26 May, 2015

Go On and Call Me Crazy...

* Before I begin, let me say from the outset that I do not believe in psychics, fortune tellers or any of that stuff... so please don't go into a self-righteous rant about my use of a photo of a crystal ball. 
Thank you!

We are a year and a half from the 2016 Presidential election, but I'm going to make my predictions now. 
I have to be honest and tell you that at this point I have NO idea who I'm going to get behind as I am still weighing out what people are saying, reading between the lines and so on. 

On the GOP side, right now it is an all out mad dash with seemingly everyone and their brother running for POTUS (and I still think we will see other candidates jump in) but this is how I see it. It will whittle down to two guys, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee fighting for the nomination and I have this feeling deep in my gut that Huckabee is going to pull a surprise and win the party nomination. His VP pick will be either Ben Carson or Rand Paul. 

On the Democrat side, Bernie Sanders is going to come on very strong... and Hillary will cut a deal with him to make him her VP pick so their ticket will be Hillary and Sanders. 

I think that Huckabee pulls a stunning upset and wins the election.

So... it's recorded here on my blog, so lets come back in 18 months to see how close my predictions play out. 

20 May, 2015

The Trend Away From Repentance

I just had a telephone conversation that has left me sitting here for the past 10 minutes asking, "Did I really hear what I just heard?" I'm part in shock, part heart-broken. The person who called me used to attend the church where I pastor, but left the church many years ago. Because he has not been a part of the congregation for years, I was quite surprised that he even called to have this discussion. We've always remained friendly since they left, but certainly not close. 

Anyway, they called today and after a few pleasantries said, "I called because I want to help you and the church."  I asked what he meant and he proceeded to tell me that he had run into another former member this morning who said that he had seen me recently and they had discussed what was wrong with Harvest Church, and more particularly me. Honestly, I wanted to just end the conversation right there, but I allowed him to continue. I asked, "So, just what did the two of you come up with that is wrong with me?" His response was just a bit numbing. He said, "You preach too much by the letter of the book!" I asked him if he would mind clarifying what he meant and he was all too eager to do so. He said, "You preach too much on sin and not enough on the positive aspects of life."  He went on to tell me that if I would take a chapter from Joel Osteen and preach a message that made people feel good about themselves, that the church would be full because people like me personally and they'd come if I'd just preach a message that was "more uplifting."  I asked him if he did not feel it was the preacher's job to warn people about the pitfalls of continuing to live in sin. He said, (and I quote) "I don't need a preacher telling me how to live my life! I need one who makes me feel good and that life is good!"  I asked, "So, if people are sleeping around or getting drunk, I'm not supposed to warn them about what the Bible says about this... but tell them that they are OK in their sin, even though the Bible speaks directly to these things?"  He said that people could make up their own minds and that when they came to church the job of the preacher is to lift them up not make them feel guilty.  
There was a lot more to this conversation, but it only went downhill from this point on. I was in shock that this is how people who are supposed to be born again, spirit-filled followers of Christ felt this way. I was and am heart broken to realize how deep the deception is within the Body of Christ.
A.W. Tozer once said, "What has the church gained if it is popular, but there is no conviction, no repentance, no power?" Another favorite quote of his says, "Any church that the unsaved worldly community accepts is never a church full of the Holy Spirit."

I decided long ago that I will not bow to the the pressures of acceptance by the masses just to be liked and draw a crowd. The Bible is clear in this simple fact: John the Baptist preached "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  Jesus preached, "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  The apostles in the book of Acts preached "repent ye therefore and be converted...".
Now, if this was the message of the New Testament, why should the church suddenly cease preaching repentance?

Thanks... but I'll stick with the Bible.  

19 May, 2015

Remember This

They all laughed at Ross Perot in 1992. Watch this short video clip and ask yourself who is laughing today. 

This Is the Result of NAFTA

This story was in the NY Times this week, featuring Galesburg. This city has lost more than 9000 high paying industrial jobs since 2001. Yet the "experts" say NAFTA did not have that much of an impact on the American economy. Tell that to the people of Galesburg!

