We have moved to www.martinamcgowan.com




Saturday, April 30, 2011

GEMS

Spending the day at a conference (GEMS) with local 8th to 12th grade girls talking about:

Dating abuse and violence

Abstinence and starting over

Self-esteem and body image

Careers

All very important topics for our young people, girls and boys. We must stop hiding our collective heads in the sand, and acting as if we don't have to be intentional about how we parent, mentor and pattern behaviors.

Go talk to a youngster today. Yours or someone else's...

No post today.

GEMS= Girls Empowered and Motivated for Success

Friday, April 29, 2011

Are You A Trader?



Today I am asking for your input. Leave me a comment about the film, or anything else on your mind.
What do you think our world, our individual lives, yours and mine, would look like if we actually stopped pursuing the "shiny" things in life and "keeping up with the Joneses" and turned our minds, hearts and talents to more lasting treasure?
What impact could we make in our homes and our churches and on our jobs if we actually acted like what we did there mattered? Because it does matter.
It matters what we teach our children, and all the lives of children we touch. It matters that we have respect for each other; even if we don't really love them.
It matters that we seek the lost. And some of the most lost people we know sit right next to us every day.
What we do has eternal consequences, and we should live our days as if we believe that to be true!

Comment....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Up Against the Wall (Part 3)

Preparation first involves waiting on God.

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

What do we expect from God?

When we pray about a situation or a person, should we expect God to operate in our time frame, and in the ways we understand to bring the fulfillment we think is best? Or, are we prepared to do what God calls us to do in the way and time He calls us to do it?

Notice in Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah receives the report about Jerusalem from Hanani in the month of Chislev. Then he prays. And, in Nehemiah 2:1, when he finally makes his request to the king its the month of Nisan. According to the Hebrew calendar, Chislev corresponds to our December; and, Nisan corresponds to our April. That's 4 months of prayer and fasting! In our world of instant everything, its very hard for us to pray and wait on God. We’re very hasty and  impatient creatures.

The Second thing that preparation means is, commitment. It means being available for God to work in us and through us in His way.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the King (Nehemiah 1:11b). The cupbearer tasted the wine before the king drank it, tasted the food before the king ate it. If someone tried to poison the king the cupbearer would die.It was a position of intimacy and trust. The cupbearer had to be with the king during confidential discussions. It has been suggested that, apart from the queen, the cupbearer had the greatest influence on the king. So, there was no one else in the kingdom in a position to speak to the king about Jerusalem the way Nehemiah did. God had placed Nehemiah there for a reason.

In 2:8, after his conversation with the king, Nehemiah says that he was successful. Why? “Because the good hand of my God was on me.”

Unlike our current times, I have read that in ancient Greece, to prevent foolish politicians from proposing idiotic laws, lawmakers were asked to introduce all new laws while standing on a platform with a rope around their neck. If the law passed, the rope was removed. If it failed, the platform was removed. Hmm......

How committed are we to God’s plan of action? Its easy for us to complain about our boss, to gossip about people in the church, to back stab people in the community, to gripe and moan about the way things are when none of these people are with us.

How many of us are prepared to act, choosing to do what God calls us to do, in the way He wants us to do it?

It is hard. It wasn’t easy for Nehemiah either. In 2:2, coming before the king he says, “I was very much afraid.” In 2:4, when the king asks him what he wants Nehemiah answers by saying that he prayed to God for- “HELP!”

It wasn’t easy for Nehemiah. It isn’t easy for us. When we are up against a wall we need to be prepared, choosing and being committed to do what God calls us to do.

The Third and final part of preparation is PLANNING. The tone and wording of Nehemiah’s speech would have to be very careful. Nehemiah has thought this all out.

Verse 2, the king asks Nehemiah:  “What’s wrong?” “The city of my father’s tombs is in ruins.” Notice he mentions tombs, something the king can relate to. Verse 4: “What do you want to do?” “To rebuild it.” Verse 6: “How long will it take?” And, Nehemiah gives him a definite time period.

He had thought out everything he would need. He was a 1,600 mile round trip through hostile territory to fix the walls of a city. A city the rulers of the area would rather have in ruins. He asks for letters to the governors of the provinces that he would have to pass through. The letters with the king’s signature would guarantee safe passage. He needed supplies, so he asked for letters of requisition, - asking for timber from the king’s own forest.

Nehemiah knew what he was going to say and how he was going to say it, long before he was called on to say it.  He had the answers to the kings questions and a plan to be put into action. Praying in faith is not a substitute for careful planning.

God honors orderly thinking. Jesus said, “When a man wants to build a tower, does he not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Or, what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:28,31)

We should learn to think our issues and plans through before we commit ourselves. We need to be prepared for what we're getting into.

With God, praying and waiting is always an adventure. It is never passive. It is always productive, a time of preparation. A time to think through our commitment to God’s purposes. Time to evaluate the resources He’s given us. Time to consider the possibilities and how they can be realized. So that in God’s way and in God’s time we will be ready to move as He leads us forward.

No human being could have opened the heart of the king to Nehemiah‘s request, but, God did. God brought Egypt to its knees before Moses. God preserved His people through Esther.

He wants to work in our lives, with the people and situations we face. Will we pray? Will we prepare?
Expecting God to move us forward in His time and in His way?

Amen…………

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Up Against the Wall (Part 2)

There are four parts to Nehemiah's prayer. There are four areas to focus on when we engage in prayer.

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

The first part of prayer is referenced in verse 5: Adoration, praising God. Nehemiah 1:5, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,”

When we come to God in praise we are not just coming in prayer to a man, an idea or a philosophy with some wishful thinking or good thoughts. When we come to God and lift up His name, we are speaking to the Almighty, Sovereign and Omniscient God who is enthroned in Heaven. He is awesome and beyond comprehension, and this should put everything else in perspective.

Who is a greatest ruler on earth compared to God? What situation - what wall - is stronger than God? What boss? What spouse? What disease? We begin with praise.

The second part of prayer, Nehemiah confesses his part in the problem. Verses 6 and 7, “Let Your ear - God - now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am, praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances, which You commanded Your servant Moses.”

Nehemiah’s confession is not just about what God’s people did 140 years before. Not just whining or complaining about how they all sinned and got into this mess. Nehemiah is praying about his own part in that sin. This is a hard thing to do. When we are in conflict with another person our usual response is to blame the other person. We work hard to think of a long list of how the other person is the real root of the problem. We rarely honestly consider our own part in the problem.

Nehemiah goes to God and says, “I am guilty. I confess. I’m part of the problem. Change me. Work in my life so that I can be a part of the answer.”

The third part of prayer is that Nehemiah claimed God's promise. Verses 8-10: “Remember the word which you - God - commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ Jerusalem. They are your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.”

Nehemiah knew his Scriptures. In the middle of his prayer he quotes God’s word from Leviticus 26, God’s promise to judge and scatter Israel if they turn to sin (Leviticus 26:14); and from Deuteronomy 30- God’s promise to restore the nation from its exile. Nehemiah says, “Lord, we’ve disobeyed and you were true to your promise. We’re judged and scattered. But, Lord, You also promised to restore us and protect us. I’m claiming that promise.”

Sometimes, especially when we are pinned up against a wall, we should stop and make a list of God’s promises. Somewhere on that list we will undoubtedly find at least one promise that we can claim in our situation. God doesn’t flippantly hand our promises. God makes promises to us purposefully to meet every situation and need that we have in life.

We can claim these promises:

“Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

“Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things everything we need for life now and forever all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

Whatever the circumstance, He is always with us.

The fourth and final part of prayer, Nehemiah brings his request to God. Verse 11, “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man. Now I was the cupbearer of the king."

What is Nehemiah asking for here? He is asking is to be successful in bringing his plan before the ruler of the Persian Empire. It's a bold and courageous prayer. It comes from the lips of Nehemiah, who reveres God’s name.

