." Confess your sin--no matter how many times you have committed the same sin--and accept God's unconditional forgiveness, then move on.

3. Acknowledge that God's power in you is sufficient to conquer every sinful habit. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead resides in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:18-20). As a Christian you are a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now you "can do all things through Him who strengthens you" (Philippians 4:13).

4. Surrender yourself entirely to Jesus as Lord (Romans 12:1). This means you allow Him to have control over every compartment of your life. Nothing is off limits to His authority. 

5. Realize that you are in a daily struggle. After attacking Jesus in the wilderness the Bible says that Satan left Him "for a time" (Luke 4:13). If Satan would not leave the perfect Son of God alone permanently, what makes you think he will leave you for very long? He'll be back... carrying his bag of tricks. 

6. Make yourself accountable to someone you trust. A trustworthy person is hard--but not impossible--to find (Proverbs 20:6). Find someone you can confide in and hold you accountable. Don't delude yourself into thinking "I've got this... I don't need anyone's help" (Proverbs 18:1). 

7. Renew your mind daily (Romans 12:2). Every word, smell, taste, feel and image is filed away in that amazing computer between your ears. You cannot empty your mind, but you can fill it with other things. Memorize Scripture and dwell on the "word of Christ" (Colossians 3:16). Listen to Christian music. Sing worship songs to yourself. Maintain a spirit of praise in your heart. Focus on the good (Philippians 4:8). 

8. Get involved in service. No, I'm not trying to hook you into taking another job at church. But if you can spend hours a day looking at a computer, you've got way too much time on your hands! Do something constructive with your time: "No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please his recruiter" (2 Timothy 2:4).  

9. Help someone else (Galatians 6:1). Do you know how difficult it is to find someone you can confide in? Do you? Then you determine to become a trustworthy person for someone's sake. 

10. Make no room for temptation (Romans 13:14). Peter said, "Keep it away from you; hold it off!" The proverb says, "He who would not fall down ought not to walk in slippery places." Don't be like the guy who was tempted when he drove past the donut shop. "I won't stop unless there is a parking place in front." Wouldn't you know it... his third time circling the building a space opened up! If watching certain channels on TV cause you to be tempted, don't watch them. Better yet, cancel your subscription! 

11. Keep yourself humble and accountable to God (James 4:10). 

Some boys were trying to build a scarecrow. They stuffed him full of straw and hay, but he kept flopping over. Finally, exasperated, one of them said, "He needs something inside him to hold him up!" 

God has placed Someone inside of you: His Holy Spirit! He is all the power you will ever need. Submit yourself to Him. Rely on Him. Let him sustain you... and hold you up! 

The Holy Nudging

On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and it appeared like fire above the tabernacle from evening until morning. It remained that way continuously: the cloud would cover it, appearing like fire at night. Whenever the cloud was lifted up above the tent, the Israelites would set out; at the place where the could stopped, there the Israelites camped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at the LORD’s command they camped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they camped.
— Numbers 9:15-18

The Moving of the cloud was the LORD's Command. When the cloud moved, they moved; and when the cloud stopped, they stopped. 

The LORD's guidance was impossible to miss. It is hard to miss a burning tower of cloud! 

Does the LORD guide His people today? Yes. The biggest difference is that now the guidance is internal rather than external. Today He does not lead by a cloud which appears before us, but by the Holy Spirit within us. 

We might read passages like this and wish we were in their place. It would make the journey easier if we were guided by a fiery pillar. How awesome it would be to see the shekinah glory cloud of God's presence resting above His people! 

A burning cloud seems a huge advantage when it comes to Divine guidance. But are we really at a disadvantage? Absolutely not! We have something far better today--we have a relationship with the Guide! His Divine Presence is always in our hearts! "Don't you know that your body is a sanctuary (tabernacle) of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

We must train ourselves to recognize the Spirit's moving. We must discipline ourselves to obey His nudging. We must train ourselves to hear and respond to His voice in His Word and in our hearts. The more we obey, the more sensitive we become to His nudging. The more we respond to His voice, the more sensitive our hearts become to His voice. We hear... we listen... we obey... we hear.... It is the same as the "law of sowing and reaping." We the more we sow, the more we reap. In this case the more we obey, the more we hear. 

Keep listening... and keep obeying! Tune your ears to hear His voice and your hearts to obey His commands. 

May the promptings of the Holy Spirit within you become as obvious as the moving of a tornado of fire in the desert! 

