Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Your Leaders Need Encouragement

Please take time to read 2 Corinthians chapter 11.

In this chapter Paul was fed up with those in the Corinthian church that continued to try and convince people not to listen to him because he didn't speak well enough.  Paul got angry and really rather funny in this sarcasm rich passage.  This is a great section to read aloud and emphasize Paul's frustration as you read.

In this passage Paul also boasts about his suffering to show how much he cares for the spreading of the Gospel and the church at Corinth.  Look at this passage in particular:

"Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked."  2 Corinthians 11:24-27

That seems like an incredible amount of pain and suffering for one person!  Then Paul added this line:

"Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is lead into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?" 2 Corinthians 11:28-29

See, Paul talked about all the physical torment he endured and then he seemed to say that the mental anguish of shepherding his flock was the worst of all.

Your pastor experiences this daily pressure.  As a son of a pastor and as a friend of pastors I can tell you that this pressure is very real and very heavy.  I've seen guys lose weight, lose sleep and worse anguishing over the trouble of someone under their care.  As a youth leader I have felt this anguish some.  I have felt sick to my stomach and I felt like a failure at times when a youth has chosen to do something that hurt themselves and others or stalled their spiritual growth.  I hate that feeling and I know that that is only a small taste of what your pastor and my pastor goes through on a daily basis.

Your pastor must give an account for your soul.  Do you realize that?  I'm sure he takes that very seriously.

The daily pressure your pastor and other leaders face is real and heavy.

Today let's do something to encourage them.  I'm going to do this and I ask you to do this with me as well.  Today, let's encourage our pastors and leaders.  Let's let them know that what they do matters to us.  Let's tell them something that we do enjoy about them rather than a detail that we'd like to see changed.  Rather than complaining about a song during worship that we can't stand, how 'bout we tell them a way that they inspired us recently.

So, whether it be by text, phone call, e-mail, Facebook message, letter, gift, or face-to-face conversation let's encourage our pastors and leaders because they need it today.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Take Every Thought Captive

Please read 1 Corinthians chapter 10.

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
1 Corinthians 10:3-5

You and I are in a spiritual battle.  The Bible is very clear about this in both the Old and New Testaments i.e. Ephesians 6:10-18.  Our battle, however, is not against people; "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God..." Ephesians 6:12-13a.

We, as Christians, are not against people but we daily fight the devil and the old man.  By the old man I mean our old self, our flesh.  2 Corinthians chapter 10 is very clear that we need to fight this fight and we need to fight it with divine weapons.  See Ephesians chapter 6 to learn more about our divine weapons, but I want to focus on the latter half of the passage at the beginning of this post.

"We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5b

How do we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ?  I don't know every answer; in fact, I ask you to comment with some ways you take your thoughts captive.  Again, I don't know every answer, but here are some ideas for taking thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ.

1) Put on your Biblical glasses.
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God..."
When we look at the world from our own perspective or from the perspective of the world we will not see things correctly.  The world is full of arguments that are not in alignment with God.  The world is full of pretension or prideful thoughts that set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

For instance, one of the geniuses of today, Stephen Hawking, has this pretentious theory that is widely accepted and sets itself up directly against God.

Hawking says, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.  It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

This is just one example of how the world sees things.  We are called to see things from the perspective of the revelation given to us by God, His Word.

2) Meditate on Scripture.
Your thoughts will be captive to Christ when your thoughts are filled with the thoughts of Christ.  It is that easy!  If we think Christ's thoughts our thoughts will be obedient to Christ.  When we meditate or think on other things we will conform to other things.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." Romans 12:2

3) Think about excellent things.
God is excellent and everything truly excellent and pure is from Him.  Think about these things and our thoughts will be captive to Christ.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable... if anything is excellent or praiseworthy... think about such things." Philippians 4:8

4) Ask, "Does this thought glorify God?"
Thoughts that are obedient to Christ will glorify God.  If a thought can pass this test, go ahead and think it.

