02 September, 2015

Peace In the Midst of It All

I'm certain I'm not the only one who often finds themselves seemingly caught up in a whirlwind, with so much to do, so many things pulling at you, that you just don't know how you are going to get them all done. And it just seems like it is not going to stop. Of course it does, but for that season or time, it is relentless. I'm in the midst of one of those seasons right now. There are so many things that need to be done... many that MUST be done right now, which pushes others to the back of the stove... yet again. And it seems I just cannot get caught up.  Yesterday started out with me already exhausted. I'd not gotten settled down and to sleep until well after 3:00 in the morning and by noon I was dragging because I'd already been to the bank, post office, done some shopping that needed to be done, been to Peoria to see a member in the hospital and back, fielded 6 or 7 phone calls while making that drive and dealing with other people's problems, upset people because I've not had time to do what they wanted me to do for them and all the while trying to spend some time praying about my Wednesday night service and trying to go through the checklist of things I had to do for the wedding rehearsal later in the day... when I pulled up to the church and saw that the grass had grown incredibly since Sunday and it had to be mowed this week and I knew that the rest of the week was out of the question, so my plans were abruptly shifted and I ran home to change and load up my mower and I spent the next 3 hours mowing in the extreme heat... and wondering how I was going to get everything else done that needed to be done. The whirlwind was getting larger than life.

I was trying to pray while mowing... trying mind you... but my mind was racing. Trying to calm my mind and spirit, I found myself singing an old, old song, "Peace, Peace, wonderful Peace...Coming down from the Father above... Sweep over spirit forever I pray... In fathomless billows of love." There in the heat and dust a calm came over me and I began to realize that the most important thing is not the office work, nor the baptismal tank, nor even trying to visit the members who've not been to church... the most important thing was worshipping my God and getting in His presence. At first, I was "singing" in my head... then quietly to myself, then out loud, not caring who else heard.   As I sang it dawned on me that true peace isn't the absence of conflict or duty that pulls at you... true peace is the absence of the effect of those things. True peace is standing firm in the midst of the whirlwind... not because who we are nor how strong we are... but because of whose we are and how strong He is.

I don't have to tell you that things are crazy in our world right now. Politically, this Nation is in a crisis of truth. I'll leave it at that. Morally, we are in the sewer. Socially... I don't even know where to begin, but let's take a stab at this... the trend is to murder our men in blue because they are trying to protect us... how twisted is that for a society?  No...all is not always well in our world. Some people seem to live oblivious to what is happening in the world around them, but most of us at some point struggle with issues. And the bottom line is we all have "stuff" going on in our lives.. Our lives are filled with conflict, confusion and spiritual unrest. We all struggle with issues... family, finances, stress as we face things we didn't sign up for and we wonder how it is that we find this issue on our plate. We must face and deal with the whirlwind. 

And yet, Jesus promised to give us peace. In John 14:27 Jesus said, " Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."   The Bible goes on the say that there is a "perfect peace" for those who have the ability to stay focused and keep their minds on God, rather than the things of the world. In fact the Bible promises to us a peace that is beyond our capacity to even understand.  That's amazing! 

Have you ever seen someone walking through the storm above all storms and they just seem to be at peace? People will say of such a person, "They've lost it! They are not in touch with reality." Well... I propose that maybe they ARE in touch with reality! Because reality is not found in the temporal things of this world, but in keeping our minds stayed or focused on things above. When you come to the place that you are thinking on an eternal level, the potholes we face here are nothing more than a bump in the road!
It causes people who are going through literal Hell on earth to be able to stand strong and say, "It is well with my soul!"
The world around them, and even the world within them may be in the midst of the biggest storm of their life... yet they keep their mind on Christ. When you are able to do that, then you rise above the storms.

We need to come to understand that life in Christ doesn't promise a stormless existence, it promises peace in the midst and in spite of the storm. It promises us peace when the storm is raging and it seems, in the natural, to be hopeless.  Jesus never promise sunny skies and smooth sailing all the time. He promised that when we pass through the waters, they will not over take us! When we pass through the fire, it will not harm us! This is the peace that Christ offers to those who keep their minds on the Father.