 

Do You Remember "Love Offerings"?

There was a time when we would take up "love offerings" at church. We would do this for an itinerate evangelist or musician who ministered in our church. Sometimes we would take up a "love offering" for a special need: such as a family who lost everything in a fire, or a para-church ministry or missionary organization like an orphanage, or for a special project at church such as the construction of a new fellowship hall. "Love Offerings" were a common occurrence.

Then as a pastor I began to hear complaints about these "special" offerings. "Pastor, you're going to overdo it. You can only go back to that well so many times. The 'Law of Diminishing Returns' will take effect. Our budget giving will suffer. We know people take money from their regular tithes to give to these 'special offerings.' The 'bottomline' will suffer."  So, we began cutting back on these special collections. My question is--and maybe someone could research this--has it really helped the 'bottom line'? Are our church finances better off?

In a time and culture where many churches do not take up ANY offerings, "love offerings" are all but extinct. We've put in place more creative ways of supporting the church--online giving, electronic kiosks, marketing displays with giving stations in the church lobby. I'm not opposed to these things. Times have changed. Technology has made it easier. Many people prefer digital giving to writing a check. Golly, many people don't even know what a check is! 

But I believe we have lost something: we have lost that physical connection of writing a check and putting it in the plate, or folding a couple of twenties and putting them in an envelope. The other night I came out of a restaurant. A man came up to me and hit me up with a hard luck story. I resisted the urge to stop him, and inform him I was a pastor! I could have said, "Let me finish the story for you. You're a veteran. You were on your way to Florida to your mother's funeral when your car broke down. Your kids in the car and haven't eaten since yesterday. Could I spare $10?" I knew--because I've watched these guys before--he was going straight to the liquor store or his dealer. But I didn't say anything. All I could think about was that twenty I had found just that morning in my billfold--the one I didn't know I had. I took it and gave it to the guy. I would have witnessed to him, but we had a bit of an emergency (sick wife).

There was something about reaching for my billfold, putting my fingers on that bill, and handing it to the guy. Something physical passed from my possession to this stranger. There was a depletion of myself--because we are all connected to our money--that was palpable. I felt it. I'm not saying the feeling was good or bad. The point is that I felt something. There was less in my billfold and on my person. 

There is something--I believe--about the physical act of giving itself that makes us more complete people... more connected to our own soul. And I believe we are in danger of losing this today. 

In 2 Corinthans 9 Paul reminds the believers about a promise they had made. They had promised to give a monetary gift to relieve the suffering of the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul tells them that their act of giving would benefit them--the givers--in six ways:

1. It would come back to them: "the person who sows generously will also reap generously" (vs. 6). 

2. It would cause the saints in Jerusalem to give thanks to God. Helping others give thanks to God is a good thing, right?

3. The saints in Jerusalem with will also be thankful for the Christians in Corinth.

4. The Christians in Jerusalem will love these strangers who assisted them. We all want to be loved, don't we?

5.  The saints in Jerusalem would be motivated to pray for the saints in Corinth. We all could benefit from people praying for us, couldn't we? 

6. Our giving is an expression of our own thanks to God for His gift to us--Jesus!

So, even if your church does not ask for a love offering, why not surprise them this Sunday by giving one? 

Protect Your Six

We are taking this precaution so no one can criticize us about this large sum administered by us. For we are making provision for what is right, not only before the Lord, but also before men.
— 2 Corinthians 8:20-21

The background is that Paul was given responsibility to deliver a large donation from the churches in Macedonia to the church in Jerusalem. Paul was taking with him men of proven character. He did not take these men as bodyguards. He took them as accountants. They were to be his witnesses that he delivered every penny he received. In fact, I would guess that Paul never personally touched the money. 

Some people say, "It does not matter what other people say, as long as I know in my heart I did the right thing." Paul would say, "It DOES matter what people think."  

I know, "Haters gonna hate." But we must take every precaution to keep our integrity beyond question. Don't put ammunition in the critic's hands. And we represent Christ. Therefore, there is more than our reputation at stake. There is His. 

Take every precaution to keep it clean and eliminate every criticism beforehand. Always watch your six. 

The Lord's Supper

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul gives instructions for the Lord's Supper. We would do ourselves a great favor if we regularly observed this sacrament! The Lord's Supper is a family meal-that is, it is meant for the family of God. I see in these verses at least three rules for observing the Lord's Supper.