5) Behold God.
This is Scripture and more.  Behold God in Scripture, yes, but behold Him in everything.  See God in a movement of the symphony, in the taste of a rhubarb pie, in the pink sunset, in the athleticism of the God-made athletes in the World Cup... Behold our God everywhere!  When your mind is fixed on worshipping God it is hard to have thoughts from the enemy of self or Satan pass through the line of mental defense you've set up.

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  This is easier said than done, but we are to do it.  I struggle with it, and I'm sure you do, too.  If you have any suggestions on taking our thoughts captive please comment with those ideas.

This is not about being close-minded.  This is about capturing and keeping every true thought and discarding every worthless thought.  This is the mark of true intelligence, an intelligence that not only seeks truth but finds it and cherishes it.

Take every thought captive today.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Passing On a Father's Faith

Below is a post I didn't write.  The following is written by my dad, Jack Ray, for his congregation.  Happy Fathers' Day!

Passing On A Father's Faith
Deuteronomy 6:1-25

Today is Father's Day, when we recognize all the fathers in our congregation and challenge them to be the kind of father God wants them to be. We have been looking in the book of Deuteronomy and we come today to chapter 6. I don't think I could find a better passage to use for Father's Day.
Moses was telling the Israelites how pass on their faith to the next generation. For a Christian father the most important responsibility he has is to lead his children to follow Jesus. There is nothing more important for a father to do in life.

Dr. James Dobson who founded the Focus on the Family ministries said his father had a message for him before he died. His father said to him, “Be there!” By that he meant he wanted to make sure his son made it to heaven when he died. He wanted to see his son one day in heaven with Jesus. His father was saying I know I am going to heaven soon, and when I get there I will be waiting for you. Make sure you make it to heaven. We can know we are going to heaven if we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and if we walk with Him all through our lives.

A father might do many other good things but if he fails to lead his children to follow Jesus, those other accomplishments will not matter. No matter how much money a man can make, how many awards a man can win on earth, or how big a house he can live in or how fancy a car he drives, what is that if he misses heaven. What is good is it if he goes to heaven but his children do not. Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? I would said for a Christian father, “What would it profit a father if he give his children all the material things of this world, and yet not lead his children to find eternal life in Christ."

In Deuteronomy 6 we can find principles about how a father can pass on his faith to his children.