31 August, 2015

God's Way or Our Way?

The longer I serve as a pastor, or for that matter, as a child of God, the more I get absolutely dumb founded by the way some Christian people operate in their life. No, I'm not perfect... not even close. But there are some things that just leave me scratching my head in disbelief. Within the past few days I had one of those moments that I'm still asking myself if I really witnessed what I think I did. I cannot go into specifics without revealing who is involved, so I won't go there, but here is the gist of what happened. I was involved in a discussion with a group of Christian people trying to come to a consensus or decision which was very important. There was good discussion, which is always a good thing when you are trying to come to a group consensus. All were in harmony and agreement and spoke of what they felt God's will was, but one person kept coming back to one issue which they admitted was a personal desire that they would like to see, and because of that one point, the group process was overridden and the fact that they felt this was "God's will" was shoved aside to deal with the personal desires of one person. Although every person involved was in agreement that they saw this as "God's will", they chose to explore another path because one person wanted something else to happen. I'm still sitting here, days later, wondering how can you say that something is God's will, but I want "x,y,z" to happen, so since it is not, let's look for another way to make this happen? Pretty crazy. Sadly, I've seen this happen more times than I could count in my years of ministry. When people put self and selfish desires in front of God's plan or purpose, there is usually a big mess and heartbreak coming down the pike, and when it happens they will look to blame everyone but themselves. Truly sad.  

22 August, 2015

The "Sovereignty" of God

In response to "anonymous" from my last post, and any other strict Calvinist, I give an excellent article by Andrew Wommack.  What you see in the response of "anonymous" is exactly why I do not adhere to Calvinist theology. Such theology portrays God to be some sort of a monster and ignores scripture completely. 

The Sovereignty Of God
By Andrew Wommack

My heart was really stirred this last month. I attended a meeting where an old friend of mine was ministering. He had been through some terrible things that nearly destroyed his faith. He became bitter and angry at God for the things that had happened. When I heard him, he had humbled himself and was again loving the Lord and excited about the future. Praise the Lord! However, in the process, he had come to believe that it was the Lord that caused all his problems. He had resigned himself to the "sovereignty of God."

I believe this is the worst doctrine in the church today. I know that this is a shocking statement and is near blasphemy to some people, but the way sovereignty" is taught today is a real faith killer. The belief that God controls everything that happens to us is one of the devil's biggest inroads into our lives. If this belief is true, then our actions are irrelevant, and our efforts are meaningless. What will be will be.

If we believe that God wills everything, good or bad, to happen to us, it gives us some temporary relief from confusion and condemnation, but in the long-term, it slanders God, hinders our trust in God, and leads to passiveness.

The word "sovereign" is not used in the King James Version of the Bible. It is used 303 times in the Old Testament of the New International Version, but it is always used in association with the word "LORD" and is the equivalent of the King James Version's "LORD God." Not a single one of those times is the word "sovereign" used in the manner that it has come to be used in religion in our day and time.

Religion has resulted in the invention of a new meaning for the word "sovereign," which basically means God controls everything. Nothing can happen but what He wills or allows. However, there is nothing in the actual definition that states that. The dictionary defines "sovereign" as, "1. Paramount; supreme. 2. Having supreme rank or power. 3. Independent: a sovereign state. 4. Excellent." None of these definitions means that God controls everything.

It is assumed that since God is paramount or supreme that nothing can happen without His approval. That is not what the Scriptures teach. In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter said, "The Lord is...not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." This clearly states that it is not the Lord's will for anyone to perish, but people are perishing. Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat" (Matt. 7:13). Relatively few people are saved compared to the number that are lost. God's will for people concerning salvation is not being accomplished.

This is because the Lord gave us the freedom to choose. He doesn't will anyone into hell. He paid for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:10), but we must choose to put our faith in Christ and receive His salvation. People are the ones choosing hell by not choosing Jesus as their Savior. It is the free will of man that damns them, not God.