In this world of cell phones, email, Voice mail, texting, twitter, television and all the constant activity and movement, it is so tempting for us to want to move on quickly to our own solutions, or to spin around getting frustrated and depressed by our problems. We need to stop, go in prayer and wait on God to clear our vision. We need to quiet our hearts and turn in faith, to God. He is who we need for impossible circumstances. Like Nehemiah, He is waiting for us to cry out to Him.

Let's stop and review...there are four parts to prayer: adoration, confess your part in the problem, review and claim God's promises to you, bring your request to God.


Let us now look at the second part of Nehemiah’s response. Nehemiah 2:1-8, "And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of the king of the Persian Empire that wine was before him, and I - Nehemiah - took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So, the King said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, 'Let the king live forever'. Why should my face not be sad when the city - Jerusalem - the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”

Then the king said to me, “What would you request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.”


And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Nehemiah's next step was to prepare for God to move. What does preparation mean?

[conclusion tomorrow...]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Up Against the Wall (Part 1)

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11 (New International Version, ©2011)

"1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.


3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”


4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said: “LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.


8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’


10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.

What are we to do when we come up against people that seemingly go out of their way to tear us down, to oppose us, Or to make unreasonable demands on our lives? How are we suppose to handle impossible situations and people that we will inevitably run into as we try to live our lives? How can we keep going forward, when inwardly we’re crumbling and feel that we just can’t go on?

Nehemiah was a regular guy, like us, who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition. Let us see what we can learn from him about how to move forward in difficult times.

First, let's get a picture of what's going on around Nehemiah. Unfortunately for that, we need to look at a little history. Under Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, Israel had become a significant nation and a major military and economic power. It was the golden age of Israel’s history. Towards the end of Solomon’s life, we know that he compromised with the world, he lived in sin and led the nation into sin. And so, God judged him and the nation.

1 Kings 11:11and12 says this: So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you.... Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but will tear it out of the hand of your son.”

When Solomon died, the kingdom divided in two; ten tribes went to the north and became the Kingdom of Israel, and two tribes remained in the south around Jerusalem and became the Kingdom of Judah. They were a nation divided and they hated each other. Even while they were being attacked by other nations, they fought among themselves. Their battles covered all aspects of their lives, spiritual, economic, and political issues. So, within a short period of time they went from a high plateau of success to complete ruin.

In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured Israel. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off Judah in the south and carried the people off into captivity. When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they destroyed it. They burned the Temple, they tore down the wall around the city, they set fire to all the fortified buildings and they destroyed everything of value. This beautiful city, the pride of Israel, this city that the Bible uses as a symbol of God's dwelling place with mankind, where God’s glory and blessing were displayed to the world, was now in ruins.

About 140 years later Nehemiah is in Susa, in southwestern Persia. This was the winter capital of the Persian Empire. Hanani, one of Nehemiah’s brothers and some others have come back from Judah, and Nehemiah asks them what’s happening in Jerusalem.

A group has returned from the homeland and Nehemiah wants to know what’s happening in Jerusalem. Hanani tells him, “Its not good. The people are in misery. They’re suffering in every way imaginable. The city is defenseless against its enemies, the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.”

So, what is Nehemiah's response? He sits down and begins to weep and mourn for days.

Every day we turn on our televisions and we see images of people who are living in misery. People whose walls have been broken down. We often come up against situations and people which cause us to sit down and begin to weep and mourn. Things like disease, problems with a spouse, a boss, work or destructive habits. How do we go on? When Nehemiah hears the news the first place he went was to his knees. Verse 4 says, "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."

But that isn't usually what we do, is it? Our first response usually is to try figure out how to solve the problem, to figure out who or what is to blame, to work out a plan - to fix it. Or, we get angry or depressed. Nehemiah reminds us that whatever our problems are, they will never be completely solved unless we first go to God in prayer.

Verses 5 to 11 tell us what Nehemiah prayed to God for. What he emphasizes in his prayer can help us when we pray. There are four parts to his prayer. There are four areas to focus on when we engage in prayer.

And that's where we'll pick up tomorrow...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter sermon notes: Sunday (April 24, 2011)

We have a tradition at our church for Easter with three speakers, each speaking on one day of the Passion of the Christ. These notes are from the Sunday presentation by our pastor.

Text: John 20:15-7

The work on the cross was a process. It was completed @ 43 days later.

The women went to the Tomb to mummify Jesus’ remains. They were intercepted and interrupted during the process…by Jesus! Jesus is hanging around the Tomb, and He reveals Himself to Mary.

There is a difference between resurrection and ascension. Both are essential in securing our salvation.

The definition of resurrection is being raised to a previous state of being, to a former life. This is not a singular event. There are other examples of resurrection in the Bible. Jesus resurrects a little girl, and Lazarus. Elijah resurrects a little boy.

The body has the ability has the ability to spring back top its former state.

Verse 17, Jesus says, “Touch me not,” meaning don’t cling to me.

We should not cling to former things.

Jesus is not impressed with being raised from the dead; He is rather dismissive.

Jesus didn’t just come back, but He came back better.

Illustration: MC Hammer, “You can’t touch this” (smh)

We should hold on to stuff because of what it used to be. Hold on to what is!

Even though He was great in His ministry, He was greater in His mastery.

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that "you must be born again."

Born again into a new condition.

"I'm not satisfied with what I used to be...I'm pressing on..."

God has cleared Jesus for a higher, exalted place.

Ascension is required....


[FYI: "smh" means shaking my head]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What to do with Holy Saturday?




After the crucifixion, before the resurrection, we have a day of silence from the tomb. We may conjecture about whether Christ was busy working on our behalf against Satan, whether He was resting, or whether He was visiting His Father.

Saturday is that in-between time when we are caught in doubt and silence.

As we think of the Disciples, they were caught in this same silence and doubt. They are stunned at what has just happened. That Jesus has actually died. That all their hopes and dreams have been destroyed. They have left their homes and families to follow this person they thought might actually be the expected Messiah. And here they sit in the corner of the upper room huddled together, probably weeping. Could they have been wrong? Could they have been deceived?

They are also bewildered by their own behavior. They have abandoned their leader. They ran away in fear and in cowardice. They are a mess. Only John and Mary have remained near Jesus.

Doubt and uncertainty are something "we seasoned" Christians would like to claim we never feel. But, it's a lie.

This is a day, when the best of us doubted. Holy Saturday is an in-between day. A day to reassess why we believe as we await the resurrection.

What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 gives us an answer...

New International Version: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

New Living Translation: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

English Standard Version: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

King James Bible: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Ahhhhh. But Sunday's coming....

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What are we doing in Ziklag? (part 3)

As David and his men begin their march back to Ziklag, I’m sure they were feeling pretty lucky. They have dodged a major bullet. Only a last-minute intervention saved them from joining the attack on Israel. They are almost home now, only one more hill to cross. Suddenly one of the men says, “I smell smoke.” Another says, “I do, too.” Someone shouts, “It’s Ziklag.” In a moment, 600 men break ranks and run for the village. Their eyes are not prepared for what they see. While they were gone, the Amalekites came and took their wives, took their children, took all their possessions, and burned the village to the ground. There is nothing is left.

You see, the Amalekites were among the villages David used to raid when he was playing his little game of pretending to attack Judah. But, look back at the story. Remember that David not only raided those villages, he also killed the people to keep them from talking. Now his tab with the Amalekites has come due.

David has been flirting with disaster for a long, long time. What started out as a simple case of discouragement has now led to something totally unthinkable. When he first came to the Philistines, he only meant to relieve the pressure on himself. He never meant for anything like this to happen. And all this time, God has been trying to get his attention, but David has been too busy and self-absorbed to listen. Finally, disaster strikes and David is totally unprepared.