GALESBURG, Ill. — Even in this city of abandoned factories, it is possible to see some of the benefits the United States reaps from increased foreign trade: At the rail yard, where boxcars of bargain­price Asian goods are routed to American consumers; at the nearby slaughterhouse, where pigs are packaged for the global market; and at Knox College, where almost 10 percent of the students now come from foreign countries. It is also hard to miss the enduring costs. In 2004, Maytag shut down the refrigerator factory that for decades was Galesburg’s largest employer and moved much of the work to Mexico. Barack Obama, then running to represent Illinois in the Senate, described the workers as victims of globalization in his famous speech that year at the Democratic National Convention. A decade later, many of those workers are still struggling. The city’s population is in decline, and the median household income fell 27 percent between 1999 and 2013, adjusting for inflation. 

George Carney, who drove a forklift until the day the factory closed, and then found work as a bartender, is now receiving federal disability benefits. He says he is bitter that American policy makers smoothed Maytag’s road to Mexico by passing the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s. “I don’t believe in laying someone off, in taking away someone’s livelihood just so other people can make more money,” Mr. Carney said as he nursed a beer in a windowless bar on the banks of the Mississippi River. “Why would I want to destroy that person? Why would I want to destroy lives?” It is one of the basic principles of economics that trade is good and more trade is better. But as Mr. Obama presses Congress for the authority to negotiate a new generation of trade deals, the struggles of Galesburg illustrate why some economists have come to doubt the relevance of that orthodoxy. The costs of globalization have been greater and more enduring than they expected, and government efforts to mitigate the impact on American workers have often proved insufficient. “I think what we’ve learned is that U.S. labor markets aren’t as flexible and self-­correcting as I think we had presumed,” said Gordon Hanson, an economist at the University of California, San Diego. “The uneasiness I have about the way we’ve handled globalization is not so much globalization itself. It’s that if you don’t have the right safety net, you’re going to impose an enormous amount of hardship.” 

There is also mounting evidence that the benefits of globalization have accrued disproportionately to upper-­income households, while the costs have fallen heavily on the less affluent, contributing to the rise of economic inequality. The Obama administration has presented the proposed agreements — one with nations that border the Pacific Ocean, the other with Europe — as, in part, a shield against globalization that would require other nations to move closer to American standards for environmental protection, worker rights and intellectual property. But the administration and many outside economists say further trade, despite the negatives, is still clearly beneficial. David Weinstein, a Columbia University economist, said the image of downtrodden Galesburg should be set alongside the prosperity of Silicon Valley, because the decline of manufacturing in the United States helped free resources to feed the high-­tech boom. “There was a sense that by losing the ability to produce computer chips,  we were going to see the American electronics industry collapse, and it turns out that those cheap imported electronic components were just the thing that all of these companies needed,” he said. “What these critiques miss systematically is that the losers know who they are, but the winners don’t know who they are yet.” 

