Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ripped from the Headlines: "Jesus Talks More about Money than Heaven and Hell Combined"

OK.  So this is another rant about giving more money, right?  Well I didn't say it, Jesus did.  It's true that, except for the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught more about money than about Heaven and Hell combined.  In fact, he brought up the subject of money more than He talked about love.  Hard to believe?  Do the research.  Of the 39 parables he taught, eleven of them are about money; nearly one-third. 

Why would Jesus spend that much time on the subject of money?  Because he knew how important it is to us. 

  • Did you know that aside from crimes of passion, the greatest motivation for criminal activity is money?
  • Did you know that the number one reason people get divorced is because of money problems?
 The reason Jesus spent so much time talking about money was because God's people need wisdom when it come to the subject of personal finances.

Statistics don't lie.  Most Christians don't support the work of the local church and other para-church organizations because they are personally living paycheck to paycheck.  They are up to their eyeballs in debt.  Because of this, they are struggling to even put food on the table, much less invest in the Kingdom of God (Which Jesus spoke about the most).

Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)  19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."

Jesus understood that the things of earth are temporary and that, if we are not careful, we will spend all our time focusing on them instead of the things that are eternal. Many people put too much “stock” in our financial system and “store up” all their money in what is essentially a big game of chance.

Jesus understood this.  That is why the the very next verse in Matthew 6 quoted above states, "21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The truth is, How we spend our money reveals who we really are.  People who are the most financially secure are not only smart with their money but they are also generous.  They don't just save for the next disaster, but they also give generously.  And it seems that generosity is the key to a good balance when it comes to money.  That is one way we can "lay up treasures in heaven".  

As we embark on a New Year, I want to encourage you to take a hard look at where you spend your money.  How are you investing in the Kingdom of God?  If the answer to that question is, "Not very much" then maybe you need a financial overhaul.  

The core mission of Jesus was love, acceptance and forgiveness but now, more than ever, we can appreciate why He spent so much time talking about money. Thankfully, unlike the news, His words are clear. Winning principles are there to not only be read, but utilized as well.1 

1 by Michael Packer, July 24, 2011

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Grow Up

OK.  I admit that I am old. In just seven days I will be 59 (December 10th to be exact...hint hint). 

When I was a child, I lived in a world where there were only black and white televisions with three whole channels to choose from, no microwaves, no computers, no cell phones, no tablets (except the kind you could write on and then tear out the page), no energy drinks.  After I was married, my wife and I did get a video game called "Pong" (look it up).  There was no YouTube or Facebook.  We had a party line in our home (look it up) so we had to share the phone line with another family.  In my house, the only room that was air conditioned was my parent's room.  I lived in Florida where the average temperature was 98 degrees in the Summer.  I don't ever remember complaining about how hot it was.  

If we wanted to have a conversation with a friend, we made a visit or a phone call.  If we had a disagreement with someone we had two choices:  we could talk to each other or we could talk about one other to everyone else. But unless we made the effort, most of our other friends didn't know about the problems I had with one particular friend or another.

Fast-forward 50 years.   All those things I didn't have as a child are taken for granted today.  Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Vines are the way we share our lives today.  Technology has also provided a way of advancing the Gospel that has never been seen before but it is also fraught with problems. For example, when we have a random thought, instead of going to our best friend or to God and talking about it or praying about it, we automatically "post" it for all the world to see.  I get that. 

If you are a Christian and you are an active member of a local body of faith, then the problems you have with members of that body are between you, that person (or persons) and God.  I know the default is to go straight to Facebook (Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.00-look it up) and post it.  But come on, is that really a good way to edify the body of Christ by airing your dirty laundry for all the world to see?

Think about it this way.  You have at your fingertips the ability to promote the kind of faith that is needed by a lost and dying world.   Your thoughts and ideas can travel around the world at the speed of light.  Because of that, we need to temper what we say, but more importantly, to whom we say it.

