Saturday, December 31, 2011

The dark side of success

Sometimes success is harder to deal with than failure. Sounds weird doesn't it? Considering that most people long for success.

Who does not want a big job, with a big salary, so they can buy a big house and live a prosperous life?

Solomon had it all. God gave him wisdom, gold, silver, international fame, influence and power. Most of all Solomon had women: 700 wives and princess, and 300 hundred concubines (I Kings 11: 3). Unfortunately too much of a good thing ruined his devotion to God (I Kings 11:4).  

For a season, Solomon walked with God, and served God. But overtime he began to drift. A few compromises here and there and before he knew it, he stopped following God and paid more attention to what his many wives desired (I Kings 11: 7-8).

Solomon teaches us that we cannot rest on yesterday's blessings, or even yesterday's obedience. Every day is a new day to walk with God in the light of his word.

Solomon's downfall also teaches us about the enduring nature of God’s word. Remember the "if, then" statements? God said, "If you walk with me and obey my word, my precepts and my statutes as did your father David, then, I will bless you  and establish your reign (See 1 Kings 9: 4-5). But the same formula applied if he disobeyed the words of God: if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments...and worship other gods, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them (1 Kings 9:6-9). God’s word endures forever and does not diminish or change because circumstances change.

Why then did Solomon's season of blessing end? He turned away from the word of the Lord.

Almighty God calls us to daily obedience. May the Lord help us in 2012 to walk moment by moment in full-hearted devotion to his word.

Question: Do you agree that success is harder to deal with than failure? Why is this so?

Friday, December 30, 2011

The church unmasked

Real people...Real problems...Real answers

The first Sunday of the New Year marks the start of a new sermon series at First Pres. Evanston. I will be preaching through all 16 chapters of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth, a series I am calling Real Church.

This was a real church, with real people, grappling with real problems.

If this church was present in our community would you attend a church racked with so many of the following problems?

Internal conflicts
Lack of confidence in the efficacy of Paul's leadership
Worship problems around the Lord's Supper,
The rightful role of men and women in worship
Spiritual immaturity
Questions about singleness, marriage, divorce
Members suing each other in court
Scandalous sexual practices
Controversies about speaking in tongues and the place of spiritual gifts
And many more problems

Why study such a negative church? Here are my reasons:

1. Reading Paul keeps us from thinking that the early church was perfect, or that the 21st century church has unique problems. I love Paul's honesty. He does not sugar coat the problems of the church. Where ever God's people gather, you can be sure problems will follow. 

2. Some of the most important NT Christological teachings are found here. Whenever the church loses its way it is often caused by a diminished view of Christ. 

3. Every discouraged leader needs a healthy does of this letter. Paul's optimism about the future of this church is infectious. Instead of growing weary or becoming jaded by their problems, he points to Christ: The power of his cross is the only means of salvation and the glory of the resurrection is the basis for the gospel and the foundation of the church

4. Paul speaks the truth in love. We all need to learn how to do this well. Truth must never be sacrificed in the name of tolerance.

5. What does it mean to be faithful to Christ in a pagan culture like Corinth? Paul gives some important clues for our time!

Pray for us and come and study I Corinthians at First Pres. 

Question: What questions do you want answered from I Corinthians? 

How to read through the bible in 2012

The good folks at Ligonier Ministries have compiled a wonderful list of bible reading plans that will help you read through the bible in 2012.

Of course, the goal is not getting through the bible in a year; the goal is getting God's word into our hearts so that we will find pleasure in loving and knowing God. So how about it? Are you ready to take the plunge?

If so, click here to find a variety of reading plans that may fit your life-style. There is one more that I use and would commend to you. I use because I not only read through the bible, I can make journal entries of what God word says to me each day. The bottom line is, find something that works for you.

Here's God's promise to us: The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119: 130

Question: What bible reading plan do you use? Share your answer in the comment box. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

God sent an evil Spirit on Saul?

What’s a possible answer to this question: Why did the Lord send an evil Spirit or a harmful Spirit on Saul? 
The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul as soon as the Lord’s Spirit came upon David to anoint him for kingship (see v. 13). This statement is not relevant to the issue of whether people can lose their salvation; it is not describing the Holy Spirit’s role in individual regeneration in a NT sense.