1. Remember, verses 23-26. Paul quotes Jesus as saying twice, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (24, 25). Our focus should be on Jesus as we partake of the elements. The bread represents His body-His humanity. The juice represents His divine nature-His deity. He became like us, in that He had a body like ours, but He was also unlike us, in that He was sinless. His body was torn for us and His blood was spilled for us. This was the payment for our sins. 

2. Reflect, verses 27-32. We should allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts. Does He reveal any sin in us? Then we should confess it and repent of it before we take the meal. This is what he means by taking the meal in an "unworthy manner." We either eat it without allowing the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts, or we ignore His conviction altogether. He may be convicting us that we are not Christians at all (2 Corinthians 13:5), in which case we should ask the Lord Jesus to save us (Psalm 119:41). A person who does not know Christ as Savior is not going to discern His work in the meal. But neither should we see in the taking of these elements the means of salvation. The Supper does not save. Only trust in Jesus saves! 

3. Respect, verses 33-34. We are to show respect by giving deference to one another. If we would do this I beleive this sacrament would promote unity in the fellowship. 

It's Not What You Know

About food offered to idols; we know that ‘we all have knowledge.’ Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
— 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

One purpose in Paul's writing this letter to the Corinthian church was to answer specific questions. One question concerned food offered to idols. Imagine something like this taking place: 

There is a popular restaurant on Main Street called, "Momma's Down-home Cooking." It is well known that the owner of this establishment buys his meat from the temple down the street. You see, the worshippers bring animals to be offered as sacrifices to the "gods." The priests take the meat at the end of the day and butcher it. Then they sell it to the restauranteur. It's a sweet little set up. The priests pocket the cash and the owner of Momma's gets his meat at discount prices.

One day a new Christian walks by and sees his Sunday School teacher coming out of Momma's. The teacher has a sauce stain on his tie. The new Christian thinks, "My teacher eats at Momma's? We all know where that meat comes from! It has been dedicated to a false god. Isn't that a betrayal of Christ?" 

But the teacher thinks, "I know that idols are not real. Therefore, the fact that it has been dedicated to an idol means nothing. There is nothing wrong with eating it. Besides, I'm practicing good stewardship because Momma's has the cheapest burgers in town!" 

Here is what Paul says: "Knowledge inflates with pride." Knowledge can give you the big-head! But more than pride, this is false thinking. He says, "You don't know as much as you think you do, big boy!" They were impressed by their own knowledge, but they were not thinking through the consequences of their actions. They were not taking into consideration that acting on their knowledge might be hurting someone else. This is always wrong because it breaks the law of love. 

Then Paul makes this statement: "But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him." In other words, it is not what you know that matters as much as who knows you! The most important thing about you is not how much you know, but "does God know you?" He knows you if you have put your faith in His Son as your Savior. The bottom line is: you can know a lot and still not be a Christian. Your head can be filled with a lot of information about God and still be far from Him personally (18 inches between heaven and hell-knowing Christ in your head but not in your heart). The big thing is not what you know, but what you do with what you know! Have you acted on your knowledge in faith? Belief is more important than knowledge. Your head can be filled with a plethora of useless information. But have you acted on the information you possess? Unless you have acted on it you really do not believe it. When you have acted on it in faith you are then known by God. And once you have acted on that knowledge in faith, and are known by God, do you now act in love? 

Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians 13:13

Knowledge is not mentioned on the list, but it is included in all three. Knowledge tells us what to believe, what to hope for, and how to show love. So know. Learn. Dig. Explore. But let love inform your use of knowledge in everything. 

Returning To the Authority of Scripture In Our Day

‘Father’, he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house—because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’
— Luke 16:27-31

For this man and his brothers the authority of Scripture was insufficient. They needed something beyond the Scriptures to convince them. But Abraham said this super-biblical revelation was not to come because, in fact, it had already come in the Person of Jesus Christ.  

I see a movement afoot in the current church culture to put more confidence in human teachers than the God-inspired Scriptures. The ironic thing is that many of those who do this actually consider themselves to be above-the-average, super-pious Christians! But this closed-Bible feasting on the teachings of men is dangerous because it opens the door of our hearts to  false doctrine--which the Scripture says will proliferate in the last days. 