Drop in the Bucket Trade deals are at the center of the political debate about globalization, but for all the sound and fury they generate, recent deals have played only a small role in the expansion of global trade. In 2013, on the 20th anniversary of Nafta, the Congressional Research Service reviewed the research and concluded it was not that big a deal. “In reality, Nafta did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters,” the report concluded. Since Nafta, the United States has made trade agreements with 17 other countries, but the estimated impact of those deals, taken together, is even smaller — a few snowflakes added to a snowball already rolling downhill. The seismic shift came after World War II, when the United States and other developed nations began to minimize tariffs and other barriers. Global trade grew as industrialization spread, particularly in China, and thanks to innovations including the standardized shipping container and the Internet. Just as individuals benefit by working in one field and using their earnings to pay for other goods and services, economists contend that nations, too, prosper by specializing: exporting what they have and importing what they want. A 2005 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research group in Washington that is a strong proponent of trade deals, estimated that embracing trade had added about 7.3 percent to America’s economic output — or about $10,000 in annual income for every household in the United States. But the benefits are not distributed evenly. Trade increases overall prosperity by eliminating less productive jobs. In theory, the workers find new jobs. In practice, studies by Mr. Hanson and other economists show that in  cities like Galesburg, global competition is increasing unemployment and reducing wages. Josh Bivens, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, estimates that increased globalization, aided by a strong dollar that led to a persistent trade deficit, reduced the annual earnings of the roughly 70 percent of American workers without college degrees by about $1,800. Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, said the magnitude of these losses was large enough that increased trade may now be harming the American economy. “The argument was always that the winners could compensate the losers,” Mr. Stiglitz said. “But the winners never do. And that becomes particularly relevant when we have a society with as much inequality as we have today.” Few Job Options Richard Lindstrom, whose family has owned an appliance store on Galesburg’s Main Street for the last 89 years, said sales fell when Maytag left. But that was about the same time he started selling many imported high definition televisions. “We rode that crest, and it really offset the drop in appliance sales,” he said. Some Maytag workers were able to find better jobs. Mark Semande is now a foreman on the BNSF railroad, which has prospered greatly from increased trade. He made $14.50 an hour at the factory. Now he makes $28.93. With overtime, he estimates that his pay has tripled. But many of the 1,600 Maytag workers were not as fortunate, according to Chad Broughton, a lecturer in public policy at the University of Chicago who chronicled Galesburg’s struggles in his book, “Boom, Bust, Exodus.” Tracy Warner, who worked at the factory for 15 years, has not come close to matching her former salary of about $37,000 a year. She works as a teacher’s assistant by day and a janitor by night and makes about $21,000. Mr. Semande — whose father also worked at the factory — said he expected that his two daughters, ages 13 and 15, would move away when they grow up. “Maybe they could find jobs and live in the community,” he said, “but not if they want to do as well as us.” Trade also tends to reduce prices, and there is evidence that lower­income households may benefit disproportionately, because they spend a larger share of income than wealthier households on the goods with the largest price declines. This Walmart effect may partly offset the distribution of income gains. A study published last year estimated that international trade had lifted the purchasing power of lower­ income American households, at the 10th percentile of the income distribution, about 62 percent. For wealthy households, at the 90th percentile of the income distribution, the power increase was 3 percent. The variety of imports has also roughly tripled since the 1970s, according to a 2006 study that Mr. Weinstein, the Columbia economist, helped write. “We benefit from the fact that it’s no longer just a choice between Maxwell House and Folger’s,” he said. Walmart opened a supercenter in Galesburg in 2007, but Mr. Broughton said the arrival of the store could hardly offset the loss of the factory. “The decline in the quality of life for working­ class families has not been nearly matched by the low, low prices,” he said. “Maybe those diffuse benefits have benefited America more generally. But it’s not the case in Galesburg.” Lying Idle President Obama returned to Galesburg in 2013 to deliver an economic policy speech at Knox College. “Let’s tell the world that America is open for business,” he said. “I know there’s an old site right here in Galesburg, over on Monmouth Boulevard — let’s put some folks to work.” But most of the old factory has been demolished. The last trace of its former life is a “Maytag Drive” street sign. The last refrigerators to roll off the line sit in a makeshift museum at the back of a downtown antiques mall. Michael Patrick, who started working at the factory in 1959 and became a senior union official representing workers throughout the region, said job losses were nothing new. Companies went out of business, mechanized, moved to new cities. He recalled that in the 1970s, the workers who made the shells of  refrigerators were replaced by a new machine the size of a football field. The difference in recent decades, he said, is the absence of new companies. But Mr. Patrick is not sentimental about what he views as the end of manufacturing in Galesburg. He said he focused on getting as much funding as possible to help his members train for new careers. He went to work after high school, he said, partly because there was no junior college in Galesburg. Now there is. “Manufacturing was for people like me,” Mr. Patrick, who is now 73, said. When Ms. Warner, 49, learned that the plant would close, she finished an associate’s degree at the local community college, then won a share of that training money to pursue a degree in communications at Western Illinois University. But two years of tuition was not enough to reconstruct her life. She is proud of the degree, but it has not helped her find a job. She lacks professional experience, and jobs in Galesburg are scarce. She has a teenage son and she does not want to move. “I just needed a little more help,” she said. “I didn’t ask for my job to be taken out of the country.” 

