Monday, June 30, 2014

Conversations with Peter - Part TWO - Good Character

Monday, June 30, 2014
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others.  With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.  Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.   2 Peter 1:5 - 9 (TMSG)
In the first part of this series we began in the middle with “passionate patience”.  Today we go back to the beginning, to basic faith.  This, of course, is truly the beginning, because no list of personal characteristics is what makes a Christian.  We are born into the family of God by faith, supplied by the grace of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But Peter says to complement (add to) your basic faith with a number of God’s attributes.  The Greek word used is the same from which we derive our English words “choreography” and “chorus”.[1]  In a sense that all movement in a dance routine is choreographed to support the main theme of a production, and a chorus is supposed to be a harmonious, pleasing, sensible presentation, the Christian life characteristics Peter will urge upon us in this passage are each dependent on all the parts.  As Albert Barnes[2] notes, let faith lead on as at the head of the choir or the graces, and let all the others follow in their order.
Peter begins with adding to our basic faith good character, or virtue.  The essence of this is “manliness” or moral excellence.  Peter says man up!  This is the truest sense of what it means to live a Christian life, where a person’s character is excellent.  It’s more “being” than “doing”.
It has been rightly said that reputation is what people think you do; character is what you do no matter what others think.  And that is particularly true when no one happens to be looking.
If I am playing golf without a partner and hit a series of really wonderful shots, but then hit some miserable ones, I might develop a reputation of being a good golfer by only talking about the wonderful shots once I got back to the clubhouse.  But true moral excellence in this case would be lacking.  I would be adding lying to my character, not moral excellence.  Peter says, man-up; tell the whole score.
True basic faith is actually proven and helps develop assurance of your salvation when telling the truth becomes more important to you than your reputation.
For You, Today
Take an extra half-second each time you are about to begin talking to anyone.  Use that pause to consider the full truth about that which you’re going to speak.  Then make it a virtuous sentence, full of truth!
It may not be what you think someone wants to hear you say; but if you ask the Father, He would say, I love that about my child…speaking truth…what a great character she has!

[1] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries © 2003, QuickVerse
[2] Albert Barnes, ‘Barnes Notes on the New Testament, © 1999, Parsons Technology, Inc

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conversations with Peter - Part ONE: Passionate Patience

Friday, June 27, 2014
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others.  With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.  Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.   2 Peter 1:5 - 9 (TMSG)
For the next several days we will camp out with Peter’s advice for the growing Christian.  Or, more accurately, his advice on how to grow a Christian.
Now, it’s sometimes counter-productive to start in the middle of a conversation; kind of like engaging the devil in spiritual warfare without heeding the advice to “put on the whole armor of God”!  You can get hurt!
But, in this case, I want to start where I’m weakest… in the middle of Peter’s teaching on how to grow in Christ; he calls it passionate patience
I’m a person who would rather be in the middle of the pain of a root canal without anesthetic than waiting for the root canal to begin. 
My typical motto is:  Bring it on…let’s git’er done
But there is so much I miss by not being patient.  Without patience you will miss the larger context of all God has done to help you grow in faith and wisdom to use your faith.

What has God done?

Listen again to Peter’s bold statement:
Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.  
God has wiped my slate clean; that’s what He’s done!  Truth be told, He has wiped it clean every day of my life since I trusted Christ as Savior.  He forgives me constantly; that’s no small thing! 
But my lack of patience, my increased anxiety, worry, doubt….these things rob me of the calm assurance a forgiven, patient believer experiences – and uses – to invest his life and grow in all the ways God has called me to be and do.
It’s hard to be passionate about patience.  Or is it that it’s hard to be patiently passionate?  Doesn’t passion preclude patience?  If you’re passionate, you’re hard-driving, moving things along, white-hot for the kingdom…aren’t you?
I think that’s where we miss the mark.  It’s not the temperature of your activity that determines faithfulness; rather it’s obedience to God’s will for your life which is the measure of genuineness in your faith commitment.
When you’re settled, confident, assured – not in self-ability, but in God’s faithful promises – you are settled enough to be patient, to wait on God’s timetable to fulfill all those promises.

For You, Today

Have you checked your patience “fuel tank” lately?
Here’s how:  Answer this – How willing are you to release your hold on the best you now have in order to receive what God desires you to have?

