23 November, 2015

New Every Morning

In the Bible in the book of Lamentations there is a verse that reads; "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
One of the things about the Bible and about serving the Lord is how we can see the same thing, the same verse, hear the same words that we've heard before and suddenly they come alive. It's like something brand new has appeared to us because it speaks so clearly to us. That happened to me just this past Friday. I was at my church surveying the damage with the insurance adjuster and the contractors one of them, who is a devoted Christian, said to me, "sometimes you look at things like this and can rattle your faith and cause you to question where God is in all this." I said to him, "Yeah, but God is good all the time and he knows the end of the story when we don't."  When I said that, I had one of those deja vu moments. In my mind I flashed back to 1999 when my wife and I suffered a house fire that pretty much destroyed everything we owned.  The day after the fire I was at the house with a pastor who was also a contractor (since then retired) who I hired to rebuild my house. As we were talking, Ken said virtually the same words to me and my response to him was to tell him that normally my kids would have been home at that time of day, but some of my church members had asked to take them to their house for the afternoon. Had they been home, they could have been seriously hurt or killed in the fire, so I was just thankful that God had delivered them from the fire.  From that conversation the Lord gave me the message that I would preach that Sunday at my church. As I stood talking with this contractor last Friday, my mind instantly flashed back to that sermon that I preached in February 1999 and I knew this was the message for my church for this week. It took some digging, but I found that original outline and with the help of the Holy Spirit reworked it and I preached it yesterday to my church. Afterward, I had a couple of people tell me that they thought this was the best messaged they had ever heard me preach. In myself I'm thinking, "how does God take a word to a church in 1999 and breathe life into it and make it speak to my congregation who is displaced and meeting in a hotel conference room in such a powerful way?"  That's when this verse from Lamentations came to mind... "they are new every morning."  It's kind of like the manna that came from heaven... new every morning. Just what they needed for that day. Something I learned a long time ago that it has very little to do with me... I'm just the vessel that God uses to speak to others. My job is to carry the Word, not create the Word. That's the work of the Holy Spirit.  Some would criticize me for "serving leftovers."  I've also learned that some people will criticize anything and everything. I just know the Holy Spirit quickened this in my spirit on Friday and God took something old and made it something new. It reminds me of the story in Jeremiah of the potters house. There is a verse there that is so simple that it is often overlooked but it is powerful. In chapter 18 verse 4 it reads, "And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it." This is speaking of people, but it also serves to remind me that God take something old and rework it and make it into something new and beautiful. He did it with a sermon this past week... and I believe God is speaking to me and the church where I pastor about our church. Within ourselves, we'd like to wash our hands of our old building... but I believe God is in the process of taking something old and rugged and transforming it into something brand new. We need to allow God to do what He desires, not what WE desire.  Harvest Church... watch what God is doing!

12 November, 2015

Thankful Tonight

Tonight I am very, very thankful because we could of had a very bad situation had I not cancelled our church service tonight. I wrestled with it because I was worried about people driving in for church when had severe weather warnings until 9:00 PM. If I had not cancelled church we would have just started service when the winds ripped the roof off the church. It would have messed up a lot of people's cars and risked lives.  Also thankful that our neighbors were not home because a 30 foot piece of the roof landed in their driveway and would have destroyed their cars, but since no one was home, the driveway was empty. It's going to be a stressful time dealing with this whole thing, but everyone is safe, and that is what matters.

11 November, 2015

Changing the Way We Think

I've been doing some teaching in my church on reaching the lost, winning souls and something called "power evangelism" which means that signs and wonders follow after believers in Christ as we carry out the mission and purpose of Christ. The tendency has been that we (Christians) try to get people to church where we can have them prayed for by the pastor and elders or evangelist and believe for their healing. But the New Testament model is that all believers prayed for people on the streets, places of business... where ever they were and they expected miracles to happen. We are trying to re-direct our church to that New Testament model. But that means we have to change our thinking... on many levels. I just want to mention something briefly that happened today to illustrate how my manner of thinking kept me from doing what the early church would have done. 

Today, I ran into a husband and wife in a store and she was telling me about some problems she was having with her eyes and what the doctors were doing but that she was not getting any better. I told her I would be praying for her (and I really meant that) and after a few minutes of talking excused myself and said that I really had to run in order to get dinner cooked.  That was absolute truth, as I did have dinner started and had to run to the store, BUT, I had time to pray. I just did not even think about it, because I've become conditioned to telling people I will pray rather than being bold enough to stop what I am doing and pray right there on the spot. This is an area I need to change the way I think. I'm troubled tonight because I missed a golden opportunity to exercise the God-given authority over that disease in her eyes and speak healing and restoration in her life. What might have happened if right there in the grocery store a miracle took place?  I blew it this time. God help me to change my thinking so that I don't blow another opportunity.