People virtually have to climb over the roadblocks that God puts in their way to continue on their course to hell. The cross of Christ and the drawing power of the Holy Spirit are obstacles that every sinner encounters. No one will ever stand before God and be able to fault Him for withholding the opportunity to be saved. The Lord woos every person to Him, but we have to cooperate. Ultimately, the Lord simply enforces the consequences of people's own choices.

God has a perfect plan for every person's life (Jer. 29:11), but He doesn't make us walk that path. We are free moral agents with the ability to choose. He has told us what the right choices are (Deut. 30:19), but He doesn't make those choices for us. God gave us the power to control our destinies.

Typical teaching on the sovereignty of God puts Jesus in the driver's seat with us as passengers. On the surface that looks good. All of us have encountered the disastrous results of doing our own thing. We desire to be led of the Lord, and teaching that nothing happens but what God wills fits that nicely. However, the Scriptures paint a picture of each of us being behind the wheel of our own lives. We are the one doing the driving. We are supposed to take directions from the Lord, but He doesn't do the driving for us.

Man has been given the authority over his own life, but he must have the Lord's direction to succeed. Jeremiah 10:23 says, "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." God created us to be dependent upon Him and our independence is at the root of all our problems. As if it wasn't bad enough for man to try to run his affairs independently of God and His standards, it has been made even worse by religion teaching us that all our problems are actually blessings from God. That is a faith killer. It makes people totally passive.

James 4:7 says, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." This verse makes it clear that some things are from God, and some from the devil. We must submit to the things that are of God and resist the things that are from the devil. The word "resist" means, "Actively fight against." Saying "Whatever will be will be" is not actively fighting against the devil.

If a person really believed that God is the one who put sickness on them because He is trying to work something for good in their life, then they should not go to the doctor or take any medicine. That would be resisting God's plans. They should let the sickness run its course and thereby get the full benefit of God's correction. Of course, no one advocates that. That is absurd. It is even more absurd to believe that God is the one behind the tragedy.

Acts 10:38 says that Jesus healed all those who were oppressed OF THE DEVIL. It was not God who oppressed them with sickness. It was the devil. It's the same today. Sickness is from the devil, not from God. We need to resist sickness and, by faith, submit ourselves to healing, which is from God through the atonement of Christ.

I know someone is thinking, What about the Old Testament instances where God smote people with sickness and plagues? There is a lot I could say about that if I had the space, but a simplified answer to that question is that none of those instances were blessings. They were curses. God did use sickness in the Old Testament as punishment, but in the New Testament, Jesus bore our curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The Lord would no more put sickness on a New Testament believer than He would make us commit a sin. Both forgiveness of sin and healing are a part of the atonement Jesus provided for us.

Deuteronomy, chapter 28, should forever settle this question for all who believe the Word of God. The first 14 verses of Deuteronomy 28 list the blessings of God and the last 53 verses list the curses of God. Healing is listed as a blessing (Deut. 28:4). Sickness is listed as a curse (Deut. 28:22, 27-28, 35, 59-61). God called sickness a curse. We should not call it a blessing.

Knowing that God is not the author of my problems is one of the most important revelations the Lord has ever given me. If I thought it was God who killed my father when I was twelve, and some of my best friends before I was 20, if it was God who had people kidnap me, slander me, threaten to kill me, and turn loved ones against me, then I would have a hard time trusting God, if He was like that.

On the contrary, it is very comforting to know that God only has good things in store for me. Any problems in my life are from the devil, of my own making, or just the results of life on a fallen planet. My heavenly Father has never done me any harm and never will. I KNOW that.

I am not saying that there is nothing to learn from hardships. Most of you reading this article have come to the Lord because of something in your life that overwhelmed you and caused you to turn to the Lord for help. That situation was not from God regardless of the results. It was you turning to the Lord and the faith you placed in Him that turned your life around, not the hardship.

If hardships and problems made us better, then everyone who has had problems would be better for them. Those who have the most trouble would be the best. That simply is not so.

Let me illustrate this with a story about my son, Joshua. When he was only a year old, I was loading lumber on a large truck in the heat of a Texas summer. I had Joshua with me, and he was having a big time playing in the lumber yard. By mid-afternoon, he was tired and sleepy and started to lie down in the dirt for a nap. I knew his mother wouldn't like that, so I put him in the cab of the truck to lie down and take his nap.