OK So I have 450+ friends.  If I get mad at Steve, a member of my church (He's my buddy so he can handle the analogy) and I post my thoughts on Facebook and mention that he is a member of my church, I feel better.  But now 450+ people know I am angry or hurt with Steve, a member of my church.  Every time one of my friends posts a comment to help me feel better, every one of their friends also see my comments and the comments of the friend. (I think this is the way it works).  Pretty soon, people all over the world know I have a beef with Steve.  But the second and third order effect of that is they also know that there is a problem with the people of my church.  Now the problem originally between me and Steve is also a reflection of my church.  One of my friends, who was looking for a church to attend, is having serious doubts about visiting MY church because he knows there is disunity there.  

You see the point?

We need to GROW UP!  If you have a problem with someone, the last thing you need to do is to POST THAT INFO ON FACEBOOK.  You have a responsibility to go directly to that person and reason it out.  That is the Biblical method for handling disputes.

GROW UP -- Before I have to smack you around a little bit. (See the cartoon above for the context of that last comment.)

Your loving Pastor,


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Who should Lead a Church?

    As I drive through town, I see signs all over stating that a church is meeting in this or that place.  Many of these are storefronts or abandoned business sites that have been rented by someone who has decided to start a church.  While there are certainly no rules for who can start a church, the Bible is very clear about who is qualified to be a church leader.

There are two specific positions of leadership described in 1 Timothy:

The first is that of an overseer or bishop.  Now depending on your brand of Christianity (Denomination) this could be anyone in a senior leadership role within either the local church or above the local church.  For our discussion we will limit our discussion to the local church.  In that case, the term Pastor* or perhaps Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor could be used.  The description would certainly fit that of a senior position of leadership within the church.  
  The requirements? (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
  • They have to be upright in their personal and professional relationships.
  •  They had to be mature in their faith.
  • Their qualification were higher that that of other church members.
  • They are responsible to lead the church (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • They are to preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • They are to help the spiritually weak (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14) 
  • They are to care for the church i.e. the people (1 Peter 5:1-2)
  • They are to ordain other leaders (1 Timothy 4:14)
The second level of leadership is for that of Deacons: (Acts 6:1-4, 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  •  They are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the church.
  •  The qualifications were not as high as that of pastors and the indication was that they would not have to be as mature in their faith but certainly more so than the average Christian.
  • They are to do whatever assigned tasks are given to them in the practical matters of church life and they are to whatever spiritual ministry is necessary.
One thing is sure.  These were not selected because of their position in the local community or their leadership abilities.  Instead, they were chosen based on their level of spiritual maturity.

One other issue that Paul addresses in 1 and 2 Timothy is that of false teachers and gives some "qualifications" for one to be considered a "false teacher":
  • Using the Gospel to deceive others for selfish gain.
  • Their message is binding and burdensome which was totally opposite to the liberating message of Christ.
  • Their teaching or ideas are distorted, or stray away from the teaching of Christ.
So while anyone can start a church thanks to the wonderful freedoms we enjoy as a nation, when you go to join that church, you should check out the leadership to make sure that church is a biblically-sound church, and not one that is lead by a false teacher. 

Think about that this week.  Are your spiritual leaders measuring up? 

*The words "overseer", "elder" and "pastor" are used interchangeably to describe the same men (See Acts 20:17, 28, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-2)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting Rid of the Distractions

OK.  I am at the beginning of a new week and God has very clearly shown me that I need to get rid of some distractions in my life.  Amazing things are happening at church and as the Senior Pastor I need to stay focused on where God is leading and stop getting sidetracked by things that always take my focus and attention off those important things and consume (aka waste) an enormous amount of my time.

It seems strange to establish a resolution near the end of the year but here goes:

From this day forward and with God's help:
  • I will focus on God and His Word and my responsibilities as a Husband, Father, and Pastor and not be distracted by all the little things that pop-up every single day.  
  • I will give God my First Fruits by beginning my day with Him in prayer and in the Word.  
  • I will be the man of God that He created me to be.  
  • I will lead my congregation as the under-shepherd by listening to and heeding the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  
  • At all costs I will avoid temptations that can cause me to stumble and fail.
  • I will love my wife as Christ loved the church.
  • I will take care of my body since it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
  • I will strive to be more like Jesus in my every day walk.
God let it be so!