Rather, in light of v. 13, it should be seen as being about gaining or losing the Spirit’s empowering for the role of king (see Ps. 51:11). From this point, to the end of his life, Saul will continually make futile attempts to govern without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

So the harmful spirit sent by the Lord to torment Saul was a form of judgment for his sin of turning against the Lord (1 Sam. 15:22–29). Though God himself never does evil, he sometimes sends evil agents to accomplish his purposes.
Would God still work this way? I think the answer is yes. Rebellion against God's will and word in our lives strips us of inner peace and joy. When we stand opposed to God's will we experience deep levels of unhappiness. In essence, we quench the sweet, sweet Spirit of God in our lives. This is what happened to Saul and yes, the same can happen to us and even to a congregation. 
The only way to turn this around is repentance. Come before the Lord; acknowledge the sin of rebellion and beg for his forgiveness. In Psalm 51:11, David prayed like this, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me; restore to me the joy of your salvation, and renew a right spirit within me."
Let the Lord have his way in your life everyday; there's no rest, there's no peace until the Lord has his way. Place your life in His hands; rest secure in God's plan and let the Lord, let the Lord have his way (Old time Jamaican hymn).
Question: Have you ever quenched the Spirit of God in your life? How did you find renewal in your life?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5 Reasons Why Leaders Fall

Kings Saul and David are sobering examples of why God's leaders stumble and fall, bringing harm to themselves and others. Here are 5 possible reasons why leaders crash and burn. 

Three times in 2 Samuel 1: 19, 25, 27, David laments, "How the mighty have fallen." He is of course referring to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. It was Saul's opportunity to do great things for God but they eluded him due to disobedience. 

Later in 2 Samuel 11:27, the chapter ends with this ominous statement ( But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord), regarding his sin with Bathsheba. How the mighty have fallen! 

What their failures teach us (in no way an exhaustive list!)

1. All leaders are flawed human beings. Both were kings, anointed with incredible power and authority. I Samuel 10: 1; 2 Samuel 2:4

2. Leaders fail for not stewarding their position and power as gifts from God.  Both men abused their power and failed to submit their power to the power of God. I Samuel 13: 9-11; 2 Samuel 11: 1-27

3. All leaders fail when they disobey God. Both men disobeyed the God who anointed and appointed them. I Samuel 15:10; 2 Samuel 12:7-9

4. Failure to obey God always incurs loss. Both men suffered loss. Saul lost his life and David lost his reputation and the child that was born to Bathsheba. I Samuel 31: 3-6; 2 Samuel 12:14

5. Leaders fall when they go off mission. Instead of being focused on leading the nation of Israel, Saul spent considerable time trying to kill an innocent David (I Samuel 19:11). 
In David's case, instead of leading his army into battle, as most kings do, David stayed home, idle, restless and became the bull's eye of the devil's temptation (2 Samuel 11: 1-5).

The big difference between these men was in their practice of repentance. Saul expressed remorse on many occasions for his sin but he never showed the fruit of repentance (See I Samuel 15: 17-30). 
David, when he transgressed God's laws, also showed remorse, but he seemed to turn to God and showed the fruit of repentance (Psalm 51: 1-12).

Question: What in your mind are some of the reasons why leaders fall? How might leaders prevent moral failures?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jesus the Faithful One

The confidence we have...
    the trust we hold...
        the hope we carry...
        rest in His Faithfulness. 

Every promise He has made
       He purposes to fulfill. 
He has the authority
      to accomplish all
       He has spoken

His power is limitless...
     His character changeless...
         His love endless!

Merry Christmas! Joy to the world...the Lord has come...let every heart prepare him room. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

10, 222 days and counting...

2011 First Pres Advent Workshop
I first met her when I was 14 years old. My good friend Bill Perkins invited me to his Anglican Church youth group in Spanish Town, the old capital of Jamaica. It was a Friday evening in the summer of 1974, when Bill introduced me to Judith Thomson. I was a rather shy kid at that time and did not have the conversational ease like many of my friends. But that was not a problem for Judith. She was kind, friendly, loved to laugh and was very interested in knowing more about me. We became fast friends. Our families were very comfortable with each other and this paved the way for us to become soul mates.

After almost 10 years of friendship and learning how to develop friendship with God, we got married in 1983. We both wanted to do something unconventional and so we married on December 24th. People in America are always shocked when they discover our wedding date. But a Jamaican wedding on Christmas Eve in 1983 was really not a big deal. We did not have a lot of money any way, and we were vehemently against going into debt just to have a splashy wedding. After a simple wedding ceremony at my Pentecostal church, we drove around in a friend's brand new Red Corvette and then went back to my house for our wedding reception.

On Christmas Eve (2011), Judith and I sang a duet in church. I was nervous because we hadn't sung together in quite sometime. Back in the 80's and 90's Judith and I often sang together in churches, weddings, and always at home. But it was still a great feeling to sing in church.

Making music is great metaphor for marriage. In order to perform the duet we had to take several important steps:
1. Agree on a song
2. Practice, practice, practice
3. Allow the other person to make mistakes, then stop and try again
4. Determine who sings melody and who sings harmony.
5. Determine the solo parts and the duet parts

Our twenty-eight years of marriage resembles a duet. Trying to find agreement or unity on everything we do; trying to practice what we preach, not just publicly (that's the easy part), but privately, when no one is home with us, except God. We try to remember that we are flawed human beings. We make mistakes and so we often stop and pray; talk and forgive, and then try again. We have different roles; we go back and forth with all our duties in the home and in life. We are in this covenant for life and for keeps and we do whatever is needed to make things work. Cleaning the bathrooms, washing dishes, caring for our children (especially when they were younger), taking out the trash, raking leaves, or grocery shopping.