Please read Deuteronomy 6:1-15.
  1. Fathers teach your children to learn and obey God commands so they can have a good and blessed life. Vs 1-3
    Moses says these commands, decrees, and law, the Lord has directed me to teach you to observe are for a purpose. These were given so the Israelites and their children may fear the Lord. And so it may go well with them and they might live a blessed and happy life.
    What does it mean in the Bible when it says we should , “Fear the Lord”? It means we should have and attitude of reverence and respect for the Lord. It means we should live with a great desire to please the Lord in all we do.
    One Bible teacher put it this way.
    “ In the Old Testament to fear the Lord is more than awe or reverence, though it includes both. Fearing God is becoming so acutely aware of His moral purity and omnipotence that one is genuinely afraid to disobey Him. Fearing God also includes responding to Him in worship, service, trust, commitment, and obedience.”
    If I fear the Lord, I want to please God above all else. Jesus said, Do not fear those who kill the body, but but cannot kill the soul, Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28
    The laws of God are given so they might fear the Lord, and also so they could enjoy a long life and it may go well with them, and they might increase greatly in that land flowing with milk and honey.
    I want to teach my children to fear the Lord. Not to be terrified of a God who is always ready to punish them for any mistake, but I want them to know that God's commandments are given for our good. When he says, “Thou shalt not,” He is saying, “Do not do this because it will hurt you and hurt other people you love.” I want them to have a strong belief that God will bless those who follow Him and obey His commandments with a full and happy and meaningful life.
  2. Fathers understand the way you relate to God lets your children see that God is real to you.
    Deuteronomy 6:4 is one of the most important verses in the whole
    Bible. The Jews call it he Shema, for that is the first word of this verse in Hebrew. It means Hear! I believe this verse is repeated each Sabbath in every Synagogue worship service.
    “ Hear O Israel the Lord our God, The Lord is one!”
    The other nations around the Israelites were polytheists. That means they worship many gods. All their gods were different and have different expectations. They had no common moral values. But the Israelites were shown by Jehovah that there is only one God and that God deals with them in a consistently moral and righteous way. So if they could come to know the One True God, and life a live of righteousness according to His moral character, then that was all they needed to do to please Him.
    This God wants us to love Him with all our heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
    The Heart was thought to be the seat of the emotions.
    The Soul (nephesh,) was the center of the personality
    They were to love God with all their Strength all the strength of both body and soul.
    Fathers and Mothers do your children see you loving the Lord like that? Do your children see that God is very important to you? Do they see that Jesus is real to you?
    I had no doubt that my Dad loved the Lord. My Dad loved going to church. He went every Sunday, usually both morning and night and to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He was happy on Sunday morning when he got ready to go to church and helped get us kids ready. I remember on Sunday he let me have coffee with cream and sugar before we went to Sunday School.
    The verse in Psalms “ I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” That was true for my father.
    My Dad loved worshiping the Lord and singing the hymns of the church. Though he could not carry a tune in a bucket, yet he still sang. My Dad loved to tell people about Jesus, he often went out on church visitation night to invite people to church and told them about Jesus.
    My Dad was touched when people were saved. I remember him watching Billy Graham and his crusades and when people came forward to receive Christ, I saw tears running down my Father's eyes.
    If you really love the Lord, fathers, your children will see it. They will see it not just on Sunday but during the every day events in life. Moses said, "Impress these commandments on your children when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
    The beauty of creation should give you and opportunity to teach your children about God. “Look at the beautiful sunset, what an amazing God we have who created all that.” When my dad drove down the road he listened to radio preachers; radio preacher, the news, and Paul Harvey.
    When you rise up, thank the Lord for a new day. When your children go to bed, kneel down and say prayers with them. When I worked for a few months at a group home, I knelt down by some boys' bed and said prayers with them. They then began to ask me to do with with them.
    Pray before your meals. Do this with your family. Pray for other people in your church and community. Do ministry activities as a family, go to a nursing home and take the kids. Older people love seeing little kids. Go and help mow and older person's yard and let your kids help. If your children see you serving the Lord and that you love the Lord, they will want to follow Jesus, too.

