I Am a Failure

failure

I am a failure as a man. As a husband and father, I am imperfect. As a pastor I fall short. As a scholar I am unsuccessful. As a human being I am a disgrace. The one area of life I can say that I measure up is that as a sinner; it is in my sin that I reach my full potential.

It is for this very reason Jesus came into the world. The perfect Son of God fulfilled every standard of measure established by the Father, and it is only by simple faith in Him that I find any standing with God. His rightness and goodness were applied to my account when He died in my place on the cross. All I must do to receive the benefits of what Jesus did is to trust Him to be what I will never be nor can I do.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst of sinners. Then other will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Daddy’s Glasses

Daniel 12/2001

When my son Daniel was young, he liked to take the glasses from my face and place them on himself. He wanted to see the world as his Daddy saw it.

Imagine that you had am opportunity to see this world the way that the Father sees it. How would you do that? How is it possible to see life from God’s point of view?

Reading the Bible gives you Heaven’s perspective on life. What is the meaning of life? Is there a purpose in life, and if so, what is it? What happens when life here ends in death? Does God even care? All these and more are answered in God’s Word.

Want to see as God sees? Read the Bible.

The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration from God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:15, 16).

The Idol of Prayer

power of prayer

Prayer is a staple in the lives of most religious people. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and others pray and say their prayers are answered. Today we often see and hear the phrase, “the power of prayer.” It is one thing to say that we believe in the power of prayer; it’s an entirely different thing to say we believe in the God who hears and answers prayer.

To talk about “the power of prayer” means that it is my words which are powerful, robbing God of His power and glory.

The “power of prayer” puts the results of prayer in the persuasive nature of my words rather than in the God who hears and answers.

The “power of prayer” rests in the faith I place in myself and what I say; which is different from trusting in God.

There are some who say, “why, it’s just a harmless phrase,” but I would much rather believe in and speak of a God who is Almighty and answers my prayers according to His will than to pridefully boast about some mystical and idolatrous power of my feeble and often ignorant words.

Call to Me, and I will answer you … (Jeremiah 33:3).

We Will Give Them Christ

ritual

Martin Luther (1483-1546) strongly challenged the church of his day over un-Scriptural practices like forgiving sins for donations of money, or the veneration of artifacts and relics. These practices drastically clouded over the Good News.

Luther’s mentor pleaded with him to take it easy and not push so hard for reformation.  “But Martin, if we get rid of all these things – the practices so many common people cling to – what will we give them in their place?

Luther replied firmly and intently, “Why, Sir, we will give them Christ! Yes, we will give them Christ!

We have more than our share of un-biblical practices in churchianity today. Traditions. Good deeds. Rituals. Spiritualism. Relativism. Cultural relevance. Religion.

What we need is Christ.

I did not come to you with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Three Sons and Success

seedling

A farmer had three sons. The day came when he sent his sons into the fields, each to farm a different crop. Each son went to his assigned plot of ground and began to work.

The eldest son went to his field, tossed over-ripe tomatoes on the ground, and then went home. After three months, the eldest son reaped a quick and bountiful harvest of ripe, juicy tomatoes. He was hailed as a farming genius, sought by man for his wisdom in planting, caring, and harvesting a crop. So impressed were other farmers that they took to heart his methods. However, after two weeks the crop of tomatoes had either been eaten or had rotted.

The middle son plowed his ground, planted his seed, and then went to play golf. After five months he reaped his grain, filling his father’s barn to overflowing. The harvest brought about a great profit during the winter months when the townsfolk came to him for grain to make their bread. He was applauded for his business abilities and profitability. Then his field lay fallow.

All year long the youngest son worked to sprout his apple seeds. As the seedlings grew slowly, he pruned them, bathed them to kill pests, and set up warmers during the cold weather. One year turned to two, and two became ten. The trees grew so slowly that his two elder brothers scoffed at him for his lack of produce. Townspeople suggested his methods were wrong, that he didn’t work hard enough, and that his calling wasn’t to be a farmer.