The text says that David and his men wept until they could not weep anymore. It also says David’s men were so bitter that they talked about stoning David. And who could blame them? Ziklag is burning, their families are gone and it’s all David’s fault. What started with discouragement led to desperation, and this led to defection which led to disobedience and ended in disaster.

Now God is finally beginning to get David’s attention. Sometimes the Lord has to slow us down, let us fall in order to get through to us. Disaster comes and we stand in the blackened and smoking ruins of a part of our life. And at last we come to our senses. After 16 months of compromise and disobedience, David finally begins to look up. The tragedy is that it took so long and hurt so many people.

We have finally reached the turning point of this story, but it comes so quickly that we almost miss it. First Samuel 30:6 says that “David found strength in the LORD his God.” David found strength. That means he is no longer relying on his own strength, but God’s strength.

David’s number one problem from the beginning was that he was so gifted that he could operate very effectively, even apart from God. What do we know about David? We know he was handsome and strong. We know he was a gifted musician and a mighty warrior. We know that women were attracted to him. We know he was a born leader. David had everything. He was every woman’s dream and every man’s hero. In later years, those qualities would make him Israel’s greatest king. But, I think that one of the reasons God allowed David to go through ten years of obscurity in the desert was to teach him not to rely on his own abilities, but on the Lord alone. That’s a hard lesson for all of us to learn and doubly hard for those who possess great natural gifts.

As long as David leaned on the Lord, those enormous gifts could be used to accomplish great things. We have seen it already and we will see it again as he leads his people to the greatest era of prosperity they will ever know. But every time David leaned on his own strength to get a job done, he got in trouble. And he hurt a lot of people in the process.

What lesson should we take from this story?
  1. Discouragement is inevitable when we attempt to face the problems of life in our own strength.
  2. Compromise with the world offers only a temporary solution to our problems.
  3. God’s punishment is usually to let us face the consequence s of our own wrong decisions.
  4. Discouragement is not meant to throw us on our back, but to bring us to our knees.
Where is God's grace in this story? God loves us too much to let us stay forever in our sin. The Lord knows His own. He has put his seal upon us, and he watches every move we make. When we decide to live in our own strength, and exercise our own free will, God lets us go our own way. But, when we fail, and we will fail eventually, we will turn to him with a new resolve and a firm commitment to walk in the light. Because we are as little children, we have to fall in order to learn how to walk. There is a warning here and also great hope based on a God whose love is so strong that even when we sin, that same love keeps calling us back home.

Some of us have done exactly what David did. Some of us are still doing it. There’s a lesson to be learned and a warning to be taken. But there is good news is this—whenever we’re ready, truly ready, we can turn things around. That’s what the grace of God is all about. The question is, how far will we have to go before we make that choice?

Amen...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What are we doing in Ziklag? (part 2)

If we keep reading, we stumble across a surprising fact about this episode of David's life. David’s compromise actually seemed to usher in a period of temporary peace and prosperity. Verse 4 tells us that Saul did indeed stop searching for David. Verses 5-6 record that David and his people were given the village of Ziklag to live in. I Chronicles 12 informs us that during this period many of Saul’s soldiers defected to David in Ziklag. Finally, verse 12 says that Achish king of Gath was very pleased with David.

On the surface, things look great. It looks like David has made a wise decision. One could argue that God is blessing David for going to the Philistines. For a period of weeks or maybe months I’m sure he felt justified.

But, there is a clear biblical principle at work here. Disobedience often results in a temporary lessening of pressure. Hebrews 11 speaks of “the pleasures of sin for a season.” Sure, David felt better for a little while. And, don’t ever let anyone tell you that sin isn’t fun. We all know from experience that the exact opposite is true. Sin is lots of fun and compromise is exciting. That’s why so many of us do it.

  • There’s a third result of David’s compromise. It led him into further sin. Here’s the other side of the coin. First there was discouragement, then there was desperation, then defection, and now further disobedience that leads to deceit and needless death.
Verses 8-11 describe the raiding parties that David would undertake while he was living at Ziklag. Ziklag was a tiny village off in the wilderness between Gaza and Beersheba. David would take his men and raid the villages to the south and southwest of Ziklag. But when Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would answer, “I’ve been to the Negev of Judah,” which was south and east. The implication of David’s answer was that he had been raiding his own people Israel. Actually he had been going the opposite direction. But the purpose of the deception was to convince Achish of his loyalty, and it worked.

This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you get to verse 11 where it says, “He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, ‘They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” So what started out as a plundering party ended in a bloody massacre.

But, why should we be surprised? This is what happens to all of us when discouragement leads us down the slippery slope to compromise. When David attacked those villages, he did it without God’s permission, without provocation, under false pretenses, and with unnecessary cruelty. David’s live is spiraling downward and out of control, and the worst is yet to come.

There is one final result of compromise. For David and his men, everything seems to be going great. In fact, it seems like God is blessing him more than ever before. Life is beautiful until the day David gets his notice that he and his men have been called up for duty. First Samuel 28:1 puts it this way: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, ‘You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.’” Now we have a problem. Why do you think Achish had been so magnanimous in welcoming David’s defection all those months ago? He was collecting an IOU and now he is calling. To make matters worse, he names David as his personal bodyguard. That means that if the Philistines win the battle, it will be David’s duty, as the bodyguard, to kill the defeated king. This means that David will now be forced to do the one thing he has steadfastly refused to do—kill King Saul.

This is not what David signed up for. He never intended to get into this mess. In his little mind, going to live with the Philistines was just a temporary plan to buy some time and space. But now he is faced with the full results of his compromise. Unless God intervenes, he will be forced to fight against his own people. But that’s what happens whenever we live our life apart from God. One little step leads to another, one tiny compromise opens the door to another, and before long we find ourselves in too deep to get out. When that happens, we think, “It’s okay. I’ll make it.” But we know in our heart of hearts that we won’t!

By now, David owes too much to Achish to even think about backing out. He is the perfect picture of the carnal man trying to operate using his own resources.

So now the scene is set. The Philistines gather to war against the men of Israel. The soldiers gather in small groups, check their weapons, discuss strategy, and wonder when the battle will begin. Men are here from all the Philistine cities—Gath, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza. They number in the thousands. This is no small skirmish. This is all-out war, and David and his men are bringing up the rear.

All goes well until one of the Philistines says, “What are those Jews doing here?” Then someone else says, “Get those guys out of here.” As the word of their presence spreads through the camp something like a small riot breaks out. The generals come to Achish and say, “What’s this man David doing here?” And they quote that little song that used to make Saul so mad, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” They object to David being so close to them because they are afraid that he will turn against them in the heat of battle in order to regain Saul’s favor.

So Achish has to go back to David and say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t fight with us today. My men don’t trust you. Go back to Ziklag. We’ll let you fight in the next battle.”

There is an important lesson for us to consider at this point. David, a child of God, temporarily defects to the other side and then he discovers that the other side doesn’t want him because they don’t trust him either. Why? Because a child of God is always a child of God. The new nature within cannot be taken away even though it can be covered up and camouflaged by compromise. The believer who cuts himself off from the people of God soon discovers the people of the world don’t want him around either. So he is fated to spend his years in a kind of no-man’s land, half in the world, and half in the church. A man without a country.

The end is almost upon David and he doesn’t even realize it...

[conclusion tomorrow...]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What are we doing in Ziklag? (part 1)

Text: I Samuel 27-30

What happens when we are discouraged? The simplest answer is that we become easy targets for the forces of darkness. When things aren't coming together for us, or we start to feel that we've misunderstood God's promises, we start to make mistakes. Out of frustration, we start to shoot from the hip; we may even start acting out in anger. We disengage our brains and stop using the common sense that God gave us. We take our eyes off the prize, away from the goal. We want to move away from the pain, maybe take some time off from the struggle. Maybe we should go visit our old friends, visit some of the habits we have put away...