How can we return to the authority of Scripture in our day? I found a list scribbled on a piece of paper in my Bible. I will paraphrase what it says:

  1. We must begin by examining ourselves. Are we allowing God's Word to work in us? Are we spending time each and every day reading it and allowing God to speak to us (John 15:7, 10)? 
  2. Do we allow Scripture to determine our doctrine, practice, morality and worldview? Is God's Word the final word over every decision we make? The Bible should truly be the Supreme Court of our lives.
  3. More than a source for answers, do we allow Scripture to tell us why things are as they are? More than just an answer to our problems, do we allow the Bible to tell us why we have these problems? 
  4. Do we accept the Scripture as the very words of Christ to us? Are we committed to the words of Christ because we are committed to Him first? 
  5. Do we believe in the power of God's Word? Do we believe His words to be true and His promises to be fulfilled in our lives? 

We must return to doing these five things! When we do God's Word will once again prove itself to us.

Times of the Gentiles

So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
— Romans 11:25
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! Those inside the city must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it, because these are the days of vengeance to fulfill all the things that are written. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
— Luke 21:20-24

Maybe you have wondered what this phrase, "Times of the Gentiles," means. Paul gives us part of the answer in Romans 11:25. He calls this a "mystery." In the New Testament a "mystery" is not something inscrutable. It is a "family secret." Those of us who are in the family of God can know what it is... and we should know what it is. 

According to the Jewish view the "Times of the Gentiles" began in AD 70 with the invasion of Jerusalem by the Romans and the destruction of the temple. It will continue until the Messiah makes His terrifying entrance, leads Israel in conquest over her enemies, establishes His throne in Jerusalem, and begins His glorious reign upon the earth. The Christian view is very close. We believe it began with the crucifixion of Christ and will continue until the Rapture of the church. In other words, according to both views, we are living in the "Times of the Gentiles" right now. 

But there is more truth here. Paul exhorts the Roman (Gentile) Christians not to become "conceited." It was easy for them to become "puffed up" thinking that God had rejected the Jews entirely and now they were the favored ones. But Paul calls this "a partial hardening." In other words, God is still dealing with the Jews--just not wholesale. He is still calling out of the Jewish race a people for Himself, just in sparse numbers. There are Jews coming to faith in Christ. Paul was one! There have been many through the years... even today. But, by and large, the numbers of Jews who are coming to Christ are few and far in between. By far the vast majority of those who have been coming to Christ in the last 2000 years have been Gentiles. This will continue until "the full number of Gentiles has come in." In other words, there is a specific number of non-Jewish people who will put their faith in Jesus. God knows exactly what that number is and who those persons are. 

Maybe you have seen that series of commercials about "the Heisman House." It is about a fictitious house where all the former winners of the Heisman trophy live together--I presume watching college football games together. Suppose God had a "Salvation House" where all the redeemed live together. Now suppose that there are only two doors into this house. The front door is for the Jews, and the back door is for the Gentiles. Up through the life of Jesus the front door was wide open and back door was almost completely closed. A few Gentiles managed to squeeze through the opening in the back door. But the majority of those who were entering the "Salvation House" were Jews coming through the front door. But sometime after the resurrection things changed. God seemed to reverse things. He closed the front door almost shut. Oh, He left it cracked a little to allow a spattering of Jews to enter. But He flung the back door wide open, allowing a steady stream of Gentiles to come in. We are currently living in the days of "the front door closed, and back door open." But one day the situation will be flipped again. When the "full number of the Gentiles has come" into the house God will close the back door. Then He will throw open the front door once again. This will only last for a short time--I think seven years. At the end of that period God will close BOTH doors and bolt them securely. 

Even now I think I can hear that front door creaking on it's hinges. If you have not entered that door by faith, I urge you to do so quickly! 

Kindness Criticized

A woman came to one of her Quaker elders distraught. She told him that she had moved into a new community and was trying to make friends. She had baked cakes and cookies and taken these to her neighbors. But instead of making friends they treated her like an enemy. They accused her of being a busy-body. They criticized her and slandered her intentions. They gossiped that she "only did these things to get attention."  She was discouraged and did not know what to do. “Why do these mine neighbors act so hateful toward me when all I seek to is show myself a good neighbor?”

The elder said, “My daughter, I am afraid that even if thou wert the winged Gabriel himself, arrayed in robes of spotless white, with the shinning halo upon thine cherub brow, bearing in thine arms gifts from heaven’s throne, some poor misguided creatures of this earth would still confuse thee for a blackbird and try to shoot thee!” 

Jesus said: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). 

