Friday, May 29, 2015

Shifting Left

Friday, May 29, 2015
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.  Judges 17:6 (NLT)
We are big on opinion polls in this country to determine what’s right or wrong.  Essentially it is an antiquated notion that there even is such a thing as an absolute right or wrong in moral issues; everything is relative depending on what the majority polled thinks.

The Gallup organization recently published a new poll representing the U.S. population’s moral acceptability changes (of selected behaviors) over the last 15 years

I have not crunched the numbers like Gallup or Barna, but the results are definitely a shift to the left, morally-speaking, and, I believe those number changes parallel the exodus from mainline churches.  In short, the knee-jerk pull out from church is either precipitated by or precipitates a lowering of moral expectations and/or attitude.  Translation:  If you don’t go to church you can do what you want.

An interesting side-view on this chart is how death-related issues (Doctor-assisted suicide, Suicide, Death of human embryos to further medical research) have become decidedly morally acceptable, while approval of death administered to criminals in capital cases has eroded.  It’s strange, isn’t it, how we can take a high moral ground on the one, and cheapen the other…it all depends on who is making the choices.

And by the way….we seem to think more of animals’ lives than our human family; the morally-acceptable majority dropped from 65% to 56% for medical testing using animals, while most other human death issues have become optional!

The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy that such a time as we live-in would come:

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.  They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.  They will reject the truth and chase after myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4  (NLT)
I do not have space in this brief devotion to address all of Gallup’s findings, but our culture in Western civilization is travelling (as our forebears used to say) on the road to Hell in a handbasket.

The opposite sides of the handles on that handbasket are occupied by the left and right political factions (religious and governmental) of our day, and we have little to blame but ourselves for the barn door of morality that is swinging wide open. 

It may be too late to close it.

For You Today

Say a prayer for America; we used to lead from a moral baseline that held life in high regard. 

We’re still fond of singing God Bless America at our ball games and other public functions…but it’s hard to believe God isn’t laughing. 

[1] Title image: By Taxiguy57 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Frank Newport, Gallup Results:  Americans Continue to Shift Left on Moral Issues

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hand-Wringing Methodists

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.  “So don’t be afraid, little flock.  For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.    Luke 12:31-32 (NLT)
I’m going to stop reading the hand-wringing stuff about General Conference 2016.  For the last year or so everyone has something to say about the quadrennial gathering of worldwide Methodists, and how it is going to look like the battlefield after Armageddon. 

Of course the issues are what they are…always….posturing for position and power; one group wants this, another that.  It’s been the same since Cain and Abel (with about the same result…brother killing brother…at least spiritually, and reputation-wise).

When it comes to hand-wringing over the outcome – whether the progressives or conservatives will win the day – I’m out!  I just don’t want to be around for the shouting and finger-pointing.

Well, if you go away from one thing you are, of necessity, moving towards something else.  Where will I go with my time, energy, thoughts, prayers, presence, gifts, worship and witness? 

I feel a little like Peter when Jesus asked the disciples if they would leave him too:

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  John 6:68 (NLT)

Well, I’m not going away.  That’s settled, but there are three places I know I’m going for sure:

My Family

I’m a typical pastor, having worked too many long weeks, neglecting the family that God graciously placed in my life.  I need and want to pay more attention there.

My Church Family

God also has allowed me to be preacher-pastor to a flock of loving believers.  They need less hand-wringing political stuff and more daily-this-is-what-it-means-to-follow-Jesus stuff.

My Lord

Jesus said to seek the kingdom above all else; he also told us the Father is tickled-pink to give us that kingdom.  Whatever else that means, for me the primary target is the opposite of hand-wringing in the Holy Spirit over the outcome of political wrangling; seeking the kingdom is about living in peace, joy and a sense of well-being for the one who truly rests in Christ.  That’s what don’t be afraid little flock can lead to! 

As I look back over what I’ve just written, the three most important “places” of my life have nothing to do with being where they meet for General Conference to do battle in the arena; in fact they aren’t places at all – my important “places” are people.

How about that?

I guess (in a sense) Jesus did come to die for General Conference….and all hand-wringers everywhere too.  But, I don’t think he called me to be a player there; rather he called me to engage where I am – to be there in heart, mind, soul and strength, loving God by loving those around me.

So…if you’re looking someone to join the sit-in, or filibuster the powers-that-be, or someone to write a hand-wringing lash-out over this group or that great injustice to the bumblebee….guess I’m not your man.

If you’re looking for a Jesus-following, lover of his wife, kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and church family…that’s where I’ll be.