05 November, 2015

Give God All Those Broken Pieces

The only words that could describe my life from 1978 to 1981 would be to say that my life resembled a train wreck. As the calendar flipped to the year 1981 I was broken and shattered as I lay in the county jail facing years in prison. At the ripe old age of 21 I thought there was nothing left for me but to die. A few weeks later I was bonded out of jail, awaiting my trial and the certainty that I was going to go to prison, so I purposed in my mind to do all I could to end my life as soon as possible either by accident or intentionally. I delved even deeper into my drug use and drinking and lived an absolutely wild, reckless life and I was driving most people who had ever cared for me away because my behavior was so crazy that no one wanted to be around me... and the darkness grew even deeper.  

That winter and spring there were multiple suicide attempts and accidental drug overdoses. Then one day in the spring, I recall a friend bringing this album over to my house and telling me he had a song he wanted me to hear. He played this this song for me. I told him that I did not really believe that any more. He left the album with me, and when I was alone I listened to it over and over, but in my shattered condition I doubted that there was any hope for me. I really was not even sure if I believed in God anymore and I figured that if He did exist, even God would not want someone like me. A couple of months later I discovered that not only was God real, but He could (and did) take the pieces of my life and put them back together.

Pieces, pieces
So many pieces to my life
Scattered all around
And some of them are gone
And I know that I can't ever
Put them back together again

Pieces, pieces
So many pieces to my life
A puzzle left unfinished
jumbled and unformed
Who can really ever
Fit it all together again?

In a vision, like a daydream
That filters through your mind
I saw Jesus coming closer
Holding all my hopes combined
He spoke with great compassion
As He put one hand on me
And in His other hand He held
What I could never see

He said, "Pieces, pieces
I've got all the pieces to your life
A thousand tiny fragments
Of every single day
I can put them all together
And there'll never be another one who can"

He said, "Pieces, pieces
I've got all the pieces to your life
In my hands I hold the pieces
Of every single day
I can put them all together
So they'll never fall away
I can put them all together
And there'll never be another one who can"

04 November, 2015

Ask God to Be Your Strength

King David said in Psalms 51:19-12:
“Make in me a pure heart, O God, and make again a steadfast spirit within me. ……and give to me a willing spirit…”

David was the King of Israel. Not only that, he was a godly man who wrote a good portion of the songs recorded in the book of Psalms. The Bible declared that David was a "man after God's own heart."  But David was also human, full of failure and shortcomings. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is not "sanitized."  It's all there... the good, the bad and the ugly. The story leading up to Psalm 51 is one of the more ugly moments recorded in the Bible, but it shows how we can return to God and find mercy.

David had sinned. I mean... REALLY sinned. He'd lusted after another man's wife, slept with her and gotten her pregnant, tried to cover up what happened with lies and manipulation. When that did not work, the end result was David ordered that things happen on the battlefield so that the man was killed in war.  In essence, David was guilty of murder.

God sent His prophet to basically tell David that He (God) had seen everything that had happened and He was not happy with David. Only then did David admit his sin and ask for God's forgiveness.  Psalm 51 is written about David's prayer to God after this confrontation with the prophet.
David confesses his sin to God and asks for forgiveness. And then he asks God to make in him a pure heart and a steady faithful spirit. David asks that God give him a willing spirit.

God did forgive David, but He told David that some bad things would be coming his way in the future because of the sin he did. And THIS is what I wanted to write about just briefly... Yes... God will forgive us of our sin, but there will ALWAYS be consequences to our sin. In other words, there will be things that happen as a result of our actions and choices.   Ironically, Newton's Third Law of Physics states that  "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."  This is true in this regard as well. When we do something... there is a reaction.  And when it comes to spiritual matters, even though God forgives, the fact is that the things that we do and choices that we make will still produce a reaction that WILL occur. When we sin, that sin causes (or sets in motion) other things to happen.
If a woman gets pregnant, she cannot get "un-pregnant." If you murder someone you cannot bring that person back. If you commit a crime, even if God forgives you, there is still punishment that comes due to laws in the land.  At times our sin hurts people and they are angry and/or don't trust us.  Just because God forgive you does not mean that person's mistrust for you or anger toward you ceases. God does not wipe all of that away just because He forgives you. I have often counseled with those who have had an affair, confessed that before God and their spouse and then been just blown away because the spouse did not forgive as easily as God did. I often have to tell people that there are certain consequences for what they have done, and just because God forgives does not mean that your spouse will. I mean, we hope they eventually can and that a marriage can be salvaged... but that is NOT always the case.