14 May, 2015

The Importance of Criticism

Winston Churchill once said, “ Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. ”   Many people fail to realize the wisdom and importance of this statement. There is a vast difference between being critical and offering criticism. Criticism should not offered to insult or tear down, but to bring insight into things or areas that can be improved upon. For example, I'm sure we can all remember times when we were in school where we handed in a paper and when it was returned to us, it was covered with red ink. Often times I was upset and discouraged when that happened, until I finally realized that the intent of the teacher was not to "put me in my place" or tell me how bad my paper was. (OK, with some teachers, that was exactly what they were doing. No, the intention was to teach me, to instruct me and help me to improve my skills and abilities. We can either receive that criticism with a humble heart and humble spirit, or we can arrogantly resist that criticism and refuse to change. We should welcome constructive criticism rather than getting offended by it. 

This morning I was thinking about how so many of us are the type to get offended by constructive criticism rather than to humble ourselves and ask, "Is this true? Is this an area I can improve and grow?"  I was reminded of something that took place several years ago. I had met a husband and wife in town and over a period of months run into them several times in a coffee shop and developed a casual relationship with them. In our conversations they had mentioned that they were still trying to find a permanent church home and that they would like to come visit the church where I pastor, but they were fearful that if they came and decided that it was not the church for them, that I would be offended. I assured them that I would not be, and they promised to come soon. 

Several weeks later, they did come and were pretty complimentary after the service, yet I could tell that something was wrong, even though they insisted that there was nothing wrong. I sent them a note that week thanking them for coming and inviting them to come back again, but they never returned, nor responded to two phone calls or the note I sent them over the next few weeks.  Our normal routine of seeing each other a couple of times per week at the coffee house stopped occurring, and it was obvious that they were avoiding me. After a month, I sent them a hand written note reminding them again that I was not going to be offended if they did not like our church or felt like it was not the church for them. I took it a step further and told them that they could help me as a pastor by giving me their honest opinion and insight toward our church. I asked them if they would play the role of the "critic" and give me an honest assessment of the church from their vantage point. It took a couple more weeks before they finally responded, but they finally did. 

They sent me an email and began by being very apologetic and saying that at first they were not going to do what I had requested, but finally came to an agreement that it could help me and the church. Let me say, when you invite criticism it still stings and we must be willing to accept that criticism and not interpret criticism the same as a person being critical. In all honesty, their criticism of the church service was both positive and negative as they pointed out what they liked and were impressed with, along with what they did not like or turned them off. Even though I had invited their criticism, was was a bit taken back by what they said at first. But then I began to think on it, and I had to admit that these things existed or happened in the service they attended. I finally decided to remove the names from the email and then print it out and distributed it to my church to discuss it. I'm not going to go into what their email said, but I will say that when my church saw it, they were, for the most part, deeply offended, even angered by it. It was like, "how DARE they say this about us?" But the facts were staring us in the face. We had in fact allowed these things to be done in our worship service and excused them away "because we are just family around here and we overlook each others faults." Those were the actual words that one person offered as a defense rather than ask the question, "How can we improve?"  I've saved that email for more than 5 years now and I go back and read it from time to time and I have to be totally honest and say that while we have improved in some of those areas... many of them remain the same... and it is hindering our church from growing. The sad but honest truth is that we would rather not offend someone close to us than admit we need to "fix" something and make the church more appealing to first time visitors. A better way to put it is, we refuse to change... and when we refuse to change, we are sentencing ourselves to stagnation and death. We can excuse things with the down home, "It's just us around here" or we can get honest enough to admit that we have to decide if we want to stay the same or improve ourselves. That question is true of every person or group or business. We can pay attention to the details and make changes to improve and help ourselves to grow, or we can remain defiant and refuse to change. The answer to the following question will determine our future, whether we are talking about the church, a business or an individual: The question is:  Will we accept criticism and make strides to improve, or will we dismiss it as someone being critical and continue on as we have always been?

09 May, 2015

God Still Amazes Me

You would think that after all these years of serving the Lord, that little things would not amaze me the way that they do, but I never quite get used to the way that God acts. Some people would say it is not God, or that things are coincidental or who knows what they might say, but it get amazed how that when God speaks something to me, He can simultaneously be speaking the same thing to my wife (or someone else).  I've had countless times when the Holy Spirit has given me a message to preach, that someone will tell me that their pastor, 5 states away, preached on the same topic. I really think some people think we coordinate this... but it's not us... it's the Holy Ghost. I mean, if God has a message for His church, who do we think we are to think that message is only for one local sector of the Body of Christ? I mean seriously... don't you think He wants His church moving with the same rhythm?