No matter what you do someone is going to attack you for it. This is plain proof of our fallen human nature. And those who can find no obvious fault will presume to know your intentions. They'll attack your motivations. Rogers said, "It takes no size to criticize"... and it doesn't!  Like someone said, "No one ever erected a statue in honor of a critic." But do let the critics dissuade you.  I believe that the judgment might even go a little hotter for the fault-finders. Never allow the critics to stop you from doing what you believe to be God's will.

The Art of Compromise

I know that "compromise" is a naughty word for some people. But the reality is that compromise is necessary to move some things forward. We USED to see this in politics--Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neal meeting behind closed doors to find some resolution to a problem, some common ground on a piece of legislation that would move the country forward. There used to be such a thing as statesmen who believed in principle over party, and that which was best for the country must take priority over ideology. But today no one is willing to compromise. The cry is: "Don't cave in; hold the party line!" The result is stalemate and gridlock.

The truth is that the refusal to compromise is many times not a matter of principle but of pride. It is selfishness--or self-preservation--pure and simple. Very sadly today we see this refusal to compromise for the sake of the cause happening where it should never be seen--in the church of Jesus Christ. 

Do not misunderstand me. We must NEVER compromise on truth. Truth is not for sale! Some things are non-negotiable--such as salvation through faith in Jesus only. But matters of interpretation, tradition, and preference are NOT truth. Neither are certain styles of preaching and music--and even political affiliation. 

There is a brand of compromise that is actually supported by Scripture. We must be willing to bend on our traditions and preferences in order to advance the Good News of Jesus. 

The early church faced a crisis. Had they not compromised it would have split the church and stymied the advance of the Gospel. Peter had preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius' house. Many placed their faith in Jesus and were baptized. Paul and Barnabas preached to the Gentiles and many were turning to faith in Christ. But then some men from Judea came to Antioch and began preaching a different message. They preached that unless a person is circumcised they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas debated hotly with these men. The church sent them to Jerusalem to ask the apostles. The debate continued in Jerusalem. Then Peter stood and gave testimony of his vision (Acts 10:9-16) and preaching in the home of Cornelius the Gentile (Acts 10:34-43). I imagine this did little to change anyone's mind. But then Peter quoted Scripture (Amos 9:11-12) and the matter was settled. For the early church the final authority was not reason or opinion or preference or tradition... it was Scripture! My appeal is that we would get back to this--and when strong men disagree they would say, "But what is the word of the Lord?"--and when they find that word that would be the end of the debate.  

Would to God we had such people today, people who seek the mind of the Lord, people who know Scripture well enough to say "Thus saith the Lord"--and those who are humble enough to listen! 

Acting Upon the Authority of Scripture

About noon Peter was praying on the roof of Simon the tanner's house in Joppa. He fell into a "visionary state" and saw a sheet being lowered over him by the four corners. Inside the dome of the tent was a menagerie of creatures that were forbidden for Jews to eat. The Lord spoke to Peter and said, "Get up, Peter: kill and eat!" Peter protested: "Lord, nothing unclean or common has ever touched my lips!" The Lord said, "What God has made clean, you must not call common." 

The purpose of the vision was not really about food. Jews were forbidden to eat certain foods. Jews were also banned from associating with certain classes of people... actually, they ANY class of people other than Jews! God was preparing Peter to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Peter and some of the brothers from the church in Jerusalem made the journey to Caesarea. Upon entering the home of Cornelius they discovered a crowd gathered to hear them. As Peter preached the Gospel the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles and they spoke "in other languages" and declared "the greatness of God" (Acts 10:48). Peter ordered they be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 

Upon returning to Jerusalem Peter was challenged by some of the Jewish Christians about what he had done. Peter related the whole story beginning with his vision. Coming to the point where the Spirit came upon the Gentiles he said, "I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 11:16). The response of the Jewish Christians to this argument was silence. Then they "glorified God, saying, 'So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!' (vs. 18). 

First, Peter defended his action with Scripture. He did not have to defend his preaching to the Gentiles because the Word of God already defended it.

Second, the elders were wise enough not to support Peter's action based upon his vision. Visions, dreams, and experiences are not proof that God is in a thing. 

Third, credit the elders for recognizing the authority of Scripture. When Peter quoted "the word of the Lord" the case was closed. 

My appeal is this: we should not act based upon logic, impulse, or experiences alone. I'm am not against these things; I do believe God can use them to speak to us. But these by themselves are insufficient to fully discern God's will.  If we are truly being led by the Spirit "chapter and verse"-- and His peace will fill our hearts before we act. 

Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?
— Acts 11:16-17

Happening Now: Angel Assists Jailbreak!