The purpose of my writing all this is simply to say this: All of us have our temptations, weaknesses and problems with sin and doing wrong. This is part of our human nature. And yes... we can pray like David, confess our sin and ask God to make in us a clean heart and that He would make our spirits to be steady and faithful. And God's Word tells us that if we confess our sin that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. For that... I say "Thank you Jesus!"

But for many, that promise leads some people to think it is OK to go out and continue to sin because God, who is rich in forgiveness and mercy will forgive them. The problem is... these people fail to consider that there is always a consequence for sin. Always.  And they are stunned when they find themselves in legal trouble, or they come home and find the wife packed up and gone. Or they are angry at others who no longer have any trust in them.  They blame God when they cannot pay their bills when they drank their money away or spent it foolishly rather than buying food for their family. We would do well to think before we sin, that not only does our sin cause a separation between us and God, the cause and effect of sin can destroy our lives. We can be forgiven and lose everything.

So much of the time we go about our day we never pray and ask God for his strength to keep us that day from wrong and for strength to do right. We just think we can go through the day, make decisions, do our work and never think about God until the end of the day and then ask Him to forgive us for the sins we committed that day.  That's NOT how God operates.
God is willing to come near to those who call and invite Him to come near to them. God wants to make us strong... strong enough to overcome sin. But He comes to those who want Him.

It is important for us to see our need and weakness so that we will call on God and will not try to live life in our own strength. Most of the time David obeyed God and tried to do what was right. Then one day he let temptation draw him deeper and deeper into sinful lust, thinking, planning and then putting into action the fruit of his sinful thinking.  My point is, it can happen to any of us, if we do not guard our hearts, and we will find ourselves wondering, "How did I ever come to this place?"

Thankfully, David came to his senses and refused to let his guilt and shame keep him from coming to God. David saw that he needed God’s forgiveness and He needed God’s strength to stay on the right path.

So many times, when we sin we want to punish ourselves. We feel such shame that we do not even want to come to God and admit what we have done. We feel we are too bad for God to forgive us. David shows us how God is like a loving Father who is just waiting for us to confess our sin. He is waiting and wanting to forgive us. But it is up to us to make that move.

God is wanting for us to not only confess our sin, but for us to invite Him to be our strength so we can live in a right way and not fall into sin again. We can learn from David’s example. When we sin, turn to God right away and ask for forgiveness and ask God to help us to stay strong and to stay away from doing sin again and again. 

29 October, 2015

Dealing With A Critical Spirit

A friend of mine sent the following to me in an email this morning. He said it comes from a study done by Steven Riser about recognizing if you have a critical spirit and how to deal with it. I thought it was well worth passing on.

What is the opposite of a positive, optimistic, enthusiastic, accepting and loving attitude? How about a negative, pessimistic, critical, judgmental and unloving spirit or attitude? A critical spirit within a Christian or a congregation is a curse containing considerable consequences. Let’s consider the Curse, the Cause, the Consequences, and the Cure of a Critical Spirit.

What Are the Causes of a Critical Spirit?

