Monday, March 18, 2019

Loving Accountability is Not ‘Micromanagement’

I really like John Rosemond’s column in the Times-News, and generally I agree with him. Every now and then, though, I just have to take issue with his advice. The question from concerned parents several years ago was what to do about their 17-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. The letter said the daughter is an honor student, and is not a risk-taker, “except with boys.” She and her current boyfriend are chafing under her parents’ rule that they cannot be alone together, and she has been caught texting her boyfriend about “sneaking out in cars to be alone.”

Mr. Rosemond started his response by saying, “Your question, however brief, absolutely drips with evidence that the two of you are guilty of world-class micromanagement.” He then went on to define “micromanagement” and its effects, “deceit, disloyalty, conflict and communication problems.” Rosemond said that these young people are engaging in three of the four of those effects and the final one, disloyalty, will surely follow if the parents continue in their destructive behavior of micromanagement.

Mr. Rosemond seemed to ignore the towering clue in the parents’ question, that their daughter tends to be a risk-taker with boys. They know their daughter; Mr. Rosemond does not. He casts that aside and seems to imply that the parents are incompetent because they want to maintain standards of behavior with their daughter for her own protection. Mr. Rosemond admits that young children need tight reins on their behavior, and I agree that as our children grow, those reins need to be loosened, in direct proportion to the wisdom and responsibility our children display. Rosemond even agrees that “some teens, because they have demonstrated a serious inability to make good decisions, may need to be micromanaged.” But then he goes on to say, “the very teen who needs it is not going to submit to it. A teen who does not need it is not going to submit to it, either. Therefore, micromanagement does not work with teens. Period.”

Wow. I know Mark Twain quipped, “When a child turns 12 you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug the hole.” That view of parenting teens would be on one end of the scale. Mr. Rosemond’s counsel sounds dangerously close to the other extreme, where one might suggest, “Teenagers are going to do what they want to do, no matter what we tell them and no matter how we have trained them. So, let’s take our hands off, let them go, and pray for the best.” I would suggest there is a healthy middle ground between an authoritarian and a laissez-faire style of parenting. I would call it “loving accountability.”

Every teen needs adults, particularly parents, who will hold him accountable, raise the standards, help him grow up “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Every adult needs that as well. I meet with two men weekly, early in the morning before work, and the meeting has one purpose: loving accountability. We ask each other questions like, “Have you led your family consistently in devotions this week?” “Have you been with a woman this week in a way that could be viewed as compromising?” “Have you viewed any sexually explicit material?” “Are you praying with and for your wife regularly?”

Are we men “micromanaging” each other? No, we are acknowledging before God that left to ourselves we cannot be trusted, that our hearts are deceptive, that we desperately need men who will help us with “loving accountability.”

Loving accountability. Even a 17-year-old honor student needs that from her parents.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Do Not Be Ashamed of the Gospel

In his second letter to the young pastor, Paul says to Timothy in so many words, “Do not be ashamed of Jesus’ name. Or of his people. Especially those who are persecuted because of their boldness to proclaim the very truth that you are also to proclaim!” There has always been a temptation to avoid association with Christ if it means we may be persecuted. How many of the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested? All of them. How many believers stood with Paul in Rome when he was put on trial for his life? Not one. We may have a hard time understanding the context of severe persecution because people in the U.S. are not arrested for preaching the gospel and talking about Jesus. Not yet.

We all rejoiced over the release of Pastor Brunson in Turkey a few months ago. He was imprisoned for two years on charges of terrorism. Brunson had been in Turkey since the mid-1990s to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I praise God that there was an international outcry over his imprisonment. We also rejoiced over the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran several years ago. He was imprisoned for three years, labeled an “apostate,” waiting to die for preaching the name of Jesus. Again, there was an international outcry. Iran released him in 2012, and Christians everywhere gave thanks that his trial was ended. But not for long. Iranian police arrested Pastor Youcef again last year, and brutally beat him in his own home and in front of his terrified family. As before, Youcef was arrested for preaching the name of Jesus, and he remains in prison today.