In what witnesses are calling "a miracle" an angel orchestrates jailbreak from ultra-high security prison. The angel appeared in a "flash of light" to a church leader incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Jerusalem. The escapee was recently arrested by the governor for practicing "non-state sanctioned religious activities."

The jailbreak is reportedly connected to a prayer meeting held at a nearby home. When the escaped convict arrived at the home to tell them he was freed they would not believe him.

According to an unnamed source: "Yeah, we were praying for his deliverance... but we did not actually believe it would happen. We were hoping for--at best--a commutation of sentence. But, I mean, an angel? These things don't just happen everyday!" 

According to witnesses the "apostle Peter" was sleeping in his cell chained between two guards. His execution was scheduled for later that morning. Suddenly the prison was "filled with light" and the angel appeared "kicking Peter to wake him up." The angel then ordered him to "get dressed and follow me." Peter followed the angel unnoticed right past numerous guards and through several locked doors.

The governor was so furious with the guards that he ordered their execution. 

The full story is related in Acts 12. 

"Do You Believe In Dreams" Follow Up

Does God still speak through dreams today? My answer is "Yes." The Scripture says: "After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions" (Joel 2:28). On a rooftop in Joppa Peter fell into a "visionary state" and saw a sheet being lowered over him by the corners (Acts 10). Inside the dome of the sheet were all kinds of animals and insects that Jews are forbidden to eat (among them, I pray, were shrimp!). The Lord told Peter, "Get up. Peter; kill and eat!" Peter protested because the things he saw were ceremonially unclean. But the Lord said, "What God has made clean, you must not call common." 

God was preparing Peter, not for a meal, but for a visit to the Gentiles. Peter would go and preach the Gospel to Cornelius' household. Later, when challenged by the Jews back in Jerusalem about what he had done, Peter backed up his action by his dream and Scripture. 

God is a God who speaks. He communicates to us. He speaks to us by His Word--and nothing He says by any other means will EVER contradict His Word. But God also speaks to us by His Spirit, through other Believers, through our circumstances, and through experience (but, again, it will NEVER contradict His Word!). So if God is a God who speaks, why should we try to limit His means? Can He not use any means He chooses to communicate with us? He spoke to Balaam through a donkey (which encourages me--if God can use a donkey then He can use me!). We should be grateful that God still communicates with us today. He may not always use donkeys and dreams to speak to us, but He can speak to every one of us every day through His Word! 

Do You Believe In Dreams?

And he dreamed; and behold, a ladder....
— Genesis 28:12
But came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him....
— Genesis 20:3
...your old men will have dreams....
— Joel 2:28

Does God speak today through dreams? 

A man said to the girl he'd been dating for five years: "I dreamt last night that I asked you to marry me; do you suppose that means anything?"

She said, "It means you've got more sense when you're asleep than when you're awake." 

Now I might have stacked the deck, but I want to hear from you. Do you believe that God still speaks through dreams? Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? 

Do you believe that God still speaks today through dreams?
Has God ever spoken to you in a dream?

Learning To Appreciate Truth In Real Time

His disciples did not understand these things at first.
— John 12:16

It was Passover time. Jesus was making His final trip to Jerusalem. He entered the city bourn by a donkey. He would leave the city bearing a cross. The bookends of His life were a feeding trough and a lowly burro. The verse above refers to His entrance into the city being carried by a donkey. This was the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy: 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
— Zechariah 9:9

Roman conquerors would enter a vanquished city riding on a white horse; the steed chomping at the bit, straining at the bridle, ready to burst into full gallop, charging through the streets with pounding hooves and blasting nostrils! It was a display of power. It was calculated to inspire fear in the hearts of the city's defeated citizens. 

But the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was the antithesis of this. This was almost a pathetic figure: a grown man riding on the back of a scrawny animal... his feet dangling, almost touching the ground! We would think, "Bless His heart--He can't do any better!" 

How wrong we would be! Jesus could have come charging through those gates riding in a chariot of fire surrounded by an army of angels. But that was not His heart. He was a perfectly righteous man... and humble in victory. This is one reason why they rejected Him. Had He come bragging and boasting they would have hailed Him a hero! This is the shallowness of man--impressed with braggadocio... mesmerized by arrogance. 

But His disciples "did not understand these things at first." It wasn't until "after He was glorified that they remembered and understood these things."

How common this is! We do not see the significance of grand events in the real time in which they are happening. It is only in hindsight that we understand the gravity of the moment that is past, or their relevance, or their fulfillment of prophecy. 