He had been wanting to get into that truck all day, and when I put him in there, he revived. I had to roll the windows down because it was hot, and Joshua was leaning out the windows and waving at me in the side view mirrors. I told him to lie down and even gave him a spanking, but he didn't take heed. He leaned out the window too far, fell out of the cab, hit his eye on the running board and landed on his head.

I ran up to him, prayed over him, and held him until he quit crying. Then I told him that was why I told him to lie down and go to sleep and not lean out the window. I used that situation which caused him pain, to teach him, but if Joshua would have been like the sovereignty teachers of today, he would have gone out and told all his friends that his father made him fall out of that truck to teach him to obey. That's not so. I did what I could to restrain him. I would be very hurt if that's the way Joshua thought I was.

Likewise, I don't believe it blesses our heavenly Father for us to blame Him for all the problems that come into our lives. Sure, He will comfort us when we turn to Him in the midst of our problems, but He doesn't create the negative circumstances that hurt our lives.

God is sovereign in the sense that He is paramount and supreme. There is no one higher in authority or power, but that does not mean He exercises His power by controlling

In many instances, it is our wrong choices that bring disaster upon us. In other cases, our problems are nothing but an attack from the devil. In some cases, natural forces of an imperfect world cause us pain. Our tragedies are never the judgment or correction of God. Jesus came to give us abundant life. The devil came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Don't ever get that confused. If it's good, it's God. If it's bad, it's the devil.

This is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity that must be understood properly if you want victory in your life. Believing that God controls everything renders a person passive. Why pray and believe for something better? Whatever God wants will come to pass. That simply is not true.

The Lord is the answer to all our problems. He is not the problem.

16 August, 2015

Hit a MAJOR Mark Today

If you follow me at all you know that for the past 6 months or so, I've been trying to make some changes in my life and in the process lose some of my girth, and get in shape. Little by little I've dropped some weight... and sometimes put some back on. This is a real battle for me. Well, today I stepped on the scale and it read 199. That is a huge step for me because it's like 200 has been a barrier for me for years. Today is the first time I have been less than 200 pounds since 1999. I cannot tell you how good that makes me feel. I'm not done yet. I still have at least 10 more pounds to go, but it feels so good to know that I have finally broken the 200 barrier. 

15 August, 2015

Witnessed An Unbelievably Touching Wedding Tonight

I was hired to shoot pictures of a wedding tonight and I have to say this was one of the coolest and most meaningful weddings I've ever witnessed. I'm too tired to write about it in detail tonight, but I will write more later and include photos. This couple chose a very religious ceremony (which very few do today) and then as part of the ceremony, they washed each others feet in observance of when Christ washed the feet of the disciples. It was absolutely beautiful and touching. I'm so proud of these "kids". They are both military veterans and tough as nails, but they wanted to have this ceremony, not only for themselves, but as a witness to all of their friends and family. That takes guts and Christian integrity, and I am proud of them for taking this stand.

11 August, 2015

What's Wrong With Democratic Socialism?

If you are not into politics or are simply not paying attention to what is taking shape in America right now, there is a rise in people calling for Democratic Socialism. Bernie Sanders is leading the charge and igniting the drive in some folks to throw out capitalism in America and switch over to Democratic Socialism. Most of those clamoring over this idea are young minds still in high school or college who have been brainwashed by a liberal dominated education system and these young people fawn over the idea of a utopian society where everyone is "equal" and shares and shares alike. They think it would be wonderful if no one was "better off" than the next guy and we all held hands and sang songs around the campfire. 

The problem is really quite simple... we don't live in utopia. People will always be people and want more than the other guy. The rule of thumb in life is "He with the most marbles rules the Kingdom."  It always has been this way and always will be this way. The socialist experiment sounds wonderful... and it would be wonderful... if it were not for the simple fact that it is innate within every human being that they want to rise to the top. Watch children on the playground. All on their own, eventually, someone will "take over" and be running the show. I don't care how many times you try the experiment, the outcome will always be the same. So, it is a simple fact of life that in societies which have tried socialism, it always lead's to tyranny or dictatorships. Why? Because the great flaw in socialism is that it values the group over the individual. That sounds absolutely WONDERFUL... but the fact is that when you value the group over individuality, it necessarily means an end to  individual rights. 