Twenty-three years passed before the youngest son picked his first apple.

Now I ask you: Which son was successful?

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).

Into Battle Alone

One against many

Churches are not free from problems … and I had a big one! The prophetess didn’t like me.

It was my first associate pastorate and I’d gone head-to-head with the self-declared prophetess in the church. I’d changed the order and length of the Sunday evening service and removed her avenue of control. She responded by proclaiming my doom.

“Sister” Cora began coming to the church services late and in a grand production worthy of a Hollywood movie contract, she threw herself on the floor and moaned. During prayer times she’d swipe her hand through the air between us and cry out, “The blood of Jesus! The blood of Jesus!” again and again. She accused me during one service of being demon possessed.

I went to the pastor and asked his intervention. Bad behavior that isn’t addressed grows into more bad behavior. His reply was forthright: “This is the Holy Spirit’s church. I don’t get involved.” He walked away and lost my respect.

The head usher, Bill Stocker, overheard the conversation and agreed to be my witness as I confronted the woman.  Bill did warn me: “She hides a tape recorder in her purse.”

Bill and I met Cora in the church basement. I thanked her for meeting me and invited her to take out her tape recorder so she could get better sound quality. I explained how disruptive her behavior had been and that it needed to stop. Church services that continued until midnight and her threats of God’s doom if people left were not helping anyone. Nor was asking people to be prepared before singing special songs wasn’t an affront to the Holy Spirit. Then I reminded her that she was not the one appointed to oversee the evening church service.

There were no more problems with “Sister” Cora.

Knowing that Bill “had my back” was all I needed to confront Cora; I didn’t have to go into battle alone.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up … and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12).

A Ring

wedding ring

In a traditional western wedding, rings are exchanged between the groom and his bride. Most people these days consider the wedding ring to be a necessary accessory, to the tune of 11 billion dollars per year in the US alone (here).

Wedding rings actually have a purpose greater than looking nice on a finger and creating a couple’s first mutual debt. Over the months and years of a marriage, each time the couple sees their rings, it’s a reminder of the vows they’ve made to each other. Like writing on a contract, the ring is a visible, tangible symbol of a promise and commitment.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were told to mark special occasions and events by constructing a pile of rocks as an altar (Joshua 4:1-7). God told the people to do this as a lasting reminder of God’s promises and power. It was a symbol of God’s vow.

These symbols of promise are very valuable and precious, both to the one making the vow and to the one who is receiving it.

God the Father has made to His people many great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). These promises are bound up in the character and work of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church (Revelation 21:2, 9). He has also given us a wedding ring, a symbol of His vows to us.

Ephesians 1:13-14 reads … you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance … to the praise of His glory. The apostle Paul originally wrote this in the language of the Greeks. In modern Greek the word “guarantee” is arrabona, the word for an engagement or wedding ring.

Jesus filling you with the Holy Spirit of promise is the symbol of His marriage vows to you. He has promised to save you and give you an eternal home in His glory. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within you is the symbol of His everlasting commitment to love, honor, and cherish you.

A Vow

promise

Jack-and Andrea asked if I’d officiate at their wedding. The couple was a little unorthodox, but both had attended my church for many years and I agreed to perform the ceremony.

One of their requests for the wedding was that they be allowed to write their own vows. For all of my pastoral life I’ve used the Methodist wedding service, but I was willing to let these two do something different. Different it was …

At the appropriate time in the ceremony, Jack pulled a crinkled sheet of paper from his pockets, and with hands as shaky as his voice, he read his well-thought out vows. His words were filled with tender devotion and commitment to his bride.

Then Andrea presented her off-the-cuff vows. When she uttered the words, “I’ll try to love you the best that I can for as long as I can,” I determined two things: the marriage was doomed to mediocrity, and I would never again officiate over a wedding ceremony without reading the traditional vows.