There are many who believe we are living in the last days. I believe this as well. But could it be that we also are missing the import of many of these events because we do not understand the Scripture?  Will we look back one day and say, "How could I have missed that?" 

I am convinced we will. But I am just as convinced that we could understand more--and ought to understand more--if we became serious students of the Word of God. We need men and women today whose minds are trained by Scripture, who see the events of our day through a biblical lens, and who can say to us, "This is that which was spoken by the prophets...", and--this is important--can back their claims with chapter and verse. 

Who will rise up to be such a woman? Who will rise up to be such a man? 

Christian Diet

If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples.
— John 8:31

Let me make a plea from my heart: "Read the Bible every day!" 

I am amazed at Christians who do not read the Bible, or they substitute other things for the Bible. Instead of reading the Bible they read "Open Windows" or "Daily Bread" ...or this here blog. But just like watching a cooking show cannot substitute for eating a healthy meal, just so reading what someone else gleans from Scripture must never take the place of reading the Bible for yourself. Christians who do not read the Bible suffer from spiritual anemia. They have a malnourished faith. 

"Bro. George, you write a devotion!" Obviously. But my intention is to support your personal Bible reading plan, not replace it. Think of this blog as a supplement--a protein drink. As a Christian pastor one of the most important things I can ever do is encourage people to read the Bible.

Listen: nothing you do will ever replace reading the Bible every day yourself!

Let me make a some suggestions that will help you get started... or get restarted:

  1. Make the decision to do it. Get started now. 
  2. Have a plan and follow it. There are many good daily Bible reading plans available at the bookstore or online. The best plan is to simply pick up your Bible and read it. Start with a book of the Bible--the Gospel of John, or Proverbs, or Psalms, or Romans. Read a chapter a day, or a paragraph a day, or five verses a day. If you are just starting out I suggest you don't over extend yourself. Start basic and build up from there.  
  3. Have a place and time that works for you... a place and time where you can be alone... free from distractions or interruptions. You might say, "You don't know my situation; there is no such place!" Sometimes a quiet space is not a matter of where but when. Rising early or staying up later can put you in a quiet place. Remember: this is a matter of discipline--and discipline is what a disciple does! 
  4. Pray before you start: "Lord, open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law" (Psalm 119:18 NASB). 
  5. Use a Bible version that is easy to read. 
  6. Mark in your Bible. Highlight. Underline. Make notes in the margin. It's okay... believe me, it's okay. 
  7. Have an accountability partner. This is not a necessity, but if you have someone you trust that you can report to--at least until you establish the habit--this will help.
  8. Keep a journal. I'm admittedly not great at this, but at least keep track of what you read and when you read it. When God does show you something from His Word, write it down. The old saying goes: "The dullest pencil is better then the sharpest memory." 
  9. Stick with it! Even if you miss a day or two, come back to it. Don't let the devil beat you up when you miss. Open your Bible and pick up where you left off. Consistency in your devotions, like consistency with anything else, pays off! 

Grab your Bible and get started. Let  me know how it goes. 

 

Grace and Works

These very works I am doing testify about Me that the Father has sent Me.
— John 5:36

There are people who think that, because we are under grace, how we live our lives is of no consequence.

Not true!

Our lives matter and our works matter. Listen to what Jesus said, "These very works I am doing testify about Me that the Father has sent Me." According to Jesus, His works validated who He was.  It that was true of Jesus, how much more true is that of you and me? If the works of Jesus certified His Messiahship, do not my works certify my Christian sonship? If my works do not substantiate that I am a Christian, then there is a good chance that I am not.

The Bible is clear that we will be judged by our works, not by our profession. We will be judged out of those things "written in the books" of our works (Revelation 20:12). And no amount of talk about "grace" is going to get us off the hook!

Before someone accuses me of being a heretic, let me be clear: we are saved by grace. But the grace that saves us is a productive grace. God's grace works in our lives to produce divine results--in particular, godly living. At the instant we are saved the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and begins producing the character of Jesus in us.

So the evidence of a genuine salvation is not only in what you profess, but also in what you do. 

I heard someone say many years ago: "If you were arrested and accused to being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

Well, would there be? 

 

My Family

People have complimented my family many times. They say things like, "You have a wonderful family." Well, yes I do! God is good! I have great kids, and they have great spouses, and they have great children. 

People ask me, "How did you do it?" 

First, I must give thanks to God. He has blessed me in spite of myself. 