There are Christians all over the world who understand what it means when Paul says, “do not be ashamed of me, His prisoner.” Michael Ramsden, who works with Ravi Zacharias, speaks about Christ in closed countries every year. Ramsden often says, “There is no such thing as a closed country if you are willing to die for the gospel.” Several years ago Ramsden was invited to speak on Christianity in a country hostile to the gospel. The Christian organizers of the event prayed that there would be an opportunity to present the gospel, not just an academic lecture on the tenets of Christianity. While Ramsden was speaking, a young religious leader was standing in the back with his arms crossed, searing a hole into Michael with his eyes. At the end of the lecture this young man raised his hand and said, “There is something that no teacher or scholar in my religion has been able to answer for me. I want to know why you Christians think that Jesus had to die on the cross.”

Michael was ecstatic about the question. It was an answer to the prayer of the organizers. But he was nervous, too. Because he knew that to answer that question, he would have to say that their entire religion is wrong on a fundamental level about who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. As Michael Ramsden was about to answer, his host grabbed his arm and said, “Michael, answer very carefully. It is one thing to die for sharing the gospel. It is another thing to die for sharing it poorly.”

Perhaps some raw honesty is needed here. The vast majority of Christians in this country tend to be embarrassed when they see someone preaching on the sidewalk. Sometimes we are embarrassed, I know, because the person is misrepresenting the good news; they are sharing it poorly. Sometimes we are embarrassed to see someone witnessing to strangers or handing out tracts in the park. Or even bowing their heads at a restaurant to pray before a meal. We are tempted to flee persecution of any kind, even if it means we compromise the truth of the gospel through our shame.

Do not be ashamed of speaking in the name of Jesus, and proclaiming the truth and life that only he can give. Without the gospel, there are no answers.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Missing the Sign is Costly

I know what you’re thinking; there are lots of ways I could go with this column. Missing the “bridge out” sign can ruin your whole day. Missing the sign that your wife wants you to stop thinking about yourself and just listen to her can make for a quiet evening. Missing the sign that says “no shoes, no service” can leave you hungry. And since it’s baseball season, let me toss this one out there as well. Missing the sign your catcher gave you can lead to a passed ball, and a run scored.

I missed a sign, and it cost me a few hours and more than $200. It happened one Saturday in December, when my wife and I were traveling to a southern city in the Old North State to meet relatives for brunch. Cindy had errands to run when we returned and so did I, so we decided to leave a car in Graham and pick it up when we got back into town. I thought of a place right off the interstate where a restaurant used to be years ago, and told her we could leave my car there and drive hers.

We went to the brunch, had a great time, drove back to Graham all fat and happy, only to find that my car was gone. I had noticed when I left it that morning that it was the only car on the lot, but that didn’t register with me that maybe there was a reason for that.

When we discovered it missing, our first thought was that it had been stolen — until I walked out to the street and saw a small sign on a pole, informing all who bothered to read it that parking in this lot is not permitted, and all violators will be towed. Good grief. In all my years, I had never had my car towed, unless it was broken down on the side of the road. I called the number on the sign; the man who answered owns the wrecking company and had personally hooked my car to his truck and hauled it to his fenced-in lot. I noticed he was a bit short with me on the phone — a tad guarded you might say. Of course, I was short with him when he told me the amount of cash I had to give him to ransom my vehicle from bondage. “There’s the fee I charge to pick up the vehicle, and there’s a fee I charge to store it,” he told me, explaining why I had to get two Benjamins and change out of the ATM.

We drove to the wrecking company and waited for him to arrive. While we were waiting, I alternated between thinking about what could have been done with the money I was about to hand over, and fuming about his so-called “storage fee.” I figured the car couldn’t have been in his lot more than a few hours. So when he arrived and was stepping out of his truck, I said to him, “Hi, I’m the one who called you, and what do you charge for storage?” He faced me, having stepped down from the cab, and said, “How much is your life worth?” Well, that question led made me to pause and reflect, but only for a second.

I said, “Well, my life must be worth plenty. Jesus paid for it on the cross.” He then explained that he was a Christian, too, but that there had been numerous occasions when he was hooking up a car at that same lot and the owner approached him ready to fight, sometimes with a weapon. “The people who park there are going into the hotel behind it to get drugs, or something else.” Pause and reflect. I said, “OK, but I was going to eat bacon and eggs with my wife’s father and stepmother!”