I'll be one of the first to say  that capitalism is far from perfect, but always lead's to more freedom because capitalism lends itself to giving people freedom and choice in their lives. Let me illustrate it this way: Let's say that someone is wanting to buy athletic shoes, for example. In your town or city, you can buy shoes at Walmart, Target, Kmart, JC Penney, Champs,  Finishline... or you can go home and order them online if you desire. The point is, you have a choice. You can choose the store of your liking, the one that (in your opinion) has the best product, brand, price  or whatever factor's you that you personally choose from. But in a Democratic Socialist system, the government decides which companies and stores are allowed to remain open, limiting choices. We've witnessed our current President trying to do this here in America with our healthcare, banks and choices in cars we drive. They choose whose company is allowed to survive and which ones to close.  In short, in Socialism, it means that people will have no incentive to work hard, or create good products or services. Can you imagine if your job is driving a taxi cab, and you bust your hump all night and do exceptionally well and receive well above normal tips from your customers... but at the end of your shift, you had to take all that you've made, put it into a pool and share it equally with two other drivers who parked their cabs and took naps that night?  That is exactly what socialism is... and YES, Democratic Socialism does the same thing!  This is what happened to Russia, food became scarcer, good workers became rare because no one cared, except for the corrupt leaders who owned and ruled everything. 

I can sum all this up very shortly... those who long for this utopian society are expecting that everything and everyone will be "fair"... but the reality is that such "fairness" does not exist! If it did, and if you could remove the human factor from the equation... socialism would work beautifully. But that is only a dream, concocted by those corrupt leaders who see the opportunity to elevate themselves to the to of the heap and rule over the masses. This is exactly what Adolf Hitler did. He sold the people a dream of utopia... and for awhile, he delivered as he revived their economy, gave everyone a Volkswagon (which means "the people's car") and had them falling at his feet and worshipping him. And we all know how the all turned out. 

No... Socialism (even Democratic Socialism) will not work. It's a pipe dream. But what we have is far better anyway. We have the freedom of opportunity. This is what made America so great and has caused so many millions of people from around the world risk life and limb to come to this great land of opportunity. We each have pro's and con's in life, and capitalism means that any of us can get past them to work hard, and create a better life for themselves and their families. Yes, it has it's problems, but it is the best thing going on this planet. If it were not true, why would everyone be trying to come here?

Socialism just never has worked, never will work.

09 August, 2015

The Battle of the Mind

I am in flight from Puerto Rico to Chicago and watching a girl who appears to be about two years old sitting on her daddy's lap. I've had fun just watching her. She is curious and inquisitive about everything from the TV screens that dropped from the ceiling to the earbuds her dad was wearing. Nothing seems to escape her attention and she has to know the how and why of everything she sees and hears. Her mind is just a sponge. All of this got me to thinking about the wonder of the human mind. I believe that our minds are wonderful gifts from God. They are the means by which we process the world around us just as this little girl is doing now. It is the mind that enables us to make choices which navigate our way through life based on this information we have gathered. It is the mind that releases amazing creativity and color to our lives. It is also with our minds that we perceive Gods truth and if we accept and live by that truth we are transformed as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our mind.

With all this in mind, it should be no surprise, then, that our minds are also strategic targets for Satan. In fact, the mind is the spiritual battleground if you will. When the enemy has his way, our minds harbor debilitating doubts, embrace lies which cripple and stall our lives as we entertain false affections, and rationalize sin.