For You Today

Maybe there are those who are called to be a hand-wringing Methodist, or Baptist, or whatever brand…but I rather doubt the hand-wringing part.

So, how about putting the hand-wringing worry to the side – be part of the fear-not little flock.

Let’s do a little kingdom-seeking!

[1] Title image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Wednesday, May 27, 2015
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too.  And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us.  For we are familiar with his evil schemes.  2 Corinthians 2:10-11 (NLT)
The Gospel reading along with the Corinthian text in today’s lectionary is Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15)  It’s an important connection; it’s all about forgiving.

The problems at Corinth were, in many ways, so desperate that Paul’s advice about handling the issues called for radical loving forgiveness.  His letter remains a constant reminder how church, family, and individual friendships cannot long endure without forgiving spirits.

Evidently some of the flock at Corinth had been harshly critical of Paul’s leadership, and the relationship between the apostle and the church there was severely strained.  A few letters and visits by Paul for holy conferencing had straightened-out the issues (seemingly); then there was a resurgence of the same problems, all over again! 

This certainly isn’t new in human relationships. 

Relationships have their patterns; some issues between people just go to sleep for a while, then resurface over and over again.  Infidelity in a marriage, a harsh criticism, broken promises, and so on, are “forgiven” but hardly “forgotten”.  It doesn’t take much to poke that hornet’s nest to bring the relationship to the boiling point.

And so it goes!  You may have experienced this; most of us know this first hand! 

Paul evidently wrote a severe letter to the elders at Corinth, warning them that if the ringleaders of this rebellion were not disciplined the church had little hope of surviving as a unified part of the body of Christ. 

Apparently those elders in charge got the message and somehow communicated it to those who were bad-mouthing Paul, and there was repentance, because Paul’s next communication (we have it as 2 Corinthians) has Paul’s personal stamp of approval and instructions for the church to receive back the offenders – to restore them to full fellowship.

I don’t know what you call that kind of discipline, but my kids used to call it a come to Jesus meeting. 

Now, the connection between Paul’s Corinthian church reconciliation and the story of the Prodigal’s homecoming is obvious.  The whole issue is restoration of relationships that have been stretched or broken.

Paul forgave, and made sure everyone knew it was so.  On top of that he made sure everyone knew the origin of the contentious ruckus was Satan’s way of breaking-up the church, while forgiveness is God’s way of telling Satan to take a hike!

Disagreements are going to happen in the human family; we can’t help that. 

Some disagreements will turn into heated debate because it’s hard sometimes to hold dear and strong beliefs and not speak loudly to defend them. 

But, in the end, it is only forgiveness that will honor God; never the dissolution of friendships and family.

No matter who is right or wrong; Calvary proved that!

For You Today

If you’ve been wronged, or been put on the outside in a friendship, church or family relationship, or if you are the one who did the “putting” to someone else…isn’t it time to put it to rest?

That’s what mature Christians do; Satan has had his way far too long; don’t let him outsmart you with his evil schemes.

[1] Title image: By Ken Poirot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lord, Do It Again!

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.  Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.  At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem.  When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.  They were completely amazed.  “How can this be?” they exclaimed.  “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages!  Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs.  And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”  They stood there amazed and perplexed.  “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”  Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem!  Make no mistake about this.  These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming.  Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.  No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:   ‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.  And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke.  The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.  But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’  “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.  But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.  With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.  King David said this about him:  ‘I see that the Lord is always with me.  I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.  No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises!  My body rests in hope.  For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.  You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’  “Dear brothers, think about this!  You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us.  But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne.  David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection.  He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.  “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.  Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand.  And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.  For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”’
  “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” 
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”  Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”  Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.  All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.   Acts 2:1-47
In his book on English social history, G.M. Trevelyan suggested that the last two decades of the 18th century were the darkest days of American Christianity.  The largest denominations were declining.  College students held mock "services" of the Lord's Supper.   The things of God were a mess in the hands of selfish men. 

But God was faithful, and among a few college students at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, a revival broke out and swept to other colleges (Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, and others).  Think of that - the darkest days - light! 

Trevelyan may have known his time; the question is, do we know ours

I suggest to you that we live in the darkest age of American history.  And it tells me that, as in America two centuries ago, we are perched on the most exciting, most sweeping opportunity for revival that the world has ever seen. 

Being in the church today is much like the disciples of Jesus.  They had been hiding-out in the dark because their Master was dead.  We have also seen the rise of spiritual darkness and evil in our land. 

This is the connection of our text in the Book of Acts with the Chronicles of America in our day.  It is the same situation – a dark world getting darker all the time.. 