David gives us a good example of what not to do when we are worried, discouraged or discontented with God's slowness. And, anyone who has spent time looking into David’s life, knows that even though he was a man after God’s heart, he was still a man. The story is told in I Samuel 27-30, which is not a place where many people spend a great deal of time, but one which is perfectly relevant to our discussion.

The story begins this way: “But David thought to himself, ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand’” (I Samuel 27:1). In those few words we have an x-ray of a discouraged soul. So, what happened to David in his state of discouragement?

  • First, discouragement destroyed his perspective.
It all begins when David starts to think about his situation. For nearly ten years he’s been running from Saul. Ten years is a big chunk out of a man’s life. Maybe he was tired on this particular day. No one could blame him for feeling a little down. We’ve all been in the same place. But this time his mind leaps from one negative thought to another until at last he reaches the expected hopeless conclusion: “One of these days Saul is going to get me. I don’t know where or when or how but I can’t run like this forever. It may not come for a year or it may happen tomorrow but I am positive that it’s going to happen.” The future looks depressing because he has decided to focus on the negative instead of the positive.

We can make excuses and even understand his thinking except for two key facts:
  1. First, God had promised that David would be the next king. This wasn’t just a dream he had, or a hope for the future. No, it was a rock-solid promise that David could count on. Meaning that Saul would never get the opportunity kill him no matter how awful the circumstances might appear.
  2. Second, David had just overcome a series of three remarkable spiritual victories. He had spared Saul’s life once in the cave at En Gedi (I Samuel 24). Then he had spared Nabal’s life when Abigail interceded (I Samuel 25). Then he had very recently spared Saul’s life again when he crept into the camp and found Saul sleeping (I Samuel 26). Perhaps it isn’t surprising that discouragement came hard on the heels of such remarkable victories. It is often this way for the children of God. We could almost say that when things are going well, watch out because you are being set up to be blindsided by temptation of some kind.
In any case, David chooses to focus on what might happen instead of what has happened, and on his own resources instead of God’s promises. As a result, he completely loses his perspective on life. He loses sight of the promise.

  • Second, it led him to a reckless decision.
If you remember the story of David slaying the Philistine giant, Goliath, you would have to say that the decision to go live with the Philistines was impulsive. You can also say it was just plain dumb. Again, David thought he had good reasons. The most important reason was that if he went to live with the Philistines, Saul quit chasing him. The other reason is a bit more subtle. Again, you may recall this isn’t the first time David has lived with Goliath’s people. He did it before, back in chapter 21, when he lied to Ahimelech to get bread for his men. That episode ended in humiliation with David drooling into his beard to make Achish think he had gone crazy. So now David turns around and makes the same foolish decision all over again.

There is a great warning for all of us in this. One act of spiritual compromise, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, makes it easier to compromise the next time. Even a tiny step in the wrong direction sets us up to take the next step sooner or later.

  • Third, it forced him into a position of compromise.
God’s word had been crystal clear: The children of Israel were not to mix with the surrounding nations. Over and over this warning was given and every time somebody tried it, disaster resulted. David knew all that well, and he did it anyway. I’m sure if you had asked David as he led his band toward Gath, “Are you abandoning God?” he would have said no. He probably would have been insulted by the very question. “Me, desert God? Are you kidding? I believe everything I always believed.” “But David, these are not God’s people.” “It makes no difference. I’m going to go live there for a while until the pressure lets up. It’s no big deal. I can have my quiet time with God in Gath just as easily as I can in Israel.”

We always have a ready excuse when we are on our way to compromise. It all seems perfectly logical at the time. Some of us are doing it right now. We are involved in shady deals, compromising relationships, and business arrangements that we know aren’t quite right. We’re going along with some things that would embarrass us if anyone else knew. We’re still in church on Sunday morning or Saturday night, still singing the songs of Zion, but in our hearts, we know we’ve taken the low road, the crooked path, the wide gate. Discouragement does that. It leads us slowly downward until we end up doing things we would never dreamed we would do. What starts as a fleeting thought becomes a plan, a plan becomes a commitment, and eventually a commitment becomes a lifestyle.

As we read on, we find things rapidly go from bad to worse for David. His compromise involved innocent people in his wrong decision. First Samuel 27:2 says that “David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath.” Each man brought his family with him. So that means there were at least 600 men, 600 women, and who knows how many children involved in this; all now living with the enemy because of David’s choice.

The same thing happens to us. Whenever we begin to compromise, we take other people along with us. Naturally, we don’t think about it at the time, but soon enough we discover that our impulsiveness has hurt a lot of innocent people.

[more...]

Monday, April 18, 2011

No post today. Road trip to visit my baby and her baby.
Back at it tomorrow...Off to Ziklag!
Have a great Monday.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Birdcage (skit guys)



He loves us this much! Easter's coming...


They love us enough to allow us to make free and independent decisions, even when many of those decisions are harmful to others or to ourselves.

They love us enough to try to stand in the gap between us and Satan, even when we continually put ourselves harm's way.

God loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice, for the sake of a love that we don't want to share with each other.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Parable of the Sower (part 5, conclusion)

It seems that the world’s goods never completely satisfy us...

Text: Mark 4:1-4:20, also Matthew 13:1- 23

You find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and the price of gold falls. You strike oil, and the oil market deteriorates. Your ship come in, and it sinks in the harbor. There was another article, this one in the Colorado Springs Gazette by Michelle Singletary entitled, “How much is enough in the pursuit of money?”

She started by writing about Karen Hughes, counselor to President Bush, who decided to leave the White House so that she could return home to Texas and spend more time with her husband and teenage son. Turning down the pursuit of fame and fortune for family is a radical concept these days. Ms. Singletary quotes workplace consultant Pamela York Klainer from her book, “How Much Is Enough? Harness the Power of Your Money Story -- And Change Your Life.” In it she writes: “In our American culture money has moved to the center stage.” “Money, Klainer points out, ‘has gone well beyond its literal function as a way to provide for our essential needs and has become, in itself, an essential need. We’re working harder and earning more, yet we continue to be driven, restless, unsatisfied.’

Ms. Singletary also writes, “Klainer warns that for too many men and women vigorously pursuing money and success, work has become the center of their lives around which most other things --
friendship, volunteer service, spirituality and family needs -- revolve.”

As I study the Bible, I realize that a life structured in this way is actually inside out. Our Christianity should be the center of our lives, around which friendship, ministry, family needs, and work… revolve.

If “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” are choking out your spiritual development,
you need to restructure your life. Stop making the pursuit of worldly wealth your highest objective and make the pursuit of spiritual riches your grandest goal.

Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31,33).

Let me add one more practical step to putting God first in your life: Start serving others. Get involved and get your focus off of your needs and start focusing on the needs of others for a change. It will totally revolutionize your life to stop worrying about yourself and start caring about and for others.

There’s a fable about a miserable rich man who went to visit a rabbi. The rabbi took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. "Look out there," he said. The rich man looked into the street.
"What do you see?" asked the rabbi. "I see men, women, and children," answered the rich man. Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. "Now what do you see?" "Now I see myself," the rich man replied. Then the rabbi said, "Behold….in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver representing wealth, and no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, but you see only yourself.

If you really want to have a spiritually productive life, you can have it.

One day a student came to Plato and asked him how he could come to have true knowledge and wisdom. The teacher told the student to follow him and he led him to the river. The teacher waded out into the river and called for his student to join him. When he did, the teacher told the student to dunk himself under the water. The student thought that this was a bizarre request, but he did as the great teacher told him. As soon as his head was under the water the teacher put his hands on his students head and held him under the water. The student fought desperately, but he was unable to break his teacher’s hold. The teacher held his student under water until the student began to weaken and lose his strength. Then he released him and the student shot up and began to gasp for air desperately.