Without passionate patience you’ll never see how important that is.

Korah - 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014
And the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Eleazar son of Aaron the priest to pull all the incense burners from the fire, for they are holy.  Also tell him to scatter the burning coals.  Take the incense burners of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, and hammer the metal into a thin sheet to overlay the altar.  Since these burners were used in the LORD’s presence, they have become holy.  Let them serve as a warning to the people of Israel.”   Numbers 16:36-38 (NLT)
Korah’s rebellion was a blip on the radar screen of Israel’s march out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.  It was life-changing (er, life-ending) for those who followed Korah’s leadership to overthrow God’s chosen leader, Moses.  In the long view the rebellious Korah and his followers didn’t pose a serious threat to God; they were swallowed up by a crack in the earth, and roasted by the fire which ensued. 
God spoke quickly to Moses after the incident, to reclaim the implements of worship Korah’s group had held (incense pots), because God said they were holy.  But the fire (coals) which had consumed the rebels was to be scattered in the dust.
While Korah and company did not constitute a threat to God’s plans, their actions and fate serve as a terrible reminder and warning to those who think rebellion is somehow noble. 
God is never mocked; God’s plans are immutable.

But sometimes the “fire” takes different form!

Rebellion doesn’t always result in the kind of “fire from above” which we picture in our minds.  Sometimes it appears as natural consequences or a weird coincidence. 
I tried yesterday to do something I thought I’d sworn-off doing.  I got involved in a Facebook tug-of-war with a militant homosexual.  At first he just seemed somewhat confused and misguided about what the Bible said.  But 79 exchanges of postings later I was worn-out and disheartened by the realization that he is simply stubborn and refuses to open his mind or heart to his own rebelliousness.  He is dead-certain that his homosexuality is a gift from God; that Jesus, Paul and the entirety of Biblical teaching support the way he lives.
What he has done is take obscure passages out of context and assign outlandish implications to undergird his preconceived belief that homosexuality is within God’s approval.  For instance, he takes the Genesis account of Abel, who was killed by his brother, Cain; he asserts that since the Bible doesn’t record that Abel married, he was born to be single, and therefore gay. 
Worse than an “argument from silence” the man puts down an unknown (Abel’s marital status) as proof to his own idea, rather than accept what the Bible actually does say.  When confronted with this spurious manner of Bible study the man goes off on a whole list of “why doesn’t the Bible say this…or that” to cloud the issue.
(I was tempted to say to him, “ignorance can be forgiven and even cured, but stupid is forever!”  But I bit my lip and bade my keyboard be silent).
Sometimes the “fire” of God’s judgment for a rebellious spirit is simply to let the stubborn alone.  God did say His spirit would not always strive with man, and that when a rebellious conscience becomes seared, insensitive to the Spirit because of arrogance (the pride of life), there is no hope
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.  These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.   1 Timothy 4:1 - 2 (NLT)
The issues surrounding LGBTQ equality and acceptance in culture are like a tidal wave.  In an effort to become “normative” within society they hardly think about ANYTHING else, and it becomes all-consuming to those engulfed in it.  Like the fire of Korah’s rebellion the struggle to gain God’s approval for their rebellious spirit consumes their ability to worship God on His terms.  And that is the only worship acceptable to a Sovereign Lord of the universe!

For You, Today

I have been reminded (and once-again convinced) by being sucked-into that endless fool’s debate that our best witness to those who are rebellious and outside of the church is simple acts of kindness and prayer. 

