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.