(These factors aren’t mutually exclusive and the more factors present, the worse the problem.)
Let’s briefly consider some important factors (causes) contributing to cultivating a critical spirit:
  1. Our Sinful or Selfish nature is referred to in the Bible as “the flesh.” A critical person is walking in the flesh, not the Spirit. Rather than drawing on God for strength and perspective, the critical person relies upon his own resources. Cynicism inhibits faith and quenches the Spirit of God, causing us to live based on negative feelings, not faith. Godly people will always be optimistic and full of hope because they know, love and serve a good, great and gracious God. On the other hand, the outlook of the sinful nature or “the flesh” will be one of despair. Why? Because apart from Christ, we have no realistic basis for hope (Jn. 15:5Phil. 4:131 Cor. 15:58
  2. Poor Self-Concept: It’s been said, “Hurting people hurt people.” This is demonstrably true. When you meet people who are constantly critical, you can be pretty sure that they’re suffering from a poor self-concept which is a works-based self concept. They see themselves as unattractive, failing, or in some manner unworthy, perhaps they even condemn themselves. Finding faults keeps us from seeing, feeling and dealing with our own pain and shortcomings.
  3. Little or no Grace: A critical person has experienced little or no grace from God. It’s far easier to see others’ sins than our own. Judgmental people rarely get in touch with God’s perspective on their own ugly failures, or with God’s incredible gift of forgiveness. We’re all Pharisees at heart. Have we honestly faced our sin and experienced God’s grace? Have you ever wept over your sins? When you see the sins of others, are you aware that you are just as capable of the very things they do, were God to withdraw His grace from you?
  4. Pessimism or Negativity: A negative emotional focus, a bad attitude or a negative, cynical, secular view of life. A negative person may have unconfessed sin in his life (Romans 2:1). There are some individuals who are so negative they assume the role as the devil’s advocate. It seems that no matter what opinion you have, they’ll take the opposite and argue with you. The devil gives us enough problems, we don’t need to have anyone advocate for him!
  5. Insecurity: Criticism is often a conscious or subconscious means to “elevate one’s own self-esteem or self image.” By putting others down, they’re inwardly trying to build themselves us by feeling more important or appearing more knowledgeable. Envy of the good fortune of others is often the cause of a critical attitude and/or action. Ministers can be guilty of this as well. We need to learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and be happy for the good fortune of others.
  6. Immaturity: Christians must always keep their faith focused upon Christ and His Word, not on others who will invariably disappoint (Heb. 12:2). Immature believers haven’t progressed very far in their faith and are perhaps too dependent upon the faith of other Christians. Unfortunately, when they begin to notice the flaws or shortcomings in others, this becomes a subconscious threat to their own faith and walk. Criticism becomes a reaction of disappointment, because their unrealistic expectations in others have been crushed.
  7. An Unrenewed Mind: Put-downs, making fun of, criticism, sarcasm are the world’s ways of reacting to the faults of others. However, as Christians we shouldn’t behave this way. Paul says that our thinking and attitude should be regularly renewed by God’s Word, which teaches us to bear the infirmities of the weak, to love, show compassion and offer encouragement (Rom. 12:2).
  8. A Root of Bitterness develops when we fail to obtain the grace of God to forgive. When we fail to forgive others we become angry, bitter and resentful, not better. Hebrews 12:15: “Look after each other so that not one of you will fail to find God’s best blessings. Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives.” Such people develop a negative emotional focus by harboring bitterness or resentment toward one who has offended them. Our ability to live healthy, happy, harmonious lives is largely related to our willingness and ability to consistently forgive and ask forgiveness.
  9. Bad Company: The reality is, for better or worse, we become like those with whom we associate. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 33, we should not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals or corrupts good character. If you are basically a positive person and you associate with a lot of negative people, and you are not having a positive influence on them, over time, they can have an adverse influence on you and pull you down into their negativity.
  10. The Devil specializes in influencing negative, obsessive, sinful attitudes and behavior. He may use any of these factors or other techniques, to influence a complaining or critical attitude and to stir up turmoil and strife within the body of Christ (Eph. 6:12). We must be on guard so we won’t be used as a tool of the Devil to discourage or tear down others through criticism. In Ephesians 4:27, Paul warns us not to give the Devil an opportunity to be used by him. Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Don’t allow Satan to use you!

What Do We Need in Order to Overcome a Critical Spirit?

One thing is for sure: we don’t need to go from one extreme to the other. That is to say, the solution is not to exchange “our dull gray sunglasses” for a pair of “rose-tinted glasses.” Following Christ doesn’t make someone a naive person with a Pollyanna attitude. Fake smiles, repressed anger and a lot of superficial “praise-the-Lords” do not build the Kingdom of God. Sin needs to first be confronted and defeated in ourselves. Jesus said that we need to first take the log out of our own eye before we can see clearly enough to take the splinter of another’s eye. Critical people may be misusing the gift of discernment. If you have that gift, be grateful to God, but don’t misused/abuse it by judging, condemning or constantly finding fault with others.

What Are Some Crucial Changes a Critical Person Needs to Consider Making?

