Monday, October 21, 2019

Whatever Fills You Controls You

Once as a teenager I went on a double date with my cousin. Halfway through the date, I found out the girl I was with had an insanely jealous boyfriend named Marty. He was also big, she said. “And,” she added, “he has a nasty temper.” I figured that to be a deadly combination, so I filed that information away, reminding myself to avoid this boyfriend of hers at all costs. We were driving home later that night when all of a sudden my cousin said, “Uh-oh.” 

“What’s the problem?” I asked, thinking maybe we were running out of gas. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but Marty is right on our tail.” I looked anyway and saw a car about two inches from our bumper, and we were doing 60 miles an hour on the interstate.

Now, up until this point I had only done one thing I regretted, and that was to go out with this girl in the first place. But now I became a willing participant in a series of stupid mistakes. May I say to any teens who happen to be reading this: “Don’t try this at home ... or on the interstate.” My cousin floored the car, a 1972 Camaro Z-28, and we took off like a rocket. We were going over 90 with Marty right on our tail, and it is only by the grace of God, gentle readers, that I am here to tell the story.

We finally reached our exit, careened onto the ramp, and headed for my cousin’s house. Marty was only seconds behind us. My cousin realized we weren’t going to outrun him, so he said something like, “Good luck, Mark,” as we screamed into his driveway on two wheels. I was shaking with adrenalin and fear, and could hear the words “big ... nasty temper ... insanely jealous” reverberating in my skull. My legs felt like jelly, and my mouth was dry as dust.

About that time my cousin slammed on the brakes in his carport, and I managed to fall out of the car to face my attacker, who was leaping from his car as it slid to a stop in the driveway.

Now you have to realize that at this time in my life I had not yet had my growth spurt. In fact, I still haven’t had it, but I was a skinny 16-year-old then, only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, and maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. As I recall it, Marty seemed to tower over me by at least a foot. But what I remember most of all was the purple rage that consumed him. He was so filled with wrath that he had no control of his body. He couldn’t swing his fists because his anger controlled them. He couldn’t speak, but sputtered and spat, because the anger had his tongue. As he stumbled toward me I bent over, and he pounded me on my back. The blows were nothing, dissipated by the rage that shook Marty like a ragdoll.

I saw something that day I will never forget. Whatever fills you controls you, whether it is wine, anger, lust or greed. That’s why the Bible says, “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go.” And, “Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit.”

After the dust cleared and the rage subsided that day, Marty and I had a friendly exchange. He gave me my life back, and I gave him his girlfriend. Seemed like the right thing at the time.

Monday, October 14, 2019

What Can Be Worse Than Unbelief?

Imagine this scenario. A man has a teenager who, since he was a child, has been subject to violent seizures. His mouth foams and his teeth grind and his body bucks and lurches, raging with convulsion. The young man is deaf and unable to speak. He cannot talk to his father about the terror that he feels, never knowing when the next attack will occur. He cannot hear his father’s cries of anguish as he prays for his son. He can see his face, though, and the lines of worry have grown deeper on his father’s brow. His hair is gray and his shoulders are stooped and his hope is almost gone. The father has to watch his son every second because the attacks have happened frequently near fire or water and dragging his son from the flames or from the deep has taken its toll on both of them. The scars from the burns are testimonies to the torment a father and his son have endured together. How much longer?

You don’t have to imagine this scene. You can read about it in Mark 9. The story is true. The young man was not just under attack; the source was a demon. When his father heard that Jesus was passing through the region, he had hope for the first time, perhaps, in many years. He took his son to see Jesus, only to find that the Master and His three closest disciples were not there. The father turned to Jesus’ other disciples for help. They tried, but they failed. As the religious leaders of the day taunted the nine and argued with them, Jesus showed up on the scene. This is where the story really gets interesting.

As soon as the demon in the young man sees Jesus, he throws his host into a convulsion. The word in the text literally means the demon “tore him from side to side.” The young man fell on the ground at Jesus’ feet, his mouth foaming and his teeth grinding. Jesus asked the father how long this had been happening to his son, and the man replied, “From childhood.” The he said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds with the man’s own words: “If you can!” Then He added, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The man cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Now, you have to get this picture clear in your mind. This man’s son is possessed and has almost been destroyed many times by a demon. The father is desperate for his son’s deliverance. Jesus sees that. He sees the son writhing at His feet. In perhaps the most astonishing triage in history, Jesus decides that the immediate need is not the son but the father. The greatest evil was not in the boy but in the man. Even the father saw it.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It is very noticeable that the man did not say, ‘Lord I believe; help my child!’ Not at all. He perceives that his own unbelief is harder to overcome than the demon. And that to heal him of his spiritual disease was a more needful work than even to heal his child of the sad malady under which he labored.”

Jesus had compassion on the man as He spoke to his unbelief, and compassion on his son as He delivered him to wholeness.