Don’t wrestle with the pig – you only wallow in mud; and the pig likes it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fifteen Minutes of Spotlight; At What Cost?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
He must increase, but I must decrease.  John 3:30 (NRSV)
John the Baptist dressed like Bigfoot and did strange things.  If a community was going to hold an area-wide gathering of Christians, the Baptist would have been invited to be the keynote speaker, not Jesus.  John, after all, was the popular anti-hero, thumbing his nose at Herod and the Roman Empire. 
But the point about our hypothetical keynote conference speaker has nothing to do with who got invited; John would not have accepted.  He knew his time was over, and the time of Messiah, Jesus was at hand.  It was time for John to get out of the way of Jesus.  John refused to be the “star” in the spotlight; his calling was to point to Christ, not build a following for book signings and movie deals.
Which is somewhat different from Frank Schaefer’s saga.
Frank Schaefer was defrocked last December by a United Methodist panel of judges, when a church trial unanimously found him guilty of violating his vows under the Book of Discipline.  He was stripped of his credentials and his appointment in a Lebanon, PA church for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding six years ago.  Yesterday, the UMC appeals panel reinstated Schaefer (with back pay) due to a legal irregularity in the way the penalty phase of his defrocking was handled.  Read the NY Times article here
Progressives – those in favor of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in ministry are heralding the decision as a great victory for Schaefer and the church, while on the other side, conservatives are crying “foul”.  My friend Drew McIntyre wrote neither ‘side’ won here. 
I think Drew is right!
Drew also held up the specter of this being a “pyrrhic victory” where the so-called winner uses up so much of his strength/resources in the fight he loses much more than he won.
I think Drew is also onto something here!
And that would be true no matter what “side” won today; the cost is colossal.
In the long run it is right to stand up for issues in which you have strong conviction.  I have no doubt that Schaefer and the pro-LGBTQ lobbyists, as well as the “hold-the-line-conservatives” AND all the “middle-of-the-roaders” have attempted to earnestly contend for what they perceive as the faith once-delivered to the saints.
But, at what cost all this fighting?  I see no resolution in sight. 
If the consistent “push” of the left against right finally “wins” and ordination for homosexuals becomes church law for United Methodists, along with every other “open door” that brings, there will be a mass exodus of those who hold the traditional view. 
It happened in the Episcopal Church in 2003, and just last week in a close vote the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to accept LGBTQ clergy.  None of these churches have remained unscathed in the wake of such infighting and rancor.

You HAVE to ask the question:  What is going on?

I believe what is happening is John the Baptist in reverse.  Jesus must decrease if we are to have our way and our day – our 15 minutes of fame comes first!
Those of you who know me understand I am not a “date-setter” for the return of Christ.  But, if I was, the temptation to preach every sermon from now on about watching the eastern sky would be overwhelming. 
And my prayers?  They almost always end with “even so, come, Lord Jesus”.

For You, Today

It is recorded in the Gospels that Jesus told his disciples the last days would be marked by incredible evil.  Frank Schaefer’s name is not listed in those passages, but neither is mine. 
We must all be careful to honor God with not only what we do, but the way in which we do all things.

Keep this before you – HE must increase; WE must decrease.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Isaiah Never Went to Annual Conference

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Ok, Ok….the title is a bit over the top!
We are just back from Annual Conference located in the beautiful, restful, majestic mountains of Western North Carolina.  We experienced worshipful gathering times with old and new friends.  There were tense moments of budget votes and sexuality debates.  We waded through endless reams of paper used to describe a year’s worth of business for the western half of North Carolina’s 291,000 Methodists.  And there were also fantastic moments of reflection as we looked at layer upon layer of God’s wonderful creation just west of Asheville.
Annual Conference is different; it’s a change from everyday routines.  And it’s fascinating – there are so many conflicting shades of opinion on everything from what music styles we should use in church to what is age-appropriate for this or that, to IF the church will survive, or if there is indeed life after Joel Osteen.
I must admit – I’m pooped!  But I’m also energized.  God does truly renew strength as He defines what true strength is needed.  Whether it’s Eagle’s wings or Russell’s limbs, God’s on the job and I am thankful.
For You, Today
What needs renewing in the innermost “you”?

God’s on the job there too!

Monday, June 16, 2014

You BET and Lose!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beware!  Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have.  Real life is not measured by how much we own.   Luke 12:15