  3. Be careful not to forget the Lord when times are good. Vs 10
    Moses said , “You are going to get to live in cities you did not built, and in houses you did not build, and you will drink from wells you did not dig and gather grapes and olives from vineyards and trees you did not plant.”
    God is going to give you so many blessing you do not deserve. When you get all those blessings, be careful you do not forget the Lord.
    Moses said “Do not test the Lord your God as you did as Massah.” That verse was quoted by Jesus when he was tempted by Satan. It is written “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” “Or you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
    Many times in life we will be tempted by the Devil. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness when he fasted 40 days there. But Jesus got through those hard days of testing.
    But for many of us the greatest times of temptation come not in the hard times of life. We seem to be tempted greatest in the good times. When I am having all kinds of problems and troubles, I pray to the Lord a lot. But when things are going well and I am being blessed, then when I let up my guard, the devil tempts me.
    It was after many years of fighting Saul when David was not at war but at home in the palace that he fell into sin with Bathsheba. I have known some married couples who stayed together through the early years when they really had to struggle to get by, but it was in the years when they had more money and more free time when their marriage fell apart.
    How can we learn not to forget the Lord when times are good? We do that when we always give thanks in the good times and give God the Praise for the blessings and do not claim the credit for ourselves. When times are good make sure you do not forget the Lord.  
    4. Fathers, tell your kids the story of how God has blessed your life.
    Look at verse 20, In the future when you son asks, “What is the meaning of these stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord has given us?” Then tell him the story. We were slaves, but God brought us out with a mighty hand, and God has blesses us in so many ways.
    Each year at Passover the Jews gather and tell the story of how God delivered them from slavery One child will ask, “ What is the meaning of this Passover meal.” The Father will tell them, the bitter herbs remind of of the years of suffering as slaves. The sweet fruit reminds of of the sweetness of the Law of God and so on.
    Kids still ask questions in church today. What is the meaning of Communion and the bread and the juice? Parents tell them what it means. The bread stands for Jesus body that was broken, The wine or juice reminds us of the blood Jesus shed for our sins.
    What is the meaning of Easter? Tell your kids, it is not about bunnies and rabbits and eggs. Easter is when we celebrate that Jesus rose from the grave. Christmas is not just about getting presents and Santa Claus it is the celebration of when Jesus was born in the stable in Bethlehem.
    Tell you children the stories of how God has blessed your life. Tell him the times you prayed for healing and God answered your prayers. My sister Sally nearly died as a baby. She had no tube that goes out of her bile duct. As a baby she had surgery and the whole family prayed and she was healed.
    We told how when Patrick was 3 years old he picked up a bottle which he thought was pop and took a drink. But some neighbor boys put charcoal lighter fluid in that pop bottle. He was rushed to the hospital in Kansas City and was treated for chemical pneumonia. Through many prayers he made it through. Fathers tell the stories of how God has protected you and guided you and blessed you.
    Maybe your kids will ask you why do we go to church and worship the Lord. I would say, “ Because I believe Jesus died for my sins. I believe the Lord has helped my through many different problems in life. I taught my kids to love and serve the Lord, now my two sons are married and have godly Christian wives and Maggie will be married in September to a fine Christian man. I believe God has blessed me as I have followed him, I believe God is now blessing my kids as they are following the Lord.
    Conclusion How does a Father pass on his faith to his children? It is really not that complicated. Fathers make your commitment to follow Jesus. Follow Jesus all the days of your life and never stop and your children will follow Him, too.
    When I was a little boy I would see my dad dress shoes after he took them off. My dad had small feet, he wore size 7 ½ . But to a little boy his shoes looked so big. I would put on Dad shoes and walk around the house. I would follow in his footsteps.
    I would say maybe that is the reason I followed Jesus. I was just following in my father's foot steps. Dad if you want your kids to follow Jesus, you must set the example and it is never too late to start. Will you make a commitment to follow Jesus and never turn back today?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Attitude and Action

Please take time to read 2 Corinthians chapter 9.

This chapter is the second in a row in which Paul addresses generosity and does it through a specific giving campaign to help out the struggling Christians in Jerusalem.  I want to look at just a few principles of generosity that we can discover in this passage.

Generosity is about attitude and action.  You cannot have one without the other and be considered a truly generous person.

"Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given." 2 Corinthians 9:5

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7

Our attitude in giving is extremely important and is a by-product of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Cheerful giving is a clear sign of our changed heart, but cheerfulness in itself is not enough.  If a person says they love to give but never actually gives are they generous?  Absolutely not.  Many times our hearts are stirred into a giving attitude when, for instance, a missionary's slide show inspires us to pledge to give. But being stirred to give is not giving.

"For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.  But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.  For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we... not to say anything about you... would be ashamed of having been so confident."  2 Corinthians 9:2-4

Obviously an important part of being generous is actually giving.  Our attitudes may give off a giving nature but a generous person is an actual giver.  Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to make sure it wasn't just excitement that made them pledge to give; Paul wanted the Corinthians to follow through.  It is an embarrassment to ourselves and others when we don't do what we say we will.  That is one reason we need to count the cost before making a pledge of money or time.