Here are just a few:
  1. We need to have our spiritual eyes opened to see two complementary spiritual truths: a) The depth of our own sin, and b) the greater depth of God’s grace toward us in Christ. Spiritual sight here isn’t something we can “will.” God must give it, but we can ask Him for it: Pray, “God, would you help me to see myself more clearly and know your love more intimately?” We all need to experience the depth of our own sin, and the abundance of God’s grace. James 4:9-10: “Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and sincere grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter and gloom instead of joy. Then when you realize your worthlessness before the Lord, he will lift you up, encourage and help you.” When King David’s blind eyes were finally opened to his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, he didn’t merely acknowledge it in some academic, emotionally removed way; he fell on his face, wailed and fasted for three full days! The more we experience God’s grace, the more grateful we are and the more we’re motivated to extend grace to others by being gracious and forgiving!
  2. We must be deeply convinced that only God can accurately discern the motives of the heart. Since we can never know with certainty one’s true motives, we must not assume for ourselves the role and the responsibility of judge that belongs to God alone. James 4:11-12 says: “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other… If you do, you’ll be fighting against God’s law of loving one another, declaring it’s wrong. But your job is not to decide whether this law is right or wrong, but to obey it. Only he who made the law can rightly judge among us. He alone decides to save us or destroy. So what right do you have to judge or criticize others?” There are so many factors, beyond our knowledge, that go into another’s actions. Only God sees the heart and only His judgment will be 100% accurate and fair (Jer. 17:9-10). Some of you may hear this admonition, yet still secretly think, “Well, yes, but you see, I really do know why Person X does what she does.” Yes, sometimes you’re right; but you may very well be wrong as well. “What right do you have to judge or criticize others?” (Jas. 4:12b).
  3. We need to learn what to do when we’re bothered by bad behavior of a Christian brother. We must pray for both the person and our response to them instantly and fervently! What would happen if we channeled all our critical energy into an honest dialog with God? It’s always better to talk to God about another than to talk to another about what they should do. It’s just plain wrong for us to have a double standard, one for us and one for others, isn’t it? Instead of judging others, we should, like the Psalmist, ask God to search and examine us. Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” If we don’t first take the log out of our own eye, we’re not in a position to restore a fallen brother or sister.
  4. We must learn to engage in clear, direct, face to face communication with other people. No fake smiles where we try to call darkness “light.” No repression of true feelings, but clear, caring, constructive communication. The goal isn’t to tear down by revealing hidden character flaws; it’s: repentance, reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships. And remember: there’s no guarantee people are going to respond the way God wants them to.
  5. We need to be encouragers; genuinely up-building others and helping them become all that they can become and all that God longs for them to become. Get excited about building people up, not tearing them down! Be an encourager like Barnabas was to Paul and trust God to provide encouragement for you as well. A timely word of genuine affirmation may mean more than you know. Encouragement empowers; it is oxygen for the soul. Instead of seeing only the downside of those around us, let’s pray for the ability to see what God is doing in others’ lives and then make our own small contribution in furthering along God’s good work in the lives of others.

What Are the Cures For Conquering the Causes of a Critical Spirit?

Since many causes contributing to a critical spirit, the cures must be related to particular causes:
  1. If the cause of a critical spirit is a life style based on living by our sinful selfish nature, we need to cultivate our new nature and learn to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16: “…obey only the Holy Spirit’s instructions. He will tell you where to go and what to do, and then you won’t always be doing the wrong things your evil nature wants you to.” Ephesians 5:18b: be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him.”
  2. If the cause of a critical spirit is a poor self-concept based of our works, we need to cultivate a healthy self-concept based upon God’s grace, not our works. First Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
  3. If the cause of a critical spirit is that we have experienced little or no grace from God, we need to humble ourselves before God, confess, repent of our sins and ask His forgiveness. James 4:6b: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  4. If the cause of a critical spirit is our insecurity due in large measure to lack of self-acceptance, we need to learn to accept God’s acceptance of us and find true security in God’s love for us. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Jesus Christ our Lord.
  5. If the cause of a critical spirit is a negative emotional focus or negative worldview, we need to learn to see God’s view of Jesus and not from a worldly secular point of view. Second Corinthians 5:16: “Though we once regarded Christ from a worldly point of view, we do so no longer.” Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
  6. If the cause of a critical spirit is immaturity resulting from an improper faith focus, we need to learn to focus our faith on the atoning sacrifice of Christ and God’s promises to us. Hebrews 12:2-3: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God. If you want to keep from becoming fainthearted and weary, think about his patience as sinful men did such terrible things to him.
  7. If the cause of a critical spirit is an un-renewed mind based on the world’s ways of reacting, we need to submit ourselves to God and be daily transformed by the renewing of our minds. Romans 12:1-2:“I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
  8. If the cause of a critical spirit is a root of bitterness due to a lack of forgiveness on our part, we need to appropriate God’s grace by forgiving others as God for Christ’s sake forgave us. Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind/compassionate to one another, forgiving just as in Christ God forgave you.
  9. If the cause of a critical spirit is the result of our associations with an unhealthy peer group, we need to associate with those who have godly values and a positive mental attitude. First Corinthians 15:33: “Don’t let anyone deceive you. Associating with bad people will ruin decent people.
  10. If the cause of a critical spirit is the result of the devil negatively impacting your life, we need to learn to resist Satan so that we would not be used by him to discourage/hurt others. James 4:7-8a: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

21 October, 2015

Have You Been "Snookered?"