The teacher said, “When you desire knowledge as desperately as you desired to breathe the air you just breathed -- then you shall find it.”

Jesus said something similar: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

If you truly want to live a spiritually productive life, then plow the soil and prepare your heart to receive God’s word, put down roots and persevere through the trials of life, and pull the weeds of worldly wealth and pursue spiritual riches instead. If you do these things then you will have good soil and the seed of God’s word will produce a bountiful harvest in your life. Jesus said that the harvest would yield “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”.

When you make your life match God’s model, the results are miraculous. It’s basic. Start with the Word, then endless possibilities will open up for you as you gain more understanding and gain more openness to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Let us, be people who have ears to hear the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Parable of the Sower (Part 4)

How is it that we, as Christians, are able to understand, discern and apply the Word of God in our lives?

Text: Mark 4:1-4:20, also Matthew 13:1- 23

How is it that we, as Christians, are able to understand, discern and apply the Word of God in our lives? Do you know? By the Holy Spirit. I hear and understand the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit I am unable to fully understand Scripture. By not being able to hear the Holy Spirit, I become distant from God, and my heart slowly becomes hardened and the good soil I once lived in becomes shallow or weedy.

We must be able to hear the Holy Spirit. Spiritual maturity it is not about intelligence, education nor the ability to analyze. Sometimes little children have a far greater understanding of biblical concepts than we do as adults.

Spiritual maturity is not the length of time you have been a believer, nor is it about the vast biblical or theological knowledge you have obtained, and it most certainly is not about a position obtained in the church such as deacon, elder or pastor. It is about hearing the Holy Spirit.

Well, what in the world are we to do? Because, the truth is that most of us are in rocky or weedy soil, aren’t we? Remember, we are not bound by fate, placed in one type of soil and destined to live out our fate. No, the condition of the soil can be changed, for the better. We need to build up our soil adding to the depth so we can have a full root system. We need to focus, remove the weeds of distraction. We can do this, we can make it happen. How?

How Do we Cultivate our Hearts For A Spiritual Harvest?

First, We NEED TO PLOW THE SOIL. (Matthew 13:3-4, 18-19). Remember, the first type of soil described in this parable is ‘the path’. Jesus is referring to people whose hearts are so hard that the truth of His word cannot penetrate their lives. Just as a seed cannot grow unless it penetrates the ground, so the seed of God’s word cannot grow unless it can penetrate the heart. Farmers can remedy this problem in their fields by plowing them. The plow breaks up the hard ground so that when the farmer plants, the seeds will be able penetrate the soil. Just like those farmers, some of us need to plow the soil of our hearts so that God’s word can enter in. We need to prepare our hearts to receive the word of God.

In 1 Peter 1:13 we are told that we need to “prepare your minds”. If you are going to get anything out of going to church on Sunday mornings, you must prepare your hearts and minds prior to the service,
just as the farmer must prepare his soil prior to sowing.

There are a few simple and practical things that you can do to prepare yourself for church.

First, get a good nights sleep. You’re not going to learn anything if you are too tired to stay awake and pay attention.

Second, ask God to open our hearts and give us understanding.

Third, seek to learn how what is being taught applies to your life and not the life of the person sitting next to you. Anytime you walking away from a message and thinking, “That was great. I hope so and so was listening, because they really needed that”. Anytime you walk away from a message thinking something like that, you have missed the entire point. The point of going to church and listening is to hear from God personally.

If you’re taking a look at your life today, and you’re realizing that you haven’t been growing spiritually, maybe it’s because you have been hardening your heart to what God has been trying to teach you. Just like the farmer and the path, God has been sowing seeds, but your heart has been too hard to receive them. It’s time to let God plow the soil of your heart today.

And, as you can well imagine, plowing is not always a pleasant experience. God needs to break up the hardness in your heart and it might hurt a little, but the results are well worth it.

Second, YOU NEED TO PUT DOWN ROOTS. ( Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21). The next type of soil that Jesus speaks of is rocky. It is important to understand that the real reason the plant dies is not because of the trial of the scorching sun, but because it doesn’t have deep enough roots to deal with the trial.
The same trial that destroys one plant will prove the quality of another plant. Everything depends on the roots. If the roots are shallow, the plant will be scorched and die. However, if the roots are deep,
the plant will survive and its very survival proves that it is a strong, healthy plant.

We need to put down roots so that we can persevere in the face of difficulties. The reason that so many Christians wilt when they face the scorching heat of trials and tribulations is that they have shallow root systems. The Bible teaches us that it is very important that we “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9).

That is why Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be “rooted and established in love” (3:17). A shallow Christianity simply cannot survive times of trouble.

Is your Christianity shallow or deep? Are the troubles of life knocking you out or making you stronger?

Let me share a secret with you : You cannot go too deep. No matter how much you have grown in the faith, you still have more growing to do. There is no such thing as having arrived spiritually.

So, a quick review…

The first thing is to go to church. The Bible actually tells us to not skip…“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing...” That's from Hebrews 10:25. We are not to skip church because God knows that we can’t grow alone; we cannot flourish in isolation. We need each other’s love, encouragement, and support. We need to follow in the footsteps of more mature believers as they follow Christ. We need to experience corporate worship and hear the Word of God proclaimed.

Next, read the Bible and pray every single day. God is a person, and you can’t grow in a relationship with a person without spending quality time with them. Prayer and Bible study are having a conversation with God. God speaks to you through the Bible and you speak to Him through prayer.
There has probably never been a divorce in history in which one of the key problems wasn’t communication. When communication is cut off there can be no meaningful relationship. We must communicate with God every single day. And, do what God tells you to do. There is no quicker way to stunt your spiritual growth than through a lack of obedience.

And, remember, disobedience isn’t only doing something wrong; it is also not doing what you know you are supposed to do. If you have not been growing spiritually, and God’s word has not been producing fruit in your life, then you need to plow the soil and put down roots.

But, there is also one more thing you need to do. And that is that YOU NEED TO PULL THE WEEDS. (Matthew 13:7, 22). The third type of soil that Jesus spoke of was thorny or weedy. The thorns grow up quickly and they choke out the plants. The weeds consume the water and nutrients that should be used for the plants nourishment and so they die.

These thorns represent the cares of life and the desire for wealth, which choke the Word of God out of the lives of many people. The pursuit of worldly wealth consumes the energy that should be used in the pursuit of spiritual wealth and we die spiritually.

There was an interesting article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It was an interview of six top executives, all of them making six-figure salaries. That means, that they made somewhere between $100,000 and $1 million a year. Most of us would think, “If I made even $100,000 a year, I would be in great shape. No worries, and no problems.” But in the interview each was asked, “What is your greatest fear?” Each of them answered pretty much the same way, using different words. Their greatest fear was that they would not have enough.

Then they were asked, “How much is enough?” they always answered, “a little more.”

Hmmm... How much is enough? How much is that? What do your fear?

[conclusion tomorrow...]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Parable of the Sower (part 3)

Let's continue the parable and pick up with the weedy soil?

Text: Mark 4:1-4:20, also Matthew 13:1- 23

Could the weedy soil be you? Verse 19 describes the lives of these people: “but the worries of this life,
the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” What weeds do in a garden is they not only crowd out the desired plants, but they also sap nutrients for growth. The result is a plant that becomes sterile, or gives a low yield.

We all know what the weedy life is like; we live it don’t we? Life is full of things that have to be dealt with. And, we deal with them, knowing that we need to spend some time working on our relationship with Jesus. But by the time we get there, we are too tired. We think, maybe tomorrow; and slowly the weeds start to take over.

Then, just like those other people who dwell in the rocky ground, we become people who used to be able to hear the Word and apply it, but now we are so busy, we just never get there. It’s not that we don’t want to do it, we just cannot get there.