What about you?  What things distract you from the important things in life?  Maybe it's time to make your own list.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are you Leaking?

You have to watch the video before reading the blog. 

Someone aptly penned this most famous line, "It is far better to be silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and erase any doubt."  I don't know about you but I have had more than one experience with opening my mouth and saying something without thinking and then wondering, "Where did that come from?"

     Like for instance while I was taking a class while in seminary a group of students decided to go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch one day.  Now, I have been to dozens and dozens of Mexican restaurants in my life and what I did on this particular day had never happened before.

     But first some background.  I grew up in Tampa Florida and I went to school in Ybor City (pronounces EE BORE), the Latin section of Tampa famous for these kinds of restaurants.  My elementary school was about 50% white kids and 50% Hispanic kids, many of whom spoke Spanish as their primary language at home.  So I quickly acquired the ability to speak with an authentic-sounding Spanish accent.

     Now back to my story.  So we are seated in this Mexican restaurant in the heart of Kansas City MO.  The waiter, who is clearly Hispanic hands us our menus and then asked (in an accent that very closely resembled my authentic-sounding accent) "What would you like to eat?"  I happened to be the first person he asked so I said in my very authentic-sounding Spanish accent, "I would like to have the burrito supreme."  Now everyone at the table had been engaging in small talk, but when I blurted that out in my very authentic-sounding accent, the entire table grew deathly silent.

     It was only then that I realized what I had done.  And I also realized that I had one of two choices to make:  (a) I could, from that point forward, speak with my normal accent, at which time he would know that I was mocking him, or (b) Continue to speak in that really authentic-sounding accent every time he approached the table.  I stuck with plan "b" which caused the rest of the meal to consist of my talking in my really authentic-sounding accent and the entire table bursting out in laughter.

     You would think I had learned my lesson but NO!  Fast-forward to 2009.  My wife and I are sitting in the waiting room of a financial adviser's office on a very hot day. The gentleman we were waiting to see comes out of his office in a very white, very starched dress shirt.  As we shook hands, I noticed that there is a wet spot on his shirt near his left breast.  Once again, without thinking I said, "Are you leaking?"

     My wife later told me that she wanted to find a way, at that very moment, to crawl under the wall-to-wall carpet in the lobby of that place.  There was a pregnant pause.  A very uncomfortable pregnant pause while this man tries to put together some words to explain the fact that he was a little warm and that he had a tendency to sweat heavily.  He even went so far as to explain that he always wore tee-shirts to help alleviate this problem but that it didn't always work.


     These were the very first words my wife said to me after we exited the office and got into the car.

I admitted that I had no idea where that came from and apologized profusely.  She said she forgave me but later took great pride in relating the story to my grown children at first opportunity.

     There are more, but I will save them for another day and another blog.  The point is that we all, at one time or another say something that we later regret.  We would be wise to heed the words of James, where he says (James 1:19) " My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry"

     Someone paraphrased this verse nicely when they said, "Engage brain before engaging mouth."

     We all could do with a little more listening and a little less talking.  It will ultimately save us all from a lot of embarrassment.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Do Not Celebrate Halloween

This post will probably be a little controversial.  I acknowledge that fact from the beginning because I may not hold a popular view.  Last night, I had a discussion with my youngest daughter who is 17 years old.  She has never been "Trick or Treating" because my wife and I made a conscious decision to stop celebrating this holiday back in the 1980s. I explained to her, once again, why we do not celebrate Halloween.
      Now, before you feel sorry for my children, you need to know that they were not deprived of the fruits of trick or treating-- candy.  Ultimately, that is the bottom line for children anyway.  They get a whole sack of candy and can eat it virtually unfettered that night and then on a limited basis for the next few days and weeks.  So, we can all agree that the candy is what it is all about for the children.  Some may say, "no it is all about dressing up in costumes.  That is what is most important."  If you believe that line, then try this tonight.  Instead of giving out candy, just have your Polaroid camera ready and when you open the door snap their picture and then offer the picture to them in lieu of the candy by telling them how cute they are in their costumes.  If their response is anything short of disappointment, then I will be happy to stand corrected.

No, for kids. the bottom line is the candy.  

That is the point for the children, the costumes are just the means to an end.  We always gave our children a sack of candy on or around the Halloween date and they never, ever complained about not getting the chance to dress up.  But then we substituted a family tradition to the dressing up.

We would get dressed up (wait a minute, you just said you didn't dress up).  Quit interrupting me and let me finish.  I accept you apology.  We would dress up in "church clothes" (i.e. coat and tie, nice dresses, etc) and go to a fancy restaurant for dinner during the time when trick or treating was taking place.  It is a great time to go out to dinner because NO ONE is in the restaurants at that time of night on Halloween.  So we got VERY SPECIAL treatment.  Our kids loved that, and they got to go home and eat candy afterwards.

But let me tell you why we chose to avoid Halloween over 25 years ago.  Halloween has its roots in pagan holidays.  According to Wikipedia, "Some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)", derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end".[1] Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish calendar[2][3] and, falling on the last day of Autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead.[1] There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen.[2][3] To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice.[1]"

      We were in seminary in New Orleans when we made the decision to stop celebrating.  We heard news reports about the carcasses of animals that had been disemboweled and left in fields surrounding the city.  We hear about the increase in missing children around the end of October and we realized that some people were using the holiday to offer animal and children sacrifices to strange gods.
The decorations that are sold this time of year are of the macabre, the undead, and lots of other things with dark themes.
     Listen, before you write me off as some fundamental Christian kook, I want to examine what happens when we begin to compromise with our "enemy." You see, our enemy, Satan, wants Christians to go to one of two extremes:  (1) He wins when Christians see a demon behind every door.  This happens when we attribute everything negative in our lives to a demonic force.  This gives the enemy too much power over our lives. or (2) We trivialize his power and influence in our lives.  This may be more dangerous because we see Satan as an old man in a read suit with a pointed tail and a pitchfork that is so often seen in cartoons.  Either of these reactions causes the world to see the idea of a personal Devil as either insane or silly.

   Our enemy is real.  For Christians to engage in any behavior that either promotes or trivializes him, does harm to the kingdom of God.  For this reason, I refuse to participate.  I do observe what is happening and what I have seen is that Halloween has become even darker and more elaborate with each passing year.  The amount of money that is spent on costumes, decorations, candy, etc is ever increasing. ($6.2 BILLION in 2010 with the estimates for this year exceeding $7 Billion)  When I was a kid, there was NEVER a giant inflatable pumpkin building set up in front of the mall exclusively to sell these items.

     I wonder what would happen if Christians would take the money they normally spend on this frivolous and potentially dangerous holiday, combine that money and then use it for increasing the kingdom of God.  So much good could be accomplished with that money.

I think it is time for Christians to re-evaluate their participation in this holiday.  We did that many years ago and we do choose not celebrate Halloween.    I would challenge you to do the same.  Give the money you would spend instead to a local church, missions program, or benevolence program.

I would love to hear your responses to this post. 
  1. ^ a b c Rogers, Nicholas (2002). "Samhain and the Celtic Origins of Halloween". Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, pp. 11–21. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-19-516896-8.
  2. ^ a b A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles (Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Reprint edition (4 Nov 2004) ISBN-10: 0140515496
  3. ^ a b All Hallows' Eve BBC. Retrieved 2011-10-31.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whose Side Are You On?

     When I was a brand new chaplain in the Army, my first assignment was with an Infantry unit.  Now, you need to understand something about the nature of that particular branch of the Army and that is this:  They do NOT like aviators much.  
     Their reason is valid and I discovered how true their sentiment was first-hand when I joined an Infantry squad on a little ruck march right after my arrival to the unit.  The 101st Infantry Division is an Air Assault division.  That means that they get to and from the battle by helicopter.  We had been dropped off in an LZ (Landing Zone) that was supposed to be about 800 meters from their objective.  In fact, the pilots got it wrong (and they told me it happened often).  In fact, we exited the aircraft about 2,800 meters from the objective.  For a pilot that is no problem.  At the rate they fly, 2,000 meters takes about 3 seconds to cover.  For the Infantryman, it takes about one to one and a half hours to go 1,000 meters depending on the terrain.  So that 2,000 meter mistake cost us about 3 extra hours of walking through the woods with an 80 pound rucksack on your back.  
    So I really understood how they felt.  There was just one problem that I had to overcome.  Before I became a chaplain, I was a helicopter pilot and had the senior aviator wings on my uniform to prove it.  If you ever saw that Far Side cartoon of the two deer in the woods, one with a huge bulls-eye on his stomach, and the caption was , "Bummer of a birthmark Hal!"  Well, that is kind of how I felt.  I was the chaplain for this infantry unit and I had a huge bulls-eye on my uniform in the shape of those confounded aviator wings.
     Needless to say, I had to go an extra distance to prove to these guys that I was credible.  So you can understand how bad it was when it was announced that we were going to have a pickup basketball game that afternoon.  It was the battalion staff against the company commanders and first sergeants.  So my boss was on my team along with all the guys I had to work with every day.  
     Now, for those who know me, this goes without saying. But if you do not know me well, then you may not know that this event was significant for me because I am not, and never was, an athlete.  In high school I was the smallest guy in my Senior Class.  I take that back, I was the smallest PERSON in my graduating class.  Seriously.  
     To look at me now you would never believe that.  But when I started my senior year in high school, I was five foot three and I weighed about 98 pounds.  Really.  Needless to say, I was never asked to be on any sports team.  My thing in high school was music (think Glee).  Seriously.  I was the last guy (after all the girls) when people were picking people for their team.  Music was a much better fit because I was very unlikely to get hurt doing that.  
     So when I heard about this basketball game I became a little nervous, no I take that back.  I was VERY nervous because I was already on shaky ground with this unit because of my bulls-eye.  Now I was going to be exposed for the wimp I was by this basketball game.  
     Well, the time came and I showed up at the gym in the appropriate garb and the game began.  Because I had no idea what I was doing, I found myself just running back and forth on the court watching everyone else pass the ball back and forth and running to and from their respective goals.  I figured that I would just try to stay out of the way and maybe I would avoid embarrassment.  Then it happened.  
     One of the guys went up for a layup (I learned that term for that move later) and missed.  The ball bounced off of the backboard and landed in my hands.  Excited and nervous, I jumped and shot the ball at the goal and it dropped straight in -- nothing but net!  
     What happened next was kind of like those old E.F. Hutton commercials.  You know, "When E.F Hutton speaks,... everybody would stop what they were doing and listened.  Well after I made the shot the entire game came to a screeching halt.  I looked around and noticed the look that said, "I can't believe you just did that."  This look was on the faces of both of the teams on the court.  Then one of the guys on my team said, "Chaplain, our goal is at the other end of the court."
     I had successfully made the shot to the opposing teams goal.   If I could have found a way to slide under the boards of that basketball court I would have done it at that moment.  Needless to say I was never invited to play basketball again.  Ever.
     Now what is the point of this story?  I am glad you asked.  I am reminded of an Old Testament passage of Joshua just before the fall of Jericho.  Joshua 5:13-14, reads, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
      A lot of times we get a great idea and then we want God to bless our efforts.  That is what Joshua thought.  That is why he asked the question, "Whose side are you on?  By the context it appears to be a rhetorical question.   I mean after all, he was the leader of God's chosen people.  But this guy, probably an angel, kind of set the record straight. God does not choose sides.  Here is the point, we need to choose God's side.  That means that we need to see what God is doing and join HIM in his efforts.  He is the team captain, we have simply been invited to join HIS team.  When we get that straight then we will find ourselves in the listening mode. 

Joshua got it.  Look at what he said at the end of that passage.  He fell face down to the ground in reverence -- right attitude; then he asked, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"  Wait for God to speak and then follow the orders of the commander.  Then we can see walls come tumbling down.  So, whose side are you on?