Anyway...
Today was another of those examples.  Libby and I stopped in for lunch at a local restaurant and coming in just ahead of us was a frail, elderly woman, all by herself. From where I was sitting I could see her, and my attention kept being drawn toward her. There was nothing all that particular about her, just a small, elderly woman having her lunch. But as we got up to leave, I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to buy her lunch. As we walked up to the register to pay, I whispered to my wife that we needed to buy that woman's lunch, and her eyes sparkled and she smiled, and I just knew that she had felt the same thing.  I told the manager to just tell her that we wished her a happy Mother's Day. My point is NOT about what we did... that's small potatoes. It's what the Holy Spirit did. I love how he can speak to us both at the exact same moment and clearly speak the same thing into our spirit. 

He never stops amazing me. 

Be Careful Who You Turn To

One of my favorite peeves is when people take things that are said out of context and twist words to say or mean something entirely different than what was intended. The media does this all the time. And let me be clear, both the liberal AND the conservative media do the same thing. It irritates me to no end to see a slam on the President with a headline that makes an accusation about him and then when you check out the story and put things into context, it is painfully obvious that what he said was in no way meant or intended to be what the media says that he said. Integrity matters. If you know me, you know that there is not much I agree with our current President about, but I still believe in truth and honesty and believe that when we lose integrity, we've lost it all.

I said all that to say this: It is just as vital that we be truthful and honest about the Word of God. I hear people misquote and misdirect the intent of the scripture to twist it to say what they want it to say rather than what it does in fact say. One of the glaring examples of this is the whole "Judge not" thing that people like to throw around. I'm not going to go into that right now, but if you want to know more, try reading this (Judge Not). There are countless others, with many of them be twists toward the prosperity gospel or other popular trends in the church.  One that has always bothered me is how the majority of the time we teach Proverbs 23:7 out of context. In case you are not familiar, that verse says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."  This is usually preached and taught as a matter of positive confession, and I will not debate the fact that it could also be used to make the case for us guarding what and how we think about, the fact is that in context, this passage is saying something far different. 

When you look at this verse, not isolated, but put into the context of the passage it is written in, there is a very strong and important warning to us about who we associate with and using caution to know the true character of those we listen to and associate with. Let's look at it in context (one really need look at an even larger section of this chapter to get the full weight, but for the sake of time and space I'm only going to use verses 6-9.) 
" Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, but is heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, and waste your pleasant words. Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words." 

You see, in context, it is telling us to judge the character of a person's heart, not listen to their lying words. People will look you right in the eye and tell you they care for you, want what is best for you, but their heart despises you and what you have and their goal is to deceive you and to use you and often to bring you down to their level. I see this so often when a man or a woman is having marriage trouble and they go to a friend or relative for advice and the person spews poison into them because their goal is not to bring healing to your marriage, rather it is to tear your marriage apart so that you are on their level. It amazes me to see how many people run to their "friends" who are divorced or are themselves in a bad marriage for advice rather than going to a couple who have years, even decades of marriage under their belts and asking for godly counsel.  This passage of the Bible is telling us to use caution and to KNOW who we are allowing to speak into our lives and to know what their character is, because their words can be entirely deceptive. THIS is the message we need to be teaching from this passage... not the power of positive confession! This scripture, in context, lines up entirely with the wisdom of David found in Psalm 1 where he writes: 
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. 
Allow me to share that again from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.
"God blesses those people who refuse evil advice!" 

I see it all the time... people run to the woman in a bad marriage for advice. They run to the home where there is a history of abuse asking what to do when they've been abused. Or they go to the home where children are unruly and ask for parenting advice. They will run to the home of someone who is habitually on welfare and not working to ask for financial advice. What amazes me is that people sitting in the church will run to those outside of the church or even those in church but with the most undisciplined and chaotic lives looking for advice. Solomon said in our passage: "The morsel you have eaten you will vomit up." What does he mean? He means you will live to regret what you have received from such a person! It will make you sick!