Vows exist in all kinds of relationships: marriage, business, and politics, and reveal both character and commitment. Yes, vows are only words expressing a promised commitment or assured action to something, but those words are meaningful. Those words move from being meaningful to being precious when the bounds of the relationship are tested by trials of uncertainty. When we don’t know what is going to happen next, we rest assured on the vows made.

Vows of commitment may eventually be broken, but at the time made, they represent a good-will offering of agreement between the parties.

The Bible tells us that God has given to us exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). These are things God is committing Himself to do, secured in the character and work of Jesus. What are His great and precious promises? The rest of verse 4 reveals that after all is said and done, and your life on earth comes to an end, you will escape this world and be received into Heaven on the merits of Jesus. through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Weeds in the Grass

dandelions

For much of the 1990s, I managed a real estate and property management company. One of my duties was to help clients find rental homes.

One day an elderly woman called and asked me to help her find a small house she could rent and easily care for. She had just moved from Florida and her only other requirement was for the front yard to be filled with the beautiful yellow flowers so common in Pacific Northwest yards.

I was stumped. It was summer and the only yellow flower I could think of was the daffodil, but the woman insisted it wasn’t the right flower.

After really considering her request I realized what she was after: she wanted a yard full of dandelions. Dandelions are considered a pesky weed here in Oregon. They grow everywhere you don’t want them. They spread like a plague and then are very difficult to get rid of. She wanted a yard full of weeds and didn’t know it!

It seems that some people like weeds in the local church. We want the church pews to be full of well-dressed people each Sunday, we strive for the things that draw a crowd and keeps them happy.

  • Who cares about what’s Biblical – let’s shoot for the practical.
  • Who cares about what honors God – let’s please people.
  • Who cares about faithfulness and truth – let’s increase the numbers.
  • Who cares about hearing from God – let’s copy what other successful churches are doing.
  • Who cares about walking by faith – let’s devise a 5-year plan.
  • Who cares about spiritual food – there’s physically hungry people at hand.
  • Who cares about Christ – we have a crowd to keep happy and engaged.

We even tolerate weeds in our own spiritual lives, but that’s a topic for another day!

Dandelions sure look pretty to the uninformed, but to a native Oregonian they they will always be obnoxious weeds.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went his way (Matthew 13:24-25).

My Lost Sister

missing

Imagine my surprise! I have a twin sister from whom I was separated at birth. Now our father has a fortune to bestow upon us, and he lovingly longs for his lost daughter. He’s asked me to share the good news and bring her back to our father. Wherever I go in the world, I’m sharing the news in hope of finding her.

I don’t know who she is or where she lives, but when I find her she’ll respond and come home. We share a common calling and our father’s DNA.

Dad says that her heart has been yearning for home just as he’s been yearning for her. Somewhere in the depths of her soul, she’s known she has a father who loves her. She just doesn’t know who he is or where to find him.

You might wonder why I’d want to share the wealth with a total stranger.

(1) Dad told me to find her. The wealth is his. The name is his. My sister is his. Everything is his. Sharing his good news is my act of devotion and obedience.

(2) My sister is lost. She doesn’t know it, but her greatest need is to know our dad. He loves her beyond measure. Finding her will bring joy to my father’s heart, give me a sister I’ve always wanted, and give her purpose in life.

(3) I love my father. I was once separated from my father too, but in lovingkindness and patience, he drew me to himself. Because I love him, I want to serve him and give his lost daughter the message of reconciliation.

My sister will still need to respond to my father’s call, accepting his call to her that I’ve been entrusted with sharing.

By the way, my “lost” sibling is your sibling too if you’ve been born again.

Evangelism isn’t about having answers, but having Jesus. Since I don’t know who might be separated members of the Father’s family, I’ll share His Good News with everyone I can. As the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those the Father has called, they will eagerly welcome the Gospel message in Jesus.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).