Friday, July 31, 2009

Do Not Fear

Because you belong to the Lord, you don't have to fear anything. Sure we may be concerned, or even uncertain of our future, but fear should not have it's grip on us because we are the Lord's child.

Isa 43:1-3
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; and you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you; when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

My children (my sons) have both grown up and are now adults. They both still live at home and even though they hope to move out soon and be on their own, in today's economy, well it's tough. Now as their father there's no way I'm going to let them fall on their own. I'll always be there for them and as long as it takes until they are on their own, I'll help them out and provide a safe haven for them. Even when they leave, if they need help, I be there. They are my children and I will always be there for them.

Isaiah 43:1-3 helps us to see that the Lord is our Savior and Protector. No matter what we go through, He's always there with us. We won't be swept away by the rough waters. We won't be carried down the stream of the raging rivers we face. Even fire won't be able to burn us. Why? Because we belong to the Lord, our God, our Savior. We've been redeemed and He knows us by name, we are His.

Just like I will always watch out for my children, imagine how much more our Lord watches out for us. So the next time you face difficulties in life... remember who you belong to. Remember that Jesus gave his life for you and God would not give His life to save you only to let you slip away and perish. Don't fear! You are the Lord's Child! You are protected. Go in faith and live life without fear of tomorrow. Even though you never know what tomorrow brings, one thing you do know is that you are God's child and He will be with you always, leading, guiding and protecting you. What love He has for us that we can live without fear of tomorrow, what love He has for us that we don't have to fear what happens after death. What love He has for us!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everything changes... but God, Hebrews 13:8

The truth be known, everything changes but God. God is always the same. He's never changing. We can trust in Him and his faithfulness. We can believe in His promises in scripture. He's trustworthy, all knowing and Holy. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). So in this constantly changing world we live in, we can rest assured that God is unchanging. He's our anchor in the storm, our rock on which we build our lives. Although the world changes moment by moment, God doesn't and that's comforting.

I think the danger many churches fall into is assuming that since God doesn't change, we as a church shouldn't change either. Sometimes it seems that to change the way we do church would be, well, sinful in some way. Is our church here for (the body of Christ, Christians?) or for the lost (unchurched, living in sin without Jesus as their Savior?) You answer the question. If we as a church are here to reach the lost, then should we not structure ourselves to be able to actually reach the lost. The ways of the past won't work today. Some of yesterdays traditions might still work today, while others will not. Differences in generations make these changes a challenge. Most people resit change and if we resit changing when change is happening all around us, we run the risk of living in the past where no one is anymore. I know the older I get the more of a challenge it is for me to accept change, but I know it's necessary and vital that I always be prepared for change and even strive to see ahead of it if at all possible. Think about the differences in society today verses just a few years ago.

Families are not just husband and wife and children anymore, they're broken up! Divorce is common place and single parent homes are very common. Today we might stop and pick up something to eat on the way home from work rather than cook supper at home. We as a society have become very tolerant of diverse backgrounds, sexuality, cultures, and even religion. Years past only one person worked to bring in the household income where as now, everyone in the household works and the hours are not Monday through Friday with weekends off and businesses closed on Sundays so everyone can go to church or have family gatherings. Instead we're working evenings and weekends. With technology today we live inside more than outside as in the past. People are displaced and living all over the US and the world. Living in the same town your whole life is a rarity anymore. Loyalty to one Company or vocation is a thing of the past. Everything is fast paced these days compared to the slow and steady pace of yesterday. Communication is instant through the media and Internet. I could go on and on. Change, whether we like it or not or whether we agree with it or not has happened and I think it's safe to say, will always happen.

Why would we not change things as we see things change? Probably because we like things the ways they are or even better said... the way they were. Problem is... those days are gone and the reality is this... how effective are we today with yesterdays programs? Is the church growing by people giving their lives to Christ? Are people being baptized? Are we meeting the needs of not only church members, but of the community as well? Are we a light in a dark world? Do we have a mission statement that aligns with God's word and relevant for today's society in our community? If not, how long do we expect to carry on? If we live in the past, eventually we die and so do all our old programs and procedures. There's nothing wrong with traditions that work and are effective for today's issues, but hanging onto them because they worked in the past is not a good reason to keep it. If it's not working today, it needs to be challenged, and re-evaluated.

Think about these things...