He who has ear to hear, let him hear.



There Comes a Time to Grow Up

Over that past few months I've watched the marriages of three different couples that I know deteriorate due to very similar circumstances. Two of those couples are now separated, and it appears they will divorce and the third couple is teetering at that point right now and if something drastic does not happen, I fear they will be divorced as well. The similarities are so unbelievable that it sounds made up. All three of these couples have been married less than 3 years. None of them are what I'd call "kids". Two of them had lived together for years and have children together. All all three cases, in my opinion, they were passionately in love with each other when they got married. In reality, I think in each case, they still do love each other, but the wounds are so deep, it will take a miracle to heal them. The sad, common denominator in the three cases is that in each one, the husband's running with his friends and drinking is the primary cause for their trouble. I personally have spoken with all three of these men and warned them that when a man gets married and especially when he has children, then it is time for the running around with the "buds" and partying is over. That behavior is childish and self-centered at best. The problem is pretty common, as men tend to go through a period of not wanting to let go of their youth, youthful friends and behavior. A man needs to wake up and realize that when you ask a woman to marry you, you are putting your running and partying days behind you. Your responsibility is at home. That woman you took to be your wife is supposed to be the center of your life... not crammed over in the corner waiting at home for you if and when you decide to favor her with a bit of your time. 

All three of these men are great guys. I mean absolutely super guys... as long as they are not drinking. But all three, when they begin drinking become 17 again and behave accordingly. None of them want to accept the fallout for their behavior. They all blame their wives for being "nags". I'm being nice because they use far worse names. But guys... you are my friends... and I'm telling you that you are all wrong. You are idiots, because you are about to lose someone who loves you dearly and who thought you hung the moon and the stars. I've watched all three of you on your wedding days and seen the magical looks they gave you. And you are all three making the same mistake of choosing your drinking and drunken friends over someone who would give their life for you. You are making it really hard for them to find a reason to stay married to you. Get mad at me if you want to... but I care enough for each of you that I'm willing to risk losing your friendship if I can help save your marriage. Wake up before it is too late. If you are one of the two where she has already left you... it's not too late. Beg her if you have to, but more importantly you are going to have to change, change fast and most importantly, change permanently. I've spoke to each of you and your wives and told you that unless and until you make Christ the foundation of your marriage, you are doomed to fail. 

My friends... do something now... before you all lose the best part of you.

02 May, 2015

Learning to Walk

I'm sure that every parent will tell you that one of the highlights in their life as a parent was when their son or daughter took their first steps. My kids are 24 and 21 and I still remember vividly the first time I saw them walk. I remember the joy that filled my heart, and how we celebrated and had them to repeat those steps over and over, picking them up when they fell and coaxing them to try again when they fell. Their steps were awkward, unbalanced and there were bumps and bruises along the way. There were tears... and there was laughter. And the one thing that stands out to me today, more than 2 decades later is that Daniel and Ashley's first steps and the process of learning to walk was not something they did on their own, it was a family... even a community event as everyone involved in their young lives took an active role, encouraging them, helping them, holding their hands to help them along and steady them and in celebrating their first and earliest steps as they learned to walk. The funny thing is, no one ever says to them today, "Way to go! Look at you walk! You can do it!" Why is that? Because they've learned to walk. They've got this and today, they seldom fall. They may trip, stumble or even fall, but today they know that the pain of falling is temporary, so they get up, learn from what ever caused them to stumble and walk on. This is how life works.

Can I tell you today, that's how it is supposed to be in the spiritual realm as well? Learning to walk by faith presents similar challenges along the way. As we surrender your life to Christ and begin the faith walk, we take some pretty unbalanced and wobbly steps and we fall down. We bump into challenges and obstacles that altar our steps, cause us to stumble or even to fall. At this stage, we desperately need those around us in the family of God who are there to help pick us up, encourage us and tell us that we can do it. The thing that I believe many fail to see is that none of us are born with the knowledge or understanding of how to "walk with God." It is a learning and growing process. The Bible is filled with stories of men like David, Moses, Noah, Peter, Joshua and many others who at times stumbled and fell... they had to learn how to walk by faith. But they did not give up, and neither did God give up on them! 