What can be worse than unbelief? Not even a demon. The evil spirit may kill your body, but unbelief will do much worse.

Monday, October 7, 2019

We Are Not Called to the Bench

When I was 13 years old, and weighed about 95 pounds, I joined my junior high school football team. At one of the first practices where contact was involved, we got introduced to what the coach called “the meat grinder.”
The name fit. Two boys lined up facing each other, 10 yards apart. On either side were tackling dummies, laid end to end, to create a narrow channel within which the “meat” could be ground. One boy was designated the runner, and handed a football, the other designated the tackler, and was given jeers and whistles and other forms of encouragement by the rest of the team.

I was called into the meat grinder, and the coach gave me the ball. A 14-year-old named C.D. (who as I recall was already shaving, stood 6 feet tall and weighed in at 165 pounds) crouched on the other end, ready to                                                                              grind me into powder.

If this were a Disney movie, I would have bowled C.D. over, knocking him senseless, and the other boys would have carried me on their shoulders to the locker room, the coach running to catch us, anxious to talk to me about being their star running back that year. This was not a Disney movie.

C.D. hit me like a freight train, driving me back past the point where I had started running, and finished the job by landing with his full weight on my skinny frame. I lay there for a few minutes as the team snickered into their hands, and then I slowly raised my body from the dust, mentally checking to see if I still had all of my body parts. The only thing I can figure is, the coach was trying to get me to quit, but I was too stupid or too proud or both. I stayed on the team ... but not really.

You see, though our team went undefeated that year, I never saw one minute of playing time. It wasn’t because the coach didn’t try to get me in the game. We would be up by 45 points at halftime, usually, and in the second half the coach would start putting in the scrubs. Eventually he made his way to me.

“Fox, have you been in the game yet?” he would always ask.

“Yes sir!” I would always squeak, mortified that he would call my bluff and make me play. But the coach knew what was going on, and he didn’t push it.

I was a part of a championship team, but I never got in the game. I was on the sidelines the whole year, cheering on my teammates, thankful to be there, but praying I would not have to actually go on the field and face my opponents.

I am still part of a championship team, the undefeatable church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” I think he knew something about being in the meat grinder. His response was never to retreat to the bench and the protection of the sideline. Paul, like his Savior, endured the trials, knowing that victory would come to those who put their trust in God.

I have been through a few “meat grinders” since that year in junior high. Not on the football field but in ministry, in marriage, and in the day to day challenges that can leave us all bruised and bewildered. But by God’s grace, I will never retreat to the bench again.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Know Your Spiritual Gift

It is possible that one of the greatest untapped resources on the planet is the wealth of spiritual gifts that have been given to followers of Jesus Christ. Many believers simply do not know what has been given, why it has been given, and how to use the gift. Peter answers those questions succinctly in one sentence: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Let’s address the questions by looking at this text. Question 1. How many believers have a spiritual gift? Each one. Every single person who is born again has a spiritual gift. Paul said, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” You cannot say something like, “Not me, man. I was looking the other way when God handed out the gifts.” Fact is, you had nothing to do with it.

Question 2. How does each believer get a spiritual gift? He or she receives it. It is a gift, not a wage or a tip or anything else earned. God gives it, which means God decides what he wants you to have. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”

Question 3. What is the purpose of the gift you and I have received? It is for the service of others, and for the glory of God.

People at a dinner party were puzzled when the host asked each one of them to hold out their arms at the table. The host then strapped two-foot-long planks onto each guest’s arms. A fork was attached to the end of each plank. The blessing was spoken, and the people were invited to begin eating. But there was no way to eat. They could not get the fork to their own mouths because of the planks. They were frustrated at first, but then one of them started laughing as she realized that though they could not feed themselves, they were each uniquely “gifted” to feed the person across the table. What they had been given was not for them but for others.

Question 4. How do I know what gift I have received? This is where we need to read the Bible, pray, and even experiment a little. The fact is, there are several different spiritual gifts; they are part of “God’s varied grace.” That’s one of the things that makes the church so exciting and so frustrating at the same time. It can be frustrating because everybody is not just like you and does not see things the way you see them. It is exciting for the very same reason. That’s why Paul said, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” Each gift is different and all of them are needed.

Some people attend a church service and all they can see is a need for more organization and leadership when it comes to meals for people, baby showers, work-days, and mission trips. Others come in and see a need for people to be taught the Bible. Others believe the church needs more resources so it can better impact the world with the Gospel. Others say, “I think I could help this church just by coming early and setting up chairs or sweeping the floor.” Each believer is uniquely gifted by God to help build and serve his church.

Are you using your spiritual gift to serve the body of Christ? It is never too late to start!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Don’t Stop Thinking About the Reason

As the story goes, a man was watching TV with his wife when the doorbell rang. He went to see who it was and found his friend on the doorstep. “What are you doing?” the friend asked. He said, “Watching a movie.” The friend said, “Oh, which one?” The man knit his brow and worked on that thought for a moment, then said, “What’s that flower called that smells good but has thorns?” His friend replied, “Rose?” “Yeah, that’s it.” The man then turned and called back into the house, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of that movie we’re watching?” Now there’s a man with a memory problem. His forgetter is working overtime.