Do you see what is happening here? We are owned by our activities, our hobbies, our work, our possessions, our things; they have mastered us, they choke the spiritual life out of us. We weedy people have difficulty with spiritual priorities, the worries of life. We are torn in a different direction than where God is directing and this brings us discontentment. There is just too much to deal with!

One of the first things to suffer is our attitude toward God. The worst thing is these people have great difficulty obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit. So the frustrations of life start to pile on. They cannot discern what is God’s direction when important or urgent decisions enter their lives. They lack answers to fundamental ethical questions. They may even follow the morality of society, not only out of ignorance, but because of the inability to impose spiritual self control, faithfulness, gentleness in life’s everyday situations.

In other words the fruits of the Spirit are no longer increasing in their lives, because they are being chocked out by weeds.

On to the good soil...

This soil produces thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. The average yield for Palestine was between 10-100 fold. 100 fold was not miraculous, but it was at the high end of the scale. 100 fold isn’t some unattainable yield that only super Christians can produce, 100 fold is the normal yield from the blessings of God on our life, blessings received through hearing and applying the Word of God.

We see in Genesis 26:12 that Isaac planted crops in the land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. Isaac wasn’t a super human, he just received a normal blessing from God.

The production is the fruit of the spirit, it is the scale of the increase of these things in your life. A person with a heart of good soil is interested in God’s Word, open to the benefits of God’s Word, convicted by God’s Word, and seeks to minimize sin in their lives through God’s Word. Do you see a pattern here? If you didn’t catch it, it’s God’s Word.

In verses 11 and 12 Jesus says, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” Jesus is referring to Isaiah 6:9-10, it reads, He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

And He is also referring to Ezekiel 12:2, “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”
Jesus is saying that those who cannot hear the Word of God and apply it are not denied the possibility of belief, but are excluded from the opportunity of being further instructed as long as the disobedience continues. So, a person may believe, but they are no longer open to instruction from the Word of God.

Here in the Isaiah passage, we see the prophet saying, in effect, “go tell my message, but don’t expect anyone to listen to it.”

Those living in hard, rocky or weedy soil can make themselves incapable of hearing the Word of God.
Notice that in the Old Testament passage from Isaiah, it says that we may be healed, and in the New Testament passage from Mark it says that we may be forgiven. This is because the forgiveness of Jesus will bring healing to us. If we are not open to being instructed by God’s Word, the same thing can happen to us that happened to many who eagerly followed Jesus: John 6:60-6 says, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” Then, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Let us also notice that each failure occurs in the maturing process. This is primarily about spiritual maturity. People with rocky or weedy soil start off well, but then fail to mature.

[more...]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Parable of the Sower (Part 2)

We will pick up today by looking at the farmer in our parable.

Text: Mark 4:1-4:20, also Matthew 13:1- 23

The farmer is God. He scatters the Word of God on the hearts of people. The condition of the hearts of people are represented by four types of soil: Hard soil, rocky soil, weedy soil, and good soil. The soil also determines the quality of spiritual yield in our lives.

At first glance it may appear that the farmer is being careless; that he wastes his valuable seed in unproductive areas, but this is not so. In first century Palestine the seed was scattered first, then, the soil was plowed to work the seed into the soil.

The farmer is not careless at all, the Word can grow in all of these types of soil. The hard ground, or path, is a trail through his field made by people or animals. Of course he is going to spread seed here,
he will plow through it later. But notice, before he can get to the plowing the birds take the seed. In verse 15, we see Jesus saying this very thing, "the birds represent the activity of Satan against the kingdom of God." His reference is to the activity of Satan and is a continuation of the theme from the previous verses in chapter three. We must keep in mind that Jesus has come to earth for a reason. Jesus has come bring the kingdom of God, which is growing and pushing out the kingdom of Satan.

Another lesson we learn from this parable is that a heart that is hard like the pathway resists cultivation. It is not that it can’t be cultivated, it can; but it is very difficult. So, the chances of the seed being taken away are very high. But you know, the farmer will be back to sow again.

Many of us have friends or family who have hard hearts. Whenever we bring up the subject of Jesus they get angry, they mock us, they turn away and our hearts become heavy. But, over the years some of the most difficult, some of the most hard-hearted people have given their lives over to Jesus.

On to the rocky ground...

This is not ground covered in rocks, but ground that has rocks a few inches under the surface. It is thin soil, but looks like any other soil before plowing. The trouble begins later after the seed takes root. The roots cannot go very deep, because although the soil looks like any other soil, it is in fact hard, like the soil on the path and the result is that the plants become parched, wilted, and unproductive.

Could this be you?

This is a person who goes to church, has made a commitment to the Lord, they certainly believe, but deep down inside, they know, most of it is for show. The rocky ground is a reference to superficial adherence to the Word of God. It means I hear the Word, but I do not apply it to my life very well.
There is an unwillingness to endure, in difficult times, as a Christian. This person might be embarrassed at work or other places about being a Christian. This person doesn’t live their life any different than they did before becoming a Christian, except that they might go to church.

What we see here is that the Word of God cannot penetrate to a deeper level of understanding. The Word, which they used to understand, is like an enigma, a puzzle, a mystery. Those planted in rocky soil desire to hear only what feels good, what will encourage them, they want to walk away from a Sunday Morning service inspired, and are disappointed if the Sunday was a “downer”.

People who have hearts of rocky soil have great difficulty following up on instruction from the Word,
they are people who once could hear the Word, but have become deaf to the Word.

Here’s one way we can check to see if we might be this type of soil: Look at Galatians 5:22-3, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.”

These are fruits of the Holy Spirit seen in the life of all Christians. If you are growing and maturing as a Christian, you should see these things increasing in your life. I’m not saying you will, in any way be fully there, but you should have more self control than you did before you became a Christian, and five years from now you should have even more self control. If these are not increasing in your life, this is deadly serious, you may be living in rocky soil; or perhaps you are living among weeds. For along with the rocks, weeds can stop or slow spiritual growth stifling the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

For several years I lived in a very hot and dry climate. And in a hot, dry climate, a lawn needs deep watering. A quick 10 minute watering would produce grass that would dry out in the heat of August, as the roots could only find water near the surface. But a 20 minute watering would force the roots deeper and produce a lawn that could tolerate the trials and suffering of the intense heat of August.

This applies to us as we work with the Word of God. A quick glance or reading of God’s word will not help us in difficult times, but a deep soaking will bring our spiritual roots deep into Him and we will be able to live through difficult trials.

Without deep roots, we soon lose sight of God. We may get to the point where we wonder if He is even there anymore.

[more...]

Monday, April 11, 2011

Parable of the Sower: God's Power (Part 1)

There are about 40 parables attributed to Jesus. Today we will start exploring one of them, the Parable of the Sower.

Text: Mark 4:1-20; also found in Matthew 13:1- 23

"Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”


"9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”


13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

A middle-aged man was distraught over his wife’s stubborn refusal to admit she had a hearing problem.
One day he asked his family doctor for advice how to convince his wife that she has a hearing problem. The doctor promptly told him that when he got home he could confirm the hearing problem by opening the front door and from there asking his wife what’s for dinner. Then the doctor said, if she doesn’t answer, move closer to the kitchen. Repeat the question again, and if she still doesn’t answer, move right up to her ear and whisper in it, “What’s for dinner, honey?” In this way, the doctor assured him, she’ll have to admit she has the problem. So the man raced home with joy in his heart and opened the front door. “What’s for dinner, honey?” he asked. His wife made no reply, so he moved closer to the kitchen and asked again. “What’s for dinner, honey?” Again, nothing was said. When he looked into the kitchen, sure enough, there she was at the kitchen counter. So, he tiptoed over to her and whispered in her ear, “What’s for dinner, honey?” She turned and looked at him straight in the eye: 
“For the 3rd time, I said, we’re having MEAT LOAF!”