Could you imagine a parent watching their child taking his first steps and seeing them fall turn away from their child and say, "I give up! They can't walk!" Of course not. Likewise, God does not give up on us when we falter, stumble or fall. He helps us to get up and encourages us to do it again... and again... and again. The thing is, (and this is where so many miss it) is that as we learn this faith walk, our steps are supposed to take us further and further away from sin and things and people that causes us to stumble and fall. As I said before, people don't look at my 24 year old son and say, "Look at you go! You didn't fall one time today!" No, has "perfected" his walk, and aside from some unexpected hole or something to trip him up, he has grown to the place to where he does not fall. He has developed an insight within him to where he can perceive things that might make him fall and he avoids them. But spiritually speaking, the modern day church has built in an excuse so that we can remain in that toddler stage with no expectation of growth or perfection.  Crafty preachers and teachers have perverted the gospel with a misrepresentation that tells people that it's OK to keep falling over and over, tripping over the same thing again and again. This is not what God's grace is all about. God's grace is that when we fall, He picks us up and encourages us to try it again. But with that grace comes an expectation that we learn from it and either avoid that pitfall or remove it from our path so that we do not continue to trip over it again and again. Today, we have  multitudes of "grown ups" in the spirit realm who walk like toddlers because they've never matured in their walk because the devil has slyly introduced a false teaching into the church that has been embraced by a church with a carnal heart. It's time the church grow up and learn to walk a balanced and steady walk. That does not mean we will never stumble or fall. It does mean we will learn from those stumbles and change our walk so that we do not continue to fall into the same snare over and over again.

In Genesis 6:9 the Bible says, "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God."  I'm sure that early in his walk, Noah stumbled and fell... but he grew and matured and was righteous... blameless as he walked step in step with God. I'm confident that Noah learned this one lesson that you and I must learn; The strength and courage that we need to walk by faith comes from the Father, not from ourselves. Just as my daughter used to walk holding onto my hand... so we must walk holding onto God's hand. When we hold onto that hand, he will steady our steps and lead us forward throughout our lives.

01 May, 2015

Time For a New Fishing Hole

I was talking with someone yesterday who made the comment to me that they did not understand why they keep repeating the same mistake in their life over and over again. She said that in every relationship she had it always ended up with her  being alone with a broken heart. She said that said that the men in her life always seemed to be the same and do the same thing. After listening to her for awhile I finally told her that there was a reason that all of the men in her life were the same, and she said, "Yeah, because all men are the same!" I asked her if she really believed that and she said that she did. So I asked her why she had asked to talk with me and she said, "I guess I'm looking for hope and maybe someone to convince me that life can get better." So I named some men (including myself) and asked her if she felt that these men were like the ones she had dated. She very quickly said, "not at all!" So I said, "So... you are saying that all men are not the same then?" She kind of dropped her eyes and softly admitted that they were not. So I asked her this question; "If all men are not the same, why do you think it is that you keep ending up with guys who were exactly the same? I was a little shocked at her response as she said, "I guess because God keeps putting them into my life!" I sat there for a minute in silence, then finally said, "Do you mean to tell me that you believe God keeps putting you in relationships with men who are lying, cheating, abusive drunks?" She said, "Well the Bible says that every thing happens for a reason. God must have a lesson for me to learn." I asked her if she could show me that in the Bible. She said, "No, but you're the preacher, you show me where it is at!"  I told her that it was not in the Bible, but that she was right... everything does happen for a reason, and sometimes that reason is because we do some pretty dumb things and the Bible does say that we reap what we sow." She got a little agitated and asked me I was saying that it was her fault that these men acted the way they did. I told her that they were were responsible for their own actions and behavior, but that she was responsible for choosing to allow these men into her life. So she demanded to know where God was in all of this. I said, "I am SO glad you asked!"