But action alone does not make us generous.  If a person gives but gives begrudgingly or out of compulsion would you call them a generous person?  Probably not.  Generous people give and enjoy giving.  Generous people recognize that actually giving is an exercise in faith and a proven faith is hugely rewarding.

Generosity is important for the obvious reason that it helps meet the needs of others.  But generosity is important for much more than that.  Look at the verse below:

"Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ..." 2 Corinthians 9:13

Don't miss this, "for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ."  See, generosity is a proof that the Gospel has taken root in our life.  Generosity is an obedience that accompanies our acceptance of the Gospel!

Are you generous?  Generosity, both monetarily and non-monetarily, is a sign of God's life changing work in our lives.  The attitude of generosity implanted by the Holy Spirit is a proof of our salvation.  The action of giving is a proof that we actually trust in the God in whom we say we trust.  Yes, generosity is about helping others, but generosity is about so much more.  God doesn't need us to give.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; He created the universe and commands it today.  God allows us to be generous for our sake.  He allows us to be generous so that we can have the blessed assurance that we know and trust Him.

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." 2 Corinthians 9:6

In attitude and in action sow generously today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Grace of Giving

Please take time to read 2 Corinthians chapter 8.

Many people are jaded by/against their church because they hate that their church talks too much about giving.  Many people don't understand why giving is something that churches even talk about.  Well, Paul wrote very directly about giving to the church at Corinth.  Let's look at part of what he wrote.

"But just as you excel in everything... in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us... see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you though His poverty might become rich."
2 Corinthians 8:7-9

We, as maturing Christians, must grow in the grace of giving.  We are to grow in all areas: faith, speech knowledge and in giving.  We do not experience the fulness of what God has for us until we grow in the grace of giving.  How many of you would argue that growing in faith is unimportant?  None of you.  Then why do we argue that growing in giving is not important?

Paul didn't command the Corinthians to give; rather he said he was testing the sincerity of their love.  Give me your budget or spending records for this past year and I'll tell you what you love.  How we spend our money is an excellent barometer of our love.  So, we don't give money to our local church or foreign missionaries because God is incapable of accomplishing His will without our cash.  We give because it shows what we love.  Really it helps give us assurance that we love and trust God.

We also give because Christ gave first and gave more.  Jesus was on His throne ruling and reigning in perfection before He came to earth as a helpless baby born to a poor carpenter and a young mother.  Jesus gave up everything, including His life; this should inspire our giving.

Some of you give to your church and/or charities.  That is awesome.  Some of you don't and I invite you to experience the benefits of giving and growing into Christian maturity.

Here's some guidelines for giving that I'm borrowing from Weird by Craig Groeschel:

Groeschel says there are three types of givers.

1) Spontaneous Givers.
These people give when a cause inspires them to give.  For instance, when a youth group needs money for a mission trip a spontaneous giver might write a check and help them out or let them borrow their vehicle.  Spontaneous giving is good and it should be done by Christians, but it is just a small step into the grace of giving.

2) Strategic Givers.
These givers plan ahead so they can be generous.  These folks are your tithers who faithfully give every paycheck whether 10%, 15%, 20%, etc.  Strategic givers realize that "giving is not something we do; generous is who we are."  Maturing Christians should move into this category of givers.

3) Sacrificial Givers.
These people "don't just believe that things of this world don't matter; they completely live that way."  These people aren't necessarily poor monks; in fact, many of them are rich, they have just reached an understanding that everything they have is God's and they use everything, including money, in light of that.

Grow in the grace of giving.  I won't promise you that God will bless you with riches; some of the best givers are still poor.  No, I can't promise you wealth (although God may choose to give you wealth so you can give more) what I will promise you is that as you grow in the grace of giving God will bless and sanctify you.  If you are a spontaneous giver work to become a strategic giver.  If you are a strategic giver become a more sacrificial giver.  Grow in the grace of giving and God will grow you today.