The end of the story was laughter, and I met a brother in Christ. I also learned the lesson again that I need to pay attention to the signs. The ones on the road are important, but so are the ones on the faces of the people I love.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Church Membership Matters

A supply preacher for a small town Texas church came in early on Sundays, preached a sermon to the congregation, and then left after lunch. One Sunday he arrived earlier than usual, so he sat down at a local donut shop, opened his Bible and went over his sermon notes. A man sitting down the counter said, “You a preacher or something?” “Yes,” he replied, “I preach at the Christian Church here in town.” The man got excited and said, “Hey, I’m a member of that church.” The church was small and the supply preacher knew all the regulars so he said, “I’ve been preaching there for about three months and I’ve never seen you there.” The other fella gave the preacher a strange look and answered, “I said I was a member of that church. I never said I was fanatical about it!”

Ok, so here’s the question. Would you feel like your hands were fanatics if you woke up every day and they were still attached? How about your feet? Would you think your liver was over-the -edge “too committed” if it stayed in place and did its job, day in and day out? How about your eyeballs?

If you answered no to all of those questions, then you are still in your right mind. It has not left you. So, get this. The church is compared to the human body in the Bible. Paul uses a metaphor to compare each individual member of the church to an individual body part: an eye, a foot, an ear, a hand, even a head. (Which gives us assurance that he is speaking in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 12, about the local church body, not the universal church, for which there is one head: Jesus.) The church is also compared to a flock of sheep. That’s why Peter wrote to the elders of the church and said, “Shepherd the flock which is among you.” No shepherd goes out and just finds random sheep and feeds them, or worse, takes them home as his own. That could get a man arrested. No, the shepherd knows the sheep that belong to him, and they know him as well.

Here’s the point, three of them in fact. One, we need to be connected to one another in the church just like the feet need to be connected to the body. Connected feet stay healthy; disconnected feet die. The body needs the feet, also, to do its work effectively. The body cannot do all that it is designed to do when one of its members is not able to carry its weight, so to speak. In the same way, the church needs its members to be there, be committed, and do what they have been uniquely gifted by God to do, for the sake of the gospel.

Point number two, the body is in this together, for good or for bad. The Bible says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Don’t believe it? Smash your thumb with a hammer this afternoon, you know, just as a biblical experiment. See if the whole body doesn’t suffer along with it. See if the whole body doesn’t stay awake half the night with the thumb. It is the same with the church. When one member is suffering, either because of willful and unrepentant sin, or because of trials and tragedy, the whole body is affected. That’s when the body also does some of its most important work, to heal the offending or the suffering member. That’s where point three comes in.

The members of the body care for one another. Just like your right hand acts in kindness toward your left foot by removing a splinter. The local church cares for its own. The church also reaches out to those who are not connected and invites them to meet Jesus, and to join the local body.

Church membership matters. You don’t have to be fanatical about it. But you do need to get connected.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Is That All You’ve Got?

My favorite place at the Myrtle Beach marathon several years ago was the pre-race expo, and especially the bumper stickers that were for sale. One said, “If you find me on the road, please drag me across the finish line.” Or, “If you can read this, I’m not in last place!” Or, “This IS my race pace.” The next morning, I saw people holding some of the same signs, and many others. Some were signs of encouragement for the 6,000 runners who passed by. Some people were just trying to be funny, and they were. Like the guy just a half a mile into the race whose sign read, “One. Lousy. Parade.” Then there was the lady holding up a sign about 10 miles in that said, “My husband knows a shortcut.” Or the one that said, “The Kenyans finished an hour ago.” Some were meant to be funny, but just were not. When I was in the most pain of the race, around mile 24, I passed a guy standing on the side of the road whose sign read, “Is that all you’ve got?” The most encouraging sign I read said, “I am exactly .3 miles from the finish line.” That was a sight for sore legs. The only sign that was better than that was the one I ran under that said, “Finish.”