We see in verse 9 Jesus saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

This of course is about the hearing and understanding of spiritual matters. Those who cannot hear, do not get it, and those who can hear, clearly understand. Most of the time we read through this parable and think to ourselves, “I’m so glad my heart is the good soil that Jesus holds up as an example of strong faith. I feel sorry for all those poor people, not like me, whose hearts are rocky, weedy or hard soil”.

It is very clear that the good soil are people who hear and understand the Word of God. It is also clear that the other soils are people who have trouble hearing the Word of God. So, when we read a passage like this, I think we generally see ourselves in the best light possible. You know, because we go to church, we know all about Jesus, and we believe. So we take comfort in our belief and move on to the next passage. This is a mistake!

Do not make the assumption that your heart is the good soil simply because you believe. Notice that the twelve closest people to Jesus, the people who Jesus called, the people who were believers, the twelve disciples are so stumped by the parable that Jesus has to explain it to them in detail? The twelve disciples, at this point, cannot possibly be good soil, because they do not understand. If the twelve disciples are not good soil, what makes us so quick to think that we are good soil?

In fact, we might just be a soil of lesser quality. I think, at least one of the things Jesus was trying to demonstrate is that while so many have been exposed to the Word of God, they still fail to live productive spiritual lives. In this parable Jesus compares our lives or our hearts to various types of ground on which seed is sowed.

From this parable, we learn that the conditions must be right for God’s Word to produce a harvest in our lives. And we also learn that we must properly cultivate our hearts to ensure that the right conditions are present.

So, that's the question we're exploring this week. What kind of soil are you? And, more importantly for each of us, how can we work our soil so that our hearts become the good soil that Jesus seeks for us to be?

But the fact that the disciples don’t get it is actually good news for us. We see in verse 11 that Jesus tells them that the secret has been given to them. In effect, Jesus tells us that though the disciples do not get the parable now, there will come a time when they will get it, when they will understand it. So what was true for them, it also possibly true for us.

If you have ever done even a little bit of gardening, you know all dirt is not created equal. There is dirt, there is good dirt, and then there is extraordinary dirt. Sometimes you are blessed with great dirt and sometimes your dirt won’t even grow weeds.

When I lived in Michigan, near a lake, I was blessed with extraordinary dirt. My lawn was just phenomenal. I could take off my shoes and walk around barefoot, marveling at how thick and lush it felt. This was great, but I didn’t do anything to it, except mow it. I rarely even watered it. The lawn was so great not because of the care it received, (or in this case the lack of care). The lawn was great because it sits in good soil.

This is what we want for our spiritual lives. The more open your heart is to God, the better the soil is, the more our yield will be in our spiritual life.

I haven’t always had great soil. When I lived in Houston, the soil was bad, it was so dry and alkaline that only tough weeds would even dare to grow in it. It was nasty stuff, hard as a rock. You had to use a pick axe to get through it, and it turned to slippery thick mud when it rained. It was worthless. We'd buy piles of top soil just so we could grow something besides weeds.

Poor soil not only limits growth, but also produces frustration and anxiety for the owner. Frustration and anxiety are definitely not what we want in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Is it?

We are NOT merely victims of fate; that our cards are dealt. This is not what Jesus is indicating by this parable. Remember, the disciples did not get it; they could not hear and understand, but later were all saved, except maybe Judas, and the teachers of the law did not get it, but later even some of them were saved.

But, know that whatever type of soil your heart is that is not how it always has to be.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at this farmer.

[more...]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Suffer the little children..." / 4-10-11


I stepped well out of my usual comfort zone today. Instead of serving the adults of the congregation (and other blog visitors) I helped out with the children. Actually, I don't know how much help I was though. This means I did not hear today's formal sermon. So...no sermon notes, unless I can get a copy from someone else.

Instead I was ministered to by 5-7 year-olds, and the Veggie Tales story of "Little Mo." Yep, that's the way I meant to write it. I was ministered to...

I think Christ asks us to stretch ourselves and come out of our little bubbles of safety to reach out to others every now and then. When we step out of our usual arena, our comfortable space, it is amazing what new and wonderful things we can discover about ourselves, others, and the true meaning of God's Word and unfailing love.

Via Con Dios! [Go with God!]

Tomorrow...The Parable of the Sower.

Appeal and Reminder- I Am Second, Karen Green

A few days ago, I suggested that you consider starting the "I Am Second" challenge. If you haven't started, pull up this clip of Karen Green and see how God can change people's lives.

Home - I Am Second

Once again, I strongly encourage you to take the challenge, listen to the testimonies, do the "thing", and be changed. We all know someone who could use this story about overcoming. Share it. The link is over to the right, in the sidebar.

Go With God...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The New You (part 5, conclusion)

Part 5, conclusion

Text: Colossians 3:1-11


Look at the last part of verse 9 and verse 10: “…Since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” I want you to notice that “you have taken off your old self” and “you have put on the new self.” We’ve talked about this before. This is not a command to keep but a truth to be claimed. It’s already been done. We are exhorted to stop doing certain things because we can stop. We are different therefore we must now act differently.

As we look inward, we realize that we are no longer what we once were. The new self has been put on and yet it is “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We are created in the image of God but because of our sin, that image has been tainted or ruined.

God’s purpose is to restore His image in us. We must remember that although we were formed in God’s image, that image has been deformed by sin. But through Jesus Christ, we can be transformed into God’s image once again. We must take the responsibility of renewing our minds. Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

That leads to the fourth and final aspect of breaking free from the past. We must look around and see others as Christ does. Notice verse 11: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” The word “here” indicates that in Christ there should be no barriers of nationality, race, education, social standing, wealth, gender, religion, or power. The gospel breaks down the walls of ancient and modern prejudice.

Paul mentions four groupings that need to be dissolved in the church.

Racial distinctions. The spread of the Greek culture would have made a Greek person feel proud and privileged and therefore look down on Jews. A Jewish person would regard Gentiles as heathen and immoral, and outside of God’s grace.

The false teachers taught that circumcision was important to the spiritual life, but Paul made it clear that this act of surgery gave one no advantages in Christ.

The Greeks considered any non-Greek to be a barbarian and the Scythians were the lowest barbarians of all and were considered little better than beasts.

There has always been a huge cultural and economic gap between the slaves and those who were (are) free.

All of these human barriers belong to the “old man” and not the new one. Since Christ dwells in all believers, regardless of background or social status, we must make sure we are not allowing any division or prejudice to take root in our lives. The shame of being different must be loved away as we strive for unity within diversity. Christ is all and is in all.

Stop looking down. And stop searching for something that will never satisfy. Instead, seek Christ by looking up, and live Christ by looking out, looking in, and looking around.

This kind of dramatic change is not only possible, but it is commanded by God and prompted by the Holy Spirit. But it must all start with a choice on your part. You must choose to desire the things of God. And, you will not be able to make this choice until first you decide to divorce yourself from being fleshly-minded.

Where do we start? We can take the first step right now by asking...."God make your desires my desires. You know the desires of my heart, please line them up with yours."

Amen...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bonus: The World's largest online choir

For anyone who thinks nothing good can come from the Internet...






In September of last year, Eric Whitacre invited his online fans to participate in an ambitious attempt to create the world's largest virtual choir.

Featuring 2052 performances from singers in 58 countries, the Virtual Choir 2.0 - singing Whitacre's "Sleep" - is the largest assembled online in history, and far surpasses Whitacre's original goal of 900 voices.