Tonight I've been chatting with a friend and our conversation reminded me of this post I wrote almost 6 years ago. It' still one of my favorites and I wanted to share it again for my newer readers. 

04 December, 2009

Have You Been Snookered?

Haven't been feeling well, so this morning I've just been resting and watching TV. Found one of my favorite old shows on, "The Beverly Hillbillies" on. (After 44 years, this show still holds up.) Anyway, in this episode, Jed is feeling useless and decides to start doing handiman work for people free of charge, just so that he feels like he is useful and doing something. Mr. Drysdale decides that what Jed needs is a hobby, and he sets out trying to find something that Jed will enjoy doing. He shows him a ship in a bottle that it took Mr. Cushman 3 years to build. Jed see's this as wasting a ship and a bottle, not to mention a waste of 3 years. He presents him with the idea of stamp collecting and he thinks it's entirely too expensive to write letters at that price. Then he shows him a coin collection and a dime that the owner paid $12,000 for. Jed says, "Your friend got snookered!" Mr. Drysdale explains that the dime was very old, very rare and worth the price. Jed says, "If you put that dime into one of those candy machines, would it give you $12,000 worth of candy?" Drysdale tells him that it would only give a dimes worth. Jed tells him that he needs to go help his friend because he needs help because he got snookered.
As I'm watching this, the thought hit me how many people have been "snookered" in life. They have things that they value, even treasure and they've placed their trust in these things or activities.

I've often said that I think the idea of paying the prices that people pay for diamonds, pearls, so called "precious stones" and so on is just stupid. It's a rock! It's a piece of sand that got into a clam that was unwanted. The only reason a diamond is worth that much is because someone, somewhere decided they could charge that much for it. Tomorrow we could wake up to find that someone has decided diamonds are worthless and they would be. We could be told that now our money is worthless, and it would be. Don't think so? Hold on awhile and you will find out. I remember just a few years ago when Germany went to the Euro and those who had chosen to hold on to Marks found out that they were no longer of value. Just like that, it was not worth the price of the paper it was printed on.
Right now, people are being advised to buy gold. The price of gold has sky rocketed. But what will that gold buy you if gold is declared illegal to own once again? Having all the gold in the world would mean nothing if you could not trade it. People are putting their trust in gold, silver, diamonds, stock and bonds... and they are being snookered. No, I'm not saying that we should not prepare for the future financially, but I'm thinking of the big picture. What about the real future? What about eternity? The reality is that a man may be a billionaire and own houses and lands, jewels and gold, and still be absolutely without hope. They may be the most famous person in the world; someone whose face is known around the world... but if they are not known by Jesus, then they've been snookered!

Let me finish this with the words to one of my favorite old songs:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

20 October, 2015

It's All About Integrity

In the day and age we live in, it seems the people really do not concern themselves with personal integrity as they used to. People will lie to you, lie about you and cheat you while looking you dead in the eye and calling you "friend".  That's sad. I still live by a simple rule... you can do almost anything to me and I'll get over it. Lie to me or about me however, and I'm pretty well done with you. I can forgive you, but it will take me a long time to ever trust you again. You're going to have to earn my trust the second time. Until you burn me, I'm a pretty trusting guy. In fact, my wife tells me I'm far too trusting. She's probably right, as I've given people the benefit of the doubt even though others have told me not to trust someone. I figure everyone deserves a second shot... right? Lord knows that I got one after blowing up the whole trust issue with everyone who knew me. I've been burned many times... but I figure that (most) people gave me a second chance, so I owe it to others. But it sure does hurt when someone tells you they are your friend, that they have so much love and respect for you... and then they intentionally burn you and rip you off. But they will stand before the Lord and give account for what they have done... as will I... and I know I can stand there before the Lord and tell him that I gave it my best shot and thank Him for His grace. 

It bothers me deeply that people today just don't seem to care about their good name. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:1 "A good reputation and respect are worth much more  than silver and gold." (CEV) In the King James Version, it reads "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."  I learned the hard way that you can lose your good reputation in one fleeting moment and it will take years to rebuild that good name... and with some people, you can never regain their confidence.  Integrity should be something which we all desire... but it sure seems that a lot of people today care nothing about integrity or their own reputation. I cannot wrap my brain around that.