Too many programs that the church can't support... we try to do it all rather than focus on the programs that we have enough volunteers for and supports our goals and mission statement as a church.

Visitation... it doesn't work like it did then. Going door to door and visiting is not as effective as it used to be. People don't want you coming around to their homes. Many will not even let you in and in today's society, who blames them. Maybe we need to think about this differently.

What do we offer for the divorced person, the recovering addict, the single parent, the unemployed, the depressed, children or youth... etc. These are the people that need the body of Christ in their lives.

Do we hang onto the King James version for our benefit, when we know that many folks today don't understand it? We say we don't want to destroy the true meaning of scripture by changing the translation, but we all know that King James was not the original translation of scripture back in Jesus day. So even our Kings James version is a translation of scripture and the reason it was translated to King James was so that more people might be able to understand what they were reading. Yet we won't accept a new translation of scripture now, so that people today can understand what they're reading? Where's our focus?

What about dress... do we dress up in suits and ties for church when our neighbors or those in our community don't even own a suit? Are we like the Amish who would rather make people conform to us rather than us conform to them so we can be accessible to say to them... Hey do you know Jesus? Or are we trying to protect our way of life, rather than give others new life in Christ? The latter is scary, because when we we bring in people that are different than us into our church, guess what, the church changes and are we ready for that?

Worship agenda and style, music style or theme, times of worship or discipleship training or teaching methods, evening worship effectiveness, all these things and many more are subject to change. Who says we need to have worship from 11-12 noon. Maybe if worship was at 10am instead of 11am we could get people home to watch the ball game they want to see on TV at noon? You see we don't thing about what people are doing or thinking, we just automatically think they should come to church when we have traditionally had church services. Maybe we should ask this question. What time is best for our targeted audience, those we are trying to reach? Why are we still having church in the evenings when we only have 20 people come and they are already Christians? maybe we could meet another need in the community during this time. Is it a sin to not have evening services and just spend time with our families instead? Maybe we need to ask why don't people come on Sunday evenings like they used to? Are we still doing an old program rather than identifying why we should change, what we should change, or how we should change?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when it comes to the church, we should never compromise the word of God. We must build on Christ our solid unchanging rock, while at the same time changing constantly to meet the demands of today's society if you really want to reach the lost. Thinking this way will not only help us to look at new ways and new structure, but also understand that the things we do today won't be the right things in even four or five years from today. We must be ready to change again as society changes. We can not miss this. We need to take God's unchanging word into an ever changing society. We can still reach the lost, but we need to go where they are if we really want to tell them about Jesus.

Would it not be a shame if our unwillingness to change, prevented people from coming into a new relationship with our Lord and Savior. How can we answer to Jesus for that? "Well Jesus... I knew you would expect me to hold fast to your word and protect the church at all costs so we were very careful not to change anything this way upon your return your church would be just as you left it. I think Jesus might say... you wicked lazy servant, you knew that I would come back looking for my church to be effective and growing. You buried what I gave you under a rock yet look at these other churches. They took what I gave them and reached out and multiplied reaching those that needed help and bringing them into my family. I'll take what I've given you and give it to the churches that are effective.

Let's be the church of today with an eye on being the church of tomorrow. We can not be the church of yesterday... it's gone and over.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

To mow, or not to mow?

I wrote this about 2 months ago when we had lots of rain... it's quite different now! When I wrote this devotion, it spoke to me as most of my devotions do and I've been going faithfully to church every Sunday since then. Kind of sad when I have to write myself a devotion to get me motivated isn't it? Anyway...maybe these words are just the words to motivate you as well.

To Mow, or not to Mow

The grass gets higher and higher with each passing day. Everyday that passes I think to myself, "I need to mow this evening after work, or it's really going to be a tough job." Then I get home and begin to relax and visit and the next thing I know, it's too late in the day to begin mowing because it will get dark halfway through. I'm not really that disappointed though, almost relieved in a way that I didn't get to it. So I convince myself I'll get to it tomorrow!

The next day it rains, so I can't mow anyway... again relived really because I didn't really want to mow anyway. Again rain the next day... I'm beginning to realize that all those other days that I should have mowed are catching up with me, I now regret not mowing when I had the chance... I should have never procrastinated. I make a commitment to myself that tomorrow I will mow after work, I've checked the weather forecast and it's not going to rain... I even tell my wife my plans (maybe this will help hold me accountable you know). I don't get off work on time and work late, when I get home it's time to eat. My son Ryan shows up with his girlfriend and we all begin visiting... You guessed it! Too late! Can't mow now, it's getting dark. I WILL MOW TOMORROW!