Paul holds up a sign in his first letter for Timothy, who was a sometimes fragile, sometimes discouraged young pastor, that says, “But you, O man of God.” Man of God! “Timothy,” Paul seems to say, “Remember who you are. You are a man of God.” I wish we could know somehow what effect that had on Timothy. Did he break into a huge grin when he read that? Or did he break down and weep in relief and thanksgiving?

More importantly, would the testimony of God and his word be the same for you? What is your identity? Are you a man or woman of God? Would you be able to say with confidence that you are one of his “peculiar people,” as Peter refers to believers? If you are born again, having been purchased by the peculiar and unique manner of the blood of the Savior on a cross, you are a man of God or a woman of God, no matter your age. You have been made to “stand” because of what Jesus Christ did, not because of anything you have done or ever will do. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

How are we able to stand? By grace. How do we get grace? Through faith. But where does faith come from? Through our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the result of this grace applied to our lives? We have peace with God. How? We have been justified (declared just and righteous, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us). What can we do as a result? Rejoice in hope of the glory of God!

This is why Christians around the world celebrate the risen Savior every day. Jesus Christ hung on a cross for six hours one Friday, was dead and buried from 3 p.m. Friday until sometime before dawn on Sunday, and then he rose from the dead. He appeared to Peter, to the other disciples, and to more than five hundred at once.

Do you know Him? If you do, then you know what many in the world can only dream about. You know who you are. If that is “all you’ve got,” as the sign declared to my weary soul on a Myrtle Beach street, then that is plenty. It means that you are standing with the One who conquered sin, death, and the grave. There’s no better finish line in all the world.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Attitudes to Avoid, Actions to Adopt

“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Kent Hughes explains Cotton Mather’s quote by saying that when a person comes to Christ by faith and is born again, his life is turned upside down. Old bad habits are replaced with new good habits of faith and love and hard work and gratitude. He becomes a better worker and manager of resources as he lives out the Scriptures, which results, often, in economic prosperity. The tragedy is, in many cases, “new prosperity and material wealth devour the same Christianity that gave them birth — especially in the second and third generations.”

This is why Paul in Scripture gives a stern warning to all who are “rich in this present age.” By the way, if you are tempted to stop reading because you don’t think you are rich, consider this. The average household income in Alamance County is around $43,000 per year. That income is in the top 1.72% worldwide, which means we are richer than more than 98 percent of the world. What should we do about it? According to Paul there are attitudes to avoid and actions to adopt.

Avoid being arrogant. It just goes with the territory that those who have look down on those who don’t have. If you live in a house, you look down on those who live in a trailer. If you live in a trailer on your own land, you look down on those who live in an apartment! And so it goes. But we are commanded in Scripture to put away arrogance and a haughty spirit. After all, “what do we have that we did not receive?”

Avoid trusting in uncertain riches. The more we have, the more we have to fight against finding our security, and even our sense of self-worth, in our possessions. This deadly downward spiral never ends well and can only be corrected through repentance and acknowledging God as the owner of everything, including the very breath in our lungs. He alone is worthy of our trust.

The actions to adopt begin with this simple command: “do good, be rich in good works.” I knew a dear lady who is with the Lord now, but she used her income and her nice home to show hospitality to people she knew who did not know Christ. She would invite several couples over for dinner and a conversation about things of faith. I know a couple here in town who own several properties that they invite people going through difficult trials to live in for a while, as they teach them to manage their money and their lives in a way that is healthy and productive. You know people like that as well. Are you one of those people who lives on less so that you can help others who have legitimate needs?

Paul then says to us we should be “ready to give, willing to share.” It is sad that though Americans have the largest incomes in the world, we also saddle ourselves with the most debt. As Dave Ramsey says with a smile, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like!” Why not put yourself in a position where you are ready to give by getting out of debt as quickly as possible, while at the same time beginning to give to the work of your church, to global missions, and to local needs?