Second, I must recognize my wife, Deborah. She has been an incredible mother! While I was busy pastoring churches, she was devoted to our children. Every night she prayed with them. I wish I could say we had family devotions everyday... but we did not. We tried it a few times. But I would have had to tie my kids down with duct tape or beat them senseless to get through it! But I thought it counter-productive to kill my children in order to read the Bible to them. (If someone has a way to make children sit attentively and obediently while the Bible is being read, please share that information with the world).

But what we did do... I believe... is we lived our faith before our children. We lived out our faith in the gritty reality of life. I say "gritty" because it has not always smooth or clean. My kids have seen me lose it too many times. They've seen me frustrated and discouraged. But they've also observed--I think--that we never let go. We hung on to our faith. Children learn by observation. The ONLY way they can learn the value of faith is to see it displayed in the lives of their parents. 

We have to ask ourselves: "What kind of people do I want my children to grow up to be?" Many years ago I read a book by Kay Kesler entitled, Ten Mistakes Parents Make With Teenagers... And How To Avoid Them.  (You can purchase copies on Amazon.com) In that book Kesler made a statement that I consider to be the best advice on parenting I've ever seen anywhere. My copy is packed away in the basement right now, so forgive me for having to rely on a stale memory. He said, in effect, that we should not waste our time trying to mold our children into who we want them to be--artists, ballplayers, scholars, etc.  By the time our kids become adults they will have adopted our values to the core and become almost identical copies of ourselves. So here is Kesler's advice: "Live your life in such a way that, when your kids grow up to be like you, you'll be proud of what they turned out to be." 

How can you do that?

  • Pray... a lot! Ask God to give you wisdom raising your kids. 
  • Be there. Don't bail out on your kids. I mean, stay together. God rigged it so--if possible--children need both parents.
  • Be present and be involved in the life of your kids. Deborah and I tried to go to everything our kids were involved in. I don't regret whatever else I missed to do it. 
  • Start with yourself. If you want your child to grow up to be the right kind of person, then you start by being the right person.
  • Dad, love your wife. Wife, love your husband. Whoever said parents should not display their love for each other in front of their children was a FOOL!  Dads, do your job and kiss your wife in front of the kids.
  • Did I mention prayer? Can't do too much praying for your kids.... even praying for things like their future spouse when they are still infants. Like E. V. Hill said, "You can't get no race horses from no mules!" 

 

 

The Source of All Truth

No one can receive a single thing unless it is given to him from heaven.
— John 3:27

John chapter 3 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. It records the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, and contains the most recognized and quoted verse in all the Bible: "For God so loved the world..." (verse 16). But while reading it this morning something unexpected jumped out at me. I was struck by the eloquence of the last ten verses of this chapter--and how they were not spoken by Jesus. They were spoken by John the Baptist. 

John was a truly remarkable man. Jesus said about him: "I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John..." (Luke 7:28). John is a solitary figure on the pages of history. He makes a strange picture dressed in camel hair and snaking on locusts.  He preached an uncompromising message of repentance to everyone--the common and the cultured. He had the unique and distinct privilege of introducing the Son of God to the world. He also had his struggles--spending his final days in prison and having some degree of doubt about the divinity of Jesus. But he remained true to the end--bloody as it was--never backing away from his mission to declare the truth. 

The words I quoted above have a particular sting. My ego responds: "Do you mean that I have received nothing on my own? Surely I have accomplished something in my own power!" 

But that is not what John says. He did not say, "No one can do anything." Man has managed to accomplish many things on his own--he has managed to make a great mess of things!  John said, "No one can receive a single thing." To receive implies a gift that comes from outside ourselves. 

What is this gift?

It is truth. In particular it is divine truth... the truth about God and His Son. Do you realize how much we are dependent upon God for every ounce of truth we have? We did not figure this stuff out on our own. We do not discover the truth. The truth is revealed to us... by God. He is the One who "gives light to everyone" (John 1:9). There is only one source of truth: God Himself. We cannot take credit for any truth we have--not "a single thing." Any truth we hold we received from the hand of a gracious and loving God who made that truth known to us. 

These verses have a divine eloquence--and rightly so--because they have a divine source. John knew this; and he gave credit where the credit was due--God.

Everything we have--especially the truth we hold--we have received. 

Do you realize how precious that truth is? Do you recognize God as the Source of that truth? Do you acknowledge Him as the Giver? Do you thank Him for it? Maybe we should... starting right now!