It’s important to remember the names of our loved ones, and diseases that strip that ability away are cruel and unusual punishment. But what about those who forget the very reason for their existence simply because they are consumed with lesser things? Why would Paul write to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead”? Surely that is the last thing this young pastor would forget. Not so fast. You might argue that the banner over Israel in the Old Testament was, “They forgot God.” Moses said it this way near the end of his life: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” It is one of the reasons why I believe Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. “Do this,” He said, “in remembrance of Me.” It is a regular reminder for the body of Christ that employs all of our five senses as we taste, smell, touch and see the elements, and as we hear the words that he spoke, “This is my body, broken for you...this is my blood, poured out for you.”

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most beautiful structure in the world. It was built in the 1600′s by an Emperor for his favorite wife after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took twenty thousand men more than twenty years to build this magnificent shrine. The sad irony is that by the time the building was completed, the favorite wife had been gone so long that most in the empire did not know her memory and had no idea why the Taj Mahal had been built. They marveled at the edifice, ignorant of the life it celebrated.

It can be true of a church, can’t it? We build magnificent structures and cathedrals that dazzle the eye. We spare no expense to have the finest architecture, the tallest steeple, the largest sanctuary, or the most ‘cutting-edge’ programs. Then we drift away from center. We forget the reason we started the church in the first place. The stained-glass windows tell the story of the Gospel that we long since quit preaching. “The gospel? It is just too exclusive,” we say. “We need a more tolerant message.” The church bells still play the old hymns through the week, songs that many would be embarrassed to sing on Sunday. Songs like, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right.” Or songs like, “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does his successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.” Those songs speak of the power of a gospel that is able to save in every village, every hamlet, every tribe, every tongue, every nation. They joyfully proclaim a hope that is exclusive and extensive, a hope that is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. We may forget who is enshrined in the Taj Mahal, because she is long gone. Jesus is not. He is risen from the dead. The living Savior is the very reason for our existence.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Does Your Pastor Have the Blues?

The greatest struggle of the average pastor in America is with discouragement and sometimes flat-out depression. The source of his discouragement may be the stress of the ministry and the absence of elders who are walking with him in it. Or the feeling that he is not equipped to take care of a flock. Or that he or his wife or children are struggling with their own sins that they believe they have to keep hidden in order to maintain the facade of a “nearly perfect family.” Or the daily struggle of caring for the needs of a church, sometimes going months without hearing a word of encouragement or gratitude from those he is serving. Or the source of his struggle may be financial stress.

Alistair Begg gave a talk at a pastors’ conference years ago entitled, “Dealing With the Blues.” His subject was ministerial depression, and the auditorium was packed with discouraged pastors and elders. After the session, elders from one church asked to talk with Alistair in private. “Our problem is not with the pastor, but his wife,” they said. “She is deeply depressed, and we have tried everything, but nothing has helped. What should we do?” Pastor Begg said, “Increase you pastor’s annual salary by $5000.” The elders were shocked and had no response. Later one of the members of the church who heard about this conversation found Alistair and said, “You don’t know how right on target you were. Our pastor’s wife has never been able to buy new shoes for her children, and the elders wear it as a badge of honor that the pastor’s family has to scrape together pennies to make ends meet. They believe they are helping them trust God. They think they are helping the pastor never to become a lover of money by making sure he doesn’t have any money to love.”

I heard about another pastor who was thrilled when a couple of families in his country church started giving him milk and eggs every week. Until he found out that the cost of the gifts was being deducted from his salary.

Paul addressed this issue of remuneration for pastors a number of times. He said to the church in Corinth, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” To the church in Galatia, Paul wrote, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.”

Part of the problem is disobedience to the Scriptures with regard to providing for pastors. But there is a deeper problem with disobedience to the Word with regard to giving to the church. The average church in America operates on a 10/90 basis. Ten percent of the people give ninety percent of the money so the church can operate, the pastor and the elders can feed and care for the people (one hundred percent of them), the lights can stay on, and the missionaries the church supports can do their work all over the world. Let me ask you something. What percentage of people in American churches make their mortgage payment, or the payment on their car which provides them with physical transportation, in the same way they give to the church? I would guess that most do not. The few who do pay their bills that way end up losing their cars or their homes. Now, if we pay our bills one hundred percent of the time because we feel an obligation to do so and we want to continue to enjoy the material things that money provides, how much more should we cheerfully give to the church where we are loved, cared for, encouraged, and taught spiritual truth?

I thank God for those churches, including the one I serve, who love and provide for the ones who care for and feed the flock. I thank God for the many who encourage me and let me know they are grateful for our family and for my leadership.

What about you? Does your pastor or his wife have the blues?