Don’t get devoured by your own prosperity. I believe that those who learn to give will one day be met in heaven by the beneficiaries of their giving. That is worth the sacrifice.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Humility Changes Everything

A man that looked like he could play defensive end for the Panthers approached me after a meeting two weeks ago in Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. One of the things I had taught that evening (with my son, Caleb) was how important it is for a man to pray with and for his wife, out loud, often. Even daily. We talked about the privilege and the responsibility a husband has to love his wife, and that includes praying for her. I told a story of how God had humbled me years ago, when Cindy was going through a trial. I knew that it was not enough for me just to pray “in my head” or in private, for her. She needed to actually hear me praying for her more often. She needed me, and God wanted me, to speak Scripture over her as I cried out to God for her. It was humbling and at the same time, it was one of the best days of our marriage when I decided to obey the Lord in this.

I told the men that night that I know most Christian husbands do not pray out loud for their wives. Some are afraid they might say the wrong thing. Some are embarrassed to be that vulnerable. Some are too busy. Some just refuse to do it. We reasoned with the men from Scripture about the position we have in the marriage. If we are to be like Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is always interceding for his bride, the church, shouldn’t we enter into this ministry as well?

This man looked down at me and said, “How can I humble myself? I am too proud to pray for my wife out loud.” He was asking how to humble himself while he was in fact humbling himself! I saw in this man two ways that we walk out humility. First, when we voluntarily confess sin, we are humbling ourselves. It is one thing to “be humbled” when your sin is exposed by someone else. It is quite another to own it, confess it, and turn away from it. Second, when we ask for help, we are humbling ourselves. The man said, “Help me.” He was a man who had heard truth from God’s Word that had produced personal knowledge of the Lord that he had not had before. He was broken over his disobedience and he wanted to do the right thing. Now, true humility was proved out that night if he went home and humbled himself before his wife by asking if he could pray with and for her. Only the Lord and that couple know whether that happened. I believe it did, and that their marriage is stronger now than before.

Contrast that example with another listener who approached me after a seminar in the city of Orhei. This woman, a mother and a grandmother, told me through our translator, that she vehemently disagreed with me about training and disciplining children. I reasoned with her from Scripture for several minutes, and got nowhere. Another man who was standing there observing all of this said to me, “There’s no way she will listen to you. She doesn’t listen to anybody.” That would be indictment enough. But after I was pulled away to talk to someone else, this woman continued to bend the ear of the translator. He also pointed her to the Bible. She finally said, as she turned and walked away, “I don’t care what the Bible says.”

It is the same in Moldova as in America as in every place on earth. Those who humble themselves before the truth of God’s Word come to a greater place of joy and freedom than they have ever known. Those who walk away from the truth continue stumbling through the darkness.

Humility changes everything.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Looking For a Less Busy Heart

Let’s say you are looking at the checkbook and there is more month left than money. Been there? You have two weeks to go until your next paycheck, no money, and three bills that have to be paid. What do you do? If you are like most, you start to panic. You immediately go from “heart at rest” to heart palpitations. You start to panic. Then you complain to yourself. “Why is this happening? What am I going to do?” That doesn’t satisfy you at all, so you take the typical next step: you complain to someone else. You get on the phone and ask someone to commiserate with you. Let’s be honest. What you are really doing is asking your friend to enter into unrest with you. Let’s shuck it down even further. You are asking your friend (whom you love?) to enter into unbelief with you.

Everybody who has been there, say “Amen.” In fact, if you have been in this place, stuck between a rock and a hard place without a pickaxe, that’s good. Recognize that God puts us there to teach us that He alone is sufficient to meet our needs. That doesn’t mean we can throw money away or live the life of a king on a pauper’s salary. That’s just foolishness that brings its own punishment. But let’s say you are living within your means and the unexpected happens. Suddenly your means are not enough. As the saying goes, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” This is a great place to trust the Lord.

That’s what the psalmist decided to do as he spoke this word to himself: “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!” What a wonderful verse to memorize, to speak to yourself during difficult days, and most of all, to believe. Instead of the panicked phone call to a friend, speak to your soul and to God. Charles Spurgeon said, “Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience, but in the Lord alone. When the believer prays, and the Lord inclines His ear, the road to the old rest is before him; let him not be slow to follow it.”