People smirk at the thought that God in heaven has a special person for each human being. I know it sounds silly, but I firmly believe that in the plan of God, Judith was destined to be my wife, and I was destined to be her husband. My one desire now is to go the distance; bring glory to God through our lives and continue making "music" that blesses our children and all our friends. Happy Anniversary Judith! With God's help let's  go another 365 days!

Question: What do you do to make beautiful "music" in your marriage?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Right Stuff: Inside out Leadership

"But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." I Samuel 16:7

Selecting or electing people for positions of leadership is often based on false premises. In our media saturated culture leaders are often chosen for their looks, their eloquence, their education, their ability to attract support or raise money, or grow a church. But from God's vantage point, the standards for leadership, while it may include all of the above, require one key ingredient without which a leader will not survive. Every leader needs to have an inner life that is intact. Scripture calls it, having heart.

The 20111-12 Republican primaries is proof positive. At first, the tide of popularity rose in favor of Herman Cain. But as his many skeletons tumbled from the closet of his private life, he was disqualified by the huge integrity issues about his character. Now the spot light is on Newt Gingrich. He is clearly a very qualified man, but people are raising questions about his inner life, his integrity and his past choices. 

What constitutes fitness for service?  

From God's perspective, the process works from the inside out. What is the inner make up of this person? Is there integrity, love, faithfulness, courage, devotion? The person God chooses will always be second guessed, ignored, and even challenged. This is evident when Samuel goes to Jesse's house to choose the next king of Israel. He looked at the impressive stature of Jesse's seven sons and thought the next king would be one of them. But God told him, "Keep looking." David did not fit the typical leadership grid: he was young, small, and inexperienced. But he apparently had something his brothers did not have: heart.

The person God chooses ultimately shines the spotlight on the glory of God rather on himself or herself. 

The person chosen by popular vote often shines the spotlight on their accomplishments. They are often insecure because so much is predicated on performance. 

May the Lord help us look at each other and those chosen to lead from the inside out. As Jesus said, what's in a person's heart reveals the person's words and character (Luke 6:45). 

Question: What are your standards for leadership? Should a person's inner life be more important than their competencies?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Worship Changes with time?

Why is it so important to adapt our worship? The answer is that the church has to adapt it because modern culture doesn’t recognize the value of worship done as it was in generations past. Each generation is different in what it resonates with. They are different because over time the culture changes. The culture molds each succeeding generation as new technologies and ideas

Standish, N. Graham. In God's Presence: Encountering, Experiencing, and Embracing the Holy in Worship. The Alban Institute.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Overcoming your fear

I subscribe to a daily devotional from Dr. David Jeremiah. His December 13th devotional was helpful to me and made a lot of sense. 

At the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park outside Atlanta, the biggest roller coaster is Goliath: height on the first drop is 200 feet (like stepping off a 20-story building); top speed is 70 miles per hour; length is 4,480 feet spread out over 8.5 acres. For those standing in line to ride Goliath for the first time, fear is the predominant emotion. But for the diehards awaiting their hundredth ride, fear has been replaced by fun.

The difference? Repetition. Doing fearful acts over and over--learning that you will, in fact, survive--is the secret to living in peace. And that's true even in the spiritual life. If the only time you pray or read your Bible is when a life-threatening crisis arises, you're not likely to have a lot of peace in spite of God's promises. But if you are learning to trust God daily by committing everything to Him in prayer--crises big or small--seeing God's faithfulness repeatedly over time leads to a worry-free life: "God has carried me through countless situations before this. I know He is with me."

Whatever happens today, commit it to God in prayer and walk in peace. Then repeat daily for the rest of your life.

What do you do to overcome your fear or nagging, negative thoughts? Share you ideas below!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

God Jealous?

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

Jealousy is an ugly word. “It is the green-eyed monster,” said Shakespeare in Othello. It has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and that is repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. We view jealousy as a horrible trait and we hate it. If all of this is true, why is God called a "jealous God?"

God is not jealous in an insecure, human way. God is jealous in that God has claimed us as his own and he will not share us with idols. This is holy love. See also Deut. 5: 9

God is passionate about his relationship with you and will not share you with another. This is why Scripture says the Lord is God. God will not take second place in our lives.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Wedding Sermon?

In my time as a pastor, I have preached plenty of wedding sermons. I honestly believe that the following sermon, given at the wedding of Phillip and Catherine, is one of the best I have read. What do you think? Click here to read the rest of the sermon.

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.