Today is part three of reasons why I will not participate in the lottery, or any other form of gambling....
The whole spirit enveloping the gambling mentality is expressed in the Biblical word "covetousness".  The word "covet" comes from two words that mean a hot or passionate desire.  It is a fixation on something that the heart, mind and soul craves. 
Morals do not enter into this.  It is simply the animal craving to have at all costs.  I recall watching the original "King Kong" movie.  When that big gorilla was just about to pick up the lovely Fay Wray, the hero stepped up and waved his arms, taking the overgrown monkey's attention.  And when Kong turned to look at the hero he was not happy.  There was a fire in his eyes.  He coveted having the hero in the palm of his mitt. 
Covetousness is condemned in the scripture.  Of that there can be no doubt.  Our problem is matching the Bible's ideals with what conflicts in our everyday lives. 
In this case I want to submit to you that gambling is destructive to your spirit, and to the call of the Spirit of God in you.  I base that on the fact that the underlying truth about participating in gambling lies in the carnal nature which covets. 
For the Christian who is serious about following Jesus, the coveting nature should not be catered-to, it should be combated.  If not, it is sin. 
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.  James 4:17 (NLT)
The only forms of gain that are approved by Scripture do not include gambling.  "Something for nothing" is an anti-Christian attitude. 
If you are a thief, stop stealing.  Begin using your hands for honest work, and then give generously to others in need.  Ephesians 4:28 (NLT)
Like a bird that hatches eggs she has not laid, so are those who get their wealth by unjust means. Sooner or later they will lose their riches and, at the end of their lives, will become poor old fools. Jeremiah 17:11 (NLT)
We are to work for a living, and that should be honest work. 
A question that keeps coming to mind is:  How can we teach our children that they must work honestly to provide a living, and be responsible stewards, if we demonstrate a personal attitude that says, "C'mon dice, let the good times roll"?
For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 (NLT)
We can also see that our ability to worship is stunted when we are bound up in covetousness.
So they come pretending to be sincere and sit before you listening.  But they have no intention of doing what I tell them.  They express love with their mouths, but their hearts seek only after money.    Ezekiel 33:31 (NLT)
The common "Christian excuse"?  "It's only a dollar."   Well, it's amazing how small a dollar can look when you're in the grocery store, or buying a car, or adding to your IRA.  But, my how humongous, how gigantic when we are in the vicinity of the offering plate! 
Let me tell you as kindly as I am able....If the few dollars you dispose of are so small, and you wouldn't miss it, I have just the place for you to put it to work where it will mean a lot.   If you "give" only $5 a week to Mr. Lotto, try to get this thought out of your head tonight before you go to sleep.....$5 a week for the last year?  ………
You could've built a whole church building for a Latin American congregation.
The little dollar may not be missed from your pocket, but think what God could do with it.  You may remember He does things like feed 5000 people with only a boy's sack lunch!     
I cannot change everything. 
   I cannot feed all the starving people in the world or clothe all the naked or visit all the lonely...I cannot repeal all the bad legislation on the books. 
But I can be responsible for what I do daily as I follow Jesus. 
For You, Today
Two things:
1.      Lay your promise on God’s altar that you will never participate in the dragging down of yourself or your brother by participating in gambling.
2.      Contact your elected officials – exercise good stewardship over this privilege we have to be citizens who support righteous actions in our government.  Don’t sit back, or the immoral gambling bosses will have their way in our fair state.  Our children don’t need that!
A lottery was held a long time ago.  The military men gambled and cursed.  The prize was a seamless white robe.
That lottery was held at the foot of the cross. 
I was there – vicariously, because of my sinfulness, participating... 

But I don't have to do it again!

You BET and Lose!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Beware!  Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have.  Real life is not measured by how much we own.   Luke 12:15

Today is part two of reasons why I will not participate in the lottery, or any other form of gambling....
Anything that promises great wealth as if it is actually a possibility for most people, yet has odds of 10 or 20 million to one is dealing in false hope.
I checked the Internet for some hard facts 1 from the New York Lottery official website: Today's Question: What are my exact odds of winning the New York State lotto jackpot? The Answer: Your chances of winning on a $1 bet are 1 in 18,009,460.
As has already been noted, the Lottery is deceptive. It leads astray. The folks most severely affected are the poor and undereducated. They are also the ones who can least afford it. They are also most easily led astray.(1)
The point is self-evident. Addictive regressive gambling robs the poor of 
needed self-respect and dignity by using their agonizing circumstances as a lure
towards riches that are non-existent.
A survey by the Chicago Sun Times showed the average per capita lottery
purchase was $221 in the ten Chicago zip codes with the lowest incomes. That's
almost three times greater than the $76 spent in the Chicago zip codes with
the highest incomes.
The Des Moines Register reported that lottery ticket sales surge when welfare
checks arrive. A supermarket's records show that on Thursday, July 31, 1990
only thirty-seven instant tickets were purchased. Welfare checks arrived on
Friday, and on Saturday the store sold 348 tickets; a nine-fold increase. In
effect, what the state is doing is taking back its welfare through the lottery
A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.       Proverbs 22.16 (NLT)
That this is intentionally directed at the poor cannot be denied. Prove it, you
say? If you analyze the distribution of ticket sales outlets for the Florida
lottery, it tells the story. In upper class neighborhoods, sales outlets average
one for every 17,000 people
. By contrast, in the poorest parts of towns the
average is one outlet for every 1900 people
I stood in a convenience store on the poor side of a town one day. It must
have been payday .... One after another they laid down dollars for "Cash 3" and next to the dollars were
food stamps.
Yes, gambling exploits the poor immeasurably .... and I won't be part of it.
Again, there is a common "Christian excuse":
I'm not forcing anyone to
participate. Well, like God told Cain in response to the question, "Am I my
brother's keeper?", He said: "You got it, Bubba" (Brownworth version)
Ezekiel 18:4 tells us that all souls belong to God. And your actions have an
effect on the soul of your brother. And your brother's Owner won't be happy if
you mess with His p
For You, Today
Yesterday I asked you to ask God to reveal truth about lotteries.