Has the Lord dealt bountifully with you? Oh, yes. No matter your circumstances at the moment, the fact that there is breath in your lungs is a gift from God. The fact that you can see to read this column is a gift from God. And if God has brought you to knowledge of the faith and you have trusted Christ alone for your salvation, you are indeed blessed. We can all pray without hypocrisy, “Lord, let my soul return to its rest,” no matter the trouble we may be facing.

One final point. Don’t confuse this request with a desire for life to be easy, or stress-free. Let me ask you something. Was Jesus busy? Oh, yes, from before sunup to after sundown, the Lord was working. Was Jesus’ soul always at rest? Oh, yes. In his book, “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller writes, “The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed focus on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.”

Yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

Monday, January 21, 2019

This will be on the Final Exam

I heard a former NFL coach say that the most important thing about the scouting combine was that it gave the scouts and coaches an opportunity to look the players in the eye and see what kind of character they have. “Their speed in the 40 is highly overrated,” he said. “What is most important is the interview.” The most important consideration for coaches looking to draft a young player to their team is their character? Maybe that’s because there is so little of it.

It is the same in the job market. When two equally skilled people compete for the same job, the person who gives the best interview usually lands it. One professional said there are five red flags for him in an interview, any one of which is a deal-breaker. Even if the candidate is imminently qualified, he won’t get the job if: 1) He talks too much; 2) She doesn’t have a basic understanding of the company; 3) He is not wearing a suit; 4) She begs for the job; 5) He doesn’t know how to communicate why he would be a good fit for the company. I would suggest that each of those ‘flags’ indicate character problems of selfishness, laziness, carelessness, insecurity, and laziness (again)!

In the NFL combine or the professional interview, the question is, does the man or woman reflect the resume? The employer is trying to get a look at the heart, the character, the real deal. God does the same.

David asked God in Psalm 15, “Lord, who may abide with You? Who is able to stand in Your presence?” He was not asking God how to be saved from his sins. That only comes by grace through faith, which cannot be earned by any man or woman. Christ paid for it on the cross. David was asking how he could know that he belonged to God. “Lord, what is the character of a life that You approve? How can I live in such a way to enjoy the fullness of Your fellowship?”

I have a warning for any of you dear readers who might entertain these thoughts: “I don’t care about the ‘fullness of His fellowship.’ I just want to make sure I am in. That when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there. I want to live my life on my own terms, but I also want to go to heaven when I die.” If that is the attitude of your heart, it calls into question whether you have ever known true repentance. When the Spirit of God comes in, He doesn’t just take up space, He takes over. There is a change in a man’s thought patterns, actions, desires, motives, goals, and affections when he has been born again. Many think they have invited the Lord into their lives but in essence have said to Him, “Stay in this closet in the basement, please, so as not to get in the way with how I want to live my life; when I need You, I will come and get You.” No, regeneration results in “extreme makeover,” and there are dire consequences for all who would pretend. As Charles Spurgeon said, “To own Him in our profession (what we say) and deny Him in our practice (how we live) is, with Judas, to betray Him with a kiss.”

Read Psalm 15 and see how your walk, your talk, your values, and how you handle money will stand as evidence of life-change. And yes, Virginia, there is a final exam. All who truly know God will pass.

Monday, January 14, 2019

God Creates Something Where There is Nothing

“For He commanded and they were created.” That’s what the Bible plainly teaches. When God spoke, He made something out of nothing. It is an astounding thought that we cannot understand, and in an attempt to “unscrew the inscrutable,” men have resorted to myths and fables and lies. The truth is, God spoke to nothing and that nothing became something. John said in his Gospel, speaking of Jesus Christ who is the agent of creation, “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made.” That means that everything that was not God was made; in fact, if there was anything co-existent in the universe with God, then it, too, would by its very nature be God. The primordial slime out of which evolving man supposedly crawled would have to be considered a god if it is eternal, if it existed by its own will. Worship the slime or nothing at all, if it is your progenitor. Sadly, many do. The truth remains: God alone is God because he created all things and all things therefore belong to him.