The New You (part 4)

Part 4

Text: Colossians 3:1-11


We left off last time with Paul and Phineas and sexual immorality. Did you know that Paul talks about sexual sin more than any other sin? Why do you think that is? It is because sexual sin is different than any other sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 he says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

In our modern world, we emphasize “safe sex,” but there is no prophylactic for the soul. It's an old saying, but a painfully true one...Sexual sin will take you further than you want to go, stay longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.

We have been duped into thinking that sexual expression is just something we do, but it's not. It reflects who we are. Sexual sin destroys people. And Satan knows that he can trip up almost anyone by using sex. Look at the stories of David, Samson and Solomon. There were some of the greatest servants of God, and their lives were thrown off-course by their actions and the consequences of those actions.

Paul lists the sins that we’re to put to death.

Sexual immorality, a general term that refers to any form of illicit sexual behavior.

Impurity is marked by a mind that is filled with sensually suggestive thoughts and one that can read sex into even the most wholesome of situations.

Lust seeks quick fulfillment and always wants more. Love takes work and deepens over time. Lust focuses only on the senses, but love uses the senses to cherish the other and to nourish the soul.

Evil desires: When our physical desires become evil, and are motivated by the sinful nature and executed for evil ends. And, since desires lead to deeds, we must purify our minds and hearts.

Greed is idolatry. This is the sin of always wanting more. In this context, it is applied to the greed for satisfying evil desires and for sexual immorality. The person who is never satisfied with what he has is usually envious of what others have. This leads to idolatry, when things and people end up taking the place of God.

In verse 6, Paul states that because of these things, the wrath of God is coming. We bring the judgment of God on ourselves according to the principle found in Galatians 6:7, “A man sows what he reaps” and what we see in Romans 1:24 where we read that “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”

But there is balance. God’s wrath is balanced within His holiness by mercy, compassion and love. He is repulsed by sin and yet is committed to us in love. Jesus will give you grace but He also tells the truth about your sin because He is the perfect embodiment of both grace and truth. Just as He told the woman caught in adultery to “go now and leave your life of sin,” so too, He calls us to look out and stop what we’re doing so that we may follow Him completely.

Verse 7 reminds us that this kind of behavior belongs to our old life and should not be part of our present pattern of living: “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” We need to put the past behind us and refuse to resort to a lifestyle that no longer reflects our true identity.

In verses 8 and 9, we’re told to rid ourselves of social sins. These are the sins we like to think of as the “little ones,”  the ones that don't really hurt anybody. And we try really hard to justify them, overlook them, pass them by.

Paul doesn’t. And, just in case you thought you cruised safely through the first list, hang onto something, because Paul doesn't let up.

He moves to an image of taking off old smelly clothes. Before we can put on the new, we must first take off the old. The verb “rid” calls for immediate, decisive resolution. Before the new garments of righteousness can be put on, the old rags of sin must be discarded. What is he referring to?

Anger, a continuous attitude of hatred that remains bottled up within.

Rage is what comes bursting out, often uncontrollably.

Malice, an attitude of ill will towards a person. It’s often a hidden hatred of the heart that takes revenge in secret.

Slander. When we destroy another person’s good reputation by lies, gossip and the spreading of rumors. We try to hide behind the excuse that what we are saying is true. And while it may be true, a much more important question is, "Is it helpful?"

Filthy language, crude talk or abrasive words filled with swearing and sexual innuendo.

Lying to one another disrupts unity by destroying trust. It tears down relationships and can lead to serious conflicts.

These behaviors have no place in our lives or in our churches. They are part of the old life we are to have left behind. We must decisively “rid” ourselves of the repulsive sins of sex and speech so that we can “put on” the attitudes and actions of Christ.

If we’re really serious about breaking free from the past, we must also look in. We do this by recognizing the truth about what has happened to us at the time of our conversion.

[ conclusion tomorrow...]

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The New You (Part 3)

Part 3

Text: Colossians 3:1-11


Fourth, Christ will come again (4b). Since Jesus is coming back again, it only makes sense that we should be looking up on a continuous basis. The phrase, “when” is probably better translated, “whenever Christ appears.” This emphasizes the fact that His return is certain, but the time is indefinite. Since we don’t know the when, we must keep watching.

Fifth and final, we will appear with Him in Glory (4c). The verb, “appear” means “to make visible what is invisible.” When Christ returns, the real position of the believer, which has been hidden to the world, will be made known. When Jesus is revealed in His glory, we shall be totally transformed and according to 1st John 3:2, “…But we know that when he appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Paul is urging us to look up and to remember who we are now, who we once were, and who we will be when Christ returns.

Where are you looking today? What does your mind focus on? What gets the attention of your heart?
We must make a conscious, deliberate, and daily decision to look up and set our minds and hearts on heavenly things. Our outlook determines our outcome. Keeping our minds and hearts in the right place will often determine where we end up. This is true in our Christian walk, and it is true in our daily working lives. If you never look beyond the current circumstances of your situation, if you are mired down in and by your circumstances, and if you never prepare for a better future, how do you plan to get to that better tomorrow?

That leads us to Paul's second piece of advice. Not only must we look up, we must also look out. We see this in verses 5-9: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other…”

Colossians 3:5, in the New Living Translation reads a little differently: “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” Because we have died and been raised with Christ, we have the spiritual power to slay those desires that want to control us.

We have died to sin, but we must render sinful desires powerless. While we can’t totally eradicate our sinful nature all by ourselves, we can treat it as a morally impotent force. The new life calls for more than throwing out a few vices and beefing up our spiritual life by going to church once in a while. But, what gets renewed is our “new self,” not the earthly nature. Remember, we have died with Christ. Now we need to figure out how to live this practically. We must refuse to judge and be judged by externals, we must reject false authority, and we need to repudiate ridiculous religious rules. But that doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want as believers.

Grace takes precedence over legalism. Paul makes it very plain in Romans 6(:1-2) that we are no longer to let sin rule over us: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” What Paul is saying is that just because we now call ourselves Christian, we don't get a free pass on our favorite sin. We can't act worse than we did before we claimed to be saved!

And, true to my feeling about how the Bible is one story, here’s your Old Testament story. We will look at a man named Phinehas in the book of Numbers, chapter 25. He had both moral fiber and determination. He was not afraid to deal with sin. In this story, Israel was just about to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering around the desert. As you might remember, this is a journey that should have taken them 40 days, but they kept screwing up, so it took them 40 years. Anyway, you would expect them to be really pumped up and excited about finally being so close to the end of this journey. But, instead of thanking God, the men of Israel started sleeping with foreign women and worshiping false gods.

Needless to say, God’s anger burned against the Israelites and he sent a plague among the people. In the midst of God’s judgment, one guy was so arrogant that he didn’t even try to hide his sin. He marched right in front of the people with a Midianite (foreign) maiden and took her into his tent to sleep with her. Try to take in this whole scene...The people of God are weeping because of their sin and the plague that is wiping them out, and this bonehead walks right by them flaunting his sin. Doesn't it amaze you how sexual sin can make a normally sane person do some pretty stupid things?

Well, this is where Phinehas comes in. When he saw what was going on, he jumped up, grabbed his spear, ran to the man’s tent and drove the spear through both the man and the woman as they lay together. The plague stopped immediately, but not before 24,000 people had been killed by it. God says in Numbers 25:11, “Phinehas …has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor…” Because Phinehas was looking up, but he was also looking out.

Paul wants us to look out. But just in case we can't remember what they are, he lists some sensual sins for us. We must slay these with the passion of Phinehas. Anytime we see these desires begin to awaken in our lives we need to grab our spear and thrust it right through them. We need to be zealous for God’s honor by putting them to death. Notice that we’re not just to put them aside. We’re not to wound them or even ask them to leave. We’re not to experiment or play around with them, rationalize them or even try to explain them away. Instead, we are to kill them. We’re to thrust our spears right through them. Sounds dramatic...That's what I love about the Old Testament.

[more...]