Let's look at the events of the supernatural intervention of God into the affairs of man - and then the light of revival:

A Supernatural Beginning

We find that the followers of Jesus were not only in church, but they were in unity.  "One accord" literally means singularity of breath.  The one unifying factor wasn't a doctrinal purity, common social strata or same skin color.  Their uniting reality was obedience to Christ.  These people had lives dedicated to serving Christ, following Christ, being the body of Christ! 

This is perhaps the most important factor in any revival that has ever been recorded.  R.A. Torrey, the great evangelist of another era, and author of such classics as “The Power of Prayer” listed this as a requirement for a supernatural beginning to revival:  "I can give a prescription that will bring revival...revival to any church, or community, or any city on earth.  First:  let a few Christians get thoroughly right with God.    If this is not done, the rest will come to nothing."

How much evidence do we need beyond the Bible?  When the people of God “got right” God came in a mighty, thundering wind, and a cleansing fire. 

It can happen here.  A few people who are tired of "business as usual" in church life can be the catalyst.  As the disciples waited and prayed, we can also be obediently bending our lives to God’s will.  The consuming fire of God's Holy Spirit showed-up in the upper room – this ordinary place is no different than that ordinary place. 

That can happen if we get our hearts, our families, our tithes, our debts, and our worship all right with God.  We would see the supernatural beginning of God's move in this place. 

A Spiritual Bulletin

Peter’s sermon to the crowd that day was a “spiritual bulletin”.  A spiritual bulletin is the re-telling of God’s story so that everyone can understand. 

Revivals have always had the proclamation of God's Word as a central core.  And the message hasn't changed; it must simply be proclaimed to each generation.  Peter's sermon on Pentecost did that.  He told the crowds that…
·     Jesus was the fulfillment of all prophecy,
·     that He was the eternal God, Jehovah, entering time and space. 
·     He warned them that with a God who would come and live with us, and die for us, and raise again from the dead as proof of His mastery over life and death --- that life was never going to be the same again! 
·     He told them that this same Jesus was the dividing line between truth and perverseness, between light and darkness, between heaven and hell. 
·     He said that Jesus was the dividing line for each of us, and that we MUST choose for Him, or against Him. 
·     He said we do choose, even if we try to do nothing; he warned them against trying to sit on the fence when it comes to Jesus
·     Peter warned them that there was no neutral choice - no Switzerland - no sideline in this game. 

Peter stood and spoke to the crowds, but there were 11 more apostles and 120 other followers backing him up, and speaking to others in the crowd.  It is like that for us.  We have one pastor in this church - but all are ministers, carrying the Word of God to this community. 

Revivals have supernatural beginnings, as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph moves on His people.  Revivals have spiritual bulletins as His people carry the Word in the way. 

And then there is always .....

A Supernatural Blessing

Supernatural blessing comes about only in genuine revival. 

How can you see the results?

A.                         PEOPLE ARE SAVED (2.41) 

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. 
You notice first that none of those brought into the church that day came by transfer of church letter.  These folks got saved!  I won't say we shouldn't receive people by letter.  In fact, if you have been inactive as a Christian, been disobedient as a Christian, and need to get active - move your letter here today!

B.                 GOD-PRIORITY (2.42)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 
When Bible study, fellowship with believers, and prayer become important, enough so that we have problems with building programs, instead of time to fight with each other, it is a supernatural blessing! 

The church of my youth had revival in 1870.  The minute’s record, "...the annual report:  Members 42, Average weekly attendance – 75, Sunday School – 60."  If those numbers were translated to our church's current statistics, we'd have 535 in worship this morning, having followed a Sunday School with 428 present!

C.         REVERENCE (2.43)

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  

Somehow the fear of a holy and righteous God has been lost in the land today.  Correspondingly, we see less and less of miracles.  The result of revival is a blessing of the miraculous power of God, daily evident in healing, and abundance.

D.                 SHARING (2.44,45) 

And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.  

Oh my!  (Oh me!)  Imagine that…sharing what we have in a day when it is common to put self-first.  That first century group threw caution to the wind and began putting their resources to work meeting needs.

When a church feeds the hungry, clothes the poor and ministers to the forgotten ones, it is in the position to be taken seriously when it says “God loves you”.  If we don’t do that we are as empty-sounding as an echo in the Grand Canyon.

E.           UNITY (2.46) 

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity

"Great joy and generosity" - How warm and inviting are those words.  Are you glad?  Are you willing to believe in the sincerity of other church members?  Anyone who has ever looked into the wide-eyed innocence of a toddler knows what the church at Pentecost experienced.  They believed in each other.  They breathed the same breath.