“He commanded and they were created” should be an encouragement to all of us as creations of God, because he still does that. He still speaks into existence that which he desires. That’s how we came to Christ in the first place. There was no faith, no life, and no hope; we were dead in our trespasses and sins, rebels against God. Then God spoke. Something came from nothing. That’s what surprised Jonah so much, and made him mad. The Ninevites were the absolute last people on the planet anyone expected to repent. There was nothing in their hearts for God and man, except for hatred. They were brutal and feared by all, and had no regard for human life. Perhaps Jonah did not want to preach to them because he did not think there was any way these brutes could ever be converted. God spoke through Jonah and something came out of nothing. He commanded and they were created. Or re-created. The whole city repented, more than 120,000 people, perhaps the greatest revival in one city the world has ever seen.

“He commanded and they were created.” It is the same after we come to Christ as well. That’s what gives me hope to pray for situations where there seems to be no hope. God can call into being something that is not there. Paul said, “God gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” I have spoken to many Dads in the last couple of years who have told me that God spoke to them about their responsibility to disciple their children when there was absolutely no vision for that at all. A man called me from Wichita a few years back and said that he had recently been convicted about needing to have his children with them in church. God led him and his wife to keep their children in the service with them at the mega-church they attended, and that has led to a number of changes. He began to seek the Scriptures about the family and worship and the father’s responsibility. God spoke something into existence in his heart that was not there before. He does it in the hearts of teenagers who are out of control. He does it in failing marriages. He even does it in dying churches. He spoke the worlds into existence. He can certainly change us with a word as well.

God speaks to nothing and nothing becomes something. That’s worth rejoicing over.

Monday, January 7, 2019

How Not to Be Hard-Headed

Allow me, dear reader, to offer two lessons I learned from my reading or hearing the Word last year.

We were studying Luke in our Wednesday night home group, and it was Josh Howard’s turn to teach. He made the point that Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, was at the cross with Jesus. Then she was at the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint his body, but instead she saw the risen Jesus. Josh told us, “Jesus healed a lot of people. But Mary was there at the end for the Lord.” The thought occurred to me, “If every person who had been healed or delivered of demons or saved by Jesus had come to the cross, there would not have been room for them.” And then I thought, “Why weren’t they there?” Well, the same reason why I am often not ‘there’ for Jesus when he is being persecuted today. I am afraid to speak up, or ashamed to acknowledge, sometimes, that yes, I do believe Jesus is the Son of God. And that I do believe he is our hope for salvation, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Paul may have struggled with this sometimes; I’m not sure. But I know he asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Have you ever put that on your prayer list? Let’s agree to pray that for one another this year.

I was reading in Isaiah and saw where God called his people obstinate. He actually said they had iron necks and brass foreheads. Does anybody besides me resemble that remark? I have a hard head and a stiff neck. A hard head is marked by stubbornness, thinking you’re always right, with a very slow trigger on asking for any help thrown in to boot. A stiff neck keeps your hard head right where it is, so you won’t turn your face to the Lord, and to your brothers and sisters. As I pondered that, I wrote down two things I think we can all do to be less hard headed.

The first thing is to learn, and really receive, the truth that God loves you with a perfect love. That means he also likes you, and his love and his like is not dependent on you or on your family ’getting it all right.” You say, “I thought people who are hard headed are that way because they are proud of how much God loves them, even thinking God loves them a little bit more than the next guy.” I don’t think so. I think the hardest heads belong to those who do not receive his love or fully embrace his grace. They still think they can earn it through hard work and by keeping their lists of doing all the right things. The truth is, understanding God loves us and likes us frees us to love him more. It also frees us to love our wife or husband more, and to love our children more, regardless of whether they get it all right. The hard-headed way of thinking, “I have to get it all right” is legalism. Legalism will lead to either one of two things. It will produce bound-up, fearful people who simply walk in lockstep to what they believe will make God or others around them happy. Or, it will produce rebels, who eventually throw off all restraints and run headlong into sin. God. Loves. You. Period. Believe it, receive it, and then practice that kind of love with everybody you know.

Here’s the second thing. Once the thinking is right, start the practice of admitting when you are not in the right place or the right mind. Not just to yourself and to God. But practice admitting that to a trusted brother or sister in the Lord. Not one of us can do this Christian walk by ourselves. Admitting we need the church is an act of humility, and that takes care of a hard head in short order.
I hope this will encourage you on your journey through the new year.