With the facts on the table that lottery gambling is addictive and exploitive to the poor, what is God saying so far? -26-00askeds. html

You BET and Lose! - Part 1

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Beware!  Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have.  Real life is not measured by how much we own.   Luke 12:15

For the next several days we will share parts of a message delivered to congregations I have served regarding the North Carolina and Florida Education Lottery.  These messages were in opposition to the state sponsoring gambling as a means of funding the school systems of our state.

During the campaign for governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, who eventually won the post, was pro-lottery.  In his first State of the State address, here is what he told the assembled media and politicians…
Now I am not saying a lottery for education is the only solution, it's just one solution. If anyone has a better idea...if anyone has another way to find the $400 - $500 million for education, I am open to it.  But you can't just say 'no' we're against a lottery - finish the sentence - tell me what you're for, because next year 100,000 five-year olds will show up at the schoolhouse door, and they deserve more than an overcrowded classroom and an overworked teacher."[1]
I am glad to answer the governor’s question – finish his sentence:  I’m for raising children without teaching them that gambling is the high ethical road!  We don’t need a lottery educating our children – we need responsible fiscal management and ethical leaders to set the example. 
When those 100,000 five-year olds show up at the schoolhouse door they deserve the best – they don’t deserve a society filled with gambling and the inevitable associated ills it will bring, crime, more prisons and gambling addictions.  Those children don’t deserve to grow up and pay for the “therapy” 3% of their neighbors will need to get off their gambling addiction!
If more money is needed for education, Mike, North Carolinians will pay the taxes – an honorable way of funding the needed salaries and supplies for educating our children.  We don’t need another Las Vegas in this beautiful state!
I would like to share with you the reasons why I will not participate in the lottery, or any other form of gambling....


The evidence for this is in experience itself.  Paydays are enlightening.  If you walk into a convenience store in any state with a lottery, you will see lines of folks waiting to buy a lottery ticket (or 20)!  Are these folks winning?  No...they're exercising their constitutional right to throw away whatever portion of their paycheck they care to! 
If gambling is not addictive, why would millions of consistent "non-winners" continue to play against incredible odds?  The National Council on Compulsive Gambling has stated that there are approximately 8 million compulsive gamblers in the United States alone.  On average, when a compulsive gambler finally seeks help for his addiction he is in debt for over $80,000. 
The evidence suggests strongly that the addiction is at least as strong as alcohol or drugs.  A natural question that follows is:  How long does it take to get hooked on gambling?  If crack cocaine is an experience could do it. 
In 1990 one man spent $46,000 for a weekly drawing in the Florida lottery.[2]
In 1990, Americans placed legal bets of over $286 billion dollars. That's equivalent to 5 percent of the Gross National Product. That's one-third more than the (then) total amount spent on elementary and secondary education in this country. It is nearly four times the amount (then) given to religious institutions.[3]
What's the allure, the draw?  The promise of great wealth. 
Gambling is addictive – we already have enough opportunities for that!
For You, Today
Ask God to reveal to you the truth about lotteries and other forms of gambling.

[1] Mike Easley, State of the State Address, 2/19/2001
[2] WBBM-TV news, 10/14/90.  To Verify, Leadership
[3] Rick Ezell, The Problem with Gambling, Preaching Today, Tape No. 160.