F.           SOUL-WINNING (2.47) 

—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

The church of the living God is a living thing.  And like all living organisms, it is either growing or dying. 

·        Plants are constantly being renewed. 
·        People must have nourishment, replace dead cells. 
·        Everything alive grows, or it must die. 

Evangelism is our replenishment.  To remain alive, it is not enough to educate, fellowship, and worship - important as those things are to vital spiritual life.  If we will not reproduce, or even try to do so, we become like cut-flowers in a bridal bouquet.  For a while we will look great, but, soon pressed beneath the vinyl pages of a scrapbook:

·                    there is no fragrance,
·                    no soft petals for the honeybee to land on,
·                    no life - no possibilities - no purpose! 

In a church without evangelism, the word for that is ICHABOD, (the Spirit of the Lord has departed)!

Brothers, what shall we do?

On the day the church was born, Peter preached, telling the people they had messed up bad!  Now, that describes every human being since the Garden of Eden.  It includes us. 

The people Peter spoke to knew it – just like we know it! 

The people in Peter’s crowd asked, “What can we do?”  We do well to ask the same thing.

If you have asked that question, or one similar – a question about “getting right with God”, you can settle that question this morning. 

Here’s how:  In a simple prayer; in your own words, simply confess your sins to God. 

If you’ve never been saved, never been eternally-forgiven for your sins, confess to God that you can’t save yourself; place your faith in Jesus, and what He did for you on the cross, dying for you – that your sins might be forgiven.  Make the best decision of your life.   

If you are already a Christian, but desire to serve your Master more fully, decide now that you will be part of the group that gets your heart absolutely right and devoted to God. 

A man once asked Gypsy Smith, a famous evangelist, how to have a revival. 

Smith asked him,   "Do you have a place to pray?"  The man answered that he did.  

"Tell you what you do," said Smith.  "You go to that place, and take a piece of chalk along.  Kneel down there, and with the chalk, draw a complete circle all around you.  Then pray for God to send a revival to everything inside of the circle. Stay there until He answers... and you will have revival." 

Not a bad idea!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen!

[1] See page for author, via Wikimedia Commons

Stuff That's Hard to Give Up

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God.  He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets.  Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water.  So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”  “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing.  But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”  And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!  A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.  When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.”  For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him.  His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.  Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”  And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.  Luke 5:1-11 (NLT)
There was so much power in the encounter with Jesus that Peter, James and John staked the rest of their lives on following him – no matter the cost!  Today Jesus is looking for disciples like that just as much as he was two thousand years ago. 

The question of discipleship, however, depends on the answer to some questions:

Can You Give Him Your Boat?

Jesus asked Peter to lend him his boat and a little bit of time.  Most of us are willing for that; most of us already do that.  We come to church, put something in the offering plate and try to live a decent life.

It was a small thing for Peter to let Jesus use his boat to speak to the crowd; it actually felt good, something Peter could do for Jesus.  He gave him the boat; he even rowed it out a little bit and stood by to watch the sermon; that wasn’t hard.

Joining a church is a little like giving Jesus the boat…we are told to tithe, give our singing voice or teaching ability, sit in the nursery or sweep the floor while cooking a casserole.

But, there is another question.

Can You Give Him Your Pride?

When Jesus asked Peter to go a little deeper and let down the nets again (after they’d been up all night during prime fishing time) Peter, the experienced, professional fisherman didn’t see why.  

In the normal scheme of things he would look kind of dorky to his colleagues fishing at this time of day in a fished-out hole; let’s face it – nobody wants to be laughed-at.  But Peter loved Jesus, so he decided to go along with the goofy request. 

My Uncle Marlen must have felt that way about taking me fishing; I didn’t have a clue!  With a boatful of onlookers my uncle even had to bait the hook for me.  I was 10 and it was my first time ever, and I was so eager.  I didn’t know what I was doing – but it was my hook that the fish bit first!  It felt like Jaws bending that pole!  I recall struggling for a few seconds and then yelling over my shoulder, Uncle Marlen, I got one….now what do I do?  Peter must’ve felt like Jesus the novice was going to make it a long day!

We have feelings like that; we question why the Lord allows some pretty hurtful and challenging circumstances to come into our lives…stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense.

Yet, mostly I’ve found at those confusing times that Christ is asking me to go a little deeper…invest a little more of myself.  He wants my pride turned over to him.

For You Today

Is there anything God seems to want you to turn over to Him, and you’re having trouble making sense of it; or you’re having trouble letting go?

There could be a whole lot of fish on the other side of your boat…

[1] Title image: William de Brailes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons