Saturday, December 27, 2008

#22 The Best Gift of All

"...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans

Each year Ginger and I attempt to make Christmas as special as we can for
our children. We want them to look forward to Christmas, but not just for
the gift aspect. This year we had the privilege to attend Candlelight
Communions and Agape Feasts with both of our church families. At each
church there were a little over 50 people who braved the icy Michigan roads,
and those that came expressed the blessing that they received by coming.
Before and after the special events we talked with our children about how
Christmas is not just about how many toys or other gifts we may get. Yes,
it is hard to get a six year old to recognize that the greatest gift in the
world is one that you cannot see, but we still try to explain it to each of
our children. During each service we had a special time for people to share
something for which they felt blessed. My heart was deeply touched when one
of my children said that they were thankful for mommy and daddy. Truly, I
wanted to cry right then and there. I was touched so deeply because it
reminds me of how our heavenly Father must feel when one of His children
speaks a word of praise and honor about how much they love their heavenly
Father. God made each of us with reasoning power and He longs for us to use
that power to discover His greatness and the joy that comes from being
connected to our Creator God. It breaks my heart when I meet people whose
only thoughts surround what they can get out of this life. I have even told
people to "live it up" because this life is all that they will get if they
do not know Christ.

When I think of gifts, I can honestly say that I do not really need
anything. I have been blessed so immensely by God that I would feel guilty
to ask Him for more. Just a few short months ago God led us to Michigan to
serve the Midland and Mt Pleasant SDA churches. The whole time I was in
school at Southern Adventist University I wondered where God would place us
to serve. I could not have picked a better place to begin our ministry than
where He has placed us. We truly love our church families and we are
thrilled to be here. Yes, there are challenges. But greater is He that is
in me than he that is in the world right (1 John 4:4)? I know that the Lord
will see us through any challenges that will arise and I pray that each of
you will have the faith to believe that God will do the same for you.

Among the gifts that God has given me, I have to give my praise to God for
the greatest gift of all: the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him what hope
would we have? Without Him where would we turn in times of trial? The
world turns to drugs, alcohol and immoral behavior. Praise be to God that
we have a blessed hope in the soon return of Christ! Praise be to God that
we can look forward to the coming of our Redeemer. One day soon we will
lift our eyes to heaven and say, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have
waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let
us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:9). Today as we look
back on Christmas 2008, let us look back on the year and examine where we
have been with the Lord. Have you really lived as if you appreciate the
gift of eternal life in Jesus? Or have you lived your life for yourself
attempting to gain more and more material possessions while neglecting the
weightier matters of life? If you are reading this just now there is still
hope. If you have not lived you life as you should have, why not pause just
now and commit or recommit your life to Jesus? Without Him you must pay the
penalty for your sins by way of eternal death, but with Him you too can have
the free gift of eternal life. In a life full of gifts, please make
provision to accept the greatest gift ever offered to mankind; the gift of
Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Dear Father God,
Most of us come to You just now with hearts that are full of praise. But I
realize that there may be some who will read this that do not know You as
they should. Father, just now I pray that each one of us will fully
surrender our hearts and lives to You. For some this may be their first
time. For others it may be a daily recommitment. Whatever the case may be
Lord, please forgive us where we have failed You. Please wash your precious
blood over the record of our sins and wash away the blot of sinfulness that
mars our character. I ask that You would come into each of our hearts and
remove those things that compete for Your Lordship. May the throne room of
our hearts be filled by You and You alone. We claim Your promise that You
will forgive us of all unrighteousness, and we ask that You forever keep us
within Your care. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

#21 Together By His Spirit

"...make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same
love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." Philippians 2:2 NASB

While I was in high school I took a physics class. To say that I had no
interest in physics would be like saying the Sears Tower is a tool shed. I
hated the thought of even taking physics because I knew there was going to
be quite a bit of math involved and I did not like doing math. That changed
somewhat as I realized that math was used to count money, but at that time I
was not excited about taking the class. Despite me not being thrilled about
taking high school physics, I actually learned some really cool things in
the class.

One of the coolest things I learned was what is known as the
Bernoulli Principle. It is a principle discovered by Swiss mathematician
Daniel Bernoulli that states that as the speed of a moving fluid increases,
the pressure within the fluid decreases. In more plainer terms, when a
fluid such as air or water increases in speed there will be less pressure
within that fluid. We see this take place in many ways in everyday life.

No doubt many of you have stood around a camp fire and perhaps complained
that the smoke seems to be following you. The truth of the matter is that
it is following you, sort of. What actually happens is that the heated air
surrounding the fire attempts to rise. As it rises it moves faster that the
cooler air that is around it. When the heated air moves faster the air
pressure decreases and the cooler air then pushes the smoke toward you. So
you may think that the wind seems to be shifting to constantly blow the
smoke toward you but you are actually just participating in an experiment to
prove Bernoulli's principle.

In high school we took two ping pong balls and suspended them each from a
string about 6 inches apart. Then we took a hair dryer and used it to blow
air between the two balls. As the air moved faster between the two balls
the air pressure decreased between the two balls and they moved toward each
other and stayed touching as long as we kept the air moving faster between
the two balls. This is what happens when you take a shower and the shower
curtain seems drawn to you. The moving water works like the air from our
previous example and when the air pressure is decreased between you and the
shower curtain the higher air pressure from outside the tub pushes the
shower curtain against you. I was fascinated by this principle when I
learned about it many moons ago back in 1990.

When I think of this scientific principle it reminds me of the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives He moves other things out of the
way that keep us from being as close to God as we should. I like to think
of this in terms of our scientific discussion from the previous paragraphs.
When He, the Holy Spirit, moves upon us He pushes the stagnant air between
us and God out of the way. When He does that the negative pressure between
us and God decreases and we are able to become closer to God by the power of
His Spirit through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Please know friends that you and I cannot come to God the Father without Jesus Christ. We do not have the option to choose whether or not we will go to the Father without Jesus. Without Jesus you cannot get to the Father. Christ Himself told us
this when He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes
to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). So when we pray to our Father
God it is by the Spirit of God that our prayer is taken to Jesus (Romans
8:26) where our weak prayers are mixed with His mighty prayers to be
presented to the Father on our behalf.

Friends, I pray that today each one of us will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to remove any and all obstacles that may exist between us and our Father God. Pray that the stagnant air of our dull, lifeless prayers would be blown away entirely so that we may experience the power of God in our lives in a way that we never have before.

I believe that Christ longs for us to have such a deep relationship with Him
that nothing in this world would be able to pull us from the love of Christ
(Romans 8:35-39), but only you can decide if you will let go of the sins
that separate you from God. Only you can allow God's Spirit to come in and
remove the clutter from the throne room of your heart so that Christ and
Christ alone can reign supreme. Wont' you stop just now and surrender
everything to Him? When each of us live a surrendered life we will have the
love, unity and united purpose that the early church believers experienced.
Let us come together in God's Spirit friends that we too may be united with
Christ and one another to accomplish the work the Lord has given us to do.

Dear Father God,
We pray just now because we realize our deep need of a Savior. We need the
love of Christ living in and through us like no other time in the history of
mankind. Father, we know that Christ will come again soon and we long to be
ready each moment that we may be called to meet Him in the air. Father, we
long to have the air cleared between us and You. Please send Your Spirit to
come and remove any sinful, reproachful thing from our lives that we may be
drawn closer to You than ever before. We surrender our hearts and lives to
You just now and we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Keep us forever in
You love O God for we pray in Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, December 12, 2008

#20 Sacrificial Sharing

"And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is
pleased." Hebrews 13:16 NASB

Not too long ago there was a young boy who lived in an orphanage with 9
other boys. His name was Ben. Ben was about 10 years old at the time of
this story and he wished very much that he was not in the orphanage. The
orphanage was a very poor one and the kids did not have much at all. In
fact, each year around Christmas time the children would receive a single
orange. That orange was a prized possession of each boy there. Some of the
boys would wait for days before eating the orange. They would rub their
hands over it and even sit and just savor the smell of the beautiful citrus
fruit. One year just days before Christmas Ben started a fight with one of
the other boys. They were just being boys but it upset the head mother of
the orphanage quite a bit so she decided that she would punish Ben by not
giving him his orange for Christmas. Christmas day came and each boy
received their orange except Ben. His heart was broken as he watched the
other boys admiring their oranges. He left the room and went to his bed
were he lay sobbing. He tried to hide his sadness as the other boys came in
to get ready for bed but they knew how disappointed Ben was. When the
lights were turned out the sadness seemed to rush over Ben like a flood. He
was suddenly overwhelmed with tears and he tried to hide it by pressing his
face into his pillow. He simply wanted the night and next few days and
months to just go away so that he could look forward to the possibility of
getting an orange the next year.

While he was sobbing softly into his pillow he felt another tiny hand tap
him on the shoulder. When he rolled over to see who it was he was handed an
oddly shaped ball and then his visitor sprinted off into the darkness back
to his own bed. As Ben wiped the tears from his eyes he was able to see the
object in his hand. There in the darkness he saw that he had been handed an
orange made up of nine pieces from the other boys' oranges. They could not
stand the thought of their friend Ben having to go another whole year
without an orange so they sacrificed a piece from each of theirs so that Ben
could have one too.

When I read this story it brought me to tears because it made me think of
how generous and loving our wonderful God is to each of us. Our heavenly
Father knows what it means to give sacrificially. The Bible tells us
clearly that He gave us His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in
Jesus will not perish, but they will have eternal life (John 3:16). If you
go back to the Garden of Eden you will discover that it was our heavenly
Father that had to make the first sacrifice in order to provide clothing for
Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Sacrificial giving is in the very nature of
God and it will bring joy to Him when we too learn to give sacrificially to
others. As you consider how you will spend your money this year for
Christmas I encourage each of you to find a way that you can give of what
God has blessed you with to those who may have as little as Ben. I promise
you that you cannot out give God and anything that you give away with no
expectation of a return to you will store up for you treasure in heaven
where moth and rust cannot destroy. So follow the inspired words of the
apostle Paul today and "do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such
sacrifices God is pleased."

Dear Father God,
Please give us a heart after Your own heart; a heart that longs to reach out
to the world that is dying around us without You. Please place within our
hearts a desire to serve others just as You came to serve those around You.
May we never forget the story, dear Lord, about Ben and how his fellow
orphans reached out to him and sacrificed their precious possession so that
Ben too would have a gift to enjoy. Most of all today we thank You for the
sacrifice of Your Son Jesus who died in our place. We thank You that we can
have the free gift of eternal life because of Christ's sacrifice on
Calvary's cross, and we long for His soon return that we may dwell in Your
house forever more. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

#19 Seize the Moment

"To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven"
Ecclesiastes 3:1

The other day I was talking with someone and I had to have my children with
me because Ginger had to take care of some things without distraction. So I
took the children with me as I did some visitation and other meetings. I
love having my children with me to do things but sometimes as parents we
forget what a blessing our kids are. While I was talking to one person in
particular I was standing outside and the kids were to be waiting quietly
for me in the car. Well, let's just say that they decided to lose their
minds and repeatedly get out of the car in multiple attempts to tell me
about the bad things that their siblings were doing inside the car. With
each time the door opened, I could feel myself getting more and more
frustrated with my children's seeming inability to follow simple commands.

Apparently my friend that I was talking with could see my building
frustration. He said to me ever so gently, "Pastor, one day you will wish
that they were here to bug you." As that began to sink in I had to admit
that he was absolutely right. My mind went back right then to the time that
I was in Iraq and I prayed every day that I would get to see my family
again, and now here I was ready to pop a blood vessel because they were just
being kids. I am so thankful that my friend was willing to speak up and
help me refocus my priorities in that moment.

I wonder how many of you reading this just now may have your priorities out
of focus. I wonder if you too have forgotten what is most important in
life. I know that there is a season for everything. We have to work and do
the things necessary for survival, but I wonder how often we sacrifice the
most important things in this life for the temporal and trivial things this
world has to offer.

Many of you who read this may not have children, but perhaps you have not given God the proper attention that He deserves in your life. Perhaps that has been all too true for many of us. Friends, I want to encourage you to stop today and make sure your priorities are in order. We must have God first, family second, and then all others can fall into line somewhere after those two. Won't you stop and consider if you have things in order? One day when you look back on your life it may be too late
to truly enjoy the people and things that were here for only a season.

Dear Father God,
Please give us the grace to know how to prioritize our lives. If left to
our own devices Lord we will mess things up every time. So please give us a
mind that is in tune with Yours Lord. Bless us today as we worship You and
live for Your glory. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2008

#18 Vicarious Atonement

"And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the
source of eternal salvation" Hebrews 5:9

I read a story once of two brothers that went to war together. They served
during World War II in the European theater of operations. While on a march
in southern France their company came upon a regiment of German tanks. The
Germans were know for their fierce tactics and the Panzer tanks were at the
very heart of Germany's ability to move like lightning across Europe in
their Blitzkrieg attacks.

The day that the two brothers came face-to-face with their armored German
foes did not go well at all. Most of their company of 220 Soldiers were
killed in the battle. Men against tanks is never odds that you want in
battle. After the initial battle settled down the German soldiers
dismounted their armored vehicles and began a house to house search for
stragglers. The American Soldiers tried to retreat but only a few made it
out of range of the 20mm guns. The two brothers had fought together in some
of the fiercest battles experienced in WWII and each time they had come out
with little more than some scratches. This time would be different. When
the fighting began they tried to take cover behind an abandoned church
building. It had been built with heavy stones and held up much better to
the tank fire than the homes that surrounded it. Despite the heavier cover
one of the tank blasts sent pieces of shattered stone flying through the air
and one of those pieces struck the eldest brother in the right side of his
chest. The bleeding was profuse and the younger brother was unable to get
it under control. As the dust settled and the Germans neared, the younger
brother grew frantic. He desperately wanted to carry his injured brother to
safety and medical aid, but there simply was not time to make it happen.
The medic in their platoon was killed in the attack and he had no idea where
to find another one. Even if he had, time was not on his side. He could
hear the German tongue being spoken just a few feet away. His brother
whispered in his ear, "Just lay still. I am bleeding bad enough that they
will think that we are both dead if I lay on top of you." The younger
brother did not like the option but he had no choice but to go along with
it. He quickly pulled his wounded brother on top of him and laid as still
as humanly possible. In a matter of seconds his elder brother's blood
soaked into his uniform as well. He held onto his brother as tightly as he
could without appearing to be doing so. As the German soldiers made their
way through their location they did not even stop to bother them. While the
Germans were moving on to the next location he could feel his brother
breathe his last. There on the battlefield in southern France he lost his
big brother, but in dying his brother saved his life.

I do not share this story with you tonight to make you sad; quite the
contrary. My desire in telling you this story tonight is to help you
understand just how blessed each of us are. We just celebrated Thanksgiving
yesterday and with the economy doing what it is many of us may think that we
do not have a lot for which to be thankful. I beg to differ with you if
that is your mindset. I am of the mindset that this world is but a
temporary place for us to pass through. Those of us who have accepted
Christ as our Savior will have a better place to live when Jesus comes to
take us to be with Him. He promised in John 14:3 that He would come again
that we can be where He is. But in order for us to be there we have to have
an experience that is somewhat like that of the two brothers from the story
above. Friends, I hope you realize that we-Christians-are in a spiritual
battle against the powers of darkness in this world (Ephesians 6:12). The
only way that we will survive this battle against the enemy of our souls is
to be covered by the blood of our Elder Brother; Jesus Christ. If His
innocent blood is not poured out on our behalf then we must pay the penalty
of our sins with our own blood. The only problem with that is that our
blood is not innocent. Our blood is the blood of the guilty and guilty
blood cannot redeem us to God. Only the guiltless, innocent blood of Jesus
Christ can clear our record with heaven. It is only by accepting the death
of Jesus on our behalf that we can be made at one with God the Father. The
Lamb of God that takes away our sins must use His precious blood to wash
away our guilt.

There are those in this world who would have us believe that Jesus did not
have to die for our sins. There are even some that say that Jesus did not
die for us but with us. Friends, I don't know if you have looked at your
hands lately, but I do not have any nail prints in my hands and I dare say
that none of you do either. The beauty of God's plan of redemption is that
Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf and died in our place ( 2
Corinthians 5:21). We are told that He was tempted in all ways just like
us, but He did not sin in the process ( Hebrews 4:15). In other words,
because of our sin we are worthy of death (Romans 3:23, 6:23) and if we do
not accept Jesus as our Savior we will be destroyed with the wicked (Rev
20:9). However, Jesus lived a perfect life for the sole purpose of dying a
perfect death. Because of His perfect life, He and He alone was worthy to
satisfy the sin debt that all of humanity has. But your sin debt is not
cancelled out until you humble yourself and accept Jesus as your personal
Savior. It is my sincere prayer tonight friends that each one of us will
make the decision that the younger brother did on that French battlefield;
allow the blood of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ to cover us and bring
about our salvation in terms of eternity.

Dear Father,
Tonight as we come to You we realize our great need of a Savior. We realize
that we are in a spiritual battle and we desperately need the blood of Jesus
to cover us. Father we know that the blood of Jesus does not cover up our
sin, it washes it away completely and then we are covered with the
righteousness of Christ. So tonight we pray that You will forgive us of our
sins. Please take away the wrongs that we have wrought and the evil that we
have done in Your sight Lord. We ask for a clean, fresh start tonight so
that we can truly walk through this life with a thankful spirit. Thankful
that the blood of our Elder Brother has taken away our sins and saved us
from destruction. We give our hearts to You afresh this evening dear Lord,

Friday, November 21, 2008

#17 White Out

"Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they
are red like crimson, They will be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 NASB

Just the other day before our skies were filled with varying degrees of
frozen precipitation, I was having a discussion with someone about the
soon-to-come snow. Ever since we have talked to people about coming to
Michigan they have tried to warn us about the winters. Our family is from
North Carolina where it gets really cold, but seldom does it snow. We
usually get freezing rain or something along those lines. Ice storms are
always bad news. Not only because of the obvious road hazard that they
pose, but the weight of the ice is very hard on trees and power lines and
such. While I was talking the other day about the snow to my friend he
asked me if I had ever been in a "white out". I told him that I had not and
that I was not completely clear about what the phrase entailed. He then
asked me if I had ever driven in dense fog and I told him I had. He said
being in a "white out" is very similar to dense fog. He told me that the
snow blows so thick and fast that you cannot see except for short distances.
I remember thinking to myself when he told me all of this that surely we
would not see a "white out" any time soon. Was I ever wrong about that one.

It wasn't three days later that the first snow of the season came. At first
it was just sleet. The sleet then turned to small flakes that morphed into
even larger ones. In fact, the snowy mix begin to fall so thick that I go
to see my first "white out". It was really neat to see. As I looked out
the east window of my study I could see what looked like a wall of white
moving toward our house. It was fascinating for us to see. I know, some of
you are thinking, "Pastor, you've not seen anything yet" and you are
probably right. However, it was neat to experience it for the first time.

As the snow came and went and came and went this week, my mind was drawn to
the thought of Jesus performing a "white out" on each of us in the spiritual
sense. My mind was drawn back to past sins that the Lord has given me
victory over. I remember how elated I was to experience the freedom that
comes from surrendering your life fully to Christ. I became so encouraged
as I thought about the victories that Christ has given me. I can recall
when I was not a Christian. I was not a criminal or anything like that, but
I had one of the worst attitudes that anyone could have. I was not very
pleasant to be around at all. But little by little as Jesus took control of
my heart I experienced Jesus' "white out". I have bumped into people that I
went to high school with and they hardly recognize me. Yes, I have gained
weight since I left high school but because of Jesus working in my life, I
am not the same on the inside as I was in the early nineties. The change
is not because of anything that I did, it only because Jesus found me and
invited me to follow Him. When I gave my heart to Him He performed a
spiritual "white out" and washed away my sins. What's so neat about this
concept is that, just like the snowy "white out", when Jesus takes over a
person's life it becomes more and more difficult to see the old person.
Because Jesus comes into our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit and lives
within us, He begins to redecorate the throne room of our hearts. Jesus
pushes all the other stuff in our lives that we do not need out of the way
and establishes Himself as not only Savoir but Lord of our lives.

Another thing that I love about the gospel of Jesus is that there are no
ethnic, cultural, sexual, or gender boundaries. Jesus loves us each one the
same regardless of our differences that make us unique in the eyes of God.
We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that man looks on the outside while God looks
on the inside. Before we come to Jesus we all look same; we are covered
with the scarlet stain of sin. When we accept Christ the scarlet color of
bondage and death is changed into the life-giving color of pure snow. It is
my prayer this evening that each time you see the snow fall this winter that
it would remind you of the promise that the Lord has given us. He has
promised to take away our sins of scarlet and when He does, He will place
His pure white robe of righteousness upon us. May each of us decide just
now to let Jesus perform a spiritual "white out" wash away our sins.

Dear Father God,
As we come to You just now, we have a desperate need for You to take total
control of our lives. We have proven over and over again that we cannot do
it right without You. Left to our own devices we will no doubt slip back
into our old sinful ways. Please draw so close to us Jesus that the lines
blur between where we end and You begin. We are told in Acts 4:13 Lord that
it was said of the disciples that they were recognized as having been with
Jesus. May the same be said of our lives from here forward. We need You to
"white out" our sins Lord and we accept that free gift of salvation yet
again tonight. May we never leave Your side Lord Jesus, Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

#16 Loneliness

"...for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER
FORSAKE YOU," Hebrews 13:5 NASB

This past Tuesday our nation celebrated Veteran's Day. Throughout that day
my mind kept going back over various events that I experienced while I was
in Iraq. There were happy times and sad times, times of celebration and
times of mourning. There were times where we were all crowded together and
then there were times that I felt like the loneliest person in the world.
Being 6,300 miles from those that you love and hold dear can be very

I can remember closing my eyes one time and just trying to
recall how it felt to hold my children or hug my wife. One of my worst days
in Iraq came when it was hard for me to remember what it felt like to hold
them in my arms. I would have given anything to just have been able to hold
my wife and kids. Worship was another area that I began to feel some
intense feelings of loneliness. To my knowledge, I was the only Seventh-day
Adventist on my base. My chaplain was really good about letting me have
Sabbath off, and I would spend time in my room playing my guitar and
studying by myself. Sure, I did some Bible studies, but you can't just give
and give and never be fed yourself; you will end up very empty. So each
Sabbath I would go through my little routine. And while I appreciated
having my Sabbaths off, I became very saddened that did not have anyone to
worship with. This was on top of missing my family and other stressors that
a Soldier in combat must face.

One Sabbath I was feeling especially down and I just knelt and prayed to
God. I begged God to send me someone to worship and study with. I wanted
another Adventist to worship with and that was my prayer. After I finished
I needed to go to my office area and get something I had left in my desk. I
was in my physical training uniform that does not have your name on it
anywhere. While I was in the office retrieving my item I saw an Army
Captain coming toward my door. I also noticed that he was wearing the
chaplain insignia above his name. When he came in I stood to greet him and
see what he needed. As soon as he came through the door he said hello and
he asked me if I was Specialist (SPC) Bentley. With a confused look on my
face I told him I was.

Immediately he gave me the biggest smile I have ever seen and he said, "You are a Seventh-day Adventist aren't you?" I told him I was and when I did he came up and gave me a big hug. He then said that he was so glad to meet me because he too was an Adventist and he had been longing to have someone to worship with. He was stationed at another base where our brigade headquarters was and when he found out I was just north of him he made every effort to come and meet me.

I was totally blown away. Just an hour before that I was knelt down in my room praying for the Lord to send me another Adventist to worship with and this chaplain had left two days prior to get to my base to meet with me. He was on his way to the
Turkish border to meet with troops up there, but he made it a point to stop
off and meet me. I was thrilled that God answered my prayer so quickly.
Not only that, God was busy answering my prayer days in advance of my
asking. What an awesome and wonderful God we serve!

This evening I know that some of you who are reading this may not have been
to church in a long time. There may be some who think that because they
have been gone so long it would be impossible to go back. Others may read
this and wish that they had someone to be with them throughout the week.
Whether or not you fit into any of the categories that I just mentioned I
know that we have each had times in our lives that we felt lonely. My heart
goes out to you just now because I can empathize with you all too well.

However, I firmly believe that God is willing and able to be true to His
promises. When He tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us then
we can count on that to be true. I encourage each of you this evening to be
faithful to God just as He will always be faithful to you. If you have not
been to church in a while make up your mind tonight to change that. The
hardest part is just deciding to do it. Once you get there many people will
be very glad to see you and will welcome you back. For those who are
feeling intense loneliness then fall on your knees and pray that God will
put someone in your life to provide the fellowship that you need. But no
matter what happens I pray that each of us will remember that it is us that
leave Jesus and not the other way around.

Dear Father God,
Please reach down tonight and allow us to feel Your hand of comfort and
care. Please send Your Holy Spirit to speak to each of our hearts and
assure us that You long to be by our side. I pray for those who are
battling loneliness also. When You were on the cross Lord I know that You
too felt lonely when You cried out to Your Father. Thank You for being such
a wonderful Savior and Lord, and I pray that we would all learn to rely
fully upon You in every situation. It is in the name of Christ Jesus we
pray just now, Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2008

#15 The Weakest Link

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." Ephesians

When I was in high school I had very few classes that I actually enjoyed.
Before getting to high school I loved school. I am not sure what happened
exactly, but I came to the point that I loathed the thought of going to
class and listening to some teacher ramble on and on. Now I am a pastor and
people have to listen to me ramble; turnabout is fair play I suppose J.
Anyway, the class that I loved was drafting. We learned to draw machine
parts, houses, and all sorts of really neat things. I was much better at
mechanical drafting than the architectural side.

I ended up taking drafting all three years of high school-where Ginger and I grew up 9th grade was junior high-and I even took a self study course for computer-aided design that was really a lot of fun. One of the projects that we had to complete
in my third year drafting class was to build a bridge out of 1/8th inch
square X 12" long balsa wood. We were all given the same amount of pieces
and the only thing we could use with it was glue. The goal was to build a
bridge using a design that we came up with and then we would bring them all
to the class and test them for strength. I cannot remember what the prize
was but the designer of the strongest bridge won something that seemed
really cool at that point in my life.

The testing was quite crude in that we simply supported each of the bridges
and suspended weights from the bottom of them. Weights were then added
until the bridge collapsed. I was really proud of my design and I had
worked really hard to ensure that everything was as it should be. When the
weights were hung on my bridge I was very confident. I even joked with some
of my classmates that I would share the prize with them when I won it.
There had been some others who had gone ahead of me and their bridges tore
apart with about 20 pounds or so on them. One guy actually made it to about
32 or 33. Then it came my turn. I made it past 20, 30, then 40, and I was
really starting to get the big head. 45 came and went with no problems
until the 48th pound was added. When that 48th pound was added my little
bridge went crashing down. "Oh well," I thought, "I am still the leader."
Then my buddy put his on the platform. Weights were added to his all up the
scale just like mine, but then his went past 48 pounds and my heart sank. I
knew I had been beat. Not only did his hold 50 pounds, it did not break
until it had over 70 pounds on it. Not only did he win, he sat a new record
for the entire school.

My heart was broken, but that sorrow turned to anger when I investigated my bridge remains. As I looked at where my structure had failed I made a discovery that made me angry at myself. I discovered that one of my vertical support posts had not been glued. I had notched it out and placed it where it was supposed to go, but I had forgot to glue the joint. There was no glue residue anywhere on that one joint and that was exactly where my bridge failed. I kicked myself for that for a few weeks,
but it taught me a valuable lesson about how one weak link can cause the
entire structure to fail.

As You consider your spiritual life this evening or whenever you may read
this, I wonder if there are weak links within your spiritual life. Are
there areas in your life that are going to cause you to come apart and crash
under the weight of life? I wish I could answer that for each of you, but I
if could I wonder how many of you who will read this would want me to tell
you? It is not always the most comfortable of scenarios to have someone
expose our weaknesses. Trust me, I have been on the receiving end of the
exposing. But as I look back on my life I am so thankful for those people
who had the courage to expose my weak links. I have prayed over and over
again that the Lord would give me a teachable spirit when I have an area
that I need to change. Some of you have even heard me say that, "I am not
smart, but I'm teachable." It is one of my favorite sayings and it is one
that I live by. I have no desire to be smart if it blinds me to the danger
areas of my life that make we weak in the Lord. I would much rather be
teachable and willing to listen when the Lord speaks to my heart. It is my
prayer just now that each of you will be willing to let the Lord show you
your weak links so that you can surrender them to Him and allow Him to apply
that heavenly glue that will hold you together in the storms of life.

Dear Father God,
We thank You once again for giving us the Sabbath that we can come apart
from the care of this world and simply live our lives for You. Lord, as we
think about weak areas in our life, I pray that You would send Your Holy
Spirit to convict our hearts of the areas that need to be addressed. There
are things that each of us have in our lives that we need to let go of and I
pray that You would pour out a measure of grace that would wash open our
eyes that we may see our defects on character. We need You so badly Lord
Jesus, and we need You Holy Spirit. May we not live another day without
surrendering everything to You. By Your grace Lord, may we not break when
the weight of life is added to us. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 31, 2008

#14 Mistaken Identity

"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are
not of the world...the world hates you." John 15:19

Have you ever been driving down the road and thought you saw one of your
friends in an approaching vehicle? I have had this happen more times than I
can recall. There was actually one time that I had been looking for a
particular friend and I could not find him. This was way back in the dark
ages-early 90's-before cell phones were so common. I know there are a few
of you who remember those days. Back then we had to leave a message and
just hope and pray that we could find someone in case of an emergency. I
really needed to find my friend so I decided to go look for him. I drove
over to his house and no one was home. I went by where he worked and he was
not there either. I finally decided to go look around town where we would
hang out with some of our friends. When I got near the hang-out I met his
car. I began to wave wildly in an attempt to get his attention and I even
flashed my lights trying to get him to look my way. No matter what I did he
did not even look toward me. So I whipped my car around and to try and
follow him. I was able to get right behind his car. I got really close to
him and flashed my lights again and waved my arms at him. We finally came
to a stop light that had a turn lane so I could pull right up beside him.
When I got up beside him my heart sank. The guy that I had been following
and trying to get to stop was not my friend after all. The car was the same
by all appearances, but my friend was not in the driver's seat. In fact, it
was not his car at all. Boy did I feel like a fool. The guy driving the
car said some words to me that I dare not repeat and he took off spinning
tires when the light changed. I simply drove away slowly trying not to draw
further attention to myself. I decided from that point on that I would make
real sure next time before I followed someone trying to get their attention.
Praise the Lord for cell phones so we can find those that we seek.

As I think this evening about mistaken identities, I wonder how many of us
are mistaken for someone else. What I mean more directly is how many of us
profess to be one thing, but the way that we live our lives says something
totally different. There is a song by Christian recording artists D.C. Talk
that says in the very beginning, "The greatest single cause of atheism in
the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk
out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving
world simply finds unbelievable." I have to be totally honest with you all
this evening and admit that there have been times in my life where I did not
live in such a way as to honor Jesus by my actions. During those times it
would have been very easy to have mistaken me for someone who did not have
Jesus at all. Friends, we are living in a time that we need to be about our
Father's business. We are living in a time that requires us to solidify our
relationship with the Lord Jesus so that we are not swept away in the
deceptions that this world will receive. I think it is time that each of us
examined our lives and asked the question, "Am I truly ready for the coming
of Christ?" For many of us the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" For
others I think the answer would be one that we hope no one would hear. But
the hour is not yet passed where we can come to the Lord. There is still
time for us to get our act together so that we stand out from those who live
their lives only for the pleasure of the moment. I do not mean that we
should want to stand out so as to draw attention unto ourselves. I mean
that we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians who love the Lord should stand
out in our efforts to bring the three angels' messages to a dying world.
Each day thousands go to the grave without the hope of anything beyond the
temporal pleasures that this world has to offer while we sit upon a mountain
of life-giving truth. I pray that we would each resolve in our hearts to
not let another day go by without us living completely for the Lord Jesus
Christ. If you are among those who faithfully walk with the Lord each day
then find those in your midst whose day you can brighten with a word of
encouragement. Some of you may say that you don't have the talents to do
much for Jesus. Friends, please realize that if Jesus calls us then He WILL
equip us to do His good pleasure. May it never be said of any of us that we
are mistaken for the world. May it be said of us instead like it was of the
disciples; that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Dear Father God,
As we lift our hearts and minds toward heaven tonight, we praise You for
being the awesome and mighty God that You are. You are the sovereign of the
universe and You are worthy to be praised. As we bow before You may we
realize just how awesome it is to be able to live our lives totally for You.
I know Lord that many of us have not been as faithful as we should have been
and we need to stop playing around and live for You in every aspect of our
lives. As we surrender to You just now, please give us that blessed
assurance that You hear and forgive us of all of our transgressions (1 John
1:9). I pray Lord Jesus that You will give us the courage to live for You
openly and unashamedly, and we long for the day when You will place Your arm
of love around us and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter
into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21). In the name of our Lord and
Savior Jesus we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

#13 Lost Along the River

"I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick;" Ezekiel 34:16

One of my most favorite past times is to go backpacking and hiking. I love the smell of fresh air and the joy that comes from spending time in nature with friends. Back in North Carolina there is a place called the Linville Gorge. It is a river gorge that feeds into Lake James near Morganton, NC. The Linville Gorge is about 15 miles long and winds back and forth along the river. My friends and I would take a long weekend and hike down the gorge with minimal camping supplies. Sometimes Ginger's uncles and cousins would go and we would have a great time. One year we decided to go down the gorge and the ones who normally led the way were not able to go with us. We did not think it would be a big deal so we decided to go on our own and have a good time like normal.

Everything started off fairly well but we soon realize that we were not on the trail that we were accustomed to being on. In fact, we were way off the beaten path. The bad part is that we did not realize this until we had been hiking for about 4 hours. That meant that we had to try to get back on the path from a point that we were not familiar with. You must understand that the gorge area is not flatland. It is very steep in most places and it is very wearisome to walk up hill with 50 pounds of gear and food on your back. Needless to say we became very tired and really just wanted to find somewhere to stop for the evening. I wish I could tell you that it got better, but it got worse before that happened.

At one point we came to a portion of the wrong trail that went nearly straight down. As one of my buddies started down the hill he lost his footing and went tumbling down the hill. When he skidded to a stop at the bottom his knee jammed into a rock outcropping and injured his knee. He could still walk on it but he was not able to carry his pack and walk too. So we each took part of his load and distributed it among the rest of the group. We finally made our way out to the road and found a roadside campsite where we could bed down for the night. I have been tired many times in my life, but there are only a few times that I can remember rest being so sweet as it was that night. Truly, we were happy to have found our way out of the forest, and the next time we considered going hiking we made sure to have someone to guide us on our way.

Friends, tonight I just wonder how many of us feel lost in this world because we thought we too knew the way we should go. Maybe there will be some who read this and say, "I am not lost." Perhaps you are not lost in the sense that you know Jesus, but perhaps you have decisions to make in your life and you need guidance from on high today. Perhaps as you look forward the future does not look as bright as it once did and you sense a need to turn everything over to Jesus. I know beyond any doubt that Jesus longs to give each of us guidance so that we can feel safe and secure in this world of turmoil and I just pray that you would consider the areas that you need to turn over to Jesus.

In our key passage we see through the prophet Ezekiel that God is seeking the lost. We are told that He wants to bring back the scattered and bind up the broken while He strengthens the sick. Maybe today friend you are among the scattered that know the truth of Jesus, but you have turned away from it. Maybe you were baptized and then for some reason you let friends or family discourage you from following Jesus completely. I pray that today will be the day that choose to let God bring you home and bind your wounds.

Dear Father,
I pray that You will never give up calling us to come to You. I pray that we would be willing to surrender completely to You and allow You to bind up our emotional and spiritual wounds. Dear Lord there are far too many who have allowed themselves to become scattered from Your flock. May Your Holy Spirit continue to press on the hearts and minds of each of us until we all come home to You. We pray in the blessed name of Jesus just now, Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

#12 Broken Road Ahead

Luke 6:44 NASB "For each tree is known by its own fruit…”

Michigan has been a wonderful new experience for us so far and we love being here. As with any new place, there are things about a particular place that you like more than others, right? Well, for me who drives about 3,000 miles a month I wish the townships spent more money on roads. I am not trying to knock our new state that we love, but the roads could use a little help in some areas. I was blown away the first time I came across a sign that actually labeled the road as a “rough road.” I thought to myself, “It can’t be that bad, can it?” As I ventured down that particular road I discovered that the sign should have read “horrible road.” There was what appeared to multi-colored scabs all over the road where someone had attempted to patch the road, but what happened was it made the road incredibly bumpy and rough to ride upon. At that time the struts and shocks in my car were in need of being replaced so I felt as if I was riding upon the high seas in the midst of a great storm. I felt myself wondering which was worse; the hundreds of mismatched patches or the gaping holes where the pavement was totally gone? I realize that not all of the roads here are like that. In fact , I can actually tell you where the worse ones are and I have learned to avoid them as I am routing myself around doing visitation. One thing is for sure, when the great state of Michigan puts up a sign to warn me of the condition of particular road I am going to take the message to heart and proceed down that road with caution.

So how does this relate to our Christian experience? I am convinced that as Christians and just as people in general we give off signs to the world around us. The various signs can warn us about dangerous people, they can tell us if someone is in trouble, they tell us that people either like us or dislike us. Each one of us give off signs to the world around us. Some of us are aware of this and attempt to control the signs that we give off. Others are more oblivious to this and are surprised when someone comes to them about a particular issue. As Christians we need to be keenly aware of what goes on around us. We need to look for the signs in people’s lives as it will facilitate us being able to reach them for the gospel. If you begin a conversation with someone about religious things and they start showing signs of not being interested we may have to take a step back and not push the issue at that point. I have seen people with the best of intentions attempt to share the gospel with someone who was obviously putting up signs of disinterest. It should have told them to stop pushing the issue, but instead they kept right on plowing ahead and they ended up turning the other person away. Within the church we need to have our eyes open to what is going on within our church family. If we see a need we should seek to find a way to help take care of that need. If we see someone with signs of depression then we should reach out to them. Often times we can even see signs of a troubled marriage. There are many things we can see if we simply learn how to recognize them. Along with our study of the gospel we should study people too. If we have a thorough understanding of the gospel but we do not know to deal with people then it will limit our ability to be effective.

The inverse to this is for each of us to realize that we are putting out signs for the world to see. Christians should be especially aware of this because we have an obligation to rightly represent Christ to the world around us. Although Christians should be the happiest people on earth we too have problems. The difference comes in how we deal with the problems that crop up in life. We should not despair as do those who know not God. We should seek to give our problems completely over to Jesus. Jesus has promised that if we give our problems to Him then He will give us His light burden and His easy yoke (Matt11:30). Sometimes that is not easy for us and we need others to help us. Sometimes there may even be a chemical imbalance and we may need medication to help. Whatever the case may be, we all need to have our eyes open to what is going on around us as it relates to other church members and the world in general.

Dear Father,
Please help us to pay attention to each one in our church family. Please help us to careful about the signs that we give off to the world around us. As Christians Father, we want to rightly represent You and our Lord Jesus. Please help us give off signs that will make people want the peace that we have found in You and the joy that we have as Christians. It is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

#11 Running Late

"For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:14 NASB

This message will be of special significance for any of you who have ever flown on a commercial airline. I love to fly. I love sitting in the window seat and being able to look out and see things begin to move rapidly by and after only a few seconds the angle of your view changes as the nose of the airplane comes up. Then you fell the aircraft become airborne and things begin to get smaller very quickly. My favorite part of flying is always the take-off. I really like it when the aircraft has to go into a steep banking turn to follow the designated flight path. It feels somewhat like a roller coaster but with much more comfort and a lot less screaming. After the initial ascent, the aircraft will level off and maintain its cruising altitude throughout the majority of the flight. Most air travel is non-eventful and you can even get some sleep, watch the in-flight movie, or do whatever it is you like to do when you have a few hours to kill.

One thing that is not so tranquil as most flights is finding your gate to get on the airplane. For those who are not familiar with airports, the gate is the portion of the air terminal where you go to board your airplane. I can remember the first time that I went to catch a flight in Atlanta. When Soldiers fly to and from the U.S. coming and then returning from their leave while overseas, they fly into one of two major hubs; either Atlanta or Dallas/Ft. Worth. I lived on the east coast so I flew into Atlanta when coming home. I had flown before, but I had never been to Atlanta for a flight. The Atlanta airport uses a system of trains that take you from gate to gate so that you can make your connection to complete your journey. I needed to get to the right gate so that I could connect to Charlotte, NC where my beloved wife was waiting to pick me up. I was already a bit disoriented just trying to get re-adapted to being in the U.S. after having been in Iraq. Between the disorientation and the rush to find the right gate, I got on the wrong train. I ended up being quite a long ways away from where I needed to be. To further complicate things, Soldiers coming in from overseas have to go through customs. In customs I had to take off my belt, my boots, and anything else that had the slightest jingle. So I came out of customs trying to carry my carry-on bag, my boots, my pocket items, and trying to hold up my pants at the same time. I was more than a little irritated to say the least. I told the customs agent that I was on his side, but he insisted that I remove the aforementioned items. I finally got re-dressed and made my way through the busy airport to the appropriate gate just in time to catch my flight home. As you may imagine, it was worth all the trouble I had to endure because the reward at the other end of my trouble was getting to be with the ones that I love; Ginger and the kids.

I just wonder how many of us today are struggling with finding the right gate in life. When Jesus was on the earth He spoke of two gates. The one gate is very broad and is very easy to find. It is the gate found at the end of the path that leads to destruction and eternal separation from God. The other gate is not so easy to find. Jesus said that gate is "small" and the pathway that leads to that particular gate is "narrow". He also notes that many people find the wide gate that leads to destruction, but there will be "few who find" the narrow gate that leads unto eternal life.

The awesome thing about the narrow gate is that Jesus has the map that tells us how to get there. He has placed that map in the Bible. In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are told to study to show ourselves approved to God. When we study the Word of God we will find those clues that come together and lead us to the gate: Jesus Christ. The alternative is quite different. You do not have to study. You do not have to look for anything. All you have to do is whatever you want to do and you will just naturally find and walk down the wide path that leads away from Jesus Christ. It is my prayer today that each of you reading this will choose to find the narrow gate. It is my prayer that you will call on the mighty and awesome name of Jesus and ask Him to show you the way to the Him. It is as simple as Accepting the fact that you are a sinner, believing that Jesus died to pay the price for your sins, confessing your sins to Him, and then deciding to follow Him no matter where he leads you. That my friends is the simple and plain truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not complicated, but it does require you to make a choice. I pray that today you will choose Jesus because He has already chosen you.

Dear Father in Heaven,
We thank You for the new Sabbath that is quickly approaching. Lord we have troubles in our lives and we need the comfort of knowing that You are going to be with us no matter what. In a world of increasing financial troubles, we need to place our security in You today. Dear Jesus, I pray that each one of us will choose to follow You down the narrow difficult path that leads unto eternal life. We cannot do it on our own and we need You to be our guide. Lord we long for the day when our faith will become sight and we will take flight with You as You come to take us to be in Heaven with You. It is in Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

#10 Going With the Flow

"Šlet us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"
Hebrews 12:1

I am not sure how many of you are fishermen, but I have never been much of one. It is not that I have been opposed to it, it is just that I have never had any success in the fishing ventures that I have undertaken. I have fished in ponds, lakes, the ocean, and I am anxious to try ice fishing now that we live in Michigan. I am hoping that since the fish will be freezing cold that they will come toward the hole in the ice as a way to find heat near the light. Not a real scientific thought perhaps, but I can't help but think I would want to go near the light that peered brighter through the hole in the frozen ceiling of my aquatic home. But I digress from my intended point.

I have always been fascinated by the salmon. Even when I was a meat eater I never cared for salmon as a food, but I have always been intrigued by their desire to swim against the current to spawn. It is quite a task to go against the flow of the water in order to go back up stream. Apart from the slower moving pools along the way, the salmon must work constantly against the water that seeks to wash it back down stream. If the salmon were to give up they would be defeated and forced to go with the current. Their work is not a static thing that just happens on its own. It is something that takes concerted effort on their part. Eventually the salmon will reach the area in the river or stream to which they long to return. Eventually, their efforts pay off and they are able to spawn and move on with their little salmon lives.

I think we too as Christians have to learn to swim against the flow of society. The world around us would have us swept away into the conformity that it longs to perpetuate. But as we have studied recently in Romans 12, God does not want us to be conformed to-or become like-the world. The Lord told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our race in this life is much like the salmon's in that we too must keep moving forward. A stagnant Christian is a dying Christian. Yes, we may have to take time out to recharge and rejuvenate, but we must not linger too long in the pool of complacency. We must always be mindful of the race that is set before each of us. I find it very interesting that Paul tells us to "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us". Imagine the salmon trying to swim up-stream having a long string with weights attached to his back. It would be very difficult to navigate through the rocks and other debris that is naturally found in the water. That is not even considering the jumps that they do to go up and over larger obstacles. It would not take long before the salmon would become entangled and trapped; left to die of starvation or predator attack. How much more easily do we as professed Christians allow the encumbrances and sins in our lives to weight us down? Then is exhausted surrender we give up on the Lord and get washed away in the stream of life. Sometimes we even become angry with God and blame Him for our short comings and our failures to surrender our lives completely to Him.

Friends, I want to encourage you today to take your weights and sins and cast them at the feet of Jesus. He stands ready and willing to cut loose the chains that bind us and He longs to take our heavy load and give us His light burden (Matthew 11:30) so that by His strength we can finish the race that He has called us to complete. By His grace and love we will find the encouragement that we need to keep swimming so to speak. Friends, don't you long to have rest? Don't you long to have victory in your life? Why not come to Jesus afresh today and give your cares and worries to Him. In Luke 12:25 Jesus asks us which one of us can add one hour to our life's span by worrying. Let today be the day that you relinquish your worry to the One who is able to bear you up on eagle's wings (Exodus 19:4).

Dear Father God,
As we come to You in prayer right now, we want to say thank You for the many blessings in our lives. Though we may have sickness and financial troubles today, You stand ready to give us the peace that surpasses all understanding. The enabling factor is to not be anxious for anything, but in all things to pray and give You thanks and glory. Please take away our burdens today and give us the strength and the courage that we need to finish the race that we have begun with You. Please take away our sins and wash us white as snow just now. It is in the holy name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 26, 2008

#9 Wrong Bottle

"Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:"
2 Timothy 3:5

One of my favorite things in the entire world is food. I think that I have an overabundant inclination to the affliction of appetite that was passed down from our Edenic parents. My love for food has led me to try many different types of food from various cultures. I first tried Chinese food in high school and I fell in love with it from the first bite. So when my dear friend Jason asked me about Thai food I was eager to try it and add it to my list of types of restaurants from which to choose. There is a restaurant in Conover, NC (near Hickory) called Tia's. Tia's specializes in authentic Thai cuisine. One day when Jason and I were in Tia's enjoying her delicious food he began to tell me about the various sauces that you could get and add to the food to spice it up a bit. Tia keeps several items on the table as regular condiments, so to speak. There are two bottles whose contents look nearly the same. There are two ways to distinguish what they contain. You can either read the label or simply smell the top of the bottle. In one of the bottles you will find your average, everyday, traditional soy sauce and it is in the bottle labeled "Soy Sauce". In the other bottle you will find a substance that smells like it was scrapped from the floor of a fish processing plant and it is labeled "Fish Sauce". I think you have to have been raised in Thailand and fed this stuff as a baby in order to stomach it. It is the worst smelling substance that I have ever smelled that is designed for human consumption. The day Jason and I were there discussing this, Jason picked up the "Soy Sauce" bottle and was just about ready to douse his food with it when he caught a whiff of the bottle. He immediately moved the bottle away from our food and took it to the front counter to tell Tia about it. You see, the bottles had been switched. They were labeled properly but they contained the wrong substance. Needless to say my buddy was very happy that he smelled the bottle before he ruined his delicious food.

I think too often we Christians fall into the same problem. On the outside we may appear to have to the "right" label, but when people get close to us we stink with the stench of the world. Some of you may say, "Pastor, those are pretty strong words." And perhaps they are, but consider this. If we call ourselves Christians then we have an obligation to conduct ourselves in a certain way. Meaning that we have been bought with a price and we are no longer our own (1 Corinthians 6:19). That means that we belong wholly and completely to the Lord Jesus and we have an obligation to Him to rightly represent the kingdom of heaven. In other words we do not just need a form of godliness, we need to be filled with the right "sauce". That sauce is the eternal love that flows from the throne of grace. Jesus told His disciples that "freely you have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8). What have we been given? We have been given the power to become children of God (John 1:12). In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells us that we have not been "Šgiven a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." That means that each believer that accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will be filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore will have the power of the living Christ manifest in their lives. But if we come to Jesus and do not take our relationship with Him seriously then we fall into the category that has a form of godliness but denies the power of God in their lives. In essence we have the right label and the right social circles, and we even worship on the right day, but if we do not allow the Spirit of God to come into our lives and transform the way we live and act and treat the world around us then we become that stinky bottle of fish sauce that serves to turn people away from God and any form of Christianity.

So where are you tonight? Are you "labeled" right and filled with the Spirit of God, or are you "labeled" right but filled with the smelliness of this life? I pray that you will allow Jesus to pour out the bad and fill you with His goodness because we have no goodness on our own and we each need Jesus to give us power to reach souls for Him.

Dear Father,
Tonight I simply pray that each one of us will be willing to let You come in and have full reign in our hearts. We not only want to be labeled properly Lord, we want to be filled to overflowing with Your Spirit and love. Please forgive us for the times when we have had a form of godliness, but were denying the power thereof. Tonight we want to give You total control so that you are both Savior and Lord in our lives. Thank You for loving us so much more than we deserve Lord Jesus. It is in Your name that we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

#8 Two Minds are Better Than One?

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:"
Philippians 2:5

Have you ever met someone who seems to have chameleon-like qualities? When you see them one day they may be happy and glorifying God and then the next time you see them they are complaining about everything under the sun. There have been times in my life when I have had to work with people with this very quality and it was difficult to say the least. I have often wondered why they allowed the circumstances of life to dictate how they were going to feel. I remember one guy in particular with whom I worked burying telephone cable. He was actually a supervisor and you just never knew what kind of mood he was going to be in when he came to work. One day he would come in and be really pumped up about the jobs that we had to do and other days he was just miserable to be around. I actually looked for him to have a heart attack or some other traumatic malady to strike him because he allowed everything to stress him out. I begin to notice after a couple of weeks of working with him that each morning he would have a Mt. Dew and two headache powders with his breakfast. Seeing the pattern I inquired as to why he took this daily cocktail. He told me that he was just preparing himself for the headaches that he knew the day would bring. I felt sorry for his stomach as I watched him repeat this day after day. One day when we were working and having some difficulty boring under the highway he became extremely frustrated. The boring rod hit some rock and deviated from the straight shot that we had hoped it would make. That meant that it was really tough trying to find the other end when we dug down to it in order to pull the phone cable through. The longer we dug trying to find the other end of the boring rods the more he ranted and cursed. I finally had enough of the childish behavior and I stopped and turned to him. I asked him, "If you hate this job so much why don't you just go home or do something else?" I could tell that he was shocked at my comments because I normally just let him blow off his steam with little to no reaction. But this day I'd had enough and it was time to get past this. After my comments he began to tell me how his home life was not the best and that when he was at work he could not do anything without thinking about how bad his marriage was. That constant dwelling on his miserable situation just kept his stomach in knots and made it tough for him to focus on anything but his situation. In a way I felt bad for calling him out, but I was glad that I did because it allowed him to talk to me about what was going on and I could tell that he felt a thousand times better. You see my supervisor was not a Christian and he was one of these guys that thought he had to be macho and tough to everyone around him. When what he really needed was someone with whom he could be transparent and open. Although I initially spoke up in frustration and more than mild irritation, my words led to a break in the tension and Goad actually used me to be an encouragement to this man during a very difficult time in his life.

The problem with my co-worker was that he was living with two minds. At home he tried his best to reach out to his wife but he did not know how to emotionally connect with her. That in turn caused her to feel even more alienated from him. Then at work he tried to mask the pain he was feeling with medication and caffeine. While inside he was in constant turmoil. It is not healthy or wise to try to be two different people. Yes, I know that the apostle Paul told us to be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22) but this in the context of approaching people in a way that speaks to their need and experience. It does not mean that we are to live double lives while tearing ourselves apart inside both emotionally and spiritually. Christ wants us to be balanced people who can maintain a healthy sense of where God is leading us. Our theme text says that we should have the same mind in us that Jesus also had. What kind of mind was that? If you read further in the text from which the verse was taken, Paul goes on to say that Jesus became a bond-servant in the form of a man. In essence it is saying that Jesus came to this lowly place called earth to serve each one of us by willfully dying on Calvary's cross to redeem us to the Father through the shedding of His blood. Christ was not double-minded in that He was one way to one group and another way to the next group. No, He maintained a healthy balanced approach to life and had the same peaceful demeanor no matter where He went. We must learn to master that same sense of being. How do we do that you ask? We do it the same way that Jesus did. And that is by staying connected to the Father in heaven by daily praying to Him and studying His holy word. It is only when we give ourselves up totally to Jesus that we can manifest the mind of Christ in our lives. So are two minds better than one? Only if those two minds are our mind being controlled by the indwelling of the Spirit of God that is in touch with the mind of God. When we allow our minds to be submitted to the mind of Christ then and only then will we have the inner peace that comes from knowing that God is in control no matter what happens. Please do not wait until you find yourself coming apart at the seams. Choose today to submit your will to the will of God. Embrace that inner tranquility that the Lord longs for you to have.

Dear Father God,

We just ask that You would draw near to us tonight and hear the cries of our hearts. Lord, there are many of us who are double-minded. We act one way in one place and totally different in another. We need to be centered dear Lord. We need to the chains of bondage taken away because we long to live in the freedom that comes from surrendering it all to you. I pray tonight dear Father that You would move mightily upon our dear church family. I pray that You would send Your Spirit to impress each of our hearts to be fully surrendered to You tonight and forever more. Give us the mind of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

#7 Wrong End of the Limb

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"
Romans 8:35 NASB

Today I had to mow our grass for the first time since we moved in. It was not really bad, but another week and it would have resembled a hay field more than a yard. My landlords are very gracious people. They insisted that we use their mower instead of buying one. They have two relatively new John Deere riders and I was able to use one to take care of our lawn. The only thing that made a routine task a little more challenging were the low hanging braches on about four trees throughout the yard. I lost count of how many times I was slapped in the face and scraped by the branches. After about an hour I was finished mowing and I decided to see if the neighbors had a chain saw that I could borrow. I was delighted that they did. Within the next hour I-with the help of Mr. Chainsaw-made short work of all the troublesome branches. While I was trimming them my mind went back to the cartoons I watched as a child. I can remember watching some of the characters sawing branches while they were standing on them. The unwise coyote and others would try to saw away the branch to cause their foes to drop to the ground and every time they themselves would be the one who came crashing down.

I then begin to think about how many of us do the same thing in our own lives. No, I don't meant literally of course, but in a figurative sense. We sometimes make decisions that are not exactly the most well laid plans. The idea may appear to be something useful when we first put our hand to accomplish it, but the future quickly reveals that we forgot to consider some very important details. Sometimes we do the same thing with relationships. We begin quite nicely with the best of intentions. However, somewhere along the way we may forget to treat others the way we want to be treated and we may become jealous or prideful and cause the relationship to sour. Essentially we cut the branch upon which we are standing and life tumbles us to the ground.

Unfortunately the same thing happens with our spiritual relationship with Jesus. When we first come to the Lord we are on fire for God and we want to live our lives for Him totally, but then someone may say something that offends us or that we take the wrong way and the next thing you know Satan has us thinking more about hurt we feel than focusing on letting it go and letting God fight our battles for us. After a while of dwelling on our own problems and self-imposed misery, we may even fall away from the Lord all together. This does not have to happen. Paul asks us in Romans 8:35, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" He then offers some things that would no doubt trouble any of us, but his implication is that even those terrible things are ineffective and unable to pull us out of God's hand. Friends, the only thing that can pull you or me away from God is our own decision to let it happen. Essentially we have to stand on the limb and cut ourselves away from the root of Christ Jesus. Paul goes on to say in the same chapter but in verses 38 and 39 essentially nothing on this earth can separate us from God; nothing that is except our own decision to let it happen.

So I have to ask you tonight, "Which end of the limb of your spirituality are you on?" Are you sitting close to the trunk fully connected with the Lord Jesus or are you dangerously close to walking out to the wrong end of the limb? Are you living your life fully surrendered to Jesus or are you playing games and just living the life of someone who is Christian in name only? It is my sincere prayer that you are living a life of full surrender tonight and that you are not in any danger of being separated from your Lord Jesus Christ. If you are not fully surrendered, why not do it just now. It only takes a minute to bow your head and commit or recommit your life to Christ. He is there longing for you to come to Him completely and to stop sawing the limb upon which you are standing.

Dear gracious and loving Heavenly Father,
Tonight as we come to You we give You thanks and adoration. We want to praise You for how wonderful and magnificent You are. Truly, You are worthy to be praised. As we come Lord we want to ask You to forgive us of our sins both individually and collectively. We are sinners in need of a savior Jesus and we want to ask that You would make our scarlet sins as white as snow in Your eyes. Wash us clean and make us wholly Yours we pray. Tonight Lord there may be some who read this and realize that they have not been living the way they should have. I ask dear Father that You would impress their hearts to turn to You and away from the games that they may have been playing spiritually. May each one of us walk back close to You because it is we who leave You and not the other way around. We desire to be closer to You than we ever have Lord. May we each one have a deeper relationship with You in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years to come. It is in the name of Jesus Christ that we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2008

#6 Divergent Paths

"In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."
Proverbs 3:6

One of the most difficult strains that can be placed on a marriage or other significant relationship is distance. I think back to the time that I had to be away from my family when I was deployed to Iraq and it brings to mind some very sad memories. I was called up to deploy in November of 2005 and left for my training to prepare for deployment in April of 2006. We spent two months in Camp Shelby, MS and then left for Iraq on June 8, 2006. I will not get into the details of those many months at this point, but there will be more to come on that someday soon. One thing that I began to notice among the other Soldiers after a while is that many of them did not communicate with their families very regularly. Yes, there were lots of ways that we could stay in touch with folks back home. On the base in Mosul, Iraq there was a computer and phone center that was run off of the satellites and you could wait your turn to use them. We could also get Iraqi cell phones and buy pre-paid minutes from the vendors on the base. I also noticed that the Soldiers who did not stay in touch with family had a much harder time dealing with events that happened while we were there. As you may imagine, there are lots of bad things that happen overseas in a combat zone and it is imperative to find someone you can talk to about it so that it does not get all bottled up inside of you and lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I did my best to encourage some of the Soldiers to talk with people and to process the events they experienced; some did and many others did not. Another thing that ended up happening was that many Soldiers' life experience began to become something very different from that of their friends and family back home. The end result was that Soldiers grew away from their friends and families and found it very difficult to reintegrate themselves back into civilian and family life.

I wonder how many of you reading this tonight have allowed a similar event to happen to you. Yes, you may not have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and experienced the horrors of war, but perhaps you have allowed other things to crowd in and now you find yourself going down a much different path than your spouse. Sometimes it is work that contributes to this and other times it is having very different goals than your significant other. Whatever it may be that has allowed you and your special someone to grow apart it is something that you need to address. Unless you have a desire to see your relationships fail-and I pray that you are emotionally healthy enough that that is not your goal-then I would encourage you to talk with those you love and make sure that you are on the same path spiritually, financially, emotionally, and otherwise. It may take some work, but in the end I believe that you will be very happy that you did not allow your lives to go down very different paths that diverge into separate lives. We are told in 3 John 1:2 through John that the Lord desires that we prosper and be in good health so I know that the Lord does not want us to live our lives in such a way that we grow apart from the ones to whom we have made covenant relationships. Marriage of course is the primary application to this but the same can be said for the relationships with our friends and family. Why not make an effort this coming week to mend some fences. Why not pray and ask the Lord if you and those that you love have begun or already grown apart, and if the answer is "yes" then pray more and ask the Lord to help rejoin those divergent paths. I think we all could avoid a lot of heartache if we turned everything over to God and let Him not only be our Savior but our Lord as well.

Heavenly Father,
We come to you tonight with hearts that long to rejoined to Yours. We are tired of living with broken relationships and we want the paths of our lives to be rejoined with the paths of those we love so dearly. We pray that You would be the glue dear Lord that will bond us all closer together that we can be a support to one another as the trials of life come upon us. Thank You for this Sabbath dear Lord and we each one live our lives to honor You in all that we do. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

Friday, August 29, 2008

#5 Open Mouth, Insert Foot

"But no one can tame the tongue: it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." James 3:8

Just the other day I was visiting with some friends while I was at Southern Adventist University (SAU) finishing up General Psychology. While we were visiting we began to talk about things that we had said that we wish we hadn't said. We all shared stories of how our mouths had gotten us into trouble at some time or another. I remember one story that was actually sort of cute. My best friend's wife was talking about how her father-in-law and she were discussing the possibility of him trading his vehicle. He currently owns a silver Scion XB-the little cars that look like a toaster on wheels-and was thinking of trading it in for the newest body style that Scion has produced for that line. She told how her father-in-law kept going on and on about how great the new body style looked and how he would love to have it, and then before she knew what had happened she told him, "You should go trade up with them, anything would be better than what you have." The words fell out of her mouth before she even realized she said them. Of course her father-in-law stopped talking and just stared at her. He was blown away that she had voiced what had obviously been on her mind for some time. Thankfully for her she has a great father-n-law and he did not get too offended over the situation. He actually saw how embarrassed she was and he tried to make her feel better. He wrote it off to hormone imbalance during pregnancy and now they laugh about the moment. Needless to say, my friend's wife was terribly embarrassed and wanted to crawl under the seat and never come out.

I realize that this is a rather trivial story about not having our tongues tamed, but how many of us can relate to a story similar to this where we wish we had not opened our mouths? Far too many I am sure. There are times that I have said something to someone and really wished that I could take it back. I had a really bad habit of this when Ginger and I first got married. I loved to pick around, but I did not realize that my words of jest were actually daggers to the heart of my beloved. It took me several years to realize that I was continually bruising the heart of my dear wife. I did not try to hurt her, but my endless joking and picking around was almost more than she wanted to bear. I praise the Lord that she was able to voice her concern to me and that I had enough sense to listen to her cries for help.

So how about you? Do you say things to people that bruise their spirits? Do you use harsh words when you address your children or your spouse? Do you always look for the negative in every situation? Do you have to always be right no matter what? Do you try to tear others down so that you can build yourself up? Obviously I do not know how many if any of these questions apply to you guys. But I am certain that we could all think back to some situation where we should have said something in a different way or maybe we should not have said anything at all. It is impossible to control our tongues apart from the Lord. James reminds us that the tongue is a "restless evil and full of deadly poison." If that is the case then is foolish to think that we will be able to control the rudder of our body. I suggest to you all this evening that we need a higher power than that which is inherent in each of us. We need the power of the living God at work in our lives so that He can grant us the power to control our tongues and the other members of our body. Is only when Jesus comes in and becomes both Lord and Savior that we can have victory over an evil, poisonous tongue. How much sweeter would life be if we only spoke kind words to the world around us, if we looked for opportunities to encourage instead of ridicule, and if we sought chances to edify instead of tear down? It is my prayer that each of us would yield total control of our tongues and bodies to the Lord.

Dear Father in heaven,
We come to You this evening and give You praise for the many blessings in our lives. We also want to say thank You for the trials that teach us to lean on You more fully. In the midst of our praise may You grant us forgiveness for the times that we have allowed the poison of our tongues to bruise the spirit of someone around us. We desire to yield control of this small member of the body to You completely. May You control each thought, word, and deed as we strive to live our lives for You. It is in the name of Jesus our Savior we pray, Amen!

Friday, August 22, 2008

#4 Teach Me to Walk O' Lord

"Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul."
Psalm 143:8

I know that almost none of us can remember the very steps that we took as budding toddlers. If you are like me, you probably have trouble remembering what you ate yesterday not to mention the fledgling years of life. But I wonder how many of us can take our minds back to when we first began to walk with the Lord? For some of us that is not too long ago. For others we may have to pull down a few mental cobwebs to dig back that far. I think back to my own spiritual beginning and it makes me smile to see how much the Lord has cleaned me up. Am I perfect? Not by a long stretch. But day by day I keep putting one foot in front of the other in the spiritual sense. I trip and fall from time to time, but my Jesus is always there ready, willing and able to lift me up and carry me through one more day.

So where are you this evening? Is your walk moving along or do you find yourself crawling along this Christian pathway? Only you and the Lord can fully answer that, but no matter where you may find yourself this evening I want to give you hope. Hope that Christ will never leave you or forsake you. He has promised to always be with us and I fully believe Him. I want you take hope in knowing that no matter how many times you may fall down Christ is there to pick you back up. However, some of us think that Jesus gets tired of us messing things up and eventually He turns away from us. Sure, Jesus wants us to turn away from our sin and to put Him first in our lives, but Christian growth is a process. There are some things that we have to wrestle with to overcome. This works to mold our character into that lovely reflection of what God desires us to be. In Revelation 3 Jesus tells the church in Laodicea to buy of Him gold tried in the fire. That is symbolic language that speaks of allowing Christ to mold us into His image more and more. It is language that tells us that Christ longs to give us total victory in our lives. In our key text from Psalm 143 we read how the psalmist cries out to God to teach him how to walk. What will it take in your life to come to that same point? Do you have a desire to walk in the ways of righteousness? If you answered "yes" to either question then I encourage you bow your head and seek the Lord in prayer and life up your soul to Him who holds the universe in His hand. I too long to walk closer to the Lord, and by His saving grace may we all find our way down that straight and narrow path that finds it end in the loving arms of our Lord Jesus. Have a very blessed Sabbath my friends.

Dear Father,
We come to you in this moment to give You praise and to offer You thanks for the awesome ways in which You work in our lives. Please forgive us where we have failed You dear Lord. Please take away any dark blot that stains our character, and wash us each one white as snow. We long to walk in a manner worthy of the calling that You have given us, but we cannot do it alone we need You help Lord. We want to be close to You in all that we do so please empty us of our selves and fill us with the Holy Spirit I pray. It is in the name of the One who died for us, Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#3 Unit Cohesion

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 KJV

I am not sure how many of you have ever been through military basic training, and I certainly know that each branch conducts training in a somewhat different way. However, each branch has at least one thing in common: taking random people and making them function as a team.

I had the opportunity to do my basic training for the Army at Fort Jackson, SC. Fort Jackson was called “Relaxin’ Jackson” for some demented reason. I am not sure if I was just not bright enough to figure it out, but I never found out why it was called that. Each and every time I turned around we were being run to and fro or rolling around in the sand and dirt or even doing push-ups until our arms felt like well-boiled noodles. The first two weeks were the worst. Those two weeks were called “red phase.” Red phase was the period of time that the Drill Sergeants attempted to make your life the most miserable. Those two weeks contained more screaming and shouting than the other seven weeks combined I think.

The goal was—I learned later—to take a group of mismatched people from around the country and transform them into a unit of men and women who could think and act as one; to take 52 individuals and teach them how to think as one well-oiled machine that is capable of completing any mission that may be thrown at them.
The physical component was only part of it. Yes, they wanted to take our weak bodies and build them up and make them strong enough to endure the rigors of combat, but the mind was where the real battle was taking place. Until the Drill Sergeants got all of our brains on the same page we would always be working against each other. Over a period of weeks it all began to take shape.

There is something about common suffering that causes people to bond in a special way. When you face the same trials as other people and come out victorious on the other end then you share an experience that only those who went through the fire with you understand. Did we all always get along? No, of course not, but we were able to set aside differences when it counted and we could pull together as a team and as a unit to accomplish the mission.

Finally at the end of the ten weeks when you stand on the parade field there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that is born out of the training experience. And there is a bond with those men and women in your unit that the Army calls “unit cohesion”. It is the ability to work together to accomplish the mission no matter what the circumstances and that is what makes any fighting force successful in their endeavors.

So how does that apply to us? We in the church come from varied backgrounds and experiences. We each have a unique testimony as to how Christ has lead us to the point where we find ourselves today, and we have to find a way to develop “unit cohesion” if you will within the church.

Of course I am not suggesting that we make church members drop and do push-ups when they cannot get along, but we do have to learn how to move beyond our own opinions and embrace rock-solid principles from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. This is not always easy for churches to accomplish this, but accomplish it we must.
Friends I am convinced that we are in a spiritual battle against the rulers of darkness in this world (Ephesians 6:12). We may wrestle with flesh and blood, but our true battle is against “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Some of us may not want to learn how to work with others and we may think it best to just run away, but the Bible makes it clear that we must not forsake coming together. It is that much more important as the day of Christ’s return draws nearer and still nearer.
Maybe you have allowed Satan to drive a wedge between you and another member of the “unit” so to speak. Maybe you have been tempted to withdraw instead of standing firm in the Lord and trying to find a way to work with people whom you may find difficult or challenging.

Friends, time is too short for us to be swallowed up in petty differences. Time is too short for us to not be pulling together to win souls for the Lord Jesus. Time is too short for us to be absorbed in pity parties and self-consuming thoughts. Time is short, but Christ is still available if we will just call upon Him to heal the wounds of the past. It is my desire that you each will be willing to take a close look at your lives and ask the Lord how you can be a better member of the church team.
The Holy Spirit has been given, and we should pray that our hearts would be emptied of the selfish desires to which we often cling. It is only then that we can be filled with the Spirit of the living God, and it is only then that we will function as a dedicated unit of Christian men, women, and children that is truly anticipating the coming of our Lord.

Dear Father God,
Please speak to our minds—and give us the courage to give ourselves totally unto You. We need You to come into our lives in a deeper and more meaningful way that we may be able to focus on the tasks that You have for us as Your bride who eagerly awaits Your return. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.