It's Sunday morning and I'm sleeping in rather than going to church. I wanted to go and even told myself I was going to go, but then I slept in instead. Last week the same thing. It's kind of like my lawn. It's needs attention but I'm not doing anything about it. It's easy to find excuses isn't it?

Luke 14:16-20
(16) Jesus replied with this story: "A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations.
(17) When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guest, "Come, the banquet is ready."
(18) But they all began making excuses. One said, "I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me."
(19) Another said, "I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me."
(20) Another said, "I now have a wife so I can't come."

As in the case with this story found in Luke 14:15-24 our excuses can really hurt us. This parable of the great feast shows us how our excuses can keep us from joining in the feast that Jesus has prepared for us. Eternal life is ours if we'll simply accept the invitation and go. But too often we give excuses as to why we can't go.

If you don't know Christ... it's not to late! The invitation still stands today. All you have to do is say yes... I'll come. If you do know Christ as your Lord, then your place at the table is secure, the feast awaits you. However... if you make excuses like I do, then you'll miss out on the blessings that God had in store for you. What did I miss by not going to church today? Did God have a word for me today from the Pastor? Who may God have had me interact with today? Could I have helped someone, could they have helped me? I'll never know because I made an excuse not to go.

Dear Lord Jesus, forgive me when I fail you, forgive my disobedience. May we all realize and know that time is short and may we make the most of every opportunity and not procrastinate. Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

God speaks... do you hear?

For the last couple of months my wife and I have been visiting several different churches. Every week we go to another one. Some are huge and others are not. Some are lead completely with contemporary music while others are more traditional hymns or a blended mix of traditional and contemporary music. The order of worship, although similar, is still different in every church. The Pastors vary in age, style and experience of preaching. It becomes very easy to begin comparing one church to the other, It becomes too easy to begin creating a list of what I like or don't like and make many comparisons. All this can distract my attention away from what is really important.... Do I hear God speak?

Worship is a time for not only our praise and adoration to our heavenly Father, but also a time to listen and hear what it is that God wants us to hear. In each church I visit I hear from God. I have not been to one yet that I haven't heard God, and if I did attend one where I didn't hear from God it could quite possibly be a problem on the receiving end (me) rather than on the delivery of the message or the worship service. I guess what I'm trying to share is that I need to focus less on the differences and more on what I'm hearing God say to me. Am I connecting and is the Spirit of God moving within me to allow me to become more like Him through the message. Am I more concerned about the songs, or the Preachers ability to preach, or the order of service... etc. Or am I going with an attitude of Worship and praise and an expectancy of hearing from almighty God?

I've almost come to the conclusion that it's not the church as mush as it is what's being said and am I listening? God's word has a way of penetrating our heart and soul even in spite of a preacher or music getting in the way of it all. Man can stumble but God's word is greater than all that. What is being preached and am I listening, that's what's important.

As I visit churches lately I see God at work in all of them. I sense the Holy Spirit in all of them. Yet they are all different! The decision on where it is that God would have me serve is still undecided. Until then, pray for me and my family and may I always be sensitive and open my heart and mind to listen carefully for God to speak.

You may not be searching for a new church like I am, yet you may have days where your worship experience was lacking in your own church. Something was missing or maybe you were distracted by other things that really are not that important yet intrude on your ability to focus on Christ during the worship service. May we all be focused on Christ and go prepared to listen, expectantly waiting to hear from God. God is there, we just have a difficult time seeing or hearing him sometimes. How can we live for God if we don't listen? If we don't hear? God wants to speak to you and I. Are we listening, or are we talking? Are we experiencing God, or are we making a list of things we like or don't like? Where's our focus during the worship service? Jesus Christ must be the focus and may we be ready to hear from Him today.

God bless you in your service and the next time you attend your church, go with a different attitude of why you are there. Go expecting to hear from your heavenly Father and you'll experience true worship. Focus not on the things of man, and completely on the things of God. You may leave seeing your church in a different way. One things for sure... you will be different and after all, isn't that what church is all about.... a body of believers lead by Jesus? All focused on Him and his direction?