I was talking with someone earlier today and I mentioned this whole issue and they asked me just what it meant to have integrity. They said that people are going to talk about you anyway, so what difference does it make.  I'm reminded of something an older, wiser minister told me 30 years ago when I was just beginning in the ministry. I said something to him very similar to what this person said to me today and this man said to me, "Darrell, you are right people will talk and there is nothing you can do to stop that, but what you can do is make absolutely certain that what they are saying about you is not true." He went on to talk about living your life in such a way that your life silences your critics, not your words. I've never forgotten that and tried my best to live up to that which he spoke into my life.

One thing I've learned over the years is that integrity and a good name is not earned in the "normalcy of life." No, the reality is that people will see if you are a man or woman of integrity by how you handle the storms of life. It is how we respond in crisis that will tell people if we are real or not. The paradox is that you cannot wait until the storm comes to become a person of integrity. If you do, the sad reality is that by that time it is already too late to fix what's wrong. Integrity is a state of being and living that is within you but is usually only seen when the pressure is on us. If you wait until that pressure comes, it's too late to build it.

So, my friend asked me this morning how you can know if you are lacking before the storm comes your way. I've been thinking about that, and this is what I've come up with that will give you a good indication if your integrity is weak or lacking.

1.  Is everything is usually all about you?  You can say with your mouth that it's about glorifying God or helping others... but the reality is that only you and God know your own heart. We must be brutally honest and evaluate if we are a selfish person. You see... selfish people almost always eventually bring harm their employer, their church or civic club, their families and/or friends.  
Ask yourself if you are a person who will finish the job and go all the way.  If you are a selfish person you won’t go the distance. You SAY you will, that you are committed and faithful... but eventually you bail out, seeking something better for yourself. OR... you may stick it out... but you’ll hurt a lot of people in the process and you’ll never know what could have happened if you had really made it about God and others.

2. Another way to know if your integrity is at risk is if your self-worth or self esteem rises and falls with the opinion of others. You see, a person of integrity will stay the course even if everyone else bails on them or talks negative to them. A person of integrity can see the right way and stay the course even if going it alone. A person with weak integrity will bend with every change in the tide of public opinion and follow the crowd. 

3. A great way to know if your integrity is in danger is if you are hiding things. OK... let's be clear, NO ONE should tell everyone everything. I mean, that's just not a healthy way to live. But there should be someone in your life who knows EVERYTHING about you. Hopefully, that's your spouse.  When you come to the place that you are keeping secrets, BEWARE!!! You’re heading for a fall.  Between my wife, close friends and fellow ministers, I have an inner circle of support that knows everything about me. Those who know me or have sat under my ministry have heard me speak of "accountability partners." This is vital! If you are not accountable... your integrity is weak or lacking.  

4. BIG ONE... If you tell someone you are going to do something and you did not do it.... your integrity is in major danger!  Let me be clear on this...this is not simply just about keeping promises... It is about KEEPING YOUR WORD IN EVERYTHING!  I sometimes have people get angry with me because I will not commit to something, but here's the fact of the matter. If I cannot say with absolute certainty that I will do something or be somewhere, I will say, (and I quote) "I won't promise you that, but I will tell you that I will do my best to be there if I can."  I have found that it is even better to say nothing and surprise someone by coming through for them or attending than it is to say that you will do something thing that chances are you may not be able to fulfill.  Some people will accuse you of being non-committal but the reality is just the opposite. If you tell people you WILL be there or do something and then don't do it, people will lose confidence in you when you fail to deliver.  It’s a trust issue.   
A fairly easy way to address this is to say less and deliver more.  Another key element is to follow up. Say for example someone asks you to come to their concert or ball game and you tell them you will try; if it turns out you cannot make it, send them a text, a note or say to them, "I'm really sorry that I could not make it. Maybe next time."  This goes a long way in letting a person know that you did not simply blow them off or forget them. 

5. Last one.. but equally important... Don't make a lot of compromises. By this I meant that we should not do things that we really don't want to do in order to make people like us. Being a man or woman of integrity begins with being true to yourself. Your compromises will eventually show. If you are not into dinner parties, rather than go and be a sourpuss just be upfront enough to tell the person that you appreciate their invitation, but this is not something you you really enjoy. Being a person of integrity is not at all about getting everyone to like you.. Nor is it about finding the easiest path and doing things that you don't like or enjoy. The truth will come out.  Suppose you went to "Mary and Fred's" party  and Larry and Lucy know that you don't like parties... they lose faith in you because they see your compromise and wonder if you are lying to them as well. If you make too many compromises your authenticity will come into question and people will not know when you are being honest or compromising yet again.

This may seem far fetched to some of you... but I challenge you to think of what’s at stake. When the storms or crises' hit (and they will), you won’t be left standing.  Simple as that.  When you attend to these personal matters of integrity, you integrity grows with others. 