One thing I have discovered is that this battle within our minds becomes especially strong when we make the decision to pray. We find ourselves saying things like "I'm too tired. Im unworthy. This is useless; God would never listen to someone like me. God doesnt care. I dont feel anything so I must not be spiritual enough." This is where we need to be relentless with the truth of who we are in Christ. You see, we really can win this battle with our minds. Through Jesus' victory on the cross and by the power of His Spirit, we have all the spiritual weapons we need to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I wonder... how are you using your mind? So many Christian people fill their minds with useless or pointless information that they suck from the mind numbing television screen. Others fill their minds with gossip and all the drama they can find. I have to wonder, what would happen if we really applied ourselves to the admonition of thinking on things that are true, pure, holy and righteous? I'm convinced that people will make their decisions based on what they have filled their mind with. It's your mind; what are you going to do with it?

29 July, 2015

The Choice Is Yours

I just preached a message this past Sunday about how that every person has a choice, to obey God and be blessed or to walk in disobedience and bring a curse upon themselves. The Bible is clear on this matter. (Read Deuteronomy chapter 28 for an example) It amazes me how people hear and know the truth but will reject that truth, even knowing the result of their poor choices. The woman who chases after wild dreams and empty promises from a man who wants to use her body but not make a commitment to her... Another woman who will marry a man who she readily admits that they have little in common and no communication between them, simply because she wants to be married... The man who abandons his God-given calling to pursue a woman who he knows is not going to serve God... I could go on and on, but I hear them almost every day; excuses to walk away in disobedience of God. They already know, and when I remind them that they are being disobedient they only become angry. But who will they be angry at when their world falls apart? Far too often we hear "the blessing" preached and taught as if it were merely about financial prosperity, but the blessing of God is in our health, our soul, our mind, our relationships and so many other areas. When a person willfully walks away from Godly principles for living, they invite the curse to overtake them. That's sad.  But there is another side. I see Christians who will wear themselves out emotionally, physically and spiritually trying to persuade such people to "do the right thing." The simple truth of the matter is that once we have give such people the truth, we are done. Jesus told his disciples that if they went to a place and preached the gospel and those people did not receive it, to leave and shake the dust off their feet. Once you've delivered the truth to them, it is out of your hands. Stop wearing yourself out and chasing after people who have made a willful choice to walk out from under the cloud of blessing. That's not being harsh at all, it is about realizing that there are others waiting to hear the gospel for the first time and we are wasting our time chasing people who do not want to be chased. They've made their choice and they will live with the consequences of those choices.

25 July, 2015

Where's the Respect?

I am appalled more and more at the lack of tact, decency and respect that people have for God, themselves and others. I'm not even going to go into detail, but the way people present themselves in public in their dress (or lack thereof) the failure to clean themselves up, their profane language and behavior... I could go on and on, but I sometimes think that people just have zero class or respect for themselves or anyone else.  

Today, I was performing a marriage ceremony when I turned and looked and saw the maid of honor pull a cell phone from her bra and take a couple of selfies and then snapped a couple of pictures of the bride coming down the aisle. She then put the phone back in her bra.  Then a little while later I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see one of the groomsmen drinking from a flask he had pulled from his coat pocket. This is while the couple is reciting their vows! I'm thinking first of all, where's the respect for God? But if he had no respect for God (for all I know, he may not have believed in God) then how about a little respect for his friends who had honored him with privilege of standing with them on one of the most important days of their lives. And if he had no respect for them, how about a little respect for himself... or all the people sitting there watching him? I was just dumbfounded. What has our society come to?

21 July, 2015

Update on my Weight

I've not given any updates in awhile, but I'm still working on making some changes in my life, eating better, adding exercise as I can and trying to trim some of these pounds off of me. I started in March and had tremendous weight loss the first few weeks, but then it slowed down. We've been on the road a lot since the first of June and it was much more difficult to stay with my plan while traveling. In fact, I gained 5 lbs back during our church Camp Meeting and 12 days on the road for vacation. Since then, I've gotten back on track and lost that weight I'd gained, plus a little more. When I began, I was at 218.5 and as of today, I weighed in at 202. I'm really pleased with losing 16.5 pounds this far. My goal I set was to be at 195 by Christmas, so I am well able to do that.

18 July, 2015

All I Can Say Is Wow!

Today I received a message from someone who I don't even know but had read my blog via Facebook this week and they told me about this report. This describes EXACTLY a portion of what the Lord showed me almost 2 weeks ago!