For the next 40 minutes or so, my friend and I had a rather intense discussion, where I was told I was being judgemental... that I did not understand... that I was being a Bible thumper... but ended up with her admitting that I was right.  I asked her to make a list of all of the men that she had been with over the last six years. That took some time. When we were done with that, I asked her to write down next to each name where she had met them. Wonder of wonders, almost every one of them had been met either at a party or in a bar OR through someone else who she had met at a party or a bar. (This is where I was called judgemental.)  I simply asked, "Did you ever pray and ask God if you should date any of these men?" She thought that was silly. I said, "But you want to blame God for putting men in your life that are bad for you, yet you are not asking God to show you who you should date. Does anything seem wrong here to you?"  Then I asked her to be totally honest and tell me if she went to church or read her Bible any more? (This is where I was called a Bible Thumper."  I asked her if it did not seem odd to her that she wanted to blame God for the men in her life, when the fact of the matter was that she was no longer talking with God (other than a 'help me" prayer thrown up now and then) not reading His Word any more and by her own admission, she had not been to church more than 3 times in the past year.  She told me that I did not understand, that life was really hectic and she did not have time to go to church, but that she still loved God. I asked her to pretend that she was married and her husband told her that life was hectic, that he did not have time to talk with her and only came to see her 3 times in a month. She said, "I'd be divorced real quick!"  So I told her that what she had just told me was that she was divorcing herself from God. Not the at God was leaving her, but that she was leaving Him. I said that God was right where He had always been; that He had not moved, but she had. I said, if you want to have a different type of man in your life, you are going to need to approach this differently. I asked, "Do you think you will ever find a god fearing man, who was looking for a committed, life-long relationship at a party or a bar where people go with one thought on their mind?  She said, "That sounds pretty stupid hearing you say it that way."  I said, "There you go! There is a reason for everything... we do something stupid and we expect a good result from it. But we reap what we sow!" So we began to discuss how that if we want to find a man who does not drink, does not cheat and is committed, then it is pretty certain that the place to find such a man is not going into a bar where people are looking for someone to sleep with.  I said to her, "Imagine with me that I like eating fish. So I find an pond that has been neglected, polluted, smells and is bug infested. But it is just jumping with fish waiting to be caught. I catch and eat fish from there and it is not very good. How likely do you think I would be to go back to that pond next time I want a fish?"  She laughed at me, but I said that this was exactly what she was doing. I said that if you just like catching fish and are not interested in eating them, then the pond would be a great place to go because there is an abundance of fish waiting to be caught. But the fish there are no good for anything but catching and throwing back.  I said that rather than finding a new fishing hole, she keeps going back to the same hole that has diseased fish that are not good for taking home. I told her, "you need a new fishing hole!"  So I asked her where she might go to find a man who was looking for a committed relationship, interested in serving God and raising a family in a godly environment?  She said, "Duh... the church dummy!"  I said, "I rest my case."  It's time to find yourself a church and quit going back to the dirty, polluted and foul smelling fishing hole and go to a place where God has a man waiting for you, because that type of man will NEVER be found in the places where you've been hanging out. 

Week 6 Update

Six weeks of this struggle to make changes in my life, drop some weight and eat a more healthy diet. This past week was really rough to try to maintain this because we were in revival in Pekin which meant a lot of quick meals, and then Friday we went to Six Flags and believe me there was NOTHING there to eat that was healthy. We had more than 100 kids with us so packing our own food was not much of an option. Long story short, I did my best through a very different week, and I put one pound back on. I'm not happy with that, but it could and probably should have been a whole lot worse. So I'm not going to be really down on myself, but it makes me realize even more that these changes must be life-long changes, not just a "diet" to lose weight. I'm back on track and believing to at least be back down by that one pound by this time next week.

29 April, 2015

That's the Way to Do It!

Many people are reporting that activist Joseph Kent was "kidnapped" on live TV. I beg to differ... he was ARRESTED on live TV. The curfew was in effect, he was out there with a group throwing stuff at the cops. He thought he was above the law and even when given the chance to walk away and go home, he flaunted his blatant disregard and disrespect for the law and marched right up to them giving orders a second time. They arrested him and threw his but in jail. Now protesters are demanding that he be released. Really? Who do these people think they are. The reason things got out of control in Ferguson was that they let the "protesters" dictate what went on and it is still going on almost a year later. Baltimore police have decided to take charge and shut this down. I say good for them!