A Man Named "Nod" (Updated)

I wrote and posted this blog entry back on November 17, 2008. Recently I've watched another "friend" spiral out of control and revert to his old self and it got me thinking about "Nod" so I looked him up on the DOC website and I see that all these years later, Don is back in prison. It is so sad to me to see people who absolutely know better and have friends and family to support them, but they willingly choose to follow the same old path. I've updated the 2008 blog entry with current information in red so that the reader can see the slippery slope men like "Nod" have taken. The other guy I mentioned has not yet ended up in prison, but I have to wonder just how long it will be with the life he is living. 

A Man Named "Nod"   
Today I want to tell you about a man named "Nod." He was a man who I got to know very well while I was in prison when I was young. Nod's real name was Don, but I nick named him "Nod" because he was always sleeping, and even when he was awake, he looked as as he was ready to fall asleep. He was slow moving, slothful in in his appearance and Nod just fit him.

Nod was a rather strange fellow, in that he had been incarcerated almost continually ever since he was about 13 years old. When I met him he was 29 years old and he had already spent more than half of his life behind bars.   Every time he would get released, within a few days to weeks he would go pull another crime and go back to jail. He admitted to me that he did this intentionally because he had become "comfortable" with life in prison. That was his exact word, "comfortable." He said that in prison he always had a roof over his head, three meals a day, free medical care, no need to worry about retirement, and he never had to work more than a couple of hours a day. I led him to Christ and for a time he seemed like he was going to turn things around. I convinced him to earn his GED, and I spoke to him nearly every day that there really was a better life out there waiting for him. Unfortunately, after I left prison in 1984, Don reverted to his lifestyle which earned him the name Nod. I've thought about Don many times over the years, and ever since the Internet has made it possible, I've kept tabs on him, and Don still continues down the same path. I have looked him up on the DOC page from time to time, and he has been in prison all but a few months of the past 24 and a half years that it has been since I last saw him on the day I was released from prison. He is 55 years old now and has spent almost 38 years in prison. (
Nod is now 62 years old and is once again in prison. I calculated his time from his DOC page and he has spent 46 years of his life in prison.) You and I can shake our heads and think about how sad this is, but I share this story about Nod to illustrate something about many of those we live among.

It never ceases to amaze me how that people want to keep going back to things, people, places that once held them in bondage. You see it all the time. People break free from addictions, only to return of their own volition. Wives who have been in terribly abusive marriages who keep returning to their husbands because of a promise that they have changed, even though that promise has been made and broken over and over again and again. People who have had their lives ravaged by sin who find Jesus Christ and the healing and peace that he brings, but they turn their back on the one who first loved them, and return to a life filled with brokenness and heartache, thinking that they can manage it this time. The problem, as I see it, is that even in the midst of bondage, people often find a sense of comfort in that place. Often, when people find healing in Christ, they begin to look back and they miss certain aspects of that old life, and they think within themselves that they can go back and try again, as if this time the outcome was going to be different. The thing that they are not recognizing, it is what "self" wants or desires, and in order to get back to that place, it necessarily means that self will over rides God's will. Self will is strong, and we have a hard time submitting our will, our desires, our plans, over to God on a permanent basis. We hold on to a piece of that old place, person or thing, and we glamorize "what could be" and we think we can go back and "redo" things and make it work right this time. Usually, we can't.
Often times, our desire to go back stems from the fact that we are in the midst of one of those difficult times of our life (see my last blog entry as a point of reference) and not understanding where we are and what God is doing in our life, we want to go back to a previous place where we found some comfort.

OK, that sounds strange... but we see it in the Bible with the children of Israel time and time again. Remember after they had been in bondage in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40) and God delivers them through Moses, and then as they began to face hardship and difficulties, they grumbled that they had it better off in Egypt? Over and over we read where the children of Israel were delivered, God prospered them, and yet, they chose to return to their former ways. Why? Because we always tend to remember "the good old days" better than they actually were, and we forget all the pain and frustration we went through. I remember times that Nod and I sat and talked late at night and he talked about the pain of not having anyone to love him, the pain of never having anything in his life other than what the State of Illinois gave him, not even owning his own clothes, except for a few things that I and others had given him. But every time he got released from prison and he was faced with the pressures of life, he always forgot the pain and went back to what he knew, what was comfortable, even if that was in prison. Many folks in life are in prisons of their own making, because they'd rather go back to "what they know" than face the uncertainty of tomorrow and the struggle that it brings. We will never totally break free from those chains that have bound us until we choose God's way over our way, and that means we walk by faith into the unknown. The secret is knowing that it is not unknown to God.